Getting over my dread of calling the doctor
March 9, 2013 6:35 AM   Subscribe

I am filled with dread when I think about calling to make a doctor's appointment. I need to get over it so I can get help for depression. Help?

I am enormously fortunate to have insurance and a doctor, but I am scared of calling to go see him. I have only ever been a handful of times, and it was only when things became physically intolerable. He and his staff have always been super nice and helpful, but making those appointments filled me with incredible dread. Even when I am indisputably sick and clearly not getting better on my own, I will punch the numbers in my phone and then erase them for hours. There is no rhyme or reason to my fear, but it's there and it's real. So that's the back story.

For the past ten or so years I have felt depressed on and off. I am suicidal a couple of times a year. I'm not suicidal now, but I think I'm getting depressed again. A few years ago I started keeping a diary to keep track of when I felt my most depressed, to see if it coincided with anything (time of year, menstrual cycle) and it has no pattern that I can see. I used to cut myself, which is embarrassing to admit, but it felt good because it gave me a clear, calm thing to focus on without any outside thoughts troubling me. I haven't done it for years, but nothing else gave me comfort and relief like that. Sometimes I am not depressed at all, and the whole thing seems like a bad dream that I'm waking up from.

When I'm depressed is when I can least stomach the idea of picking up the phone and making an appointment and sharing my problem with the super nice lady in the office. At least for my other appointments I was clearly sick and had physical symptoms, and even then I found it extremely hard to call. Here is what I tell myself to try to convince myself to do it: I need help. They've heard and seen it all. The conversation will be an unremarkable part of their day. Millions of other people talk on the phone with no problems. Millions of other people are depressed. Despite the sensible self-talk, I have managed to avoid taking this step for years. Less constructively, I also tell myself that if I somehow screwed up my courage and just made the damn appointment already, I would be so embarrassed that I'd downplay everything and slink away after wasting everyone's time. Or there won't be an opening for six months, so why bother? Or he'll want me to see a therapist and then I can go through the phone thing again, with the added terror of talking to strangers and going to a new place. When I am not depressed, I think I actually could man up and make an appointment and get help like an adult, but I always just put it off because hey, I feel great, what was I so upset about?

So, this was a lot of awful personal details, but mainly I am looking for advice in just getting through the phone call to make an appointment. Give me a phone script. A story about how you got over your fear of the phone. Anything to help me take this step.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
"I need to schedule an appointment. I think I'm feeling depressed and would like to see someone." Have your calendar open for dates.
posted by quodlibet at 6:55 AM on March 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have been you. Just a few months ago, I was in your EXACT situation, or close enough that the little details don't make any difference. It took me almost four years to work up to getting out and getting the help I needed.

It sounds like you've already told yourself all the things I would tell you, except this: You WILL BE BETTER. Especially if your doctor feels like medication will help with your anxiety. That made an enormous difference in my life, and it gave the regular medication for depression time to work.

Yes, you'll probably want to see a therapist as well as a medical doctor about this. The thing is, though, once your doctor helps you past this first step with medication, you'll really WANT to see a therapist. You won't feel as anxious and scared anymore. It's a tremendous relief.

Do what quodlibet advised. It's short, simple, and to the point. You can do this. I did, and my life is 100 percent better for it.
posted by ronofthedead at 7:07 AM on March 9, 2013

I, too, dread calling strangers on the phone. I can only imagine how much worse it would be if I were depressed! I'm sorry you feel this way. My advice: just do it, right now. Pick up your phone. Dial the number. Don't allow yourself to think about a script, or worry about phrasing it just right (this is your brain trying to find a way to put off making the call)... just dial. When the nice person on the other end answers, you will figure out a way to say what you need to say. They are nice, and deal with nervous and worried people every day, and they will understand if you struggle for words a little. Anything you say, they have heard before, and they understand. You can do it!
posted by coupdefoudre at 7:11 AM on March 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've done a lot of research on procrastination, and it might help to remember you're not alone. Phone calls, especially to make doctors' appointments, is one of the top things on which people--even people who aren't depressed intermittently!--procrastinate over.

