Brave New Work

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So where were we? We were on a waiting list for a mental health evaluation. As it turned out, I didn’t have to wait as long as predicted. I was told in June I couldn’t be seen by anyone until September. The Universe conspired in my favor. While I waited an appointment opened up in mid-July. Since the very first visit is generally an intake meeting, I didn’t want to post until I’d actually had a therapeutic session, which happened just within the last couple of weeks.

The intake went well. I finally found a female therapist who could accept a new patient and accepts my health insurance. I’d like to pause here and underscore the fact that I can’t see the therapist I want. I can’t see any of the therapists recommended to me. I have to take what I can get. Such is the therapy market right now. And this flim-flam about trying out more than one therapist until I find the right one for me? I don’t know how this can even happen under the circumstances. I’m lucky I found anyone to see me, much less the right one. I explained this in detail when my new therapist asked how I found my way to her. She nodded and admitted I was the last new patient she was able to accept and like everyone else, is now operating at full capacity.

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My first session came two weeks later because that’s how long it takes to get an appointment unless I want to do virtual appointments over Zoom (I don’t). I guess the conspiracy of the Universe extended beyond just getting my foot in the door because I really do like her. I liked her right away. No red flags. No hesitation. After our intake she told me I should probably consider becoming a therapist as well. Hard to imagine a better opener than that, so bravo, Doc.

She eliminated the conditions/dysfunctions she did not think were presented and identified others she felt were obvious. She did not recommend medication. She proposed a plan. It was all so much easier than I imagined and truthfully, having a plan automatically feels empowering. I don’t feel at all as if something is being done to me. I feel like I’m willingly participating. So far so good.

I did sit on a couch and talk to her across a coffee table in a small room. I did not lay down as seen on TV and in the movies. For the first session she had pre-planned a certain exercise but as we spoke in the first few minutes, she opted for something else, which took most of the available hour. Nothing scary happened. I was invited. My permission was sought. I could stop at any time. I sat still. I closed my eyes. I relaxed. I answered questions. It was similar to meditation but interactive and with no dissociation. The exercise successfully brought forward insights. I left with strategies for arresting negative self-talk until we meet again.

I liked it. I can’t say there wasn’t some discomfort in confronting my symptoms and trauma and personal history but that discomfort is part of letting someone help me. I’m committed to doing the work so I accept sometimes I will be uncomfortable. I was uncomfortable, but this time with support in the room, which is new for me. Asking for help is new for me. Accepting help is new for me. New territory can be naturally uncomfortable but I don’t/didn’t feel unsafe. I felt supported. In this vein I wish I’d let myself have such support a long time ago. I did a monumental amount of work on my own but instead of seeing help as evidence of limitation, I now see it as a resource. If I’ve done this much so far on my own, imagine how much more I’ll be able to accomplish with help. And if it’s easier, and doesn’t take half my damn life? I’d be limiting myself by not accepting help. Lightbulb on and blazing.

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So yes, I wish I’d done this sooner. Yes, I see the wisdom in normalizing therapy. Yes, she’s right, I probably am well on my way to becoming some kind of therapist in the future. But for now, there’s the work and there’s gratitude. I have access and privilege even if it wasn’t easy to get started. The fact that it was hard is indicative of an overburdened mental health system and burgeoning need within the human population. I do want to be part of the solution but horse before cart, I’ve got a lot of homework to do first.

If you’re on the fence because you don’t know where to start, just start where I did. Be honest. You’ll be asked why you think you need to see a therapist. My honest answer was that I have certain symptoms, but I don’t know what my mental health needs are. I asked to have a therapist evaluate my mental health needs and make a recommendation. I was fully prepared to hear her say I didn’t need therapy at all. And also fully prepared to hear that I did. Be prepared for it to be a giant pain in the ass to even get into a room with someone but don’t take it as a sign you don’t need to go. Even if all you get is an evaluation, knowledge is power. How can it be a bad thing to know how we might ease more of our own suffering?

The money; I want to be honest about that too. I wouldn’t be able to afford it without health insurance. Luckily my therapist is considered in-network. I pay $40 per visit. From what I understand, mental health professionals get stiffed more than any other health care providers so the payment policy is strict because it has to be. My co-pay is auto-drafted after every visit, no exceptions. If my insurance company drops the ball, I have to pick it up, no exceptions. The recommendation was a session every other week so again, I have deep gratitude that this is a manageable expense for me. I’ll sacrifice a monthly luxury if necessary. What I won’t do is take for granted the opportunity to level-up my recovery. And I won’t be keeping it a secret either. I finally worked up the courage to do this because people I admire and respect have normalized it for themselves and speak so freely and publicly about it. I want to be another voice of encouragement and thereby pay it forward.

More to come on this, I’m sure.

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