Today, I had my usual 3-month check in with my psychiatrist and once again had to face one of my biggest anxieties…
The waiting room.
This room fills me with dread before I even step foot into it. I know there will be other people there and we will all shift our eyes around the room to avoid eye contact, pondering what has brought each of us here. Someone will sneak a look my way and think “wow, she is too young to be seeing a psychiatrist- I wonder what happened to her.” Another person will stare at their shoes with a heart full of shame, embarrassed to be seen in a mental health center. It is an uncomfortable place with tension pulsing through the air.
That is why I always smile at every person who walks through the door.
At first, it was a way to cope with my own anxiety, but it has since evolved into a personal mission of sorts. I want the people around me to know that it is okay not to be okay. I hope that they know that simply being in that office is a monstrous step towards getting better. My smile is my weapon to combat the awkwardness that fills the room.
Today was no different until a conversation began to unfold around me. I was flanked by a middle aged man who arrived way too early for his appointment, and in front of me sat an elderly woman I have seen many times before. They started chatting- small talk really- and then began to unpack the reasons why there were there.
My smile dropped and my heart sank. The woman brought up that she has been seeing our psychiatrist for 20 years. 20 YEARS. I felt tears well up in my eyes as a thought about my future- will I be sitting in this chair 20 years from now? How long will I have to take these medications? Is my future always going to be shared with my mental illness?
The man then asked the question whose answer I needed to hear- “have you gotten better?”
“Oh yes!” the woman exclaimed. She went on to tell us how her medication hasn’t changed in 10 years and she is very stable. She told us about her children and grandchildren, about her husband that has now since passed away but gave her the best years of her life, and about the amazing things she had done over the last 20 years.
In this woman, I saw my future. Yes, I will probably always be dealing with my depression and anxiety. But that won’t stop me from living a full life. You can be all the things you want to be and do all the things you want to do- even with a mental illness. Life does not end at the beginning of the diagnosis.