I’m dreading this week solely because of the one major blight stuck in the middle: my years-overdue GYN exam. I started having anticipatory nightmares when I scheduled it back in the first few days of January, although I was able to put the subconscious obsessive (and excessive) fears to rest until I saw my reminder pop up on my calendar a few days ago for the upcoming appointment.
I’m confident that it’s nearly universal that women don’t like getting Pap smears; however, I think my level of phobia makes even the more anxious women who also are unusually fearful of the routine procedure comparatively look like they are as comfortable as they would be eating breakfast at home.
I’m not trying to be hyperbolic or dramatic; my fear is that severe. Or it least it has been post-rape (prior to the attack, it was debilitating enough that I only went once in all the years that have elapsed since it became something I should undergo every couple of years). I’m really hoping that the CBT work I’ve been doing to help temper my anxiety will reward me with an anxiety level low enough when I’m on the table that the exam is possible. I haven’t had to truly test whatever gains I may have made in my ability to diffuse anxiety, crippling or moderate, yet since this whole self-directed therapy has only been in operation for five weeks or so. Of course, because I have generalized anxiety disorder and PTSD, anxiety is a constant “friend” in my daily life, but I’ve been fortunate enough lately to have relatively mild, stable anxiety. The week before our trip to Washington, D.C. was definitely more stressful than my usual routine because I had so many medical appointments with providers I had never met. I was pleased with how well I handled the appointments, meaning I stayed reasonably calm and communicative instead of spiraling into an irritable, agitated tizzy and becoming unintentionally mute. However, I’m unable to definitively isolate that to improved anxiety control, since I had the benefit of Ben’s accompaniment (a strong calming force) and my prepared lists to help me advocate for my needs and describe my symptoms without shutting down verbally. Anyway, the combined improvements in these variables did make for a more tolerable experiences with the doctors, which were also more successful in terms of what was accomplished at the appointments given the more thorough communication. They were still extremely tiring, but the stress level was noticeably less severe than all previous first appointments. While it’s somewhat embarrassing (pathetic?) that I’m a full-grown adult and still find a visit to a doctor a struggle, I’m trying to respect my genuine challenges and be self-compassionate, work with them to optimize my chance of success, and recognize that growth is possible and happening.
How my exam Wednesday goes is largely under my control. The doctor knows how to conduct the procedure and will have no intentions of hurting me. All he needs to do his job as easily and painlessly is possible is for me to relax and comply. Probably more so than in any other type of appointment, the importance of keeping my anxiety at bay so that I can relax enough to physically permit the exam to take place is paramount. It’s undeniably uncomfortable, but it doesn’t need to be horrendously painful (as it was one time I had a failed attempt at the exam). Fighting it and tensing up will directly affect the pain level and length of time the procedure takes; the more compliant I can be, the sooner it will be over and the less dreadful the discomfort. I purposely restated this a couple of times here to reinforce the concept and buy in to the effort to stay calm.
Hopefully, I’ll be brave and strong while still communicating openly about my needs. If I get through it and I’m healthy, I shouldn’t have to go again for three years and that should provide some solace to my catastrophizing phobic mind. I also hear there’s a potential to earn a movie I want on iTunes from Ben if I do a good job! Bribes may sound very silly and immature, and admittedly they are, but they do seem to dangle an alluring carrot that helps me cover the race with a little less of a monumental effort.