Dr Willerton opened the door of her office. The mixed smell of dusty books and desk polish wafted into her nostrils, instantly filling her with the dread of another long day at work. Another appointment filled day, listening to the monotone voices of patients as they rambled on about what was going wrong in their lives.
She had loved her career to begin with. In fact, she would often get home in the evening and rave to her boyfriend about how interesting it was being a psychiatrist. ‘It is so fascinating to learn about how people’s minds work’, she would say. ‘Each patient is so unique.’ However, she soon begun to realise that each appointment felt like a repeat of the last one. She would ask the same questions: ‘How has your week been? What has been making you anxious? How have you been coping with these thoughts?’ She felt like an automated messenger, a soulless robot, who would occasionally be required to nod and offer pieces of advice.
Willerton took a seat at her desk and flipped open her diary. Who will it be today, Sulky Sandra or Moan-a-lot Marcus? She felt bad for having secret nicknames for her patients, although they were incredibly accurate. Dr Willerton studied the page of ‘Monday 3rd October’. To her surprise, she had a free morning. She wasn’t sure if she was relieved, or put out. Having no appointments meant she could relax for a little while, recovering from the lack of sleep she had the night before. But surely three hours to herself in her dismal office would be tediously boring?
Willerton slammed the diary shut and looked up, to see a young woman sat in the seat opposite her. The woman clasped her dainty hands together, in a way which suggested she was both sophisticated and shy. She reminded Dr Willerton of a little porcelain doll.
‘Oh, good morning, I didn’t even see you come in,’ Willerton said, with a warm smile. ‘For some reason I have no record of any morning appointments in my diary today.’
The young woman smiled back, and looked down at her hands, which she had now placed on her lap.
‘Good morning Dr Willerton. I do apologise if my visit is a shock to you. It was quite a last-minute appointment,’ the woman responded.
Dr Willerton waved her hands in dismissal. ‘Please, don’t apologise. If anything, you have done me a favour. I would have had a three hour gap this morning,’ she said.
The patient sat silently for a moment. Willerton studied her closely, but not intrusively, trying to figure out where she had seen this woman before. She seemed so familiar, yet she could not remember treating her before.
Willerton broke the silence: ‘Sorry, this probably sounds terrible, but I can’t remember your name. Have you been a patient here before?’
‘My name is Anna. I am surprised you don’t remember me. We used to speak quite often,’ the patient responded. Disappointment washed over her face, like a rain cloud which had intruded upon a bright summer’s sky.
The patient looked to Dr Willerton for an answer. Her hands were now unclasped, and she was not looking down half as often as she was.
Dr Willerton appeared to be puzzled. What am I meant to say back? she thought. She had no recollection of speaking with this woman before.
‘It is lovely to meet you Anna. That must have been a while ago… I thought I recognised you but I can’t think of where we would have met,’ Willerton said. ‘Anyway, shall we get started with our session?’
The patient took a huge reporter’s style notepad out of her handbag, before placing the bag on the floor, close to her feet. She placed the pad on Willerton’s desk, and sat back in her seat. ‘We should indeed,’ she eventually replied.
‘Shall we start by talking about who you are? What do you do, Anna? What brings you to see me today?’ Willerton said.
‘Well, by day I am a psychiatrist at a private mental institution. I guess it is alright, but I am not as happy as I used to be. By night, I am nothing but an emotional mess. All I do is doubt myself,’ Anna revealed.
There was yet another silence, which filled the room with a cold and unusual ambience.
‘Well that is interesting, and I am sorry to hear about your problems. Have you not considered changing your career path? If you are unhappy, it may be time to think about a change in your life,’ Dr Willerton said, her hand pressed lightly against her chin. She wasn’t sure what it was about Anna, but it felt like her responses were being graded by a professor.
‘Can I ask you something, Dr Willerton? Well, a couple of things,’ Anna said.
Anna opened her notepad, lowering her head and studying the psychiatrist’s expressions carefully.
‘I don’t think you’re happy yourself. In fact, I know you’re not. Why are you in denial?’ Anna asked.
Dr Willerton felt a sudden chill. How did this woman know so much about her? She wanted to reject the claims Anna had made. She wanted to tell her that she was perfectly happy, and her career was the most rewarding aspect of her life - but she couldn’t lie.
‘I am happy, Anna. Let’s not focus on me-‘
‘You’re not. Tell me something, Dr Willerton. When did you forget who you truly are? When did you put that mask on and start ignoring your inner self? You spend each day telling other people how to solve their problems, yet you refuse to acknowledge your own,’ Anna said. Her eyes welled up with tears as she spoke, as if she truly felt Dr Willerton’s pain.
Willerton clasped her hands together tightly, trying to resist the tears which were fighting to pour out. She sniffled, looking up at Anna, wide-eyed. ‘How… how do you know me?’ she stuttered.
The young lady placed her hand upon Dr Willerton’s.
‘I am you. You need to save me; you need to save yourself. Think about who you are.’
Dr Anna Willerton opened her eyes. It was 09:30. Her secretary, Mrs Marley stood by her office door, with her hand on her hip.
‘Somebody must have been tired,’ Mrs Marley chuckled, placing a cup of coffee on her desk. ‘Might as well go back to sleep, you still have two and a half hours until your first client. Dream about anything nice?’ she continued.
Dr Willerton rubbed her eyes and opened her pocket mirror. ‘Nothing interesting,’ she smiled. She felt enlightened by her dream. She had chipped into her soul, and discovered who she was again. She was a human being, with a tediously boring job at times, but she was also a dedicated girlfriend, a kind person, and she had a cracking sense of humour. She was not just Dr Willerton. She was Anna.
Image Credit: Omid Armin