Lovely readers, I’ll prewarn you now that this post will probably be full of all sorts of things where you think “too much information”, feel free to close and move on and wait for my next post which will probably be less “share-y”. You have been warned!
As many of you know, I’ve been really struggling this year with low confidence and very bad health anxiety that has been increasing week on week. Last week it got so bad and I was getting so many worrying symptoms that I finally looked into getting a smear test done at home as I’m 2 years overdue and have never had one before. A few people thought I’d definitely be able to have it done at home so I thought I’d find out and go from there. I sent Joe off to our doctor’s surgery because I was too scared to phone and ask and probably be told no. I had to wait until today to be contacted and as I expected, they don’t offer smear tests at home. At some point in the future I will write a post about all of the ways in which being housebound/agoraphobic has hindered me, from the mundane things like clothes shopping and getting haircuts to the serious stuff like not getting medical investigations or having dental appointments for 4 years, the list is long and probably surprising to those of you who’ve not experienced these conditions. I had luckily already prepared myself for being told today that I wouldn’t be allowed to have my test at home which would have been extremely difficult for me to cope with anyway but going to the doctors is significantly worse for me. My mum had very kindly offered to come over from the Isle of Wight, a 6 hour round trip, to go with me if I needed her to (I’m sure she must be very glad that I haven’t taken her up on this). I asked the receptionist what other options I had and if there were any quiet periods at the surgery as sitting in a waiting room full of sick people is extremely difficult for me (it’s actually my idea of hell but I didn’t want to sound dramatic on the phone). She wasn’t hugely helpful or understanding; this is probably the same receptionist who gave me completely incorrect information when I finally (after 10 months of psyching myself up) requested a telephone consultation to have my beta-blocker medication dose increased and refused to give me a telephone appointment, informing me those appointments don’t exist anymore. This caused me a huge amount of stress and panic and when I asked what a person with severe anxiety who’s virtually housebound is meant to do, she just reiterated the (incorrect) rules. I was lucky enough to speak to a different receptionist the next day who was absolutely lovely and so sympathetic and understanding and told me that I’d been told the wrong thing about the rules and had worried for 24 hours and barely slept or ate in that time for no reason and that telephone appointments do still exist and my medication increase had been approved. Anyway, the not so nice receptionist gave me a couple of different clinic options, all of which were getting further away from my flat (we don’t drive and my surgery is around the corner), I asked if there were any quiet periods at the surgery and she said no, it’s never quiet – this woman could really do with some teaching about sympathy and bending the truth a little rather than just scaring me silly when I’ve already said that I’m severely agoraphobic and socially anxious. She then mentioned that a cancellation had been made today with their senior nurse and I could be seen at 12.20 with enough time for the appointment to be over and done with before Joe had to go to work. I reluctantly agreed and decided that being anxious about it for the next 3.5 hours was preferable to booking on another day and worrying for significantly longer.
I took my beta-blockers to slow my heart rate down and took some diazepam, reserved for emergency needs like this (I’ve been given a very limited supply that is closely monitored by my doctors so that I don’t end up relying on it or addicted to it). I’m never sure how well the diazepam will work. I almost never take it and so I forget its effects and they seem to come and go in waves and it’s relatively easy for my brain to fight off the effects if I allow it so I do have to kind of give in and relinquish control to the drug and let it work; I did that today and thankfully it worked. On the walk to the doctors I could feel my brain wanting to be anxious, wondering why I was fine when I was in one of my most feared situations but the medication blanketed over that nicely and while I didn’t feel great, I kind of didn’t care about anything and didn’t feel worried. Joe had agreed to come in with me but luckily, while I was waiting I realised I didn’t really need him in there and I’d like to retain some mystery in our relationship for as long as possible that doesn’t involve watching nurses shining a torch on my lady bits, putting things up there and then taking samples out of it. I was seen late but I managed to go in on my own and the nurse was just lovely! She hadn’t been told anything about me which was a bit of a shock but she saw instantly how nervous I was and knew from my notes it was my first test and when I explained about the agoraphobia and why I was 2 years late for the test and about the medication she seemed genuinely impressed that I was even there and just got what a big deal it was for me. This is in stark contrast to much of my previous experience and treatment where I’m often dismissed, disbelieved and treated with aggression for “behaving like a child” and “making a fuss”. I ended up crying, I think with relief, and also because the meds make my brain loopy. She told me everything she’d be doing, explained what all of the different types of results and consequences could be and then chatted to me while I got my kit off and she got the test stuff ready. I really can’t praise her enough. I hate not knowing what’s going on and I’m terrified of pain and it didn’t hurt at all, it wasn’t comfortable but having people sticking things up your lady bits when you’re not in the throes of passion never is but the test itself I barely felt and whenever my breathing was getting fast she got me to slow down and before I knew it it was done! I thanked her multiple times and I hope she knew just how much her treatment of me helped because it honestly couldn’t have gone better, thank goodness for wonder drugs and wonder nurses! She also assured me that unless she wins the lottery, she won’t be leaving anytime soon and so she’ll be around to do my future tests and I’m allowed to request her so that was a huge help. I even got a sticker as I mentioned that that should be a thing given that having a smear test is way more impressive than cleaning your teeth. I think smear stickers should be a thing – “I only cried once on the nurse”, “I looked after my cervix today”, that kind of thing! Mine had a snowflake on which was apt given that it was lightly snowing here today!
So, now I have the two week wait until my results come through. I’m not feeling calm but I am at least calmer than I was. I’m very worried about what to do if the results come back as anything other than my cervix is beautiful and healthy but I’m trying to just deal with that when it comes. Today at least, I’m very focused on how brave I’ve been and how proud I am that I managed to face my fears of doctors, invasive tests, showing people my lady bits, and sitting in a waiting room with sick people. None of those fears will go away, as you know, that’s not how my condition works but at least I fought through them today to get a test done that I needed to have. The nurse even said that I should be really proud of myself and that I’d done brilliantly so that was really nice, I definitely earnt my sticker. For anyone worrying about having their smear test, please try not to, it doesn’t hurt and it’s not even that uncomfortable, at least it wasn’t for me. I have an extremely low pain threshold and often get criticised for fussing too much and making a big deal out of things when they’re painful for me rather than uncomfortable but this honestly wasn’t painful and the nurse was so understanding and going at lunchtime was great because there were hardly any people there in the waiting room. Oh, and diazepam! I wouldn’t have got past my front door without that today and my lovely boyfriend. Get it booked ladies, if I can do it then anyone without a severe anxiety disorder can. Yes, it’s scary but it’s important and you might even get a sticker if you mention it while you’re there!
Before I disappear, I just want to say a huge thanks to my best friend Katie, my superstar online friend Claire and my mum, without whom I’d not have been brave enough to go for this test today. Huge apologies to them too for way oversharing and probably boring them senseless with my ridiculous worries and fears and obsessive thoughts but thanks to all of you, and my lovely boyfriend Joe who went with me to the doctors today, I was able to get tested and hopefully I’m now one step closer to being told I’m fine and that my brain is a massive overthinking hypochondriacal mess (I hope their letters don’t comment on your brain state but you know!).