The White Flag and the Lifeline

Calling the psychiatrist’s office to request an earlier appointment is always an emotional experience for me: I’m anxious and embarrassed and feel like I’m being a bother.  I’m embarrassed for implying that I will have a difficult time waiting until my scheduled appointment – that life has gotten to be too much and even though I’m trying I’m sinking further and further down.  They don’t have a waiting list and you can’t get appointments less than two or three months out.  You can imagine how tense and pessimistic I feel when I call.

It starts simply: “Do you have an appointment sooner than _____.”

“No, the first availability is the end of October.”

I want to hang up.  Give up.  I’m speaking to the receptionist quietly – my voice conveys what my body language would be if I was there trying to make the appointment in person: my head would be lowered, my eyes on the floor.  Waving the white flag will never get easier, it seems.

I mumble how things have been hard lately and she says she’ll take more info to pass on to the nurse.  I tell her how I’ve been feeling in that same defeated, quiet tone.

The next day the nurse calls me.  He’s a nice guy and he knows me: we chat while he takes my vitals every time I have an appointment.  He asks what’s going on.  I hate having to verbalize all that is going on in my head because I feel crazy.  I don’t feel like I’m making sense.  But I try – I try to make sense.  I try to explain how I forget people’s faces when they aren’t in front of me: people I see all the time, people who are very close to me.  My voice sounds weird: like someone else’s.  When I say my children’s names they sound foreign.  I have to remind myself who I am, where I live, who my family is, what day it is, what the next thing is on the schedule . . . I have to rehearse my day minute by minute, hour by hour.  I have to talk myself through it and keep telling myself what I am doing next.  I’m worn out and numbing out: I’m working so hard to just stay present and grounded and I’m not doing a very good job.  When I’m not numb or disassociating from reality I’m anxious.  I’m anxious and depressed when everything feels so strange.  I’m fighting to hold on.

Then he asks the very specific questions from which I can’t escape.  The ones about you thinking about harming yourself or others.  I wish I could promptly and confidently say “no” . . . but I can’t.  It seems inevitable that as I slip more and more into derealization thoughts of self-harm emerge.  Anything to escape.  I have learned through very difficult circumstances that saying “but I’m not going to do it” doesn’t really count.  I could reassure him that the thoughts are fleeting but it wouldn’t change the fact that I said it: that I couldn’t say “no”, that I had to say “yes”.

The shame of waving that white flag intensifies.  Even after years of needing and getting help it is still difficult to ask for it.

After twelve minutes of me juggling two whining children and reluctantly admitting that my mind is waging a war against me the call mercifully ends.  I hang up and feel like crawling into bed in a very dark room.  Life goes on whether I want it to or not and the kids need me.  So I try not to think about the call anymore and focus on what I need to do next.

Needless to say: they called me and I’m going in sooner than a month.  A lifeline for me to hang on to.  Now I just need to hold on to the thread of hope that they can actually help me.


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