Acceptance, Both Ways

By Anita Vijayakumar

August 15, 2022

Acceptance, Both Ways

I was an untested psychiatry resident learning the intricacies of therapy. She was my first patient, a young woman who needed to unpack her suffering. She spread out her traumas like snow globes, delicate stories encased in fractured glass. What will you do with them? she asked without speaking.

I faltered often in those early days, not knowing if my words were helping or if I’d accepted a responsibility far beyond my skills. But every week she returned, those large brown eyes boring into me, imparting raw tragedies each time she blinked. She trusted me with her pain. Accepted my small offerings of empathy. Began smiling more. Maybe our matching brown skin made her more comfortable. She never said.

Six months into our sessions, I spotted her at a low-lit dance club in the city. I pretended I hadn’t seen her, maintaining her privacy. I suddenly felt silly, dancing in front of my patient. Where was my gravitas? My sober sophistication? 

Without warning, a friend swooped me up onto his shoulder. Elevated on the strobe-lit dance floor, I imagined my face segueing from blue to green to red. A soft kick to my friend’s chest bought my release, but it was too late. Those large brown eyes, glinting in the shadows, had locked onto mine. I’d just been fired, I knew. The thought of never seeing her again seared.

Impossibly, she marched over, grabbed my hand, and smiled. “Don’t be embarrassed, Doc. You’re allowed to dance, too.” 


Anita Vijayakumar spent a fistful of years in an Indian village and is now a Chicago-based psychiatrist and writer. Her writing can be found in HuffPost, The New York Times Love Stories, The Chicago Tribune, and, amongst others. She is querying a novel about mental health, betrayal, and identity.


Image by Khunatorn courtesy of Adobe Stock

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