2015. I sit looking around the waiting room of my local Doctor’s Surgery the colour scheme struck me. It was beige. Beige walls, beige carpet, maroon chairs with beige arm rests. A pile of magazines clutter a beige table, rifling through I find they are all months out of date. In the corner a splash of colour from the children’s toys. There are some children waiting but none of them play.
Around me I can hear a chorus of coughs and sniffs. I shuffle uncomfortably. I’m not here because I’m ill, at least not physically, and I would prefer to return home cold-free. My hands begin to feel dirty. I’d touched the touchscreen sign-in system that everyone else must have touched. As I begin to spiral into germ-induced stress, fingers twitching, feet tapping, my name is called. I glance at the clock as I get up. Only fifteen minutes behind schedule.
I shuffle after the GP who has already disappeared out of sight. I take a chance that the room with the open door is the one I’m supposed to go in. The GP sits down on her black rolling desk chair and wheels herself up to her computer. I reluctantly sit on the chair closest to the desk and Mum sits next to me. I no longer feel like a fifteen-year-old. I feel like a five-year-old, shy, insecure, staring at my hands in my lap. I can hear my Mum explaining why we’re here but fear makes her voice sound far away.
My Mum has been told to leave so the GP can talk to me alone. I watch as the door shuts behind her and then promptly return my eyes to my hands. My whole appointment took only ten minutes, so this conversation could have only been a few minutes at most. I tried my best to explain the complicated feelings muddling my brain, but I don’t believe that I did those feelings much justice. By the end of the conversation, she finishes furiously typing on her keyboard and spins herself around. I force myself to meet her eyes for a second and look back down again.
“Ok,” she begins, “I think you’re showing symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder.”
My brain must have switched off at this point because everything she said next is blurry. I like to think my brain was being defensive as this Doctor was accusing it of having all sorts of problems! She asked something about having any questions, to which I shook my head politely, and something about putting me on the waiting list for therapy but that this would take a couple months. Next thing I know, I’m shuffling back out the door, listening to the click of her keyboard get quieter as I walk down the hall. I get in the car and go home.
Looking back now, I knew I had some form of anxiety but had never said it out loud before. This GP took only ten minutes to give the thing that had caused me so much pain and continues to make my life harder each day a name. Ten minutes and my life was changed. Giving it a name made it real which frightened me, although at this point, I was riddled with anxiety, so I was frightened by pretty much everything! Yet naming it helps me to this day.
I wrote this piece in my first year of university, three years after my diagnosis. Attending uni was a huge leap in terms of life experience and a huge test for my anxiety. It felt freeing and brave to write about my experience then. Now, looking back as a 23-year-old, my feelings are rather more complicated.
I’ve realised that, in all honesty, I was diagnosed with anxiety at the ‘right time’. I was able to get referred for CBT within a couple of months. Now young people – scared fifteen-year-olds sitting numb in the GPs chair just like me – are looking at very long wait, sometimes years.
CBT was somewhat helpful, it gave me tools and worksheets, but meeting with this stranger once a week for six weeks with a strict time limit of 45 minutes lacked the personal, social touch. It wasn’t her fault; I was almost certainly her tenth client of the day, with probably another ten more to go after me.
It’s the personal, social touch that makes mentoring so important. A chat can be a lifeline. A trip out, an escape. It can make all the difference in a world that can feel like no one cares. Because that’s really all young people want – someone to care, someone to listen, a connection, a champion.
Eight years on from my diagnosis, I’ve learnt that anxiety will be a rather annoying companion, maybe for the rest of my life. I’ve learnt that some days anxiety continually attacks at every opportunity but on other days it surrenders and retreats to the back edges of my mind. Most importantly, I’ve learnt to celebrate the small things in my life because what others would consider easy, such as getting on the bus, is a huge accomplishment for me and one worth celebrating. I am hopeful that I will learn much more in the next eight years, meet so many new people, visit new places, and perhaps my anxiety will still be bad or perhaps it may be much better. One thing I know is that having support, connection, someone to listen, someone to champion me, celebrate with me, push me and comfort me, makes all the difference in the world.