I remember my first smear test. I skipped into the nurse’s room without a care in the world and was greeted with a somewhat matronly, steely stare.
‘The important thing to remember with this procedure is you have to relax. You have to relax or it will hurt,’ she said with an inflection not dissimilar to a schoolteacher giving you a good telling off.
Confused, and now about as relaxed as a clam, I clambered onto the couch, then it was legs akimbo and off we went. Unpleasant, yes, but it wasn’t impossible and I went on with my day.
Three years later and I was due for another check-up. Obviously having a complete stranger poking around in your nether regions is no trip to the zoo, but I’d done it before without fuss so this time round shouldn’t be any different, right?
I woke up this morning with a cold sense of dread that squirmed in the pit of my stomach and raised the hairs on the back of my neck. I felt upset and dizzy before I’d even reached the GP surgery. I felt the rational part of my brain making a desperate bid to surface, trying to remind me that there was nothing to worry about here and that I needed to relax.
Unfortunately, this was the crux of the problem for me. Telling someone with clinical depression to ‘just relax’ is about as clever as brewing Tetleys in a chocolate teapot. You get nowhere. The procedure was extremely painful, we had to stop before a sample could be taken and I was in floods of tears by the end of the whole sorry experience.
I felt ridiculous that I couldn’t even go through with such a simple procedure. Smear tests are generally not a big deal, at least they haven’t been for me in the past, and as a woman they’re an essential component of my general health MOT. And yet if it’s not bad enough to have been through such an ordeal, my depression even had the cheek to make me feel guilty about it afterwards. Arsehole.
I feel ashamed and pathetic not to have been able to withstand a little discomfort and pain. On top of that I feel bad for wasting the nurse’s time – this one was actually very sweet and friendly and, unlike her predecessor, didn’t make me feel as if I was about to voyage into Mordor. But I’m also aware that’s just the depression talking.
And talk it will. For if I’d been a little kinder to myself I might have realised that this kind of invasive procedure would be tricky for anyone feeling as anxious and vulnerable as I do at the moment, and that it might have been better to wait. And that today doesn’t constitute a ‘failure’.
It’s very difficult for anyone suffering from depression not to beat themselves up when these sort of things happen. Falling short of your own expectations of what’s ‘normal’ and what you ‘should’ be capable of can feel horrendous. You can re-hash the day’s events/failures over and over, picturing how you should have behaved.
Or you can try to forget about it, and eat some chips. Today, this is what I’m choosing to do.