Lessons in Bravery
My doctor has a special label for me. “FAINT RISK” reads her computer screen’s obnoxious banner in bold red letters. It used to embarrass me, but not anymore.
When I’m here, I get special treatment. I’m greeted in my individual room with orange juice and water, a nurse on hand with a cold cloth for my clammy forehead. I lay down. I settle in. I feel my anxiety climb through my veins, into my throat, out through my legs. I’m shaking all over and I can’t tell you why. It’s routine at this point, as normal and expected as the orange juice.
Today I’m wearing my boyfriend’s t-shirt because I need the extra comfort. I was up all night dreading my morning alarm, the one that would blare at me to man up and face my fears. I hate that expression. “Man Up.” Today I’ll show the world how strong a woman is.
But the bravery can wait a minute. I’m wearing my boyfriend’s t-shirt because I need a pinch of courage, the same courage I felt when I made the phone call to schedule today’s appointment. I know it’s not going to be positive, but it needs to be done. There is a moment in every anxious person’s life when the anxiety subsides long enough to allow attention to a real-life problem. The false warnings make room for the real threats. This is my first moment like that.
A month ago I was depressed. I cried every day and I questioned my placement in life. I didn’t leave my bed and my loved ones brought me meals. Then the sadness faded as quick as it came and I was left with a balloon-shaped throat, one that gave me no pain, but opened the door to hundreds of questions.
So I’m here, at the doctor’s office, waiting to get answers. They’re answers I need, but answers I’m afraid to hear. I’ve been warned of this possibility. It’s a sister to anxiety, to missed periods, to dry skin. I excel in these categories far past my academic potential. I’m queen of them all and I rule them like a natural leader, one who can rewrite any situation and find the positives surrounding it.
But there is no positive to the number on the doctor’s scale. The number is much higher than I’ve seen before. It’s out of my range, past what I thought I’d ever reach. How long has it been since I was here last? Two months? That number can’t be right.
But I step back on the scale and my weight stays the same, the decimals only climbing. My balloon throat inflates throughout my body. My limbs feel heavier than they did this morning. Oh the power those digital numbers hold.
In a matter of minutes I’m whisked away into the lab, a doctor ready to stick a needle in my arm. They say I might need to do this more often. They say there’s something wrong. The balloon in my neck isn’t a mirage. What’s a thyroid anyway?
Apparently, mine isn’t working right. I’m all out of whack. But the details require aggressive research, research I stayed up all night dreading.
“It’s nothing too serious.”
“...more lab tests, ultrasound, maybe blood draw every six weeks.”
I’ve lost myself in the conversation. My head is fuzzy. I lay down.
I’m dreading the weeks to come.
And after minutes of tears and procrastination, I face my fear. A blood draw. An invasion. A prick that triggers every drop of panic that lives within my wimpy soul. I’m a shell of a human with a hurricane of commotion pulsing through every vein. It’s leaking out a tube in my arm and it’s choking the breath out of my throat. And then it’s over.
It only takes me a few minutes to recover, and I’m sitting in my car again, still conscious, still breathing. I’m dreading the next time, and hoping it’s not so soon, but the feeling of bravery in my chest is making me glow with pride. It’s the first time I’ve been truly proud of myself in years. I’ve been shaded by disappointment in my mental health, in my inability to be brave. I could get used to this feeling. Not the needle in my arm, but the relief and acceptance of this new kind of self-care. I’m waiting for the results, and I’m nervous. I don’t know what the future looks like.
I know I’ll be fine, that anything I face is considered common. But any diagnosis will require a new venture into the phobias that scare me most. A blood test every six weeks sounds like my personal hell, but I’m going to take care of myself, whatever that means. Still, a part of me is still hoping a face mask and nice bath can fix this.
Though there is fear, I feel a sense of control. It’s odd, yet comforting for the person I am. I’m used to unplanned panic, to personal escapades which avoid the unknown, to moments of weakness resulting in defeat. For once, I’m finding strength, I’m finding confidence, I’m finding hope.
And in this fear I’m finding love. I’m feeling the support of those around me, the people who want me healthy. They will do anything to hold me close and love me harder than ever. In myself, I’m finding that love to. It’s hard enough to love yourself on a good day. Now, I’m squeezing every extra pound a little bit tighter, praying soon it will all fade into good health and total control.
I’m loving the body that holds me, the one that less-than-gracefully tries to help me handle fear. I’m loving my frog-like balloon throat, the one that gave me a warning sign, the one that made me search for answers. And I’m loving the ones that love me, that put me on a team. Through every panic and every prick, I’m going to stay true to all that.
Cover photo by Anda Ambrosini