Serpentine hallways and waiting rooms
As I took the elevator to the private mental health clinic, I felt vaguely terrified. The hallway of the third floor office space was serpentine, but each entryway was clearly marked. Law firms, clinics, and assorted businesses lined the walls. I arrived early, hoping to avoid getting lost on my way to the clinic.
And so there I was, approaching the closed windowed help desk — ring bell, wait, and receive yet another stack of fun forms: what I sarcastically call intake paperwork. These past few years, I’ve filled out plenty of documents about my life. Intake feels like an exercise in describing everything that is wrong with me.
Who are you and why are you here?
I wonder that too sometimes, but I suspect you’re asking for my mental health history. “Describe in two sentences what brought you here today.” I don’t know if I can do that.
I’ve managed to fit my backstory onto a two-page document. It feels more succinct than the experience itself. I’ve grown familiar with waiting rooms. I know the rhythm of my usual therapist’s office, but the clinic was new (and therefore inherently scary). Preparing for new is still difficult for me. I spent the earlier portion of the afternoon at the neighborhood cafe. Routine is steadying on these sorts of days — when I can’t predict or plan for the events that follow.
In the half-hour before my session, I noticed myself fading away. I sat firmly in my seat. My brain wandered across town, filled with anticipatory anxiety about seeing the new therapist.
That was the fear. The idea that my brain found utterly terrifying — hence its running and fading. Before leaving the cafe, I informed the kindly proprietor that I was feeling horribly distant from myself. I knew I could manage; I was already returning back to myself, but the feeling was still disconcerting.
The appointment itself followed the all-too-familiar script of first sessions: “Tell me about you and why you’re seeing me.” I talked. She asked questions. I attempted to respond, but often found myself lost in the dialogue. I stimmed through much of our conversation, as I wrapped green putty around my nail beds. By the end of session, new therapist informed me that although she has a special education background, she knew as much about autism as my primary therapist does. However another clinician in the building, Dr. M., has extensive experience working with autistic clients. In the meantime, new therapist agreed to help me apply to Disability Services at school.
My research background leaves me pretty skeptical of autism professionals, but I still asked to be placed on Dr. M’s waiting list for December. Perhaps she’ll have a cancellation, but until then, I’m in another waiting room. I left the clinic feeling proud of myself for going to the appointment and wrote post-session notes to myself. If I forget to summarize such experiences, my mind tends to negatively distort the details of session.
I wish there was a definitive ending to all of this. I didn’t get to leave the office triumphantly with an autism label in my hand. I still haven’t seen a professional with an extensive autism background. I know she exists, but mostly appears to see children and adolescents. I still feel like a unicorn. These in-between spaces are hard; I know I’m autistic — my social, communicative, and behavioral traits are consistent with an autism spectrum diagnosis — but I have yet to meet a professional willing to confirm my thought process.
For now, I remain “in this created space — creative space.”
We are ourselves, with little explanation. Needing no one else to fill in our gaps. We are our own. Here anyway. Coda. Yet this space, although not enough, is a starting point. Free from labels or to label as we wish. Existing together in a shared collage of narratives.
We are here in this place. We fit. We belong. And we are enough. Together.