MY ADVENTURE IN DISCOUNT THERAPY
There are a select few things in life for which a person should pay more. In my experience, these include sushi, tattoos, and therapy.
I first moved to New York in 2008, and might I add, my timing was immaculate. The economy crashed in near synchronicity with having secured my masters degree, and the doors to most of the city’s advertising creative departments… well, they didn’t close, but they became much, much smaller and offered much, much smaller paychecks.
So I took an internship at an agency, getting paid $13.00 an hour with no benefits. I lived on a friend’s couch for a month. I neglected my dental care in spite of the fact that a molar intermittently throbbed in the back of my mouth where a filling had fallen out and cracked the tooth in half.
And less than half a year in, my best friend Nathan passed away.
As you can probably imagine, I was not the paragon of mental or physical health. But people kept going, “you should probably talk to someone,” and I thought it couldn’t hurt, right? I’d never done therapy before, but my fellow New Yorkers discussed it openly, liberally, and enthusiastically the way you might the opening of a new restaurant or the True Detective finale. “Oh, I see a Freudian!” “Wait, what, like where you don’t look at him? That’s crazy!” Yes, yes it is.
Here’s a fun fact, though: seeing a therapist in New York is insanely expensive because 1) everyone is crazy, 2) the high ratio of crazy means demand is also high, 3) the high demand means doctors don’t need to make their services available through insurance because 4) people are crazy so they will pay through the nose.
So I looked at my skint paycheck, losing hope with every blank spot I glanced on its ledger where I wished there was a zero. And then, after seven months of summer interning (well into what would actually be classified as “winter”), I finally got a full-time job offer, with benefits.
Now, the money wasn’t much more, but I did learn something upon examination of my benefits: my employers offered a mental health benefit that included, and I quote, “five free therapy sessions per problem.”
Oh, how my mind raced with the possibilities. I made a laundry list of all of my problems, mentally breaking them down into tiny, specific, micro-problems, imagining a world in which I could theoretically manage to indulge in the privilege of free therapy for life! After all, I had SO MANY PROBLEMS! I had never been so excited about this fact in my entire life.
So I called, and I arranged to see a grief therapist uptown. And when I arrived? Well, remember what I said about sushi and tattoos?
There are certain things for which you actually want to pay more.
The therapist greeted me. She was wearing a patchwork leather vest and loads of turquoise jewelry. My hippie radar started pinging, but I forced myself to turn off my inbred cynicism and give her a chance. And to be fair, she did help me. Just not in the way that I imagine she intended.
I sat down on the couch. She asked me why I had come to her today. I began to tell her about losing Nathan and my father and burst into tears. It was freeing, this safe space in a city where it often feels there are none.
I’m not sure what I expected her to say at that moment. I think I’d hoped she’d help me discuss the many, many complicated feelings that I’d been attempting to process solo for so long.
Instead, she told me to breathe. “Imagine you’re on a peaceful beach, and breathe.”
Um, seriously? I just spilled all of my worst shit to you—and, forgive me, but I think it’s stuff that it’s actually kind of okay to get upset about—and your professional solution is a breathing exercise?
It only got worse after that. The exercise designed to calm me had only riled me up more. After all, I wanted someone to acknowledge that I had a right to be upset and help me work through it. The therapist had instead suggested that my issues could be quelled by imagining myself in Margaritaville.
She then continued to tell me that I could benefit from learning some calming exercises. That’s when it got really, truly amazing.
“Close your eyes,” she implored me, “and imagine a warm blue golden light radiating in your face.”
I must be honest, this is the sort of thing I am only really able to do with the influence of substances controlled by the DEA. But I humored her. I closed my eyes. I imagined the warm blue golden light in my face. Then, in my neck, as she directed. Then in my shoulders, my arms, my hands, my fingers, my torso, my stomach… and then, she went further.
“Now, I want you to imagine the warm blue golden light in your buttocks.”
And, let me tell you, I am not proud of this:
I laughed. And not just a muffled chortle—a full-on, hysterical, derisive outburst. A truly dick move.
And yet, she forged forth, directing the warm blue golden light from my butt to my thighs until it finally exited through my toes.
“Now, open your eyes. Do you feel better?”
To which I replied, “Yes. Much, much better.”
You know what, though? It wasn’t a lie. Because even though I’m pretty sure it wasn’t what she intended, it was the first time I had been able to laugh at a truly terrible situation since it had happened. And as they say, laughter is the best medicine—or at least, significantly better medicine than discount therapy.
In case you’re wondering, I never went back to the lady with all the turquoise jewelry, though she was incredibly vigilant in trying to schedule follow-ups, which I dodged immaturely, like a person trying to avoid a request for a second date from a truly awful set-up. I can only imagine my file is in a cabinet with a big question mark on it wherever she keeps her patient records—after all, I did show up to her office, cry like a lunatic, only to never be heard from again. But I never pretended to be terribly mature.
I should probably talk to someone about that, huh?