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Invisibly Ill

I’m in the market for a new therapist. My old one closed his practice, and the doctor I found next only does meds, not therapy. This was fine for a while. This was fine until one Saturday night this summer, when I rushed myself to the Bellevue emergency room because I couldn’t stop crying for no concrete, discernible reason. I cried most of that night, curled up in a chair in the psychiatric ER. I cried hardest at 3am after I was told I wouldn’t be admitted. I knew I needed more help than I was getting, but I didn’t know how to ask.

I’ve been hospitalized three times, twice on my own volition, all three times in a psychiatric facility for at least a week. I went to the hospital that night because I know from experience that sometimes the hospital can help. The hospital has, in fact, saved my life more than once. But at those times, I was in what they call “acute distress,” and that night this summer did not seem to qualify. I wasn’t a danger to myself or anyone else, they said. I knew this time was different. But I also knew that something was very, very wrong.

The next morning, I was given my discharge papers, instructed to come back to the Interim Crisis Clinic the following week, and sent on my way. My sister pulled up to the main hospital entrance as I sat with the duffle I’d packed the night before, having anticipated a longer stay. I took the next few days to recuperate at my mom’s apartment, taking comfort in my family’s care. It helped. I returned to work drained, but lacking any bumps, bruises, or casts, my ailment invisible to the eye.

At my first appointment at the crisis clinic, I realized that, despite my best efforts, I couldn’t cry out whatever was brewing in my head and heart. I was tasked with finding a therapist. This is harder than it sounds, even in New York City, even with excellent healthcare benefits. I was advised to look through the listings on Psychology Today, which seemed plentiful, but all of the therapists I reached out to either weren’t accepting new patients, didn’t take my insurance, or felt they weren’t right for my case. Some didn’t even respond to my inquiries. I gave my psychiatrist a list of therapists I’d pulled from my healthcare provider’s database hoping that he would be able to refer me to someone. “It’s too short. Broaden your search and bring it back,” he said after looking at the three pages I’d handed him. My sessions at the clinic ran their course, no fruits of our labor of which to speak.

I am, by most accounts, a successful, motivated person. But even I have a breaking point. And I can only imagine how millions of others feel, who may not have the wherewithal to go through even the preliminary steps that I have. So many are already in a desperately lonely place, and that feeling is dramatically exacerbated when you are challenged to find a professional who can’t help without bankrupting you. It should not be this hard.

I should note, I do have a few warm leads on some people who might be able to help me. But I’m loathe to reach out at this point, for fear of yet another nonstarter caveat to treatment. The other issue is that my demons, being hidden, don’t bother me sometimes. I’ve dealt with much worse, and there’s a piece of me that thinks I can handle it on my own anyway. I’m just one of the millions of Americans who quietly face mental health issues every day. For some of us, suffering silently is even preferable to digging into distressing issues. Issues float invisibly inside, rattling around in rib cages, and we pray that they stay there. We hold ourselves together in the office and bite our tongues at parties when the conversation turns to someone’s bipolar cousin.

I know that therapeutic treatment has the potential to vastly improve my life. But in an age when barriers to entry are falling like dominoes, the barriers are still alive and well as far as mental healthcare is concerned, and the real tragedy is all of the people who slip through the cracks entirely. I remember that I’m one of the lucky ones, with a job, and a home, and a voice.

Practice gratitude, step one.

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