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Seeking Approval

My fear of abandonment and rejection turned dangerous.

I was not home an hour when my phone rang. It was June,* the office manager from my workplace.

“Gerri, how are you?”

“I just got back to my apartment an hour ago. It feels good to be home.” I had no idea what she wanted.

“That’s nice,” she remarked. “Ellen* (the executive director) wants you to come down and meet with her and Gabrielle* and Nina* (the two associate program directors). It was Friday. We set up a time for Tuesday morning.

Immediately I was anxious and on high alert. Was I going to lose my job? Would my part-time hours be even further restricted? Would my job be restructured even more? I had no choice but to wait.

Tuesday morning came after an unsettling weekend. I both didn’t want the sun to rise and I wanted to get it over with. I woke to a torrent of rain and put on jeans and a sweater. I didn’t care if I looked professional. I drove through a downpour and got soaked walking to the office. My pretty red umbrella blew inside out and was destroyed. Not a good omen. I walked into the front office and stood there, unsure of what I should do next. June noticed me and told me to hang on, she would let Ellen know I was here. I grabbed the key to the bathroom because I figured if I was going to cry that would be the best place to do it.

I returned and all around me my colleagues were bustling with a purpose, pulling charts and chatting with each other earnestly about patients. I stood among them, alone and feeling useless. Ellen popped her head into the front and said to come in. Gabrielle and Nina were already there.

Ellen spoke first. She was harsh. “You can’t keep leaving and coming back. Your job requires consistency. It’s not good for the clinic and not fair to us.” I was trying hard to hold back tears and failing. “How are you doing now?” she asked.

“Much better, much stronger,” I responded though that was not entirely true.

“Do you want to come back? Will you be able to be here consistently?”

I nodded on both counts because I could not trust myself to speak. Despite myself the tears began. I was still feeling so vulnerable and so emotional.

“Are you sure you’re up to this?” Ellen asked.

I attributed the tears to a visit I had made to the dentist the day before because of a bad toothache. The dentist had told me that in the near future I would probably lose all my upper teeth and have to get a complete sense of dentures due to bone loss from 26 years of anorexia. “I’m still reeling from the news,” I told them.

I still had to see the covering psychiatrist for Dr. Adena* (as she was still in Europe) on Thursday so we all agreed I would start back to work on the following Monday. My tears had dried up by the time I left and we had agreed that I would remain at my part-time status of 20 hours per week. I walked back out into the storm without my red umbrella.

I met with Dr. K. whom I knew from previous times that Dr. Adena had been on vacation. “Why did you wait so long to call me?” she asked.

I had to admit it was primarily about money. “My finances took precedence over my mental health. I gambled and I lost. Big time.” I felt ashamed and extremely small. She was kind and I wondered if Dr. Adena was going to be as understanding when she returned.

When Dr. Adena came back I sat down in her office and asked her if she knew what had happened. She said she ran into Dr. K. and she told her. Where? I wondered. In Stop & Shop? I imagined Dr. K. telling Dr. Adena that I was hospitalized again in the produce section as they were choosing tomatoes for their salads that evening. Absurd.

“When exactly did you go into the hospital? she wanted to know.

I told her on a Wednesday.

“So a week after I left.”

So what the hell does that mean? I wanted to ask her. What are you trying to say? That I barely lasted a week without you? That I’m weak, that I’m dependent.

But I said none of what I was thinking. I seethed silently and that was part of what had gotten me in trouble in the first place. I was so afraid of her being angry at me, of her rejecting me that I remained quiet. I already felt my place with her was precarious after the suicide attempt, and now the second hospitalization. I didn’t want to risk her telling me that she would no longer work with me.

The fear of rejection, of abandonment dated back to my father whose death had triggered this depressive episode in the first place. I shook from fear, terror pervaded my mind, body and soul. I would have done anything to please him, to obtain his approval in my childhood, when I was a young adult, right up until the time he died. And now my chance to get it was gone. I would never have it and I was trying desperately to get it from any other place I could. Including Dr. Adena. And it almost cost me my life.

*All names have been changed