Every time I walk into the psychiatry office waiting room, a deja vu chill shoots down my spine.
Upon entering, there is a large sign taped to the door that makes it abundantly clear that we are not to photograph anything/anyone in the office.
I want to write in Sharpie marker, just below the sign: “This is the last place I’d want to take a fucking photograph. Rest assured.”
Coming through that door is exactly the same every single time. A room full of people with empty, hollow faces and shadows in their eyes which the fluorescent lighting only magnifies. They stare you up and down as you proceed through the line to pay your astronomical co-pay for the ten-minute “check-in” with your psychiatrist.
I am familiar with the looks, we all do the same as another patient walks through the door.
The line-up to pay our fees is like a stage that you stand on while everyone seated guesses what you’re there for. Or, maybe that’s just me.
I normally keep to myself in this place. I scan the magazine racks, the same ones I’ve scanned for years. The same outdated magazines stare back at me, except for the newest addition of WebMD, which I assume is a free magazine delivered to all medical establishments. I don’t touch any of the magazines. I show up exactly at my appointment time and I pray that my doctor is running on time.
Why? Because these people scare me.
Why? Because I was that person.
Why? Because I am that person.
The psychiatry office that scares the shit out of me each time I set foot inside is a place where I am no different from any of the people inside. Sure, I may appear different, I may swan in the door with a smile on my face and a happy disposition, but essentially, we are all there for the same relative reason: we have issues.
I am scared to say that I judge the other patients. I don’t want to say that I judge them, but honestly, I kind of do. Maybe the better words to use would be: “I make assumptions about them.”
I wonder if they are like me. I wonder if they are still, after countless visits to this office, struggling with demons from a troubled past. I wonder what they do in their outside life; I wonder if they have an outside life.
I wonder if they have been given “the gift” yet– the gift being the realization that their past, just like mine, does not define who they are. I wonder if they feel the sunshine on their face yet, and, mostly, I wonder if they realize that whatever it was that ultimately landed them here– whatever mental illness, trauma, fear, etc.– I wonder if they know it has molded them into the human beings that they are today. I wonder if they feel strength in that like I do.
They all look so sad, miserable almost. Some of them appear as a shell of who they once possibly were. I sometimes imagine what their former self looked like, I wonder what their happy faces looked like before devastation fell into their lap and landed them here.
I wonder if my happy face throws them off, or if they see right though me? I wonder if they even know I am there?
Once a month, for roughly ten minutes, I sit in that room and am reminded of what I looked like, and what I felt like the first day I stepped inside that building.
During my most recent visit, I walked in at the same time as a young girl who appeared to be in her early twenties. She looked terrified. I knew she was new; she didn’t know that you have to ask for a special key to use the bathroom and all of us cadets know the bathroom is protected under lock and key.
Her nail polish was chipped, her hair disheveled, her forehead lined with beads of sweat just above her brow, and she had a mix of pain and terror in her eyes. I wondered if she was “me” five years ago.
Who knows, she could have just been there for a prescription for the latest, greatest antidepressant.
I immediately assume that everyone who walks into that building is there for the same reason I entered five years ago.
I am glad I made it past that waiting room on the first visit. I am glad I didn’t allow the gleaming pages of happy celebrities on the outdated covers of PEOPLE magazine, and the healthy faces gracing the covers of WebMD to turn my feet around and run out of that terrifying place and back to the one I was comfortable with: self-loathing.
Every visit is the same, every visit is a painful reminder of that first visit. Every new girl who walks through that door, I see myself, regardless of what she might really be there for.
That waiting room is deja vu; the worst kind. Not the one where you catch a faint whiff of a familiar smell and are reminded of a heartfelt moment. It’s the painful stabbing kind. The place that your brain takes you to within a millisecond; the one where your heart drops to your toes and you become momentarily paralyzed with fear.
Once a month. I go once a month for a check-in of my progress for the past thirty days. On my way out, I walk past all the people still seated and thank God that I made it out. I remind myself that I am not who I was when I walked into that office broken and terrified five years ago.
Maybe that waiting room is symbolic; maybe it’s a reminder for me each time I visit just how far I’ve come. Maybe that waiting room is what I need to be reminded of the continuous strides I’ve made in the right direction.
Regardless, that waiting room scares the shit out of me. Every time.
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