It started out as an ordinary visit to Quest Diagnostics to get routine lab work. I was 15 minutes late. The receptionist, who was also the office manager and medical technician, told me she loves my freckles. Well, that wasn’t entirely ordinary.
When she sat me down to draw my blood she asked me if I’d ever had my blood drawn before. “Hello. I just told you my full birthday,” I thought “I’m 33…” But I answered a simple “Yes.”
I realized it had been a while though, and I didn’t want to look while she filled the tubes from my elbow crease so I looked the other way.
“Do you have any plans for the weekend?” she asked, to distract me.
“I’m hoping to get outside and see some friends,“ I said. “I’ve spent the past couple of days indoors working.”
Her: What do you do for work?
Me: I do coaching and teaching, mostly from home, so I’m looking forward to getting outside a bit.
Her: Coaching in any particular field?
Me: Mental health, alternatives to mainstream mental health.
Her: So is that like psychology?
Me: Well, I do coaching and teaching about alternatives to psychiatric drugs for people who want to come off of them.
Her: Oh, my partner might be interested in that at some point down the line. She experienced agoraphobia and couldn’t leave the house, but she’d like to go off the drugs eventually. Do you have a card?
I wrote down my website and email address for her and told her some of the people I work with aren’t ready to come off yet, and it’s very individual. Coming off can be very difficult and I would never tell someone they are or aren’t ready; it’s up to them to know. I don’t give medical advice.
Her: So how did you get into this line of work?
Me: I was on psychiatric drugs myself and they had a negative effect and were hard to come off of, so I wanted to support others who were coming off.
Her: I was put on drugs as a kid, Lithium and Depakote. When I was hospitalized they told me I’d never amount to anything in life because I was bipolar and I’d need to stay on these drugs forever. When I wanted to come off, my doctor got angry at me and wouldn’t support me, so I went off on my own. It was very hard; I was sick for about a year afterward.
Me: Oh, you had intense withdrawal?
Her: Yes, but now I’m 37 and I’m the manager of this office, a medical technician and I’m getting a masters in psychology.
She was proud and triumphant. My appointment was over. I rolled down my sleeve over the taped gauze with a tiny blood stain. She showed me to the bathroom. When I got out I was turned around and couldn’t find my way out of the office. Seeing me going out the wrong door she said, “It’s like a maze in here,” and showed me the way out. I dropped my water cup in the blue recycling bin. It ended as an ordinary visit to Quest Diagnostics to get routine lab work done.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.