Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Our Marriage Might Be TOO Interesting

You gotta read it to believe it.

Today, Alex and I saw our new "potential" therapist, for about the third time. And we frightened the living wampus out of him. I kid you NOT. He is not our new "potential" therapist any more, though he is not yet aware of that.

We have been with a psychologist that we both like VERY much for over three years. He's local, acccessible, "gets" us, KNOWS OUR RIDICUOUSLY INTENSIVE "HISTORY"-- much of which you would not believe in a million years even if I decided to tell every bit of it to you, which I most certainly ain't gonna--and most importantly of all, we always leave his office feeling better, like a weight's been lifted off our shoulders, than we did when we went in. He's not an M.D., but he is a doctor, and he practices the type of therapy that is most effective with bipolars (the ones who, like Alex, are stable enough for therapy to be helpful--never ask me how much therapy money we tossed down the proverbial rat-hole without FIRST achieving chemical stability--ever), and he seems to keep up with peer-reviewed studies and texts that are current in the profession. He sees us both as a couple and individually, depending on whatever that session's circumstances seem to dictate, and he's quite intuitive as to what issue most needs attention at any given time, and then getting to the meat of it, and helping us work it out.

Why mess with what ain't broke? GOOD QUESTION. Where were you last week? Well, mainly because WE were. Broke, that is. And Dr. Wonderful is NOT covered by our insurance--not anymore. AND because, we thought, in one of our fits of infinite collective wisdom, that it would be beneficial to have a therapist who was in the same clinic as Dr. Awesome, M.D., the psychiatrist who pretty much saved Alex's life and helped keep me from hiding in my closet for the last year. (You can see why we'd be fond of Dr. Awesome.) How great it would be, we thought, to have our therapist and psychiatrist in such close communication with each other! And it's covered, at least partially, by our insurance; hey, half-price is better than full-price, right?

Yeah. Unless you happen to be getting what you pay for. New Guy is not a psychologist. He's a LCSW, which in itself does not in any way say anything about his effectiveness as a therapist, but...well, to us right now, it's seeming...different. New Guy costs a little more than Dr. Wonderful, which is bizarre to us, since he's not a doctor, but whatever. He's also a good 40-minute drive away. He's younger than Dr. Wonderful, but not by a huge margin. Dr. Wonderful is on the young side, himself. But New Guy, therapy-wise, seems to be a bit of a one-trick pony, at least in dealing with Alex and I, and the only text he quoted--REPEATEDLY--was from John Gray's 15-year-old book, "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus," but he wasn't sure of the title and thought that the author was a woman, so...yeah--right there, we got a problem. If you're gonna rely on a pop-psychology paperback for the bulk of your therapeutic material, knowing who WROTE the thing looks a lot better than, well...not. There was a lot of talk of Alex "going into his cave," enough so, that we started shooting each other looks. That's when you know you're in trouble: If, during THERAPY, for which you are PAYING, you and your mate are sneaking glances at each other, and trying not to crack up. (Later, when I asked Alex what he thought New Guy's "cave" was like--because apparently all you Mars-Men HAVE them, he said, "I dunno, but there's probably a lot of cats." Which totally cracked me up, and made me love him more and need therapy less.)

There was an awful, awful, painfully awful boxing analogy, accompanied by some very sad miming of boxing that looked more than a little bit like a kitty-cat batting at one of those mouse-on-a-spring toys, at which point I was forced to absolutely turn my head 180 degrees away from my husband and begin an intent examination of the the contents of a bookcase, particularly a ceramic, bobble-head frog wearing a crown that said, "Smooch Me." I WISH I was making this up. (And, incidentally? Rather than learning how best to "box" with my husband, how about some tips on STAYING OUT OF THE RING ALTOGETHER?) But worst of all was the aforementioned fact that Alex and I, and/or our "issues," SCARED THIS POOR FELLOW TO DEATH. How do I know? Well, I think it was when he more or less TOLD us. You know, the part where he said, "To tell you the truth, I'm pretty overwhelmed by everything I'm getting from you guys, and I don't really know how to handle it."

Uh...WHA???? Well, thanks! THAT is reassuring, and whatever instructor taught you THAT method of instilling confidence in your patient(s), please give him/her a punch in the neck for me. Alex and I, having had such great outcome with our previous therapist, Dr. Wonderful, were floored. I mean, us? We are therapy PROFESSIONALS. What is New Guy talking about? We still don't know. We NEED therapy, we BENEFIT from therapy, and by golly, WE CAN DO THERAPY. As a matter of fact, we challenge you and your spouse/partner to a therapy smackdown ANYTIME, ANYPLACE.

