I recently came to the realization that I’ve changed a lot since my days in college, and not just my receding hairline and softening waistline. I used to be an ideological person who stood behind my beliefs. I used to wear my problems on my sleeve because I believed it was important to be the example fighting the stigma surrounding my mental health problems. Now my hardline stances are softening right along with my waistline.
I found myself in a moment recently, that people sharing my problems may recognize. It is the moment when you realize you’ve muttered, “Goddamnit, I’m such a worthless piece of shit,” nine times in a day, even though you’ve been relatively productive. In a moment of clarity, you acquiesce, “Goddamnit, I need to start seeing a therapist again.”
After several voicemails and a few conversations with receptionists trying to gauge how quickly I needed to be seen, I had found myself in a pleasant conversation. An older Midwestern man’s voice was returning my previous voicemail. After a brief conversation I felt confident that this could be a promising therapeutic relationship, so we went over some of the specifics. He asked what was I struggling with, and I told him the truth. It was the regular stuff: depression, anxiety, problems with my parents, or the Number 1 Special as I like to call it.
I made an appointment and he began to take some information for his records. Address. Phone Number. Email. Insurance card info. Then he asked,
“Can I get your social security number?”
I paused, then stammered “Uh, ah, I’m not really comfortable giving that information out over the phone.”
He responded understandingly, but I continued. “I mean it’s just that, you called me back from a personal number so I have no way of knowing if you really are who you say you are.”
Again, he made no protest.
I took a beat and spoke, “However, just to be clear, I struggle with depression and anxiety. Paranoia isn’t typically an issue we’ll be dealing with in therapy.”
He let out an earnest laugh. Not forced or sympathetic, not rushed or manufactured, he let out an organic laugh in a moment when, had I not been joking, laughter would have been incredibly inappropriate. He read my California-drought-dry delivery like we were old pals. I was thrilled to have found a therapist for the first time who appreciated my ability to joke about difficult situations. I had never been so lucky searching before.
The conversation ended and that thought stuck with me. I had never been so lucky in the search for a new therapist. But why I would need luck? For something this personal, why wouldn’t I seek the recommendation of someone who knows my personality?
At that same time, I was looking for a new primary care doctor because I finally had good enough health insurance that I could investigate why that mole on my back is changing shapes. In order to find a new doctor I wrote a Facebook post asking for recommendations of good doctors in the area. I wish I could say I simply neglected to inquire about a therapist in the same post, but the truth is I had it in the original post and deleted it.
Why had I deleted the part asking for recommendations for a good therapist in the area? The easy answer would be fear and stigma. I worried my current and prospective bosses would see the post and be influenced by it. But that is not the whole truth. The real reason I didn’t include the search for a new therapist in that post was that I didn’t want to deal with the attention it might draw. I didn’t want fleeting support from people in the comments section and I didn’t want to put myself out there as a stigma fighter. The real reason I didn’t include a therapist in the post was because it was easier not to.
What changed in me that in the span of a few years? I went from wearing my issues on my sleeve as a crusader against stigma, to a person second-guessing my privacy in a lowly Facebook post? I grew up. I came to the realization that doing something just because it is the best thing for me is enough in this life. While it is important not to hide who I am, and the fight against stigma is real, it is also not up to me to solve the world’s problems. I don’t need to take a stand with every Facebook post, and not every day of my life needs to be a battle to make the world a better place. There are times when it is okay to simply do what you need to do to get through the day.
For me it was the right choice to omit asking about a therapist in the original post. I took care of my needs and I lived to fight stigma of mental illness another day, which I did in this blog. I will post it to my Facebook page. Ultimately my boss could still read about my mental health issues and it could affect my job. However, there is no way my boss reads my blog, and while I think everyone should read my blog, delusions of grandeur typically isn’t an issue we will be discussing in therapy.