I know from experience that just making the appointment, no matter how far in the future, results in my feeling immediately better. The benefit you get immediately is the satisfaction of checking something off your to-do list, feeling like you're making strides toward feeling better. Don't think about it so much. Just do it. Do it even if you feel so great you know you will never be sad again. Just be a robot and get it done. You can worry about what you'll say or do when the time arrives.

And you might reward yourself after making the appointment. It's not a small thing. The more you minimize it, the worse you feel for not doing something that is allegedly so small and easy. Be on your own side: This is hard, this is a big deal for me, and I take this seriously. Try not to belittle yourself on top of the dread. Think of what you'd tell a good friend in the same situation. Do it! Do it NOW!
posted by annabellee at 7:16 AM on March 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Call and tell them you wish to be screened for depression.

In fact, you can write out a little script if that will help you. But CALL!
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:18 AM on March 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do you have a friend or family member who could call for you? I know it may feel like admitting defeat to keep avoiding doing it yourself, but this is an emergency, and in an emergency, do whatever actually gets you the help, and then you can get help for all of your anxiety, including your phone anxiety. Good luck!
posted by decathecting at 7:26 AM on March 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

You know, you don't have to tell the receptionist you are depressed. You can say it is for something else and then just tell your doctor once you get there. Do you have any other ongoing medical concern? If so, just say you want to get that checked out because it's acting up. Say your foot hurts. Say whatever it takes to get you through making the appointment. It really doesn't matter what you say on the phone, as long as you tell them you have an acute concern and you don't make it something ER-worthy.

Then type up a short note about your depression and anxiety and how severe it has been. If you get to the appointment and can't speak, hand him the note. He will understand.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:06 AM on March 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I like decathecting's idea of having someone else make the call for you. In the absence of that, divide it into small steps. Lull yourself into a sense of tranquility and peace and calm and slip into the call like a warm bath.

Per St. Alia, write a script. Make it as exact as you can: "Hi, this is Anonymous. I would like to schedule an appointment with Dr. Newhart. I am available on Monday mornings, Wednesday afternoons, and Tuesday and Thursday evenings."

Then read it out. Don't call the doctor's office, just read the script. Edit it. Make it perfect.

Now that it's perfect, practice it. Get it down. Get the flow of words, the emphases, the pauses. Close your eyes if that helps. Go to a place you feel comfortable. You're not calling the doctor, you're just reading a script. Give it a dozen good read-throughs, then reward yourself with something small.

Now pick up the phone. Don't dial, just hold the phone like you normally would if you were making a call. You're not calling the doctor, you're just reading a script. Give it a dozen good read-throughs, then reward yourself with something small.

Now dial the number. You're not calling the doctor, you're just reading a script. Give it one good read-through. Don't let them interrupt you the first time. Give it another good read-through if you need to.

Now answer any questions they have. Write down when your appointment is. Reward yourself with something small. Call or email someone (MeMail me, if you need to) to tell them when your appointment is.
posted by Etrigan at 8:18 AM on March 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Could you make the appointment in person? I mean, walk in to their office and ask for an appointment (for another day, presumably). Maybe this process wouldn't trigger your dread in quite the same way.
posted by stebulus at 8:31 AM on March 9, 2013

I used to be scared of using the phone, and like you, I had no idea why. Maybe it was not being able to see the person on the other end and being able to see those non-verbal signals. But the way I got over my fear, honestly, was forcing myself to do it more. I started a career that involved a lot of phone interviews and even cold calling people. Although I never felt confident in my ability to schmooze or strike up conversations, I quickly learned how most phone conversations go and became very comfortable. I started by writing a script of everything I planned to say and how I planned to say it, then eventually just made a bullet list of topics I didn't want to forget, and eventually I didn't do any preparation before making phone calls.