When New Guy said he was "overwhelmed," I had to seriously resist the urge to give him a wedgie. His main problem in "handling" us seemed to be that he felt like we were bombarding him with too much unrelated information, and that each of these "divergent" topics were "therapy-rich." (Note to social workers: When someone is paying you $150/hour, do NOT refer to their problems in any way as "rich" from your perspective. Seriously. Get a Thesaurus.) Whereas, as Alex and I confirmed with each other during our lengthy, and hilarity-filled, post-session autopsy, from OUR point of view, we basically discussed ONE topic for the ENTIRE session, between the TWO of us. Honestly--we were in agreement over this. You wanna know the theme? I'll even tell you--here it is: My husband occasionally gets frustrated at his difficulty in expressing his feelings accurately, and turns to anger--at ME, because I'm, you know, THERE--to which I usually respond in the highly recommended and conflict-resolving, "OH, YEAH? YOU WANNA GO?" manner. I could probably give "Stay Out Of The Cave, You Womens!" seminars, or something. Also, blah blah blah, he's bipolar and I am co-dependent. Really? YAWN.

I immediately volunteered to New Guy my suggestion that it was his lack of knowledge of our background that was causing this misunderstanding, and that perhaps since Alex and I have such a long, involved, and emotionally INTENSE history, the "catching up" process might just be too much to ask of New Guy, and would take so long to accomplish that it might even be counterproductive, not to mention prohibitively expensive. New Guy absolutely shook this suggestion off, and opined that if he could see us THREE TIMES A WEEK, you know, once each individually and then once together, he could probably straighten things right on out, eventually. Um...no thanks.

At that point we just wanted out of the boxing ring and away from the cave. We went ahead and made an appointment for next week, because New Guy was watching us, and because we are both just way too chicken to tell him outright that we didn't feel like paying for the psychological services of someone who was AFRAID OF OUR ISSUES. We got the distinct impression that New Guy was going to have to have some therapy of his own as soon as we left, because we traumatized him so.

But, there is this: On our way in this morning, we were a mess. We'd been having our own little skirmishes, the usual, as in Alex has bipolar disorder, which sucks and is a difficult and unfortunate circumstance for him, and the man I love has bipolar disorder, which sucks and is a difficult and unfortunate circumstance for me. Plus, as you know, I have my OWN issues that color our relationship, AND we had come to the therapy appointment straight from an appointment with my surgeon (17 days and counting), who had been WAY too descriptive about my upcoming procedure--until Alex had to actually SAY, "Um, you've gotta stop talking to her about this now." (But can I just tell you that the phrase "nick your colon" was used? As in, "There will be a general surgeon standing by in case we NICK YOUR COLON." ExCUSE me? What are you gonna be in there with, a buck knife and barbecue tongs? NEVER SPEAK TO ME AGAIN ABOUT NICKING MY COLON EVER.)

Back to my point from the paragraph above, though, which is that we came out of that lamer-than-previously-believed-possible therapy appointment feeling MUCH better than when we went in. It wasn't because any actual, conventional THERAPY had been accomplished, but because we were united in our gaping wonder at New Guy's "technique." Which, if you're interested, you can probably do better on your own right here. We linked arms, walked out into the sunshine laughing, and literally became a stronger unit on the spot. When he got home from work a few minutes after Bella and I got here, Alex came bearing chocolate, as well as fresh-picked okra that he fried up for our dinner, and we played with Bella, got her to bed, watched a terrible movie (The Sentinel--sorry, Keifer)--the sting of which was lessened by the really good movie (Rabbit-Proof Fence)-- that we saw last night, and laughed and talked together until we went to sleep, like old friends who DON'T have the stressful weights of the world hanging over heads, which we do. As well as the sword of Damocles. And a paper sack full of wet badgers. But we are TOGETHER.

And we have decided, definitively, that a compromise is in order, and we're going for quality over quantity, and will just see Dr. Wonderful twice a month, which will cost the roughly the same (not being covered by our insurance) as seeing New Guy once a week. It's enough, and we're worth it, and we'll manage, even if it means giving up DirecTV and cable internet (the loud "thump" you just heard was my husband falling over, dead).

