Losing Access to Therapy, Quietly Resisting Anyway

This (slightly late) post is for the February 2017 Carnival of Aces on Resistance, Activism, and Self-Care. Cross-posted to Prismatic Entanglements.

Content warnings: familial rejection, trauma, emotional abuse, anti-PTSD ableism and victim-blaming, bad therapists and lack of access to therapy, anti-atheist microaggressions, mentions of death

I’ve been quiet lately.

Apparently, I’ve been so quiet that I actually have to reassure some readers (who have contacted me to find out) that I am not dead. Okay then, so let me say this: if I die, you will hear about it. It’s not going to be a secret. If I simply stop posting for several months, you can safely assume that I am alive somewhere, just disengaging for a while to recharge, or lying low for some reason you are probably not aware of. (Remember, I did this for a couple of years already.)

Because engagement is really hard. By that I mean, engagement on every level, including email, chat, phone calls, and in-person meetings as well as blogging. Engaging here, publicly, with the ace community, is more difficult than most kinds of engagement, for many of the reasons Queenie elaborated here.

Sometimes, it’s safer to stay off the front lines, and wait until I am in a better position to come back to the front. Right now, my team has lost momentum. The opponents have a lot of control (but not nearly as much as they think), and they are spreading around as much damage as they possibly can. As a healer, I need to stay off the field (this field at least) for a little while to avoid being worn down too much to be of any use later. I am already pretty worn down, so I need to focus on preserving and sustaining myself.

That doesn’t mean I am withdrawing completely. I still check in—less often, sure. But I still do what I can, when I can manage it. Like right now. But I’m likely to continue to be pretty scarce for a while.

Things are not going so great in my personal life. I’ve been dealing with deteriorating family relationships—right now, the only person in my family of origin that I still occasionally talk to is my mother. I’ve had a falling-out with my sister over the incredible lack of reciprocity in our relationship, how she treats me with contempt for showing any symptoms of PTSD, engages in victim-blaming, tries to isolate me from the rest of the family by telling me that “no one ever wants to be around” me, and other emotionally abusive things. I can’t go into much detail about that, although I will say that overall, my sister seems to have an adversarial attitude towards me where she is only looking to be the “winner” (of what, I am not sure) and anything is fair game. She is totally willing to bring up sore spots related to my asexuality in an attempt to hurt me as much as possible—like, constantly telling me that I need to “grow up” (I am older than her) for example. She doesn’t explicitly connect that to asexuality, but she doesn’t need to. The association is there, has always been there, and is especially triggering for me because of how I have been repeatedly infantilized in the most hurtful of ways by the person who caused this PTSD, who was explicitly attacking me for being asexual at the time. I’m not certain it is ever appropriate (or effective) to tell someone to “grow up” but in this case it is especially egregious.

I also broke things off with my therapist last week. It is a very long story, so I’ll try to be brief, but I need to go into enough detail that you can get a clear picture of the way my access to mental health care is impacted.

The short version is:  she has shuffled my appointments around for the past year, progressively giving me less and less time, until she eventually shuffled me out of her schedule entirely. And what’s worse, apparently no one was going to even bother to inform me. I was told in December that my appointments had to move to Tuesdays “temporarily” because she wasn’t going to work on Mondays anymore. I told the scheduler that would only work for me for about a month, and after that I would need to change it. So inevitably, when that time came, I had to call up and tell them I needed to be rescheduled. The scheduler would not answer calls, only texts, so I texted them my availability. Then I waited for days to find out when my next appointment would be rescheduled for, only to be told, when I finally pestered the scheduler enough, “There are no appointments available at this time.” I asked them to at least send me some references so I could start looking for another therapist and got nothing. Not even so much as a statement that she would rather talk in person. I was told “her intern will follow up with you” but no one ever did. I was beyond pissed.

Eventually I got another appointment, six weeks later, and instead of giving me any of the references I had asked for multiple times, the therapist tried to dive into the topic of our previous session… which based on the question she asked, she apparently had not actually understood. Our sessions have become so infrequent that they are now useless to me, because she is so out of touch with what is going on with me. She keeps trying to describe my PTSD as “in remission” (???) because she is totally unaware of my symptoms and how they have changed, yes, but not really lessened—because I don’t even have enough time to discuss symptoms with her anymore. With each session, I’d have to choose to focus on one very narrow problem that I am dealing with, or else nothing gets sufficiently addressed. Even then, too much time was spent catching up instead of talking about the pressing issues—if that. One day, I arrived only to find out there wasn’t even a place to have a session, because there were workers at her (new) office windows, which didn’t have blinds, so there was no privacy. She did not tell them to go away, so instead we just sat in her waiting room looking through her Christmas ornaments. I was not offered any time to make up that session.

It seems that she doesn’t see me as “in crisis” enough anymore, and therefore has stopped prioritizing me—over the past year I have been repeatedly asked to reschedule so that someone else can take my place. On my part, I haven’t bothered reaching out to her when I have moments of major crisis, because I never think that it’s “bad enough” to warrant a call or text that she isn’t likely to answer anyway. I’ve gone without therapy for years, so no matter how bad things get, it doesn’t seem worth it to reach out to her if all I would get out of it is time to decorate her Christmas tree.

