The Unexpected Thing My Psychiatrist Did for My Anxiety
During any given week I answer the phone no more than once — and I never make calls. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have this suffocating “phone anxiety” issue. It’s one of the more problematic ways my anxiety manifests itself, because phones are just an unavoidable part of life. Thankfully, most people are content with text messaging and email.
Still, some doctors are just stubborn, and they like their phones. But if I receive a call from my doctor’s office after 5 p.m., I know it is actually him calling — and I (try to) answer. That’s the only time though. Otherwise, it goes to voicemail — which I may or may not check.
During a particularly severe episode with depression (and suicidal thoughts), my psychiatrist asked, for at least the seventh time in a year, “What would it take to get you to see a therapist?” I laughed, because the question had become somewhat rhetorical. A long time ago he had given me the phone number of the best therapist he knows — and of course, I never called. But jokingly I told him, “Never gonna happen — unless you wanna make the appointment! Yeah, just tell me where and when and I’ll totally show up.” He smiled almost victoriously, “I can do that.”
I sighed, and went off on my usual rant about how there was no way on earth I was going to pick up the phone and call anyone, better yet a stranger. It just wasn’t going to happen, and he knew it. I laughed off the whole exchange, and we continued on talking about my new medication. I shrugged it off knowing they were just “words.” Something nice he was saying to show he cared and wanted to help. Not that he was actually going to go to the trouble to set up a therapy appointment for me across town all because of my anxiety not letting me do it myself.
When my phone rang at 6 p.m. the next week, I knew he was calling to check on the new medication I was taking. So I took a deep breath and answered, hands shaking, heart racing. Luckily I was right, it was him. But he wasn’t calling about the medication.
“So… remember how you said if I told you where and when, you would show up? Well, I made you an appointment on Monday at 10 a.m. Let me give you the address.” He said it so casually, my brain took a minute to process the information he was giving me — and then it clicked. He had called and set up an appointment with the therapist he had been trying to get me to go to for a year. My doctor had set it up for me — because he knew I couldn’t.
I was completely stunned.
It might have been a simple thing to him, to pick up the phone and make a call — but to me, it was the most incredible act of genuine caring I had ever experienced.
There was nothing in it for him. It was just a bunch of extra phone calls he had to add to his already busy day. More work he had to do, and was under no obligation to. I hadn’t done anything to earn or deserve it. And I didn’t owe him anything for it. He did something for me as an act of kindness.
He wanted to help me, because he knew I was struggling to help myself.
As I sat there speechless, I felt a weight lifted off me. Not just because I had fought for so long with wanting to see a therapist, yet knowing I could never make the call. But truly because my doctor had seen my need for help, and my desire for help and stepped up to do something about it.
He didn’t tell me to suck it up, and he didn’t brush it off. He didn’t just let it go — and he didn’t let me let it go. He saw something he could do, unconventional as it might be, to help me in a way that wasn’t part of his medical training. And he did it.
He saw me as a person. A person trying desperately to hold on and to be brave. A person who was raised to believe you have to earn everything, and no one does anything for you without wanting something in return. A person he could help with his expertise and experience — but also with his thoughtfulness.
For the first time in so long, there was a tiny bit of light at the end of a very long, very dark, very lonely tunnel. An odd sort of hope, despite my overall sense of hopelessness. I didn’t feel any less broken — but I did feel like someone was there to help me pick up the pieces, no matter how long and difficult the process might be.
And with that one call, I saw my doctor as more than an “MD.” I saw him as a man on a mission to not only keep me alive, but give me the tools to stop surviving and start living. I realized how much his job means to him, and how much he wanted to help — even when I (clearly) didn’t know how to ask for it.
To the rest of the world it was just a phone call. To me — it was the ultimate act of compassion. Indisputable evidence that good people still exist. When mental illness consumes you — everything can seem so overwhelming, so completely impossible. Sometimes it’s the simple gestures of understanding and an honest desire to help that mean the most.
And when everything seems hopeless — one phone call can change the world.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.
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Thinkstock photo via YakobchukOlena.