Because let me tell you--when your marriage is so hardcore awesomely bizarre that while at the same time you love each other like crazy, your overwhelming multitude of issues FREAKS OUT A PROFESSIONAL THERAPIST? People, that is a priceless feeling. I don't know if I've ever been prouder of us.

26 comments:

  1. great post, Belinda.

    I've been having therapy on and off (mostly on) for nearly 8 years and only in the last year have I made any progress with a new, great therapist who actually HELPS me. If you've found one who helps, stick to him like glue! x

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  2. You make all of this sound so funny, although I'm sure it's frustrating. I think your solution is a good one.

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  3. WOW. Just wow. What a post!
    Apropos to nothing, Dr. Gray suffers from severe depression, as I read in his Rolling Stone interview in like, '92, when his ground breaking work was done.
    As someone commented, you definitely find the humorous side to all this. And, your decision to see Dr. Wonderful really makes sense. Quality over quantity is the way to go.
    I have never gotten beyond a superficial level with ANY therapist I've seen. My OB says she knows a good one but I haven't asked for a referral yet b/c of my past experiences of throwing it all out there (which can be excruciating for me) only to feel like it's being inappropriately squeezed into a therapists agenda (often a template from some pop psychology handbook, instead of peer reviewed materials as well) and made not relevant to the grand scheme of things.
    I'd usually try to get appointments after work--apparently, I'm so uninteresting or perhaps 5pm must have been late for one therapist I saw, who was falling asleep during our session!
    You rock--may you continue to live in "interesting times." :)

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  4. Our experience almost exactly--the only good part of the disaster was team building though the creation of a common enemy-- the new and overwhelmed therapist. Sad but true.
    Our "Ms. Wonderful" however was willing to work with us on a sliding scale-- she charges us what the insurance paid as opposed to what she actually charges.... To quote "Kelly's Heros" "make him a deal deal maybe he's a Republican"

    The price of a good therapist is worth it!

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  5. Our experience almost exactly--the only good part of the disaster was team building though the creation of a common enemy-- the new and overwhelmed therapist. Sad but true.
    Our "Ms. Wonderful" however was willing to work with us on a sliding scale-- she charges us what the insurance paid as opposed to what she actually charges.... To quote "Kelly's Heros" "make him a deal deal maybe he's a Republican"

    The price of a good therapist is worth it!

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  6. Wow, sort of accomplishment by reversal.

    Have you spoken to your current therapist about the insurance? Maybe they can work something out.

    Also, you might want to mention your experience to the psy at the same clinic. He may have some dealings with the social worker.

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  7. Diane, there are SO many factors that contribute to "wasted" therapy, and the bad thing is, lots of time you don't KNOW you're wasting your time until you finally, like happened with you, have a change of circumstance that "makes it WORK." It can be a GREAT thing. And I know there must be some REALLY talented LCSWs out there, but our experience with them just has NOT been impressive (more than once, we have discussed that "if this is the caliber of person who can accomplish this degree, maybe WE should go back to school"). I think it is kind of a shame that nowadays, to get proper, TOTAL emotional treatment, you have to see one doctor, the psychiatrist, for prescriptions, and medical help, and another one, the psychologist, for "talk therapy." Every time I see T.V. shows and movies depicting someone having a talk therapy session with a doctor who then writes them a scrip, I get so jealous! That would be great!

    ST: Trust me, it WAS funny. It got funnier the further removed from the situation we got, and yes, it's been a frustrating process, but as you can see we did learn a lot. We've been through such an incredible amount of...well, CRAP together, that therapy provides us a much-needed "safe place" to say everything we need to, and an objective perspective to bounce back some possible strategies to us. We both live with crazy people, you know.

    Michelle, you NAILED the majority of our (and many peoples') experience with talk therapy. And you're right, it is too emotionally EXHAUSTING to just keep spewing out your personal angst to person after person until you find the right one! We finally wised up and found Dr. Wonderful through word-of-mouth from, which I think we've decided is the most reliable referral system for this particular medical specialty! And hey--isn't that last thing you said an old Asian CURSE? ;-)

    Kel: We're definitely going to talk to him about working something (anything) out about cost. I don't know what he can do, and I'm sure EVERYONE without insurance coverage is forever asking for similar favors, but we'll sure check. And there definitely are other things that can be sacrificed in favor of our emotional well-being! And I love what you said about "team building through the creation of a common enemy..." that was exactly how we felt!

