I’m writing this post in response to some questions I’ve received. People are nervous about talking to their doctor or their family members about how they’re feeling. It is not easy to start these conversations. I’m going to share my experiences getting diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and suggest some places you may be able to find help. I’m going to give Canadian resources in this post because that’s where I live, but I’ll try to keep it general enough so that you can research similar resources, whatever the country.
I decided to do something about my anxiety when I realized that I had been feeling really down and unwell for a number of months. I was living healthily but I was getting worse bit by bit too. I was worried especially because I was having such a difficult time feeling happy, even when really great things were happening. You’ll know when it’s time to get some help. You’ll get tired of not feeling like yourself. I know I sure did.
Tell your trusted person – I started by talking to my mom and then my boyfriend (now husband) Nick. Try to choose a good listener who will reserve judgement. Not only will this relieve some of the stress you’re feeling, it’s also a good opportunity to practice what you want to say if you choose to see your doctor.
Talk to your doctor – I admit, this is probably the hardest one to do. The prospect of receiving a diagnosis can be paralyzing. I told Nick I wanted help and thought that going to the doctor would help, but that I was scared. He encouraged me to make the appointment. He even drove me and made me dinner afterwards. His support helped me feel strong enough to talk to my doctor. You can invite someone to go with you if that makes you feel stronger. Nick didn’t go into the appointment with me, but knowing he was in the waiting room helped a lot.
The first thing my doctor did was run me though a questionnaire about my physical health, (e.g. diet, sleep, drugs or alcohol,) and my emotional health, (e.g. ranking symptoms like sadness out of 10.) My doctor told me I had a number of the symptoms of anxiety but that she wanted to do some blood work. This ruled out possible physical causes such as thyroid problems, diabetes, low iron and so forth. It all came back clear so I saw my doctor again, but this time to discuss the new diagnosis of anxiety.
We made a plan for my treatment. We chose counseling and a low-dose antidepressant. She wrote me a prescription and she gave me a chart like this to record my symptoms. However, you don’t have to wait for the doctor to start your own chart. Information like this can be really helpful for diagnosis.
If you receive a diagnosis of anxiety or depression, be vocal about what you want and don’t want in terms of treatment. Your doctor will listen. I recommend that if you do decide to take medication, that you combine it with some sort of counseling, therapy or support group that will help you learn coping skills. Set a clear plan with your doctor and schedule regular check up visits. This is where you’ll need to be flexible with your plan. I tried a number of antidepressants at a variety of doses before we found what works for me. I also had a number of counselors before I found my current practitioner, (more on that in a moment.) Be ready to readjust and don’t give up just because the first thing you tried didn’t work. If you keep trying, you will create a treatment plan that is best for you.
If you don’t have a doctor – Most communities offer some sort of walk-in medical clinics. They are listed in the phone book or you can find them by Googling ‘walk in medical clinic’ and the name of your city or town. This is a good start and sometimes a walk in clinic can offer resources for finding a doctor. There may also be government programs such as Health Care Connect in your area to help you locate a doctor. If you are dealing with a mood disorder like anxiety and depression you need a family doctor to oversee your care, even if you’re not on any medication.
Stay off the internet – Do not Google your symptoms or seek out online advice on your mental health. The Internet is just too unreliable for health care. If you insist on taking an online quiz to see if you have depression, take a reputable one like this one from DepressionHurts.ca. I like this quiz because it doesn’t tell you if you do or do not have depression. Instead, it examines various symptoms of depression and ranks how much they are affecting your life. You can even save a PDF of your results to show your doctor.
Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) – My school board has a program where they provide me with counseling and my copay is $20 per visit. This is how I afford counseling as it can be really expensive. Explore the counseling services offered at your place of employment. If you are part of a union, talk to your union rep to see if you have an EPA. If you are non-unionized, talk to human resources. If you are self-employed, talk to your health insurance provider or the health care branch of your government about what affordable cost counseling is available.
I also had to try a number of different counselors before I found one whose personality and methodologies made me feel comfortable. When you do get a counselor, make sure they are right for you. If they’re not, it won’t hurt their feelings to ask to be referred to someone else.
Crisis helplines – I’ve never called a crisis helpline but I have recommended them for students in need outside school hours. In Ontario, kids and teens can call Kids Help Phone and adults can call the Mental Health Helpline. Diagnosis and treatment can take a long time and be very frustrating. If at any point you are in crisis, please access these services.
So that’s my experience. I’m not an expert in mental health but I hope that my stories and suggestions help you take care of yourself too. Be well.