I started my worry journal 5 years ago right around the time I was stressing over two life-altering experiences that would have been stressful enough on their own – producing my first play and dating again after a break-up. I worried that I sucked in […]
I need a reminder now and then that getting older is a good thing. I found one in Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan, an extraordinary documentary about her retirement from the New York City Ballet. Here’s a piece I wrote about it for The Huffington Post — Wendy […]
I haven’t had a physical exam in over 7 years. Not because I’m afraid of going to the doctor (even though I am and self-diagnose every chance I get). Or because I was raised to stay away from doctors (even though I was, because the only thing they can be trusted to do is find something wrong with you). But because I’m self-employed, didn’t want to spend the money on expensive health insurance, and getting an exam without it didn’t seem like an option. Because if – and by if, I mean when – they found something horribly wrong with me, I would have been financially screwed.
I’m a healthy person, I reasoned. I can get away with not going to the doctor. If I felt like something was wrong, then I would go. And I did two or three times in recent years, but never for anything requiring more than a quick look at me and a prescribed round of antibiotics. Not counting two trips to the ER – one for a toothache in the middle of the night, another after a fall I took scaling a wall trying to catch my neighbor’s rabbit when it escaped from my yard while I was bunny-sitting. (Bittersweet ending: As soon as I slammed my back into a raised concrete garden bed on my patio, the rabbit returned.)
As of March 1, my reactive healthcare approach was no more.
I got tired of paying the penalty for not having insurance. Plus, I’m a 44-year-old woman; not getting checked at this age feels irresponsible. The point is, I have health insurance now. I’m going to the doctor April 25 so they can finally run all the tests they need to find something horribly wrong with me.
Rest assured, I’m doing all I can to thwart their efforts.
For starters, I picked the least alarmist-looking doctor I could find who is in-network. I get that won’t prevent her from finding something horribly wrong. But that reassuring smile of hers tells me she usually has a pretty good feeling about things. And in those rare cases that she does find something horribly wrong, she tells you in a way that’s matter-of-fact, but hopeful.
Second, I’m getting as healthy as possible before the appointment (i.e., taking my vitamins). Seriously, why distract my doctor with a vitamin deficiency? Sure, she might just tell me to take a supplement. But she might also see it as a symptom of a bigger problem, especially in combination with other symptoms. That could mean an unnecessarily anxiety-inducing wild goose chase, filled with expensive tests that I’ll have to pay for because of my bajillion-dollar deductible.
No. I have to take care of everything as much as I can first. Andy, my fiancé, doesn’t like the sound of that. Not because he doesn’t want me doing things that will make me feel better, but because he thinks I put too much pressure on myself to do it all. Also, he thought I meant I wouldn’t go to the doctor until I’d done “everything,” which I quickly assured him wasn’t true (even though maybe it was a little) and made a doctor’s appointment the very next day. Besides, when “everything” is limited to vitamin-taking (and turmeric, which I’ll get to), that’s a to-do list that gets done pretty quick.
This proactivity helps, but the anxious thought persists.
Situation / Trigger
My first physical exam in years
The doctor is going to find something horribly wrong with me.
1) My body has been doing weird things lately. My periods are shorter and I’ve had some abdominal pain. Something is going on.
2) The last time I remember getting a pap smear, there was something weird about it. It’s a little fuzzy now, but something about possible scarring from an old infection I never even knew I had. Here I am worried about weird things I can see and feel my body doing. What could be worse are the things going on for which I’m seeing no symptoms at all.
3) Just a few days after getting health insurance — when my doctor/death diagnosis anxiety was at its peak – the universe (i.e., Amazon) called my attention to that show, Catastrophe. When she went to the doctor, all Sharon was supposed to be was pregnant. She was that, but “pre-cancerous” too. I had to stop watching because it was too much of a trigger and will get back to it after (a) I get a clean bill of health (at least on the cancer front) or (b) I need to find the humor in my own pre-cancer diagnosis.
1) Bustle cites studies finding that 2 to 6 percent of women get abnormal pap smears at least once in their lives. And an abnormal pap smear doesn’t necessarily mean cancer, or even pre-cancer. It can be inflammation.
2) There’s no history of cancer in my family. There have been a lot of heart problems, but I feel pretty healthy in that department. It’s my grandmother’s diabetes that worries me most, but if that’s the worst of it, at least that’s treatable.
3) The power of positive affirmations. I’ve been saying for years I’m going to live to be 120.
What’s More Likely
There’s something wrong with me, but it’s not horrible. It’s perimenopause. Or benign ovarian cysts. Or the turmeric I was taking for depression in hopes I could nip that in the bud, too, before seeing my doctor. Unfortunately, taking turmeric coincided with my abdominal pain. I looked into it and evidently turmeric stimulates the uterus, which should be a good thing, but I stopped taking it just in case.
Whether turmeric had anything to do with my abdominal pain or not (which has since subsided), it was a good reminder of the potential repercussions of self-prescribed natural treatments for things – like depression – that might be best left to doctors and drugs.
Alternative Thought / Positive Affirmation
The doctor is going to help me feel better.
What’s Worrying You?
Keep your own worry journal and work it through. I picked up this tool in cognitive behavioral therapy. Inevitably, my anxiety level at the end of the exercise is less than it was when I started. I hope it works that way for you, too.
UPDATE: The Worst Of It Is Cheese