Mental Health. Society has come to appreciate the importance of mental health just as much as physical health in recent decades, but somehow there still a negative shadow cast over those who open up about mental challenges they may be facing. If you break your leg people openly tend to express sympathy for the pain you must be feeling.
However, if you talk about bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, or whatever else ails you inside the complicated workings of your brain, oftentimes, people tend to form an opinion about the stability of you as a person. The leads to people forming quicker judgments about your ability to function in your job, your life, family or home. It’s unfortunate, but mental health, in my opinion, is still not a topic that gets the attention it deserves.
As many of you know I like to crack open uncomfortable topics and dive right into them. With that said, I’m going to open up about some of the serious inner demons that afflict me on a daily basis, how I deal with them, and, frankly, how I compartmentalize most of them just to get through my days.
Over the last 10 years I really have only engaged in therapy for about a year. I focus a lot on meditation, but I also appreciate that after a decade of compartmentalizing most of my life – cracks in my internal mental walls are starting to become more prominent. This is a problem. Before I dive into what I keep in each of my mental compartments I decided a few months ago to make a more concerted effort to find a therapist. If I can dedicate hundreds of hours of my time to helping others – I need to spend a few hours trying to help myself in the process.
Therapist’s get a bad rap because, oftentimes, you pick one, don’t like them, and then move on because you don’t think therapy works for you. Unfortunately, finding the right therapist is like finding the right surgeon. You need to interview them, shop around, and then find the best one to suit your needs. Another analogy that may resonate more clearly is if you are looking for that perfect shirt or pants for the Christmas holidays and you can’t find it. Don’t you go to other stores in search of what you want? You don’t settle on a pair of pants that looks poorly on your body, do you? Likely not. Why should finding the therapists be any different?
The question is, how does one go about doing this? Well, I approached the problem like I do any. I started researching therapists in my area – some who are in my insurance network and some who are not. Therapists generally range from $80 an hour up to, gosh, over $200 an hour if you are paying out-of-pocket. I decided to set some funds aside to invest in my mental health just in case I didn’t find a therapist in-network. What price can you put on your mental sanity?
I identified 8 different therapists who I thought would fit the bill and proceeded to call all of them. I spoke with each of them for about 15 to 20 minutes to explain what I was looking for and listened to their different therapy modalities. I then narrowed it down to 4 different therapists I would like to try. This was pretty much a mix between in-network and out-of-network therapists. I’m going to give each therapist three sessions over the course of 12 weeks. It will be a little bit more of a capital expenditure, but at least half of them I don’t really have to pay for because my insurance will pay for them. If you don’t have the funds then you can make sure that all the therapists are in-network, and try each of them several times. Insurance generally pays for about 30 visits per year, which roughly averages two visits a month. Unless you are going through a mental health crisis, I find this to be sufficient.
Even if you run out of therapy sessions with your insurance company, most therapist’s will work with you on a sliding scale and charge you the in-network insurance rate if you just talk to them. I know this for a fact because I spoke with all 8 of them about this.
So, this is my strategy for finding a new therapist. Now, onto some of my deep dark secrets, which I don’t tend to advertise because, well, I, like so many others, like to be portrayed in a certain light.
My Deep Dark Secrets
I was raised to always work hard, push harder, and persevere. This is just my nature and my personality. Unfortunately, this comes along with burying many of my internal struggles because I was raised to believe (by society in those days) that mental weakness meant weakness as a human being. Sadly, I still feel this way even though I know it’s not true. Every ounce of my being tells me to be strong every moment of the day, for everyone else, put my needs to the side, help others, and just suck up whatever I am feeling.
Yes I broke my neck, yes I am paralyzed, yes I suffer from debilitating pain 24/7 and other secondary complications on a regular basis, but I have a fabulous family who is incredibly supportive. Therefore, in my mind I truly believe I don’t have a right to complain about anything. There are so many other quadriplegics in my situation who struggle financially leading them to merely try and survive their day because they can’t get what they need, don’t have the funds for caregivers around the clock, and don’t have family to back them up in hard times.
I know instinctively I have the right to break down with everything I go through, but the rational side of my brain tells me that if I do break down in any way, shape, or form I might crumble right then, and there.
The uniqueness in regards to being paralyzed presents added challenges to my life on a daily basis. My life is not just about me and the way I’m feeling. Why? Because I have an entire network of people around me to physically support me to literally keep me alive. I have caregivers, a husband, mother, sister, brothers, in-laws, and friends. People frequently comment on how they admire how strong, determined, persistent, happy, positive, and bubbly I am.
It’s true in that I do embody many of those qualities, but I work at it every single day. If I am a depressed and angry quadriplegic, who is going to want to stand by me? I wouldn’t want to be around me if I break down like that, why would anyone else? These are many of my internal thoughts on a daily basis.
If someone gets short with me, is unhappy with a situation, is trying to control a certain aspect of my life, or tries to take a mile after I give an inch, etc. I combat this by compartmentalizing how I really feel, stay calm, listen to everyone’s problems, and create a plan of attack to solve them. I deal with life by solving problems. This is how I survive in my mind.
Don’t get me wrong, I am very good at solving problems, but this is a construct I have created myself. I have built my world around dealing with everyone else’s challenges in a very calm and collected manner because if I don’t the inner child in me might scream. If I scream or completely lose it then I don’t have any guarantee that people around me would want to stay with me in the long run. If I’m not taken care of physically I become scared for my own survival. Then my anxiety raises up to an incomprehensible level resulting in such severe nerve pain that being physically paralyzed pales in comparison.
