What Doctors Need To Know About Patients With Anxiety

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Thinking about going to the doctor creates stress and anxiety for me. Actually going can bring on a panic attack. This has given me a reputation with doctors and creates a problem for me. I am torn between disclosing my anxiety diagnosis and trying to hide it — albeit hard.

Often times, having an anxiety disorder gets you the label of being difficult, “crazy” and delusional. The doctors somehow trace every symptom, even a broken arm, back to your anxiety. It took me years to find a specialist who took me seriously and believed that some of my physical symptoms were not manifestations of anxiety, but had actual physical causes.

I am aware that anxiety does manifest itself in the body in unusual and surprising ways, but that shouldn’t be cause for neglect of the patient. Sometimes physical illnesses are overlooked and not treated properly because a patient has a mental illness.

Doctors need to understand the needs of the patient and accommodate them to the best of their ability because that is why they became a doctor — to help and to heal. Not create more damage and harm. Sometimes they need a reminder.

If you are a doctor who has a patient with anxiety or any other mental health condition, please consider the following:

Understand we are people. We need a little extra kindness and compassion.We are already nervous and anxious about being there. Try to do whatever you can to create a relaxing environment.

Listen to what we have to say. When you don’t take us seriously or brush us off, you make us feel even more isolated and alone. We feel that we may never find someone who understands us. All we want is relief. If I tell you my stomach is constantly bothering me, order a CT scan or an actual test. Don’t tell me to take more anxiety meds and to try to relax. Your job is to explore all the possibilities and while anxiety might be one of them, it is not ALL of them.

Reassure us that you heard us and understand us. Explain things to us in a way that we can easily understand and let us participate in our treatment. You may know medicine, but we know our bodies.

Understand that what you write down in our chart will follow us to other specialists and doctors. If you write you think that we are nuts, that is most likely what other doctors will believe, too. This will prevent us from getting the care that we really need.

The bottom line is that people with anxiety also get sick in their bodies. People with mental illnesses also get physically sick. We need proper care. We deserve it. Please don’t use a mental health diagnosis to avoid doing your job well.

A special thank you to the few, but great doctors out there who have taken me seriously and explored all the options.

When Chronic Illness Is Like Walking A Labyrinth

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Spirituality has always been a part of my life. I was raised Catholic and am thankful for that tradition, as it left me with many tools for life and discernment. It also has harmed me, but I won’t get into that in this post. This is about how I learned one simple phrase, using a spiritual tool, to help me during times of confusion. Maybe it will help you, too.

Years back, I went to see a spiritual director to talk about some of my concerns about life, God and suffering. She had recommended that I walk a labyrinth, which is basically a maze. It’s a form of walking meditation. There are many ways you can use a labyrinth, but the easiest way is to ask a question to God — assuming you believe in one. If not, you can ask your Higher Self or spirit guide or whatever you believe in for guidance. You enter with a question. That day my question was, “What am I supposed to do?”

As I walked the labyrinth, there were many stops and starts — much like living with a chronic illness. You are led in one direction, only to find you are being turned in a different one. Just when you think you are on course, another turn and another redirection. There are times when you think you are almost out of the woods only to find that you are back in the center of the circle again. I admit, it can be frustrating. You want to rush through. You want to get it over with. You want your answer. NOW.

What I heard in my mind was, “Just keep walking.” Just keep walking. Just. Keep. Walking.

Finally, I made it out. I kinda thought the whole thing was mostly stupid to be honest. When I relayed my sentiments to my spiritual director, she asked if any thoughts or ideas came to mind. I told her that I felt that if I just kept walking, eventually I would find my way out. She smiled and nodded.

Sometimes we are looking for something profound — some deep answer to life’s questions when the answer is just to keep walking. Keep walking or crawling if you have to. Keep walking even if it’s just to the bathroom. Just go to that one appointment. Just do that one thing to take care of yourself. Make that one phone call — that one text.

I still am in the labyrinth of life. I can’t say I made it out – yet. But I am walking. Let’s walk together.