I was sitting behind a red light at an intersection not typically known for heavy traffic in my hipster neighborhood of Chicago. The light turned red, then green and no one moved. It turned red again, then green again, and no one moved. I assumed there was an accident ahead as the light continued to alternate between red and green and my car remained stubbornly at the point I had started, not three blocks from my apartment.
I had Spotify playing and was doing my best not to let agitation take over. Yet, I could not help feeling overwhelmed that I would probably miss the appointment I was headed to.
The appointment I had was to see my therapist -- someone who had only recently entered my life but had started to provide an important avenue for me to acknowledge and tackle some challenges I've lived with for as long as I can remember.
I called the front office of my therapist and let them know about the situation. The receptionist told me in a monotone, unenthused voice just how sorry she was they would have to charge me a no-show penalty of nearly $70. I expressed my frustration that I had no control over the situation at hand. I couldn't even turn around to go home, I explained. "I'm very sorry," said the receptionist her voice conveying not the slightest bit of sympathy. "I really don't think you are," I replied.
I started to cry realizing how badly I had needed the session I was charged for but couldn't attend. Recent events that shook me both professionally and personally have taken a serious toll and I really needed my therapist's support. I wasn't allowed to speak with my therapist nor the elusive "office manager" who apparently enforced the no-show fee. The powerless feeling that took over was all too familiar.
The receptionist's callousness did not go unnoticed and her arrogance was not impressive. I too own a counseling center -- two in fact -- and understand the impact no-shows have on revenue. However, when we go into a business intended to provide mental health services, we have a responsibility to think outside of profit and loss statements.
I have been a patient of mental health providers the vast majority of my life and now hold a unique position as both a patient and provider. Growing up, I faced many of the life challenges that my peers did -- divorce, body image issues, the death of a beloved and very young friend -- but I always found it more difficult to cope than those around me. I've been made to feel that my emotions were "too much," that I "feel too strongly," and would likely "push away people close to me."
For a long time I thought I needed to hide the fact that I struggle with depression. I thought there was something wrong with me and that I would not be worthy of love until I was no longer diagnosed with depression or anxiety. I've let the people who walked away from me impact the way I feel about myself. I've let them think they were right, that there is indeed something wrong with sadness and grief.
I've found, now, that my greatest strength has come from embracing the intensity of my emotions and understanding where they come from. I understand, not only my own pain but the obligation that I have to the patients we serve. We cannot abandon them like so many of the people in their lives. We cannot make them feel as though they owe us something -- such as a non-negotiable no-show fee. We are the people put in place to support them and we must do so every chance that we get. Let's not forget how so many of us came to work in this industry in the first place.
If you suffer from any mental illness, you know how many people will put you down for the pain you feel. I may be only one person but please hear me when I say:
There is nothing wrong with you, and you are not alone.
If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.
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