Learning to Draw the Line


Learning to Draw the Line

From Symposium Storytelling Evening 2019

By Frank Anderson

May/June 2019


My story begins at my family dinner table when I was 17 years old. We were all sitting in our usual seats—my dad at the head, me to his right, and my sister, Carla, across from me—when in a panicked tone of voice, Carla started talking about the spiders crawling all over her face. I remember feeling totally freaked out and heartbroken for the pain and suffering she was clearly experiencing. At 12 years old, she was in the midst of her first manic break. I wanted nothing more than to rescue her!

Our family spent the next several years traveling all over the Midwest trying to find the right doctors and hospitals that could make my sister “normal again.” Although I soon left for college to become a pharmacist like my father, I quickly switched my major to pre-med. Helping my sister, as I imagined I could, became much more important to me than taking over the family businesses.

My residency in psychiatry was at a hospital that only accepted patients who were homeless and had no insurance—an end-of-the-road kind of place. I was assigned 15 patients to care for, and immediately became overwhelmed. It was expected that most of us would go into therapy in our second year, when we started the outpatient rotation, but I didn’t make it past the first month. I was so stirred up inside by my patients’ pain and suffering that I started seeing a therapist five times a week.

I had no idea exactly what was so activated within me, but I tried to be guided by the…

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