In 1996, when I was twelve years old, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder with a side order of performance anxiety. Since that diagnosis twenty years ago, I have been treated by seven different psychiatrists. In the past year or so, I started on my eighth psychiatrist. Fortunately, I have only positive feedback for her on my anonymous clinic surveys. (Even though I usually so enjoy chronicling my copious complaints of incompetence and complacency.)
When I learned from this eighth psychiatrist that a previous combination of prescriptions I’d taken for years came with a high risk of seizures, I started to doubt that my previous doctors had fully understood their “primum non nocere” (first do no harm) oath. After she continued to explain that one of those pills I’d been prescribed for years was highly addictive and highly dangerous when consumed with alcohol,
I wondered if I should find a lawyer to explain “primum non nocere” to those ass clowns. They seem to have written it off as some irrelevant Hogwarts mumbo jumbo. Maybe the drug companies played a part?
But I digress. Last time I visited Dr. 8, I learned another little lesson. I was in an even more nervous state than usual because I had an impending job interview scheduled that same week. To me, a job interview is right up there with skydiving or sober karaoke. As soon as I learn I have a job interview, I go into flight mode for days, assuming the cowering posture of a baby deer ready to be pounced by a hiding tiger. Hardly a confident or assuring first impression. My new doctor picked up on my excessive stammering, shaking, and sweating and offered a solution.
She called it ” Propranolol.” A drug created in the 1960s, it’s a “beta-blocker used to treat high blood pressure.” As it turns out, it also treats the physical symptoms of performance anxiety such as shaking, increased heart rate, dry mouth, shortness of breath and all the other awkward hallmarks of my most humiliating moments.
On the upside, I know of this treatment now and can begin to educate myself and use it when necessary. For that, I am very grateful. But there is also a large part of me that is asking why the hell those seven other doctors never mentioned this treatment as a possibility. I guess the addictive and harmful ones were a better fit? That makes total sense.
Since Dr.8 said the words, “there is a performance-anxiety drug to help treat your symptoms” I’ve had a non-stop reel of embarrassing memories playing in a 24-hour theater in my head. The time I could not stop stuttering in front of my junior-high crush while trying to give a speech, when I walked on stage and forgot the piece I had worked months to memorize, the many times I had to run to the bathroom before or during a test, my panic attacks in front of the kids at camp, and I could go on for a long time so, I’ll stop.
I also wonder if this were a different disorder if there would have been a different response from the various authority figures in my childhood. Would I have been teased or ostracized for a biological problem completely out of my control? Would I have been marked down on speeches, tests, presentations, or musical performances because of a medically diagnosed disorder affecting my ability to think clearly? Would it have been suggested that I merely suffered from severe PMS? Are the adults guiding our children any more informed today?
Either way, I now well know that just because someone is an adult with a fancy title or position of authority, I can’t assume they know what they’re talking about. From now on, I’m going to the library to verify thus making my transformation into Hermione Granger nearly complete.