Anyway, what might help is writing down what you want to say. I'd write out what I planned to say if someone answered and what I planned to say if it went to voicemail. Maybe read it through naturally and see how it sounds. If you are dealing with depression, you may wish to see a therapist who can do cognitive behavioral therapy with you, and in that case, you could setup a standing weekly appointment so you don't need to worry about calling to schedule everytime. But you will have to get through that initial call. As fearful as you are, and how self-conscious you might be afterward, I guarantee the person on the other end of the call will think nothing of it. Receptionists are on the phone all day long and the only people they remember are the people who yell at them and are rude. You sound too nice to do that. :) Know before you call what your availability is or have your calendar open when you call.

The receptionist probably doesn't care if you are depressed and probably has people say more personal stuff than that to her. You can simply tell her you aren't feeling well and it's of a personal nature. The only reason they want to know is so they know whether to schedule a sick visit, a full exam, a request for refills, etc. She doesn't actually need to know what your ailment is.
posted by AppleTurnover at 8:39 AM on March 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Can you make an appointment via email? More and more physicians have that as an option.
posted by Violet Hour at 8:49 AM on March 9, 2013

You asked for a script, so here:

"Hi, I wanted to schedule an appointment with Dr. X." That's it. That's all you need to really say.

Possible followup questions and prompts:

Q: "What is it regarding?" A: "I haven't been feeling well and I'd like to talk to the doctor about it."
Q: "What is your name?"
Q: "What's your date of birth?"
Q: "Do you prefer mornings or afternoons?"
Q: "My first available is x day at x time."

I mean, look, you have done this before. You admitted you've seen the doctor a few times. You know how these go. The only thing it sounds like you're scared about is telling the receptionist you're depressed. You don't have to tell her. Just tell her you've been dealing with ongoing malaise. She is not a nurse - she only asks to know what kind of appointment to schedule for you. You know your fears are irrational, which is why you're here. So just pick up the phone and get it over with as soon as the office opens. If you don't get a hold of the receptionist, call every hour on the hour until you talk to her and it's over with.
posted by AppleTurnover at 8:52 AM on March 9, 2013

This kind of dilemma is what CBT exercises are great for. Here's stuff (concepts, technique, form) perfect for anticipatory anxiety (and, by the way, you need to write "anxiety" down to say to your doctor, along with the word "depression.")

You may also want to look into the psychology of avoidance and habituation: basically, it may help to remind yourself that the more you give into this anxiety, the more anxiety you will have when it becomes really, really, really necessary to not give in.

Oh. And you can send them a letter asking for an appointment, have a friend call and make the appointment for you, write a script as suggested above, pretend that you're a friend calling to make an appointment for another person (who is really you,) and so forth.

MeMail me if you want a gazillion techniques along the lines of "hello, my name is Susan and I'm calling to make an urgent appointment for my good friend Fee with Dr. Smith." I've had a lot of practice with that; sometimes I even pretend that I'm "just here for a med check" (in my mind) while in the waiting room.

(This is not necessarily healthy, but it can work when nothing else does.)
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! at 8:54 AM on March 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

Oh - and if they let you leave voicemails asking for an appointment, DO IT. My doctor's office lets you do that; they call you back and leave a voicemail saying when the appointment will be.

I have called many places at midnight (knowing that they aren't in the office) asking for appointments or assistance.
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! at 8:56 AM on March 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

You can do this. You really, really can. I was you, a little over a year ago (maybe more?). I love our family doctor. He's been my son's doctor since the day he was born and he knows our family and I think he's the bees knees. He plays the bagpipes! He's a hippy doctor who went to Harvard Medical School! But making that appointment was the hardest thing I've ever done.

I made the appointment after several hours of severe anxiety over making the call. I broke down into tears in the exam room and my doctor was so wonderful and compassionate and wrote me a script right then and there. That was the day my life changed.