Truthfully, this therapist was never the best match for me. She is not compatible with me because I am an atheist, and she is so deeply embedded in New Age-ism that she cannot understand that bringing up Mercury Retrogrades or trying to convince me that I’m “an empath” in session is a microaggression, as well as a huge waste of time. I’m not there to explain to her that planets don’t travel backwards or discuss her personal beliefs. Bringing things like that up only reminds me that I am different and my beliefs are neither understood nor accepted. But unfortunately, being an asexual survivor with PTSD means I can’t be too picky. I have to either let the less important things slide or not have therapy at all. She was pretty good about asexuality, mostly, after I educated her about it, although she would still say clueless things every so often. The sad thing is that she has been, to date, the best therapist I have had, the one I have gone to for the longest (more than 2 years!) and had the most success with.

And yet, now I seriously doubt her judgment, because when she finally did give me references, one of the people she tried to refer me to was the therapist I saw immediately before I met her, who was AWFUL—this person responded to me telling her I had studied abroad in Japan with “Oh, I think I was a geisha in a previous life,” spent several sessions pressuring me to tell her every detail of my trauma because “just talking about it helps” (it doesn’t), completely failed to address my anxiety except to hand me some last-minute printouts about meditation at the end of a session, and made my last session about a (kind of silly, because now neither of us even remembers what it was about) fight I had with my partner earlier that day (which I hadn’t wanted to talk about, and I told her that but she continued needling me anyway), in which she apparently sided with my partner and said some very judgmental things about me, leaving me feeling much worse at the end of the session than I had at the beginning. And somehow, this person was someone my therapist had liked and trusted “so much [she] wanted to hire her.” So I don’t know how I can trust any of her recommendations now.

I’m back to the drawing board, with a limited window for actually getting any treatment, because I rely on the ACA (Obamacare) for insurance, and who knows how long that will still be around. I’m not sure where to go or whether it will even be worth it. But I still have to try because otherwise, I cannot get any medications that will help me deal with my symptoms. I’m fine for several months, but if I don’t figure it out by the end of 2017 I will be in trouble. And of course, I also have to get every other medical problem I have diagnosed and treated as soon as possible, which is more stressful and honestly a bigger priority right now.

Dealing with therapy as an asexual person is so exhausting, because I constantly have to navigate things like this. I have to educate every therapist I encounter—I have never met one I didn’t have to educate about asexuality, although if it’s not asexuality, it’s just something else instead. I can only hope for, but never expect so much as basic competence, much less excellence. If I lived in a large city, it would probably be easier, because the pool of potential providers would be bigger. But I don’t, and I am stuck where I am for the time being.

So my support system is severely reduced now, while the things I am having to cope with are getting worse. So yeah, I’m pretty low on spoons these days. Engaging with the ace community, with all of this going on, is very difficult. I wish that I had a local ace community to turn to, but even if I did, I’m not sure I would be able to make it to any meetings, and or that I would actually get much out of going anyway. 

Despite all this, I am still doing surprisingly well. I’m not actually depressed, although I am dealing with grief, which does include a stage of depression sometimes. It’s very different from having a major depressive episode, though. I would say I am more often angry and irritable than depressed these days. I get overwhelmed by things a lot, and still have a lot of anxiety and dissociative symptoms, but somehow I’m still managing, and probably the anger helps. I find that doing some yoga helps me manage the physical tension incurred by all of this, and stabilizes my mood some.

I have severely reduced the amount of time I spend on the computer these days, and I limit myself in catching up on news to less than an hour per day. If something very bad happens that I need to know about immediately, someone will tell me. If not, I’m not going to spend the whole day worrying about it.

Because of this, I’m not really able to participate in any spontaneous protests or anything like that. Apparently I missed one at a local mosque that I would have liked to go to, simply because I didn’t find out about it until after it was over. But I did manage to attend the local Women’s March, which was amazing. For context, before this election the largest protest I had ever seen around here had… oh, maybe ten people. More often, there would only be about three—usually anti-choicers, but I also remember seeing a few Occupy and #NoDAPL people. But the local Women’s March had ~1,500 and lots of people honked and gave thumbs up in support. I hadn’t expected anywhere near this turnout, so it certainly bolstered my spirits.

When I want some good news for a change, I look local. Democrats won in my area, and they are getting a lot done. My mother-in-law has been very actively calling our representatives, and even got the chance to have a longer conversation with one of them to educate him about an upcoming bill. So I see that they are listening and working to make things better. I am glad that so many other people are stepping up to engage with them, because most of the time I really don’t have the energy to do it myself.

Mostly, I spend my free time reading, writing, and playing games to relax. All of that is a form of resistance—escapism is a way of resisting, of course, but reading and writing for me is often not that. I read writers who were exiled, poets who were assassinated by fascists, things that cast some light on our current political situation. Writing is dangerous for authoritarians, which is why this administration is so keen to discredit news organizations. They want to overwrite the truth with their own narrative. So I practice writing as a form of resistance, even if it’s writing I am not going to actually share for now.

