Invisible Things, Part 9

I mentioned in my In-Service Training recap that December was a stressful month. I went from full-steam-ahead mid-term workload to sitting around in a hostel wondering what to do with myself; then, after the first week, to being surrounded by other Americans 24/7; and from there to a tightly-scheduled Western-style seminar the likes of which I had not experienced since August. On top of that, one of my best friends was sent home on medical and I started to have a breathing problem from the pollution.

All this is to say, I was alternately quite busy and completely at a loss for what to do with myself, I had a lot on my mind, and I was rather stressed — none of which are particularly helpful if you’re in an anxious frame of mind. I had initially resolved to talk to the doctor about my anxiety at the same time as my lung problem; but when the initial appointment proved unhelpful (re: lungs), I gave up the idea. I almost approached the other doctor when he diagnosed the breathing issue at a second appointment, but I’d had an upsetting two days (because I couldn’t breathe) and couldn’t face an even more upsetting interview.

It wasn’t until after a conversation with a friend, after the seminar, that I finally approached the PCMO. She was having a stressful time, and I recommended that she talk to the doctor about it…and then, with a sort of mental sigh, realized that I couldn’t very well give advice that I wasn’t willing to follow myself. And the doctor’s thorough, on-point response to my asthma problem gave me faith that he would take it seriously.

So I called the office the Tuesday after IST, while I was still in the capital. Thankfully, the doctor I wanted to talk to picked up; when I asked if he was free at all, he invited me to his office.

I went. I sat down in his office and said nothing; he asked what was wrong. “I think I’m having an anxiety problem,” I said in a muted, shaky voice.

At his prompting, I outlined a couple of events from the last few weeks; a few I remembered from the list I’d made (which I had not, in the end, brought with me; it felt like overkill, somehow); and — reluctantly, terrified that it counted as medical nondisclosure[1] even though I’d never been diagnosed or even sought a diagnosis — mentioned that this was something that had been going on since before I’d joined Peace Corps.

The doctor considered this, asked me some questions, and then left me with a small sheaf of paperwork: a series of questionnaires designed to measure symptoms for a variety of mental health problems. “In the last two weeks, on a scale of 0 to 3, how often have you…?” I filled them out quickly, trying to ignore the niggling voice that wondered how on earth a four-point scale covering less than a month’s time could possibly constitute accurate measurement[2]. The doctor came back, took the papers, and tallied my scores.

“This is not that far from average,” he said with some puzzlement. My heart plummeted. I had managed to convince myself to ask for help — had managed to construct a narrative that showed I needed it — but if the numbers said I didn’t…

But, the doctor continued, since this was clearly a problem that had been bothering me for some time, he would put me on the counselor’s list. But it might be a week or so before I heard from her, because he couldn’t label my case as a priority. She might call me by the end of that week or the beginning of the next.

So I went home from the capital straight into the holiday season, at once relieved that there was finally help on the horizon and terrified about what that might mean.


[1] Failing to share some part of your medical history, for which you can be medically separated (the nice phrase Peace Corps uses in place of ‘fired for medical reasons’).
[2] I still don’t like these things, even though I’m coming to understand the how and why of them. Every time I have to fill one out my brain screams, “But is 75% of the time a 2 or a 3???”

One thought on “Invisible Things, Part 9”

  1. I’m glad that your breathing problems at least got you in touch with a good doctor 🙂
    Silver linings and all that.
    I’m glad that he didn’t simply dismiss your “low” score.

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