Finding Peace — Manuscript Post #15
My four symptoms.
1) Off-balance: I would suddenly feel that I couldn’t maintain my balance. I never actually fell down but when this symptom occurred I would worry that I was going to. This symptom, like all the others, would happen without warning. I was worried that at any time I might suddenly lose my balance. This sensation would usually pass quickly, in a minute or so. This only happened when I was standing or walking. I never felt this while driving or sitting.
2) Unusually tired: This would usually come on when I was relaxing. For example, in the evening, soon after sitting down on the couch, I would suddenly feel very tired. When this happened I did not know of any reason for it. I had not been working or exercising heavily. I remember one specific time when it actually felt like I was going to fall through the couch. I know this sounds bizarre. Sometimes I felt so tired that I found I was speaking very softly. I had to consciously inhale to be able to speak at a normal volume. This symptom could take a while to fade, up to an hour.
3) Throat sore: I don’t mean a sore throat like you get with a cold or the flu. I mean there was a soreness, an aching feeling, on the front of my neck where it joins my chest. It felt like my throat was tightening which was very scary when it first happened. I want to be clear that as scary as this was, I never had any real problem with my throat. I never had any problem breathing or swallowing. The first few times this happened, I was very afraid that I would have a problem.
4) Chest sore: Sometimes this felt like my chest was suddenly very heavy. Other times it felt like my chest was simply tightening up. Sometimes the soreness would begin on one side of my chest and over time move to the other side. The soreness in my chest worried me, of course, because I wondered if I was having heart problems. I never had any heart problems.
These are the symptoms that made me seek help from my doctor and ultimately led me to therapy. I describe them in detail to make clear just how strange and scary they were. Your symptoms may be very different. Whatever your symptoms are, you must get help to make sure they are not signs of a serious medical condition. Once you have ruled out any medical cause you can move on, as I did, to getting help with the emotional causes.
–My Second Visit with Dr. Sue
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
I went to see Dr. Sue for the second time since the onset of symptoms. She reviewed my notes covering the days since my previous office visit.
She said “You don’t seem like an anxious person to me, but, there are lots of bells and whistles on the inside that you don’t give most people a ticket to see. I’m wondering why you are giving me a ticket now.”
I wasn’t sure what to make of this statement. I could tell that she was concerned and even a little anxious. I wonder if she was worried about how I might react to what she said.
I remember her pausing after this statement. She leaned against the counter in the exam room as if she was bracing herself for what was to come next. I was preparing for some subtle, nuanced diagnosis involving obscure and frightening diseases I had never heard of.
She said “Have you considered depression?” Had I considered depression? Wow. I hadn’t. To me depression is what my mother had when she would drink heavily and was unable to function. I was working and I was volunteering at our son’s schools. I was busy and I was getting a lot done. I did not see myself as depressed. This is not to say that I was arguing with Dr. Sue’s diagnosis. I was not. I’m just explaining why I was surprised.
So what did I say to her question? I think I said “Are you nuts? Given my family history I’m not going to argue with you.” I say ‘I think I said’ because I can’t really believe I said ‘are you nuts’ but that is what I remember.
Dr. Sue went on to say that she thinks my symptoms are consistent with anxious depression. I had not heard of that. She said that globus hystericus would explain my throat soreness. I had not heard of this either. She said there was nothing physically wrong with me, all emotional.
So what is the course of treatment? She offered that I could read about it, see a therapist and if needed, medications. She would be the person to manage any medications I might need, unless I were to see a psychiatrist.
I was relieved there wasn’t anything physically wrong with me, but I was also wondering what would happen next. Would I wind up in therapy? Would I need medication? I felt like I had been in a hallway, looking at many doors along each wall. Each door led to some physical issue I had heard of. Suddenly, a door far away, at the end of the hallway opens. I can only see darkness. The unknown awaits. Was this the path to my Mother’s world of depression, shock treatment and repeated attempts at suicide?
It is significant that Dr. Sue chose to say “have you considered depression”. It means that she was worried about my reaction. I was braced for some sort of exotic diagnosis. She was concerned that ‘depression’ would be too scary for me. I was relieved to hear I wasn’t dying of something incurable. Being told I was suffering from depression was concerning, but it also seemed much more ‘common’, something I had heard about before, something I had seen in my family, something that I perceived to be treatable. I never saw my mother really deal with her depression but I had read enough to be convinced that there are effective treatments for many forms of depression.
Exactly why Dr. Sue chose to say this wouldn’t make sense to me until over two years later.