Honestly, I’m not sure if even sharing this much is wise. I waffled about whether or not to post this, which is why it is late. But I’m still here. I’m not going anywhere, I’m just going to quietly stay behind the scenes for a while. My blog and online persona is not the sum total of my existence, and right now I am more focused on what is going on in my immediate area, and doing the practical things I need to do to survive. I don’t know what the future is going to look like, but I still plan to see it.

About Elizabeth

Elizabeth is a 30-something asexual woman who is often mistaken for a lesbian, due to the fact that she is partnered to a lady. She is actually bi (but not biromantic) and somewhere on the aromantic spectrum. She is formally trained in creative writing with a focus on non-fiction and poetry, and maintains a blog called Prismatic Entanglements, where she mostly writes long-winded personal essays and social criticism. In her spare time, she enjoys being cat furniture, coming up with new Pokemon strategies and never going to church.
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10 Responses to Losing Access to Therapy, Quietly Resisting Anyway

  1. Pingback: Losing Access to Therapy, Quietly Resisting Anyway | Prismatic Entanglements

  2. TheOriginalPhoenix says:

    Hey you take care of yourself now. You’re going through a lot and I’m really sorry about that but you do what you have to. I’m here for you if you ever want to talk. 🙂

  3. Feral Child's Guide says:

    I just wanted to say I’m so sorry you’ve had such bad experiences with therapy. This last therapist sounds like she had pretty bad boundaries. I would be so so devestated if my therapist repeatedly canceled appointments. How dismissing and painful. You deserve much better treatment than this. I hope you’ll find someone out there who is a good fit. I have an excellent therapist myself so I know how helpful it is, and I know there are some good ones out there.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Honestly, it’s hard to say how much of the appointment canceling/rescheduling was actually the therapist’s fault, vs. how much was her horrible scheduler’s fault. There are parts of this story that make me wonder whether the scheduler ever actually communicated the things they were doing to the therapist. The scheduler was someone who fairly consistently failed to send me appointment reminders, and when they did actually do it, I would sometimes get them less than an hour before the appointment was supposed to take place (and since I don’t live in the city, that is way too late to prepare if I didn’t already know that I was scheduled). This made it extremely difficult for me to figure out what was going on when I had a 3x/month schedule for a while, because I never knew which day a month I was NOT supposed to go in. Also, in a fairly typical manner, the day before my last appointment I got a call from the scheduler saying “Hey for some reason I have you down for both 2pm and 7pm, so which do you want?” *facepalm*

      But regardless, it IS the therapist’s job to make sure her scheduler actually does their job and treats clients with respect. It is also her job to make sure that she does not over-commit herself and promise things she cannot deliver on. Before she started flaking out on me *all the time* she was a fine therapist, minus the microaggressions thing, and she helped me a lot. But now… yeah. Very poor time management and organizing skills. :/

  4. queenieofaces says:

    I’m glad you wrote and shared this, for what it’s worth, since it was helpful for me to read. I’m sorry that family stuff and therapy stuff is sucking so much right now. I hear you on not being identified as being “in crisis” and thus not prioritized–my therapist is still really good, but she’s commented the last few sessions on how much BETTER I seem to be doing than normal…because I’m depressed and so low energy that I’m not exhibiting signs of anxiety. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    So many people I know are struggling (the number of “hey, how do I get therapy” conversations I’ve had in the past three or four months is somewhat alarming), and I just…want everyone to be doing better, it’s not really something I can fix (and definitely not anything I can do anything about if I totally burn myself out). Bleh. I guess we just…try to keep our heads above water and keep trucking.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Yeah, I suspect that’s a fairly common experience. Panic makes it just so much more obvious that something is wrong, while depression/low energy/burnout can be much more invisible. I remember having conversations with this therapist where I would yawn or say “I’m just really sleepy” at the end of a session and she would respond with, “Oh, well that’s a good thing! It means you are using up mental energy and processing things!” which uh… yeah. >_> That’s one way of taking it, but hmm, maybe it could also be that I only got like two hours of sleep? There’s a big danger that therapists could fall into confirmation bias and just see what they want to see, so they need to be vigilant about that.

      And yeah, I’ve seen so many more people seeking therapy since November, it’s very alarming. Not really surprising, especially considering the huge proportion of our population that is being terrorized by ICE in my area, but definitely alarming. I suspect that *every* therapist in my area is going to have a long wait list because of that. I fully expect I’ll need to get by with minimal support for a while, but that’s fine. It’s doable. I’ll manage, but i just… really wish I could do more. Ugh.

      At some point, I kind of want to write a post about the difference between processing/recovery-mode PTSD, and (long term) survival-mode PTSD, if that makes sense. It’s kind of hard to figure out how to phrase it, but for me there’s been a very distinct shift in symptoms and expectations/priorities since the election. I tried explaining this to the therapist, but I’m pretty sure she did not understand. Hmmm…

  5. Pingback: February 2017 Carnival of Aces: Resistance, Activism, & Self-Care | The Asexual Agenda

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