My original plan for today’s virtual therapy session was to get dressed as I would if I was visiting the office. Perhaps it’s because I lean toward perfectionism in almost every area of my life or maybe I just like my shoes and purse to match. Whatever the case, I normally show up for my therapy appointments with my hair done, makeup on, and fake smile plastered on my face.
I couldn’t do it today. I sat on the couch in the still quiet morning before the boys woke up for their morning routines of breakfast, teeth brushing, and academics. I sipped my coffee, stared at the rain, and willed myself to get up off the couch. I couldn’t do it.
Ten minutes before my session began, I refilled my coffee and meandered into my home office. When my therapist popped up on my screen, I knew what she saw. I could see it on my own screen: messy bun, over-sized sweatshirt, eye bags for days, and a facial expression that said everything and nothing all at once.
It didn’t take her long to figure out how things were going. On top of COVID-19 anxieties, I’d been furloughed, my dad had lost a finger in a severe accident, and my husband’s grandmother had died since my last telehealth visit. No, things weren’t going very well.
But here’s what went well: The fact that technology like this exists now.
Six years ago, rural Ohio was not on the up-and-up with telehealth services as they relate to mental health. The doctor I was required to see in order to maintain my psychiatric drug prescriptions was having some health issues of her own. For four scheduled appointments in a row, I would show up, the receptionist would inform me that my doctor hadn’t made it to the office that day, and then inform that I could visit her in the office via telehealth. At which point I would remind her that my insurance did not approve telehealth service for mental health treatment. I would be rescheduled and turned away. My prescriptions were late by the time I got to see my doctor. Do you know the severe side effects of withdrawal from psychiatric drugs? I’m lucky to be alive.
Today I got to talk with my therapist about my available coping skills (running, being outside in nature) and lack thereof. One of the goals on my chart is to come up with another coping skill beyond running. So far, I haven’t been able to find one that works with me and my unique brain. She asked hard questions. I dodged them until I felt ready to answer them. I wrote down my homework. I left the session feeling thankful and slightly less overwhelmed by the reality of this situation, by my brain chemistry, by life as a whole.
I am so incredibly thankful for the changes that have been made to help people living with mental illness during this pandemic. Without the ability to visit my therapist virtually, the past month and a half might have left me feeling completely unable to cope on multiple levels.
And yet, I know it’s not enough. Our doctors are dying by suicide. Our children are as well. With schools shut down right now, we’re losing contact with kids and teens who need to know that they are worthy and loved. With systems all but shut down, we’re losing people in this odd gap of time who needed treatment immediately, not in four weeks, six weeks, months from now. For every person like me who is able to access mental health treatment right now, there are scores of others who are white-knuckling it moment to moment. It breaks my heart.
What breaks my heart more is that we run the risk of acknowledging how this time affected so many. As a society, we don’t deal well with steps outside of the norm when it comes to mental health, wellness, and illness. Too many people don’t want to assign PTSD to anything other than war. However, our nurses, doctors, and first responders are waging a war to save us all right now. They’re seeing things they won’t tell you about even if they legally could.
We want to rush back to normal, whatever that is, forgetting that normal wasn’t necessarily good for some of these children in the first place. Are we willing to address those issues coupled with the ones created during this time they’ve been at home? How about the new mom, fighting through the darkness of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders? What about the dad who hides it all but deals with suicidal ideation every single day? We don’t want to offer a hand to the addict who, despite everything, couldn’t make it through this global pandemic without relapsing. We want to place blame, point fingers. Do we want to help them?
I wish we wanted to help more.
I’m so thankful for the opportunity to fight another day. I just hope and pray that others find their opportunity as well.