I’ve been going to therapy on and off for over five years now; a lot of different places, different therapists and different diagnoses! During this time, the same five realisations keep coming up, and it made me wonder whether I was the only one to be thinking of these.
Going to therapy is an experience like no other, and a therapy waiting room is a fascinating setting. In many ways, they resemble a doctor's waiting room, and the only difference may be the mindset you dwell in. Here are the five things that therapy waiting rooms always lead me to consider.
Now this seems to be a universal aspect of waiting rooms. That pile of faded, dog-eared magazines. You know the ones. Tucked in a corner, absent-mindedly thrown, and waiting for you as you wait for them. Every waiting room seems to supply magazines, do they have a special deal to receive unsold magazines that are a minimum of six years old? And have you ever seen someone read them? I’m serious, please do let me know in the comments if you have. As I have never seen someone flicking through that outdated gossip magazine.
And on that note, why is a therapy waiting room containing magazines about weight loss and Hollywood gossip? We’re here to work on ourselves, rid ourselves of insecurity, body-issues and more. Shouldn’t there be something slightly more constructive for us to feed our minds with as we wait? Perhaps Architectural Digest or Psychology Today - but I suppose they wouldn’t want us to know what’s going on too much…
Whilst waiting for my last session, and I’ll admit that I was still at the whims of my paranoia symptoms, I had a revelation. What if those magazines are a test? Sitting there as bait. Like a little camera tucked away trying to catch you indulging in them, and then you’ll enter the room and your therapist will be like “Well….” with a raised eyebrow. It must be a global social experiment.
I have been going for years. I recently reached the twelve month mark with my current therapist - she asked if I felt I was done, which caused my abandonment issues to soar into overdrive, so I guess not? But despite this, I am still nervous every single time. I sit there fidgeting, my stomach a mess, fearing what is to come. Each week, week after week, the same struggle.
And I don’t really know why. Therapy isn’t easy, it’s confronting a lot of stuff that wants to be buried away. It’s removing a lot of coping mechanisms that are enjoyable, and easier than dealing with the truth. That isn’t to say it doesn’t feel better in the long run, and I have yet to find something that feels more satisfying than leaving a solid therapy session after a good cry! So it’s far from easy, but I know that by now.
But still I’m scared and doubting myself every time. I used to plan on my way to therapy. What can I tell her? I need to have things to say, problems to mention. I need to say enough that she knows I still need therapy and doesn’t try to get rid of me, but nothing too dark, she can’t know how bad it really gets, or she’ll think I’m crazy. Looking back, it feels so silly, and it didn’t help me at all. Now I listen to music on my way and only consider any issues in particular that came up this week. I also do my sessions in Dutch instead of English, my second language, which ensures I’m not overplanning or overthinking as I speak - perhaps I’ll write a post about this sometime!
I think I still worry that my therapist will judge me, even though she is incredible and patient and has helped me so much. I worry about filling the time of the session, as if I’m there to entertain her, a habit I have in my personal life too.
I fear that I’m not doing well enough, and I fear that I’m doing too well.
Do you like my new fancy term? I probably shouldn’t call something a syndrome, particularly since these observations are coming from a therapy waiting room so I’m no stranger to them. But I’ll keep it for now for clarity.
In case you couldn’t deduce it, WFYMS refers to that behaviour we all adopt in restaurants. You’re sitting (im)patiently at your table, the order went out at least fifteen minutes ago, chatter is beginning to dwindle. And suddenly a waiter emerges, carrying food, walking towards- nope not for me. But then, another one with the exact number of plates, are they walking this direction? It seems they are- but I didn’t order a burger.
It’s that feeling of impatience, of being so focused on your peripheral vision, as you wait for something. Getting your hopes up each time and having them dashed all over again. Well, in a waiting room, we seem to feel the same way. Each doctor or therapist that arrives leads us to all raise our heads in hope, puppies at the pound hoping to be picked.
Not me. Again. And so I continue to wait.
As with all of these realisations, I can’t be sure how many of them are linked to my specific disorders and maladaptive thinking. But I’ll carry on as if they’re universal, in the hopes that someone else might relate. I struggle with a lot of doubt whilst waiting.
Firstly, as the minutes draw closer to the appointment time, or heavens forbid, pass it by even three minutes, I begin to doubt my own knowledge. Is my appointment today? Did I get the time wrong? I quickly reach for my agenda (always packed for this exact purpose) or through my emails on my phone, trying to confirm that I should be here. Yes, there it is, this day, this time… but what if that’s a mistake? But what if I wrote it down incorrectly? Until I am safely planted in my usual chair in her office, I will doubt that I’m even meant to be here.
I also begin to doubt my therapist. Not their qualifications, but I doubt them in context to myself. Do they remember that we have an appointment today? And what if they’re dreading it? Perhaps she’s looking at her screen, waiting those few extra moments, hoping I’ll just go. Or making one last coffee to sustain herself through my pathetic drivel.
And then the true moment of panic… did my therapist set me homework that I forgot to do? A thought exercise, a photo to bring in, another letter to my inner Critical Parent? I rack my brain, which is muddled from a lack of sleep and cluttered with a never ending to-do list. I worry about entering, watching her face as she looks disappointed, as she reminds me that I am in charge of my progress. Once more, the agenda is pulled out, examined for clues, a quick check of the Notes app on my phone.
I doubt if I locked my house correctly. I doubt if I closed the windows. I doubt if I replied to that message from a friend, I doubt they won’t mind if I wait till after my appointment to respond. I doubt everything.
After all my insecure ramblings, it seems only fair to leave you with something a little more positive. When I sit in those waiting rooms, I often feel a bit self conscious regarding everyone around me. Do I look pretentious for reading my book as I wait? It’s merely an attempt to follow my resolution of utilising all my time correctly. Can they see that I’m sweating from the bike ride over? I hope this top won’t show my sweaty underarms, perhaps I can subtly wipe my brow.
It’s too easy to spiral within my negative thoughts, but now I’m slowly learning to resurface from them. To look at all those seated around me, and not see possible judgers, but see peers. They are all here, going to therapy, waiting for their appointment. I’m not the only one. Other people need a helping hand, other people have their own struggles. And that doesn’t mean yours are any less valid, as they’re in the context of you, and your coping and resilience. But all those waiting are attending therapy, perhaps struggling to tell people in their life, fitting it into full schedules.
Let’s finish it off with a little bit of High School Musical, as we’re all in this together!
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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