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  8. Leslie, you're right, "it never hurts to ask." And of course, the next time we see Dr. Awesome, we'll tell him we're going back to Dr. Wonderful instead of New Guy, and why. It's actually our second problem with a staff therapist there at Dr. Awesome's clinic, because *I* saw a female LCSW there once, who spent almost the ENTIRE session talking about HER problems, and her multiple medications that she took for anxiety, insomnia, etc. etc. etc...and all her many cats. It was, um, bizarre. We're probably going to become known as those "difficult" patients in therapy circles.

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  9. I hope that Dr Wonderful can work something out with you. Even though your therapist didn't have aclue, at least you and Alex still stick it out even though it is tough at times. I admire your relationship and tenacity to both of your problems.

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  10. The new guy tried... at least a little...

    I know the pain. After my therapist pulled a Houdini and disappeared, I haven't been comfortable with anyone else yet.

    Grr.

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  11. Dan, isn't the WORST of it having to go back over ground that you've covered before, especially if you've worked all through something painful, because the "New Person" isn't aware of the history? I mean, they will talk like "Oh, we can just pick up from where you are." I don't know about you, but our situation is such that a therapist could not possibly understand all the undercurrents and complicated "sub-plots" without benefit of knowing what happened BEFORE. And OH, THE AGONY OF REPEATING THERAPY!

    Kim, even if Dr. Wonderful can't cut us a break on his rates, I really believe that a visit with him once every 2-3 weeks is worth more than a weekly visit with New Guy. And as for Alex and I...well, we were put together for a reason. We figure it's our responsibiltyto at least try and find out what that reason is!

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  12. I am not sure that many peope could have made this story laugh out loud funny, but you did.

    I would have to agree with you that twice a month with someone wonderful is better than wasting your time. perhaps you can both learn to talk faster? Don't you southerners speak really slowly ;-)

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  13. I felt kind of bad laughing so hard about your dreadful experience (the way-too-descriptive doctor) and your difficulties with therapy, but at least awful-new-already-fired doctor gave you some great blog material and unity with your spouse! It is scary that such an idiot has a license -- what kind of therapist tells his patients that they overwhelm him?

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  14. So hard to find a good therapist, I totally feel your pain.

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  15. Wow. Aside from being wonderfully honest, girl, you can WRITE a mean post. Seriously. If I had money, I would hire you to write me things. Lots of them. That post was moving and made me crack up in so many spots.

    Dr. New Guy who isn't really a doctor needs therapy. I'm glad you made that decision to keep Dr. Wonderful instead. Cuz really, New Guy might require damage control - for himself and for you. The cool thing is that you guys are so in touch, you recognized it.

    You and Alex really have a wonderful love - I sure hope all the other stuff you have to work through comes to you both easily. You both amaze me.

    Karen
    xo

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  16. chris: It WAS funny. OK, not when we first started, because we were in "crisis mode." But funny how crisis fades in the face of hilarious boxing imagery. And NOOOO, we can't talk faster. Especially about our feelings. BUT, it's hilarious that you said that, because that was ANOTHER thing--this guy talked WAY slower than WE do, and he talked a LOT, instead of listening to us. So the whole time, we're just sitting there, thinking at him in tandem, "SPIT. IT. OUT!!!" We talked about that later, and decided that the only worse thing would have been if he had had a crippling stutter or stammer.

    sheryl: WORD OF MOUTH. Best three words we've learned regarding therapist selection! (Dr. Wonderful was chosen on the strength of the recommendation of our previous therapist who retired, as well as that of a woman from our church whose husband is bipolar.)

    Melora: I had the SAME question. That seems like something you'd keep to yourself, but what do I know? If Dr. Wonderful felt that we weren't "focusing," for instance, he'd say something like, "Let's get back to this topic..." Communication. Interesting concept. And it's TOTALLY OK to laugh! I couldn't have written it if I weren't ready to laugh myself.

    Karen: We've got something, that's for sure! And as you well know, an "interesting" life is not always what you'd ask for, given the choice! ;-) And thanks for the compliment...so far, over at my other new blog, I don't feel like I've been able to bring my "A" game...the Cable Guy post wasn't bad, but it's not really representative of my usual content, either. I think I'm just not comfortable there yet. I need all you guys to come with me, or something!

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  17. I'm howling at the suggestion that everyone talk faster, becAUSE when i go, I have a list of topics ready and I launch into them before I even sit down! (Lately this has been much more about my dad's sleeping with a girl my age starting a couple of DAYS after my mom's death-- a girl who he'd had an affair with 20 yrs before that nearly wrecked their marriage.)

