This weekend marks two months since my last radiation treatment. My mood see-saws from bad to good, hour to hour. I decided last week that, in an effort to avoid antidepressants, I would see a therapist. The problem is that my insurance doesn’t cover mental health. I guess they don’t think that’s important. I found a local church that has therapists who work on a sliding fee schedule. Fine. I made an appointment.
On the day of the appointment, I sat and filled out the intake paperwork, all 500 pages. One question asked, “Have you experienced any changes in your life.” I almost giggled, then got to work listing them: fled a violent cartel town in Mexico, was homeless (had to live in my sister’s family room with my mom, four cats, and a dog) and jobless/underemployed for nearly a year, ultimately only finding three part-time jobs, my mother began having unexplained seizures that left her further disabled so she needed more care, two of my cats died 10 days apart, and I was diagnosed with cancer.
Are those changes enough?
When I entered the therapist’s office, I immediately asked her if she had experience counseling cancer patients. You would think that would be a sufficient hint. She hesitated then said that she had had a few patients with cancer. Hesitation, hmmm…I was losing confidence in her, but decided to give her a chance.
She looked over my paperwork.
“When did you finish your treatment?”
“My last day of radiation was April 19.”
“Did you have chemo?”
“Have you ever seen those movies where the cancer patient is sick and vomiting?”
“Is that from the chemo or the radiation?”
“Usually it’s just the chemo that does that.”
She nods her head and looks over my paperwork. She asks me questions about my childhood. Of course, what do you expect? That’s what they teach you in therapy school, right? Don’t focus on the pressing issue the patient asks you about when she walks in the door. The patient only thinks her problem is cancer. It really all goes back to her childhood- you know, abuse, alcoholic father, poverty, suicidal tendencies, all that kind of stuff. I answer her questions with growing anger.
“You had difficulty finding a job?”
“Did you try the job center?”
“Yes, in two counties.”
“Did you check their list of job search websites? They have some good sources.”
“Yes, and I have even better sources.” My heart is beginning to quicken and my face feels flushed.
“Have you considered job skills training?” Oops! Too far. The dam breaks.
“Look,” I say, my voice rising considerably. “I’m going to be frank here because I have nothing to lose. I do not need job counseling! MY PROBLEM WITH FINDING WORK IS NOT MY SKILLS, IT’S THE ECONOMY! I did not spend thousands of dollars on acquiring a master’s degree just so I could go down to the skills center to learn to type 40 words a minute and become a minimum-wage receptionist! That is what I did BEFORE my education! And I earn enough in my jobs, which are in my chosen profession, to meet all my needs! My problem is not employment! IT IS ANGER! I have done everything I was supposed to, everything, and still my life is screwed! I am pissed! I am pissed at God! He’s a bastard! I am pissed at life!”
She nodded. “We get two types of people here, those who want to work on their problems and those who want to talk. It seems you need to talk.”
“I need to do something with my anger, and I am trying not to take pills to fix it,” I reply.
“What have you done?”
“I volunteer, I stay busy with work, I go out with friends, I exercise, I go for walks, I write.”
“Have you tried to chase the negative thoughts away, think about the positive things in life?” She hands me a book on coping with feelings.
“Look,” I say, “I am not at the point at the moment to see all the bright, rosy aspects of life. I have had so much counseling in my life that I could write this book. The problem at the moment is having the ability to apply it.”
“Well here’s a packet I compiled on anger management. There are specific techniques that you can apply to help you with your anger.”
I look at the papers and inwardly sigh. Doesn’t she realize that you can’t use these techniques until you’ve actually addressed what is causing the anger?
“Our time is up.”
I make another appointment with her, knowing that I will call and cancel later. I evaluate the experience and it occurs to me that she honed in on those items that were concrete and easy to tackle- job counseling and anger management techniques. She side-stepped the important changes like cartel towns and cancer. I am frustrated and spinning my wheels.
The next day I call my oncologist to make an appointment. I will consider the antidepressants. But before I take anything, I will ask him where I can go to talk with someone who understands. Maybe he can recommend a support group or a therapist who really does know something about dealing with cancer.
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