Three Weeks is Too Long

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This mini-series follows the experiences of one of our writers during a period of anxiety and depression. The aim of these pieces is to reduce stigma and raise awareness. Read part one here

If you are affected by any of the issues discussed, you may find support with Mind, The Samaritans or, particularly if you are a man, CALM.

There is probably some sort of literary irony in waiting for a call from a medical professional while sat in a graveyard in the rain.

The spring was only just starting to take the edge off winter, but it was still cold enough for me to be wrapped in a parka while I gripped my phone in one numb hand. Water filtered down through the criss-crossed branches overhead and slapped onto the top of my head, but I barely noticed.

Rewind two weeks. Work was unbearable. I was struggling so hard to focus that I thought (inaccurately) that I was barely achieving anything. I had become increasingly paranoid that my boss would ‘find me out’ and that I would be fired. My heart raced, my mind was absent. My head hurt so much that I had to take bulbs out of the strip lights above me head to make the room darker.

Once I had got out of work I had scrabbled to my car and, in a crazy moment of sheer back-breaking effort, jabbed my doctor’s number into my phone and hit call. Once I had decided that was what I wanted to do, I had to do it quickly or else my anxiety would talk me out of it. There’s nothing wrong with you, really. You just need to get over it.

I was put through to a fuzzy recording of a receptionist saying over and over that I would be put through to somebody as soon as they were available while some horrible electro-garbage remix of Bach looped in the background. I sat in the car while the rain crackled around me (pathetic fallacy isn’t funny when it happens to you) and my mind screamed inside me. Finally:

“Hello, how can I help?” I wanted a doctor’s appointment, I said. “Okay, we have something in three weeks time?” Three weeks is too long, I said. “Is it an emergency?” No, I said. I mean, I’m not going to die or anything. “Well I’m afraid three weeks is the soonest we can do, unless it’s an emergency.” Okay. “What I’d recommend is you ring back to check for cancellations.” Okay. Thanks. Bye.

I sat back and tried to think. My rational mind felt disappointment and fear, my anxious and depressed mind felt relieved. Things were fine the way they were, I was just having a rough patch. Things come around, they always do.

Thankfully, I didn’t accept this. If there is any one piece of advice I can give you any of you out there, facing any sort of issue, it is this: don’t just wait and hope for it to get better. Make it better. Even if it feels like the effort of doing so will destroy you, don’t accept your misery for what it is. Challenge it. It isn’t you, it’s an unwelcome parasite and you’re stronger than it.

I had long before decided in some hypothetical thought experiment while I scribbled on a notepad at work that, were I to seek help, I wouldn’t want to be medicated. I’ve always been adverse to the perception of not being fully in control of what I am thinking, feeling or doing.

The other option that remained then, was therapy. I was sceptical about therapy – sitting in a dimly lit room on a comfy chair being asked how I felt about everything, or discussing my relationship with my parents or how smoking on nights out was because I longed for my dad’s genitalia (pathetic phallusy is not funny when it happens to you) didn’t feel like any sort of productive progression in my condition.

Still, I knew people who had been helped by therapy and reasoned that any sort of attempt at something new was better than nothing – I was certainly not self-medicating by playing six hours of video games a night and crossing my fingers. So I made the first step towards recovery and sent an email to a local group of therapists, asking for help.

They responded quickly by way of phone call and organised a phone assessment, so they could better understand what was wrong and what help would be best for me. They said it would be in two week’s time (I winced), and that I should find somewhere private to conduct the call. It turns out the most private place I could find on my lunch break was a graveyard.

Fast forward again and my phone started to ring. I answered and a cheerful lady with a calm voice spoke to me. She explained what was going to happen and did I understand that, while everything was confidential, if she felt I was a serious risk to myself or others she would be obliged to tell somebody. I said that I did, and we begun.

There followed about a dozen questions that I had to answer with a score between one and ten. Did I ever feel that I would be better off dead? Did I ever avoid social situations because of anxiety? Did I feel that my work was affected by my anxiety? One for ‘never’, through to ten at ‘every day’.

At the end of all of this my scores were used as a blunt tool to preliminarily diagnose me. I was told that my depression was ‘moderate’ and my anxiety ‘moderate-severe’. Even being told that there was, medically, a concrete problem wasn’t initially enough to persuade me that I wasn’t making it all up.

The lady on the phone explained that she would recommend, judging by what I had explained to her, a mixture of counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy. As it turns out, I only ended up needing the latter. Phone lady set my mind at ease about CBT, informing me that it was a deeply rational therapy that dealt with thought patterns rather than long-forgotten experiences of Oedipal lust.

I felt relaxed and accomplished by even speaking to somebody, by just telling someone what was happening to me and being told, in turn, that it was okay and that I wasn’t strange or abnormal or exaggerating. My therapy was set. The hammer blow came: the wait time for it was six weeks.

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