The Best Among Us
On mental healthcare and mortality
I have been in therapy, off and on, since I was fourteen. Finding a good therapist is challenging and finding the right therapist is even harder. Over the years, I’ve cycled through so many therapists from benign to terrible. There was an older woman with a fondness for cardigans who gave me worksheets even though during our first session I explicitly said I don’t like worksheets. There was a therapist who started crying when I shared a detail from my life. Another therapist used the N-word while sharing an anecdote about a friend of hers to whom that epithet had been directed. This happened during our first session, just casually. She said the word with practiced ease. I was so shocked, I just blinked. She was, also, an anti-racist educator. I’ve had a few men as therapists and they’ve been fine or not.
When I finally found the right therapist, it was a relief. Finally, I thought, I can make some headway on dealing with the detritus of my emotional life. She was excellent—warm, intelligent, probing. Nearly every session, she told me how much she liked me, and not in a sycophantic way. It was relevant to a lot of the work we were doing as I tried to put together some interior scaffolding to like myself with more regularity. As we got to know each other better and started getting to the harder, darker stuff, I finally felt like yes, this was something I could do and this was someone with whom I could it.
We talk a lot in progressive circles about the importance of mental health care and therapy, in particular. And for a lot of people, turning to a stranger for help isn’t something that gives them pause. It’s normal and culturally acceptable. But for a lot of us, there is some degree of cultural resistance to therapy. Sometimes, it’s a discomfort with the vulnerability self-excavation demands. Other times, it’s a reluctance to put private business out in the streets or talk about community issues with people the community doesn’t know or trust. Many of us live in communities where strength is defined as self-reliance and the ability to muscle through anything without needing help. Or strength is defined as being able to keep the past in the past, to leave it alone. And then, of course, there is the cost of therapy and trying to figure out how to pay for it or get it covered by health insurance companies that do everything they can to not pay for the healthcare we most need.