This disability pride month, Jess shares her personal experiences of getting eating disorder treatment as an adult with a disability, and tips she's found useful when visiting her GP.
As much as I don’t believe anyone would consider a trip to the GP an enjoyable experience, the feelings of stress and anxiety caused by these visits can be extremely intense for those of us with disabilities.
You may have been made to feel like you are not being heard or that you’re making things up which has stopped you from contacting your GP for help, especially for stigmatised conditions such as eating disorders. Having been in this situation myself I wanted to share some of the tips that have helped me take care of myself before, during and after my appointments. Take what works and change what doesn’t to work for you, I hope it does - even if it’s just a little.
Prepare in advance:
Never underestimate the power of being prepared! I’ve found the more information I can communicate to my GP the more likely they are to help. To do this I keep a daily tracker of any information I feel is relevant and use it during appointments. I find it helps me answer the questions the GP may ask me without having to remember myself while I’m in a situation I find quite overwhelming.
If the idea of keeping a daily tracker seems too daunting, you can ask a loved one to help you keep track or just keep a list on your phone that you can add to in the moment (some information is better than none!)
Bring a support person with you:
Don’t be afraid to reach out to a trusted friend or family member and ask if they will attend your appointment with you. Your support person can help you prepare, act as an advocate on your behalf, provide emotional comfort during your appointment, or even just keep you company while you’re in the waiting room.
I find having an advocate in my appointments incredibly helpful as if I start to feel overwhelmed they can help me by remembering important details and making sure my concerns are being addressed.
GP appointments can evoke feelings of anxiety and stress, especially when you’ve had negative experiences in the past.
Develop skills that help you cope with anxiety and stress:
Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or mindfulness to help calm your mind before your appointment. I also find it helpful to engage in other activities I find comforting such as having a warm bath, listening to my favourite music, or going for a walk before my appointment.
Bring items that bring you comfort to your appointment:
You could create a comfort kit using a small bag or purse which you can take to the GP or anywhere else it might be helpful. I have a small coin purse where I keep my Rose Quartz palm stone and lavender essential oil, which both help calm me down, but you could have a fidget spinner, your favourite soft toy or, even just wear your comfiest clothes – whatever is best for you!
Advocate for yourself:
It often doesn’t feel like it but remember you are the expert when it comes to your own body and experiences. Don’t hesitate to ask questions, seek clarification, express any doubts you may have, or ask for any reasonable adjustments to be made.
For example, I have asked my GP to not actively weigh me, they can in situations it’s needed but even then they don’t disclose the exact results as I find it helpful to my recovery not knowing what I weigh. It can be hard to advocate for yourself but remember you deserve to receive the care you need and it is your GPs job to provide you with this care.
Be kind to yourself before, during and after your appointment:
This is both a very important but also difficult one - living with a chronic illness can be emotionally challenging and GP visits can flare up these emotions. Make sure to be kind to yourself and practice self-compassion, talk to yourself the way you would talk to a friend. During your appointment acknowledge your efforts, celebrate small victories, and allow yourself to feel whatever emotions arise.
Remember that your feelings are valid, and it's okay if you need to seek support from loved ones or a mental health professional if you need to.
Engage in some post-appointment self-care:
You did it! No matter how it went, now is the time to give yourself a big pat on the back and indulge in some well-deserved self-care (not that self-care ever needs to be well-deserved!). Make sure you engage in activities that bring you joy and help you to relax.
These activities can look different for everyone, I’ve found it helpful to keep a list of my favourite self-care activities and keep it with me for the times I need to find some joy (examples from my list – watching a favourite film with a friend, going for a walk in the park and naming all the dogs, or reading a Tove Jansson book.)
No matter what I do or how much I prepare I will always find a trip to the GP a stressful experience. However, what I can do is provide myself with the tools to make the experience a bit easier (A stress level of 5 is much better than a stress level of 10!).
No matter how your appointment goes, the most important thing to remember is that you are worthy of care. Don’t let anyone tell you that your thoughts and feelings surrounding your own body and health aren’t valid because they do not know what it feels like to be you and your feelings deserve to be heard. And please do not let a single GP visit define your worth because it doesn’t - you are so much greater than that.
Take care x
-Contributed by Jess
If you've been affected by any of the issues raised in this story, or are concerned for yourself or a loved one, you can find support and guidance on the help pages of our website.
Need some more guidance on seeking eating disorder treatment from your GP? Check out our handy guide to bring to your next appointment:
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