Monthly Archives: November 2012

Making an appointment.

It’s Friday and I’ve got today off work. When I made the decision to seek professional help, I thought today would be the perfect day to do that. I would have the whole day off to myself, I could relax and prepare ahead of the appointment, and if it didn’t go well, I wouldn’t have anyone to put on a brave face for afterwards.

That was the plan. Since my GP practice advertises that you can get a routine appointment within 48 hours, I called on Tuesday to make the Friday appointment. So they could “deal with my call effectively”, I pressed 1 for the automated service. I prefer not to speak to a person if I can help it: people often inadvertently say the wrong thing, putting me off from following through. So I pressed 1 and it rang me through to the automated service. Except it didn’t. It just kept ringing and ringing and ringing. After about a minute, I accepted it wasn’t going to go through, hung up and rang back, this time pressing 2 to speak to a receptionist.

“Sorry, we haven’t got any appointments available on Friday.”

Oh.

“I guess you don’t have anything sooner, then?”
“No, we’re all booked up. Unless it’s an emergency. I can get you in on Friday if it’s an emergency.”

And there it was. The reason I use the automated service. That question I’ve heard from so many GP receptionists, so many times before: is it an emergency?

I never know how to respond to that question. How can I explain that I need help now, that I’ve worked up the confidence and resolve to get help now, and that if I wait, I might lose that resolve? I know that if I wait, I may end up telling myself that things aren’t so bad, that I can manage this by myself, that there’s nothing professionals can do for me that I can’t do for myself.

How do I explain that I have Friday planned out in my head, that it’s important to me that it’s Friday? If the appointment isn’t on Friday then I know I’m less likely to turn up, and if I do turn up, I’m less likely to actually disclose my mental health problems when I’m sitting there in front of the doctor. But the fact that it’s important to me doesn’t make it an emergency, does it?

And if I say it’s an emergency, what will the doctor think of me when I do disclose? I already worry about being viewed as a time-waster, an attention-seeker, a drama queen. I feel these pejorative labels keenly, associated as they are with with the diagnosis I was lumped with 8 years ago: Borderline Personality Disorder.

“No, it’s not an emergency. When do you have an appointment available?”
“I can do Monday for you?”

No good, I’ve got an all-day meeting on Monday, and I can’t be cancelling meetings for a GP appointment.

“I can’t do Monday. How about Tuesday? And do you have an early appointment?”
“I’ve got 9:40 Tuesday morning.”
“That’s fine, thank you.”

It’s not really fine. It’s a week away, 9:40 means I’ll be late for work, and I’ll probably have to put that brave face on. At least I’m never sick – everyone ‘knows’ that about me – so they’ll all assume the appointment’s something routine, like contraception or a smear.

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Help-seeking starts here.

In my professional life I often discuss help-seeking processes in the health and social care systems, and it’s something widely discussed in the mental health literature. But too often, accounts of help-seeking fail to illuminate the tiny details that actually make or break it. This blog is a personal account of my experience of seeking help for mental health problems in London.

Eighteen months ago, I found myself sitting on a bench in a park near my house, smoking a cigarette and calmly going through in my head the actions I had left on my suicide plan to-do list. Sitting there, the shock of the point I’d let myself get to hit me suddenly with a sharp, physical force. I’d been well – recovered, even – for 7 years. Yet within a couple of months of feeling low, I had a serious suicide plan.

I’d not told anyone that I was feeling low, let alone exactly how bad it was. I hadn’t told myself how bad it was. Suicidal ideation is always in the background for me, my fantasy escape route if I need it, so it was easy not to notice that it had crossed from fantasy to concrete reality.

Sitting on that bench, I realised I needed help. But from who? I didn’t want to burden my partner, who I love, with the responsibility of knowing I was suicidal. Talking to family wasn’t an option for the same reason, and none of them live in this country anyway. Having moved to the UK only a couple of years ago, none of my friends here knew my history of mental health problems and I was keen to keep it that way. The only thing I could think to do was to go to my GP and get a referral for counselling.

So back in August 2011, I made an appointment with my GP. I checked in with the receptionist, who then asked me to weigh myself on the machine in the middle of the waiting room, as well as handing me a slip of paper with a survey about my drinking. This was just routine, but at 21 I had been diagnosed with alcohol dependency and a borderline eating disorder. Already anxious about talking to the GP about my mental health, questions on my alcohol use and weight exacerbated negative feelings associated with past poor treatment from health services. By the time the GP called me in, I’d already decided not to talk. Instead, I asked for, and received, superfluous advice about a minor hand injury.

It’s taken me 18 months of not getting better to feel desperate and exhausted enough to seek help again. Three weeks ago, a friend of ours attempted suicide and I finally felt able to share with my partner exactly how bad things had got for me and how I’m feeling now. It was hard – for me to tell, and for him to hear – but his support since then has been everything I needed it to be that it hasn’t been before now.

And today, I made another appointment to see my GP. But that’s for my next post.

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