Today, I’d like to write a post of appreciation for the nurse at my primary care physician.
I had to laugh at the fatigue in her eyes when she saw me in the waiting room.
For a moment, she forgot her pleasantries, and I could see a small part of her die as she recognized me. It took a beat before she fixed her face and asked, politely, “Stephanie?”
As though she didn’t already know.
As though I’m not there on a nearly monthly basis, checking out one concern or another, ranging from a vague feeling that my heart might be beating irregularly to a frequently bleeding nostril. It seems ridiculous when I write it now, but these concerns can bring me to tears- usually late at night or over the weekend, when I know I can’t call the office to schedule a check-up.
So I tend to keep appointments when I’ve made them, even if my anxieties have subsided by the time they come around.
Which is how I ended up being asked the question, at this most recent visit, “What symptoms are you having?” and needing to sheepishly admit: none.
I spent the whole appointment laughing nervously behind my mask at my own absurdity, even though I know it isn’t funny. I know that other people have serious medical needs and that me taking up a time slot gets in the way of their treatment.
And yet I can’t help myself.
It’s a compulsion, and a quick Google search confirms for me that, although I call this my “health anxiety,” it’s really more “health OCD.” I can’t stop myself from checking my health over and over again, out of fear that if I don’t I will miss some sign of a deadly disease and I’ll be taken away from Bailey too soon.
I recognize the irony of being so worried about my health that it interferes with my enjoyment of the healthy life I’ve been given.
I recognize the futility of choosing to fixate on the many diseases I don’t have instead of focusing on treating the one I do: bipolar.
I recognize the greediness of wanting to live a life free of suffering and the self-importance of thinking that I’m too precious to die young.
But recognizing something doesn’t change it.
I know, logically, that I should stop calling the doctor. That I should stop looking at WebMD. But I can’t help myself.
It kills the perfectionist in me not to be able to do what I know I should do.
I want to get an A in mental health.
I want to be the therapist’s pet. So in my weekly sessions, when I state my concerns, I follow them with healthy next steps I know I should take to fix the problem.
“I think I need more positive self talk,” I’ll say as my therapist nods in approval. But I know full well that I won’t be changing my behavior.
I’m hesitant to admit that I need help following through on these goals because I have still internalized the idea that my mental illness is somehow a moral failing. That if I tried harder, I’d be able to stop myself from calling the doctor. That if I was more self-actualized I wouldn’t ruminate about my symptoms.
The truth is, no matter how many times I tell myself otherwise, I still don’t quite believe that I didn’t bring my mania and psychosis upon myself. I still believe that if I’d been more vigilant about recognizing the symptoms of bipolar earlier in my life, or went to a better doctor for my Prozac prescription, or slept more the night I went into labor, I could have prevented it.
There must have been something I did, or failed to do, that let this happen. Because the reality that it was outside of my control is too frightening to accept.
If I don’t have control over my health then something could, at any time, be wrong with me.
Then any small twitch or tickle or spot could be the sign of something terrible to come.
So it’s better to double and triple check. Better to make the appointment, call my mom, run the test, look up the symptoms one more time.
Just in case.
53 miles, 47 to go.