It took me three weeks to find a therapist. My anxiety was out of control — days without feeling like I could breathe, zero ability to relax or wind down, zooming through to-do lists like the world would collapse if I didn’t complete them. I called my employer’s work-life balance hotline. I set up an appointment to establish care with a general physician — after a year of having health insurance and never bothering — who agreed I should seek out someone to talk to. I researched and finally found a program that allowed me to see a therapist for lower-than-average cost.
I picked my therapist because she identified as feminist. She had experience dealing with anxiety. She was less than a 20-minute drive from my house. It took a week of waiting after that to finally get to see her.
I’m not sure what I expected from that first visit, but I figured it would be awkward. I searched Google for “what to expect from your first therapy visit.” I called friends who I knew saw therapists regularly.
I filled out a form and then I talked at her for an hour. At her. I told her my mom had died the month prior. I told her my 17-year-old brother had moved in with my husband and me. We adopted my mom’s dog. That I could barely remember a moment of my mother before she got sick with stomach cancer. That I had been filling my life up with lists for months, if not years, and I was good at them, too good at them… that I was afraid I would look back in 60 years and think, “Well, at least I got a lot of errands done.”
“What I really think I need,” I told her, “is to figure out how to put up boundaries and actually make time for myself. I need to stop taking responsibility for everyone else’s life. I feel like most everything else will come from that.”
“Uh huh,” she said.
She really didn’t say much, I noticed. She would offer anecdotes about her life, and sometimes agree with me. She would nod her head empathetically. She would ask me situational questions — how’s your marriage? How’s your brother adjusting? How’s work?
She never asked me: Why? Why do you think that is? Why do you feel that way?
She told me to read a book. She told me to do yoga. But, it felt good to talk to someone — to have a guaranteed place to go and let it all out in a way that would have overburdened my friends and family.
At my second appointment, I talked at her again. She told me she was busy for the next two weekends, but could schedule me in after that.
When I went back the third time, I didn’t have much to talk about. The weeks between appointments had been good. I’d set aside the majority of my after-work hours to spend time writing, reading, drawing. I was beginning to feel like myself again, that I’d started arranging my life in a way that allowed me to breathe. I told her as much.
“I’m proud of you. It sounds like you’re doing well,” she said. I thought it was really early to say she was proud of me.
“I don’t think you need me anymore,” she told me.
Sort of baffled, I pushed to schedule an appointment a month away — just in case, to see where I was at. When I got in my car, I realized I didn’t want to see her again. If she didn’t think she could help me, she probably couldn’t. A few days later, I emailed and cancelled the appointment.
So, here I am. I still feel like I could benefit from someone urging me to think through my own thinking. I imagine that finding time for myself will only go so far. I imagine that I will overtax my friends’ empathies when I just can’t shut up, because I can’t, because there is too much to talk through.
I am also afraid to try someone new, to start the process again, to find that they only want to help through the brunt of things — the who’s and how’s and what’s — and never ask me why. How do you research and find a person who understands we are always going through something, even when you have figured out how to breathe again?
I feel lucky that I am not in a dire mental health crisis where my options would be to suffer for weeks while actively seeking help or checking myself into a hospital. I feel lucky that I was able to afford the three sessions I went to.
And I feel scared for the people who are less proactive, to-do-list focused and extroverted, who really need someone to pick up on the nuances of their situation. There isn’t really a Yelp for therapists. And as much as we like to say, “You should really talk to somebody,” the truth is that therapy is expensive. It is not covered by health insurance. There are few and far between sliding scale options. And on top of that, not every therapist is a good person to talk to. Who do we talk to then?