The funny thing is that I really am super positive and I really do see the bright side of most situations, but I’ve had to train myself to do this. Just as a regular exercise program results in improved muscle mass over a sustained period of time, regular mental exercises allow me to create an internal calm within myself in order not to freak out living this life with paralysis. I had the fortunate/unfortunate situation of being stuck in bed for nearly a year with multiple pressure sores, surgeries, and secondary complications where I was literally looking at four walls. This ironically helped me build a mental strength framework within myself. Every day I created a schedule for myself to stay busy, meditate, work, exercise the best I could, and focus on positive thoughts. It’s not easy. It takes practice and work. Bottom line, you have to want to change, and in order to change you need to admit what your weaknesses are.
I live in a world of dark humor and always seem to flip negative situations upside down into comical positive ones, but just in the last six months I’ve dealt with:
- Multiple condo floods (still ongoing to this day) and having to live in my living room … I did think all the floods were done, but the other day more have popped up.
- Caregivers going back and forth whether they wanted to continue employment for one reason or another causing incredible anxiety.
- A husband who is overworked in an intense job resulting in very little time spent with one another working on our marriage.
- A rock star 74yr old mom trying to be there for her quadriplegic daughter, brand-new grandchildren, and having to move her entire life along with 20 years of stuff to be next to me.
- A broken new wheelchair.
- Fighting insurance battles tooth and nail to help myself and others in the disabled community get medically necessary equipment we need in order to live a life with a moniker of independence & dignity.
- Minor pressure sores popping up left and right.
- Feeling mentally abandoned by so many friends.
- Multiple surgeries for my nose, repeated needles burning off nerves in my neck, bladder Botox, to name a few medical procedures.
- High stress anxiety in coordinating people’s schedules to make sure they take care of me when problems arise in other people’s lives.
- I’m not touching the effects of the pandemic on my life at the moment – another topic.
These are just few of the things I’ve been dealing with, but there are so many more. The thing is this is not meant to make you feel sorry for me, but I strongly feel, now anyway, that acknowledging what anyone one of us has to deal with is the first step to fixing it even though it causes extreme anxiety, stress, and depression in anyone’s life.
I combat many of these challenges I face by compartmentalizing because this is the best strategy I know how to stay positive, and, more recently, pouring my whole self into paying it forward by helping others in the health insurance world who really really need it. I find helping people puts my life into perspective because there are so many people I know in life that are less fortunate than I am, so what right do I have to complain?
I know I have right, but I can’t bring myself to accept that right. This is why I am seeking a therapist. When people ask me how I am doing I never dive into all the things that are going wrong in my life on that day or week or month. So many people naturally tend to unload many of their problems on me whether it is strangers or people close to me. This is my own doing. I take on other people’s problems.
I don’t want to surround myself with negativity, but sometimes I don’t have a choice if certain people are helping me in my life on a daily basis. It’s for my own safety, happiness of the household, and being a good human being I think. I do tend to just get quiet and retreat back into my own mind when I do get overwhelmed, which I do appreciate is not healthy, but sometimes you need to do what you need to do to survive.
So, again, this is why I am seeking a therapist.
The question is what am I hoping to gain from a therapist? I do a pretty good job I think of balancing my life with respect to being insanely productive through determination and perseverance, but a pretty shitty job of being happy with myself. I never feel like I am doing enough, working hard enough, strong enough, etc. Actually, I know this sounds odd, but I feel like a complete failure in my life.
I feel like I should’ve accomplished more at 37 years old than I have at this point. Sometimes when I do tell folks this and they point out what I have been through over the last 10 years with my paralysis, surgeries, etc. I never seem to bring myself to look at spinal cord injury as an excuse not to succeed even with the seemingly insurmountable challenges I face.
I need to do better, accomplish more, and hopefully make a positive mark in this world to help others. So, why can’t I stop to help myself?
Coming back to the question of what am I hoping to gain from a therapist? Well, I really want them to help me to find an inner peace with everything I deal with. I just want to feel happy enough inside while fighting everyone else’s battles. I want peace, I’m sure this is quite a common feeling that many of us dealing with mental challenges want as well, but it’s true.
I am so neurotically organized, and trust me, this is helpful on a daily basis, especially with a spinal cord injury, but I can’t control how others feel around me. I know I can only control how I feel and my reactions to other people. Mostly I do a great job of not letting other people’s problems affect my mind mentally, but there are few people in my life where certain reactions still strike what feels like a raw nerve inside my head. I want to find better coping techniques with a therapist on how to deal with some of these things.
I know this sounds strange, but I feel very very alone. I know I am not physically alone, but mentally I feel that way. I don’t want to feel that way, but I do.
Much of what I have written today is quite personal, but if one person who reads this can relate and perhaps feel a little less alone then it’s worth it. Mental health is such a personal topic and a sensitive one to so many. I get it. I’ve just had enough and I want to talk about it openly just as I talk about having sex with a spinal cord injury. One is funny and amusing, and the other is quite serious, and dark at times. This is okay. It’s okay to have feelings of darkness. Now, being dark all the time and only having this one life to live must, undoubtedly, be unbearable for so many who live in this darkness all the time.
I really am fortunate in that I don’t live in this darkness all the time, I have feelings of darkness at times, but there’s a difference. I often work with folks who are in constant darkness and don’t even have the motivation to seek help, which is where I like to come in, and try to help.
Nerve pain or as is sometimes called “phantom pain” used to be looked at by many doctors, and still many to this day, as a pain that is just in your mind, and therefore doesn’t exist; so we must be making it up. Yes, pain is simply a signal in the brain manifesting itself physically in our bodies, but it still feels very real. It’s our reality. One could draw the same analogy for mental health. However, if we don’t speak up and keep educating our medical professionals in society about the real struggles we as human beings deal with on a daily basis, then it will never be normalized.