    I'm a big believer in therapy, and am glad you've found SOMEONE who knows the whole story, but I sympathize with you on the expense. Then again, you can't put a price on a marriage.
    Best to you-- AG

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  18. Belinda...

    You make me laugh and cry simultaneously, all the time, with your wonderful stories about you and Alex. I have Bipolar Disorder, not the cool kind where people just think they're nuts. *heh* I have the actually ON PAPER diagnosed kind. My husband has to live with me...and that. I have been in intensive, extensive and EXPENSIVE therapy for a long time. You know what's been the best therapy for me?

    My husband. His understanding. His love. The fact he never gives up on me.

    Like Alex must feel about you.

    CP.

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  19. Hi Belinda: Your post had me laughing extremely hard. I'm sorry (of course) for all of the hardship, but ... seriously, some of these shrink types are, like, total losers with a capital L. I live in Northern California (was RAISED here) and we get 'em by the droves. Self-actualized, etc. etc. yada yada. Good for you for hightailing it out of there and hey -- after about 10 more years of GOOD therapy you'll be able to say "Gosh, talking with you is a huge waste of time and I don't want to pay $150 for this session!" See? A goal! ;-)

    Good luck on your journey together - sounds like you're doing a great job!
    Kate S.

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  20. Excellent problem solving, Belinda! I couldn't have done it, not even with a buck knife, barbecue tongs, and a wet badger starring in the role of the insurance executive.

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  21. This post made me want to be you. But without any wet animals in a paper bag, because that just seems like a bad idea.

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  22. This was hilarious.

    I'm a newbie here and anonymous for this post because -- my husband is schizophrenic and I have issues of my own and so I LOVED this:

    "We'd been having our own little skirmishes, the usual, as in Alex has bipolar disorder, which sucks and is a difficult and unfortunate circumstance for him, and the man I love has bipolar disorder, which sucks and is a difficult and unfortunate circumstance for me. Plus, as you know, I have my OWN issues that color our relationship"

    just replace "Alex" with my husband's name and "bipolar" with "schizophrenia." Well, other than the fact that we don't see a therapist together -- although we do see separate therapists .. . . well, separately (might be a good idea to see one together but right now seems like an awful lot of work and just living with him is exhausting!) -- anyways, I related.

    In short (I know, too late!), great post. Really wonderful post. Thank you.

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  23. SNort. Sword of Damocles and a wet paper bag full of badgers. Double snort, chuckle.

    Who would have thought someone could make how I feel so funny.

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  24. carrien: If I've expressed something that you have actually felt, then I consider that a compliment of the highest order, AND feel better that I'm not just some lone freak! ;-) Thanks.

    anon: Thank you SO much, really. Sometimes I do wonder if my experience in living with a fantastic person who just happens to be afflicted with an illness about which most people are uneducated...well, whether it's isolated or common. You know? And oh, would I ever love it if you'd email me privately, because I'd love to chat with you. I'm sure we have a lot in common. Bipolar and schizophrenic are not separated by too much of a gulf, really, and I know of several people who are dx'd as "bipolar I with schizophrenic tendencies," etc. We are very lucky in that Alex has wonderful insight into his own illness, so being med-compliant is never an issue.

    mir: I used to feel that way about you a LOT, until I saw that spider on your porch. *shudder* ;-)

    Mrs. Kennedy: You are now officially the casting agent for my life's story, should it ever be made into a biopic. As a matter of fact, this could be your big break--why don't you do the screenplay? Kevin Federline kind of looks like a wet badger.

    kate: Self-actualized! That's what I need to be, OBVIOUSLY! Thank you so much!

    CP: Alex FREQUENTLY uses a line about being "certified," so I've always loved your screenname! It goes like this: "Hey, I'm CRAZY. I've got PAPERS! What's YOUR excuse?" ;-) And just by the way? Your comments on this topic mean the world to me.

    Anne G: Your life is a SOAP OPERA, too! I am SO glad to know I'm not the only one who lives in this crazy state of high drama and Southern...what's that polite word we use all the time when folks are nuts? Oh, yeah: "Eccentricity."

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  25. Oh my. You made me laugh so hard that tears shot out of my eyes and I snorted my coffee through my nose. I needed that on this early morning with very little sleep. BTW, my last couples therapy session ended when our therapist nodded off...........I feel your pain.

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