1. Modus Operandi
Dr. D does not employ a receptionist. He prefers to manage his waiting room using CCTV. This is smart because receptionists are judgemental, even the pleasant ones. It goes with the job.
The chances of finding that special person who can maintain a poker face with schizophrenics, depressives, compulsive liars, sexual deviants, devil worshippers and other fucked up individuals are remote. Nobody wants snippy vibes from a blonde chick called Charlotte/Imogen/Annabel, especially not when you’re teetering on life’s emotional tightrope.
I first met Dr. D back when he only had 46 letters after his name. In those days you had the waiting room to yourself. In the intervening decades that I’ve been out of the country, he’s added another 156 letters. Now his waiting room is frequently crowded with at least one other person, a situation that is awkward and disconcerting.
Unlike supermarket queues or orgies, there is no recognised protocol, no modus operandi for the psychiatrist's waiting room.
This isn't a level playing field like, say, a cosmetic surgeon’s.
You have no idea why the person sitting opposite you is there. Mostly they don’t either.
Half of them probably don’t even know how they got there. It is not easy to find a conversation opener.
“What are you here for?” is emphatically not right. Compliments won't work either.
Fucked up people think everyone is out to get them, so compliments are likely to draw a hostile reaction. Then there is always the worry that I might unwittingly use a trigger word that sets their therapy back five years.
Generally I stay quiet unless spoken to. I try to do that thing everyone does with the homeless in London: just pretend they’re a fixture on the footpath and step over them, but here, I have nowhere to go.
I don’t mind the crying people in the waiting room; it’s the cheery ones that throw me.
Anastasia is one of the latter group. I don’t believe for one moment she’s an Anastasia. She has pale Irish skin, freckles and red hair. I think she is probably called Kelly. Plus it was a bit of a giveaway the way she said, “Hello I’m….Anastasia.”
But I went with it, immediately introducing myself as Bob. It happens to be the name I always use at parties when I’ve decided I don’t like anyone. I figure it helps me fit in well here.
“Nice name,” says Not Anastasia.
“So anyway,” she continues, “ I used to be really unwell. I was schizophrenic and I had to take a lot of medication and I never left the house.”
“Then I came to see Dr. D and now I’m well. I have a boyfriend who I live with, and I like cooking. I cook for my boyfriend every night. It’s really good.”
“That’s very good.”
“And every weekend we go out and do something different.”
“That’s so good to hear.” ‘Good’ feels like a safe word to use. Dull, inexpressive and imprecise.
"Yes”, she says. “ It’s really great now. My life is back on track.”
OK, now we have moved from ‘good’ to ‘great’. I decide to mirror her, like they tell you to do in job interviews.
“GREAT,” I say, a little too enthusiastically.
There is a three-hour silence. In truth it’s really about a minute but this place is like a casino: time is distorted.
Not Anastasia looks at me. Her face is sad. “Actually, I lied. I don’t have a boyfriend. I can’t cook. That was a lie. All of it. I’m still sick.”
“It wasn’t a bad lie,” I tell her.
“Thanks she says. Nobody’s ever told me that. Do you want to be my friend?”
Next week . . .
"Some people take great pride in saying they were the first in their family to go to university. I was the first to see a psychiatrist, but I couldn’t talk about it - not even to my family - because nobody understood it.
For the next ten minutes all I could think was “Fuck, I hope he doesn’t offer me cake.”