I shrink into the corner, next to the wall smothered in posters for local support groups, emergency telephone numbers, notices, “If you’re waiting longer than 15 minutes for your appointment, please let the reception staff know.” I check my phone – twenty two minutes, and place it back into my pocket without any intention of getting up or telling anyone.
My hands are shaking violently. I can sense the woman a few chairs away watching me, I stare at the floor hard, really hard and try to disappear. A man is at the reception shouting at the staff. He’s upset and threatening to do something if they refuse him to see someone. Out in the lobby area, someone else is shouting into their phone. The claustrophobic waiting area fills up with even more people, full of questions and names, clinging onto tattered letters as if their lives depend on it and I can’t breathe.
The man shouts again. Slamming his bag to the floor. Punching the Perspex partition that separates us from them.
A baby cries somewhere.
It sounds like Noah.
The woman in the lobby swears into her phone, growing louder as the door between us swings open.
People walk around in the lobby, without any idea of where to go or how they got here in the first place.
A man appears at the door. He looks around the waiting room in chaos as if it’s completely normal. He searches the faces.
“Cassandra?” he says to the room, directing it to no one.
I stand and follow him to the door. He walks and I follow through halls full of locked doors. My heart begins to hammer against my ribs and a sense of hopelessness fills me as we trudge deeper and deeper into this labyrinth of closed doors. No natural light reaches the corridors, the mock Andy Warhol prints dotted along the walls, bold colours, child-like shapes and squiggles completely out of place on the dead, grey walls.
Like a bright red ball gown at a funeral.
We reach a door, he unlocks it and we walk in.
“Take a seat,” he says.
I perch at the edge of the chair closest to the door.
Fight or flight. Fight or flight. Fight or flight.
“Please, make yourself comfortable.” he laughs, sitting back in a way that I should copy him.
“I’m fine.” I say, staring at the door.
We begin the well-trodden routine of questions and one-word answers. All I can think is that I’m sat in a room I don’t know how to get to the outside from, the man I don’t know asks me personal questions, I don’t know his name. I don’t know what I’m doing here. Or what the end point is.
“Are you ever happy?”
“Do you have highs and lows?”
“Do you think of harming yourself?”
It continues. For an eternity. I keep staring at the door. My hands keep shaking.
He asks if there are any significant life events from my childhood. I look at him for the first time.
“It should all be in my notes.” I point at the stack of papers in front of him on the desk.
“Yes, I know, but it’s better if I can hear it in your own words.” he laughs. Again.
I shake my head and then the tears start.
“OK, you don’t have to.” he looks scared. I gaze at the door again.
I tune out while he talks about what we do next. How they’re going to fix me. Where he’s referring me to. Who’s going to call me. I don’t allow myself to listen as I’ve heard it all before. I pinch my hand to stop the tears, to concentrate on something.
“What we can do is give you an anti-psychotic to take with your anti-depressants.”
“It should give you a high, so you’re not so low. Do you want to give them a try?”
“… OK. So we’ll continue with what you’re on for six more weeks?”
“Alright. And I’ll see you again in six weeks, I’ll send you a letter confirming the appointment.”
He offers his hand for me to shake and I ignore it.
Eventually we’re back in the corridor, he’s leading me to the exit, away from the locked doors.
He says goodbye and I duck past him, desperate to see sunlight again. I can’t breathe.
My feet carry me through the maze of doors, the stairwells, the figures standing around.
The walls caving in, they talk to me as I dash past. Echoes of voices. Shouting. Babies crying. My lungs feel ready to explode as I reach the final door to the exit. Cold air rushes over me. Greying sunlight. The voices stop midsentence as the automatic doors close behind me.