©2001 Carly Issitt
When the insurance company told me I had to stop going to therapy, I laughed. It was an exaggerated sort of laugh, the kind that encourages the person to say they’re only kidding. But the computer operator on the phone was not kidding. My mental health concerns were not severe enough to warrant more therapy, according to them, because I had not been the victim of a crime and I was not suicidal. I said, “I might become suicidal if I can’t go to therapy.” The computer operator didn’t think it was funny.
I had two sessions left to work out all my problems. I needed some sort of mental health breakthrough, the kind where all my problems suddenly become clear and easily solvable, so I could leave my last session in a good state. I considered crying and pleading to my therapist to let me continue coming to see her, perhaps thereby displaying my need for more therapy. Maybe she could pass this on to the insurance company, explain to them how I needed help. This plan would never work, though, unless I was genuinely suicidal.
Suicide is an option, I started thinking. I could see why people did it, with therapy being so hard to obtain these days. There are fairly painless ways to do it, I thought, especially since I lived alone and didn’t have to worry about anyone walking in. But no matter how you do it, it’s always messy, and usually traumatic for whoever finds the body.
These were genuine suicidal thoughts. All I needed to do was tell my therapist, or better yet, call my insurance company directly and tell them I was having suicidal thoughts, and they’d be sure to reinstate my coverage and send me back to therapy. I picked up the phone and scanned the back of my insurance card, thinking for the sake of effect I should use the emergency number, but I couldn’t bring myself to dial. I had no intention of committing suicide.
My last two sessions went by unnotably, as all my previous ones had. I expected some extra effort from my therapist Sheila—something to assure that I’d be okay without her. She checked her watch as she always did two minutes before my session ended, to indicate that I should finish my thought and stop talking. She shifted in her chair.
“I just get so lonely sometimes,” I said.
She stared at me, and I could see in her eyes that she wasn’t thinking about my problems anymore. My time was up.
“Is there some sort of exit interview or something?” I asked.
“Nope, you’re free to go.”
“But don’t you take some measure of whether this is successful or not, this whole therapy thing?”
“I wish you the best,” she said, walking up and holding her hand out to me. I stayed in the chair and shook her hand.
“Thanks,” I said, scanning the artwork in her office one last time, trying to remember the names of some of the books on her shelf that I always thought would be good to read.
The next Tuesday I drove to Sheila’s office and sat in the waiting room for the whole fifty minutes. I wondered if she was in there doing nothing, maybe even thinking of me.
I read an outdated issue of Psychology Today and learned all about the link between hunger and memory. Apparently hunger is governed almost entirely by the person’s memory of when he or she last ate. Hunger pains are the brain’s way of reminding us to eat. It wasn’t relevant to my life, but it was interesting nonetheless and it was good to spend that usual hour thinking about psychological topics. I was no closer to a mental health breakthrough, though.
The next week I came again at the same time and waited as I always did when I was authorized to be there. I waited with an overweight woman who read the same Psychology Today I’d read the week before. I wondered if she took the hunger thing personally. People always assume that overweight people eat too much, but sometimes they don’t. That was probably what she was thinking, if she was thinking about the article at all.
“You’d think they’d get some new magazines once in a while,” I said.
“Really,” the woman said.
“Plus, in psychology, it seems like they’re always wrong about things and then they have to come back later and correct what they said before.”
“Yeah,” the woman said. “Like with Split Personalities, now they call it Dissociative Identity Disorder. My aunt had that.”
“I think therapy should be free,” I said. “Since you don’t know if it’s helping you or not. They don’t even know if it’s helping you.”
“Sounds good to me,” she said. “Sounds great.” She scanned the pages of the magazine and flipped through, but then her therapist came to the door and let her in.
“Good luck,” she said to me as she left.
The next week I showed up again, half hoping to see the overweight woman, but she didn’t come. For the next few months I kept going, talking to different people in the waiting room, never seeing Sheila. I wondered if she even worked there anymore. I missed her. I was beginning to feel rejected—every week I showed up five minutes early and she never came to get me from the waiting room, all because of some supposed insurance problem. I would have thought after all that time she would agree to see me for free, but she hadn’t offered and I hadn’t asked. So I decided to call her.
“Is there any possibility of my coming to see you for free?” I asked. She laughed. “You could try out experimental methods on me if you want, and I’ll fill out questionnaires and surveys, and even have MRIs if I need to.”
“I’m sorry, but I’m not an experimental psychologist, and I don’t work on trade. My practice is too small for that.”
The next Tuesday I saw the overweight woman again in the waiting room.
“How are things going?” I asked her.
“Fine,” she said, pulling the April 1995 Time in front of her face to block me from view.
“I ordered them a new subscription to Psychology Today,” I said. “But it’s really for us, not them.”
“That should be nice,” the woman said. “They need something new in here. Everything feels so old.”
The door opened and we both looked up expecting her therapist, but it was Sheila, surprised to see me.
“What are you doing here?” she asked. The overweight woman stared at me. “Did your insurance company give you more appointments?” Sheila asked.
“Then can I help you with something else?”
“No, I don’t think so,” I said, and I winked at the overweight woman as I left.