The Time A Psychiatrist Fell Asleep While I Was Talking


I had already told my story to four other psychiatrists in the span of 14 months, been prescribed countless medications, and dealt with numerous debilitating side effects, when I decided to try someone with a more holistic approach.

“Lisa?”  She said, extending her hand.

“Yes, hi.” I hoped she couldn’t feel my heart beating like a desperate prisoner through the palm of my hand.

My fear of doctors began as a child when a house call turned into thirty years of repressed memories and a strong argument to stay away from male doctors.

“I’m Dr. Jones” she smiled.  It wasn’t completely real, but I allowed the effort to put me at ease.

“What seems to be the problem?” The sound of her ballpoint pen clicked, as she set out to create a memory made of ink and pulp.

“Um… I…” My throat tightened, as I struggled to mute my vulnerability.

“It’s OK, take your time.”  She settled in, crossing her legs at the ankles.

I dove in, launching my story into the three feet of distance between us.  I tried to sound matter-of-fact, but sometimes despair would squeeze out reluctant tears.  Still, I held nothing back.

She took a lot of notes, asked the occasional question for clarification, and took off her glasses to rub her eyes a few times–all gestures typical to her profession.  The familiarity was comforting, but I had hoped she would be different than the ones before.  I needed her to be different, so that I could get better.

“Tell me more about what you are looking for, Lisa.”  She squinted at me over her spectacles.

I explained how I thought there was a chance I might be deficient in some vitamins or minerals. I was anemic off and on and I wondered if she knew some sort of supplement (in addition to iron) I should be taking that wouldn’t cause the dramatic side effects so many anti-depressants did.

I was recalling an article I’d read about anemia and depression, when I noticed her eyes were closed.

I kept talking, hoping she was resting them or trying to listen more intently.

As her face slowly descended toward her chest and her breathing slowed, I realized she had fallen asleep.

There in the stillness, the prisoner in my chest began her tantrum, as my lungs shriveled and my voice evaporated.  The indignity and discomfort were sharp, but familiar.

For a long time afterward, I struggled to understand why I didn’t react to her unprofessional behavior with some form of outrage, instead of sitting there silently blaming myself for not being interesting enough to keep her awake, and willing the moment to end as quickly as it started.

Several days later, I stumbled across something I’d written a few years prior:

“I don’t remember much about what happened, but I know it did.  It’s as if a part of me left the room after he started telling me how pretty I was.  I begged God to make it go quickly.”

I realized that I’d spent an entire lifetime feeling scared and out of control, unwittingly retreating to avoid pain.  I began to see healing as the recognition of patterns and reactions that had been carved into me as a child.  Changing these seemingly protective mechanisms wouldn’t be easy, but it was the only way I would ever feel courageous enough to say “wake up, I deserve to be heard.”

Artwork: ajgiel

24 thoughts on “The Time A Psychiatrist Fell Asleep While I Was Talking

    1. In all the years I’ve dealt with insomnia, I’ve never fallen asleep on anyone, at the wheel, while teaching or otherwise. I cannot imagine how mortified I’d be if I did. I just hope this was the first and last time she did that to someone. Mess!


  1. Although I’ve never had a therapist fall asleep on me (I’m appalled by that), I’ve had a few that made me wish they would, so I could just sneak out quietly. I strongly believe recognizing patterns and retraining our brains to break the ones sketched in our brains from the abuse, is key to healing. Its hard, it hurts and its a lonely process. It shouldn’t be so damn hard to find the supports we need to recover. I feel hope in your words though. You DO deserve to be heard. It WILL happen…maybe its time to turn up the volume girl. Xoxo


  2. I’m SO sorry this happened to you. Please not only find better help but report this woman to an ethics board quickly. On a more positive note, your writing is absolutely beautifully haunting. I have chills from your descriptions.


  3. Is it bad that I was hoping there’d be a twist revealing the therapist had actually died quietly instead of falling asleep? Who does that? Sorry.


  4. “I realized that I’d spent an entire lifetime feeling scared and out of control, unwittingly retreating to avoid pain. I began to see healing as the recognition of patterns and reactions that had been carved into me as a child. ” So, so much of your story is familiar to me, right down to the anemia, iron and depression. You wrote it so raw and honest it transported me back to my own scars and darkened room. I have been working on healing the child within for many years, with two nervous breakdowns to prove it. But I do think I am finally coming into the light. I wish for you that you can hold onto the hope that healing will come.


  5. That last paragraph is a gem. Recognizing patterns and learning how to respond are what parents should teach, but sadly, it is often the parents who perpetuate the patterns. Finding a good one is so worth it — you deserve to be heard.


  6. I’m not sure what would have happened to me if I hadn’t ended up with the therapist I got in college. I was randomly assigned to the first available person, and we clicked. I’m sorry that you have not had the opportunity to find someone who will truly listen to and help you.


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