VIRGINIA BEACH — Thankfully, my brand new doctor had a sense of humor similar to mine. Still, I’m sure she didn’t expect a patient to all but laugh in her face when she handed out a diagnosis.
But, seriously, it wasn’t just improbable.
It was ludicrous.
In April 2008, I was a newlywed, not quite a year into my marriage to a man I had been in a relationship with for eight years before our June 2007 wedding. I had been raising his three children since the youngest was three. He was Navy, and he had just been transferred from Little Creek to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
I had been stationed in Maryland for two tours on Navy active duty. Living in Annapolis had always been a dream of mine. And then I was here, with my new family, beginning renovations on an adorable split level home. It was heaven.
That January, I came down with a touch of stomach bug. Nothing major, just a bit queasy. I was a little tired, but it got confusing. It came and went for a couple of weeks.
I had been diagnosed in 2003 with Hepatitis C, and, though I had managed it well, I thought maybe it was doing something new. I put finding a new doctor at the top of my priority list.
I explained. She listened. She was baffled, too. She sent me to five different specialists to try to pin it down. I had a strange rash, deadly nausea, stomach cramps and other digestive issues, dizziness, lightheadedness, headaches. And I had vivid, awful dreams when I didn’t have insomnia, as well as random pictures flashing through my mind when I was trying to go to sleep. Jerking bolt upright as I started dozing off, gasping as if someone had punched me in the gut. I couldn’t focus because of the lack of sleep. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t get organized.
I was exhausted all the time, with a fatigue so pervasive it sometimes felt like walking across the room would wipe me out completely. The frustration was making me pretty cranky, too. None of this was like me at all.
Dermatologist. Neurologist. Three of the area’s top gastrointestinal specialists. Labs and more labs. For four months, I was poked, prodded, scanned, and stuck for blood. Ultrasound: fine. Brain scan: normal. Labs: not bad, considering the Hepatitis C. Dermatologist: the rash wasn’t a rash; it was hives.
Six doctors had one conclusion: anxiety.
When my doctor told me, I did what any self-respecting Type A would do. I cracked up.
These people clearly didn’t understand that “nerves” were never a part of my make-up. I was an epic multitasker. I thrived under pressure. I had not only been comfortable on stage from the time I was in elementary school, I aced public speaking as an adult student in college. I tutored it, in fact, along with three other subjects, while taking a full course load, working at the college newspaper, writing for two others, and running a theater company.
I had just pulled off orchestrating the merger of two Virginia households into one in Maryland while planning and executing a wedding in Upstate New York. When I encountered difficulties, I yanked up my bootstraps and powered through.
I was sick. I wasn’t upset.
Anxiety? Not a chance.
My doctor smiled with me, then withdrew a set of stapled papers from her filing cabinet. “Symptoms of Anxiety” was typed at the top. I rolled my eyes and looked at the list, still grinning. That grin faded, the closer I got to the bottom. I had every last one.
This is how it happens for many people who are eventually diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD.
In April of 2008, I was months away from learning that’s what had made me so physically sick. But I solved problems. I didn’t let them win. I wanted this fixed, and fast. I still had trouble believing it was anxiety, but I asked for the name of a therapist. I left, shaking my head and chuckling. Anxiety. Right.
I wouldn’t be laughing for long.
This is the first of an occasional series of columns by Fields, a Virginia Beach resident and regular contributor to The Independent News. She has worked for The Virginian-Pilot and Military Newspapers of Virginia, and she has written for a number of local publications. Fields, a New Jersey native, is also a Navy veteran. Reach her via firstname.lastname@example.org or call (757) 754-7923.
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