If you have someone in your life who can make the call for you, do that. If you don't, you can still do this. Making the call is the hardest part. It really, really is. Remember, the depression doesn't want you to get better. It wants you to stay ill. If you can have this one victory over it, half the battle is fought.

YOU CAN DO THIS. Please, feel free to memail me if you need any additional cheerleading. Although, just the thought of doing that is probably anxiety-provoking. I'm wishing you well, and giving you courage, and hoping for the best for you.
posted by cooker girl at 9:01 AM on March 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

How about calling and asking for an appointment for a regular physical/yearly exam? It's an easier conversation to have over the phone, and you can set a goal of mentioning the depression during the appointment. And if you decide not to bring it up you won't come away feeling like you've wasted anyone's time (please don't be hard on yourself if this happens, you can always try again).
posted by balacat at 9:27 AM on March 9, 2013

Ask a friend to sit with you, either in person or via chat/instant message, while you call.

Best to you.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:35 AM on March 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

My HMO prefers to do everything over the web. I can email my doctor directly, describe my problem, and if it's something he can help me with his staff writes back to set up an appointment. If he needs to refer me to a specialist, he notifies the staff behind the scenes and they get in touch with me (email again) to set an appointment. I struggle getting on the phone to make appointments just like you, with many of the same anxieties about wasting people's time and not being seen for months. But I, like you clearly do, I find it much easier to type out my troubles and click a button. Check out your health provider's website and poke around for an alternative way to contact them.
posted by carsonb at 9:59 AM on March 9, 2013

Just wanted to chime in to say that I, too, hate/procrastinate about making doctor's appointments. Or any kind of appointments, really. Lots of people do. Sometimes what I do is make a bunch of appointments at once: make an appointment for a haircut, and the optometrist, and the dentist - I call them all one after the other. If it's less scary for you to imagine making an appointment for, say, a pedicure, why not do that first, for practice?
posted by mskyle at 10:01 AM on March 9, 2013

I have called many places at midnight (knowing that they aren't in the office) asking for appointments or assistance.

Oooooo, me too. This works well for me, when I'm crazy nervous about making a call. Every once in a while, I'll get tripped up when the doctor has an after hours answering service. but in that case, read your script. It also helps me if I can get someone else to dial the number, wait until the receptionist picks up, and then put the phone in my face/turn on the speaker phone. So I'm shoved into it without any option but to proceed.
posted by Coatlicue at 10:20 AM on March 9, 2013

Ask your friend to call and make the appointment for you.

When you get to the appointment, show them a printout of your post. It is an example of one of the issues for which you're seeking treatment.
posted by tel3path at 10:26 AM on March 9, 2013

Agreeing with everyone who says to get a friend to sit with you while you call. I had a friend who said "I'm going to sit here until you make that call." Best thing I ever did, and best thing anyone ever did for me.
posted by andraste at 2:04 PM on March 9, 2013

I don't know if you live in an area where this works or if your doctor is enrolled, but I've found ZocDoc useful.

Basic idea: you put in what kind of MD you want, your insurance plan and they find you doctors. Then you choose an appointment time from the list. They will likely call you to confirm the appointment, but you don't have to initiate any phone calls.

If your MD is enrolled, you could do a search for him on the site.

I'm a horrible procrastinator of making medical appointments and being able to do it online has been really great for me.

I hope you do find a way to make your appointment. Good luck and some hugs and all that stuff.
posted by sciencegeek at 2:12 PM on March 9, 2013

I hate going to the doctor, even for just a flu shot. My trick? I put it in my calendar (on my Mac). I find it's easier to force myself to make an appointment when a calendar reminder pops up on my screen. Does that make sense? Nope. Does it work? Yes. ...for me.
posted by 2oh1 at 5:22 PM on March 9, 2013

Seconding ZocDoc.
posted by brainwane at 9:51 PM on March 9, 2013

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