Fishing for Wisdom

A man set up to fish in the surf at the water’s edge just a few feet from my chair. I never usually see these men catch anything. Which is reassuring because fish are yucky, and they can’t be in the ocean where I swim.

However, within a few minutes he reels in a small fish, about eight inches head to tail at most. He throws it back after showing it off to his kids. A little later another one. Maybe the same fish. Fish aren’t known for their mental capacity.

I walked over to inquire about this killer creature and he told me it was a kingfish. Then I asked how far he casts out.

He said just past the breakers.

Just past the breakers is just past where I swim.

“Don’t tell me that! I don’t like to think about fish being in the ocean.”

“Oh there’s a lot of fish out there but these don’t even have teeth, don’t worry.”

Sure, don’t worry. As if the absence of teeth could keep me from a slimy collision with a deadly bait fish.

Image result for kingfish

note the many sharp teeth


 

My love of the water is one of the few areas of my life where I embrace blindness. Bodies of water are dangerous! Waves, currents, deep ends, stinging amorphous blobs…you can drown in a teaspoon of water yet I jump in headfirst. The rest of my life is an eyes-wide-open minefield of anxiety…

If I apply for this job it’ll be awkward if I get it and I have to tell work I’m leaving on short notice and I have this trip planned and might not be able to take vacation so soon after starting and I wonder where the bathrooms are…

I tell others “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” but involuntarily maintain the opposite mentality.

 

Maybe the murky depths actually shield me from my fears.

 

They say seeing is believing but sometimes it’s easier to believe what we don’t see. I can float in the ocean all day until I see or feel a fish, then I can’t go back. At least for a few minutes. If you can’t see them they’re not there. A child pulling the covers over her head to hide from a monster. If you can’t see them they can’t see you. If you don’t check your email, work doesn’t exist. Closing your eyes as the airplane ascends to pretend you’re not hurtling through air in a metal tube.

 

It’s easy to make yourself blind to reality if you want. Look, he’s not sick, he still likes his favorite ice cream. He went down the stairs by himself that one time without falling, everything must be fine.

 

Maybe being blind to reality is what we all really need to thrive. At least for some of us. Every time we get in a car we risk our lives. Riding a bike is a delicate act of balancing inches away from a bloody curb. Tripping on a curb could end up in a concussion and blood clot in the brain.  Who could step out of the house acknowledging all that’s really there with us, teeth or no teeth. Indoors, under the covers, away from monsters is the only safe haven.

 

But then there would never be the chance to be enveloped by warm water, drifting softly on the swells. It’s a tightrope act teetering between hiding from danger to enjoy the beauty on the other side.

 

 

 

photo credit: http://www.floridasportsman.com/2012/08/02/stop-and-go-kingfish/

An Unsuccessful Trip into Online Therapy

I decided to try out online therapy and I wasn’t even lucky enough to have my foray paid for by a women’s magazine!

As embarrassing as it is to say, an ad popped up on facebook and got me thinking online therapy might be for me. Let’s face it, I need therapy.

Though I haven’t progressed to slumping against a wall in a sterile room, I’m pretty much constantly in emotional turmoil. But since that emotional turmoil makes me stressed about having appointments and tight lipped about my feelings,  in-person therapy is either mildly stressful or fully unsuccessful. I’m better in writing and I’m not in a desperate situation as I usually am when I finally find a therapist, so it seemed like a good time to try it out.

The top companies from my brief research seemed to be Talkspace and BetterHelp so I thought I’d try both! I signed up for BetterHelp right away because it has a 7-day free trial. They asked a bunch of typical questions and I was assigned a therapist in about 24 hours. I went back and forth on Talkspace a little more as they do not offer any sort of trial (the answer was that since a week of Talkspace therapy about equals one session they don’t think a trial could give you a real understanding of the service [this should have been my first warning sign]), but they did offer $25 off. Since $25 is the cost of one week, I figured I could use it as a free trial and then have an excuse to confront a company if they wouldn’t refund me the unused weeks later–I signed up the next day and got a therapist by the end of the day.

TL;DR: these services are therapy in the loosest sense of the word. It’s like sending emails to your really busy friends who responds with inspirational quotes. Which is even worse than talking to my real friends because I’d never have a friend who sent me inspirational quotes. The response times are long and the answers are brief, and it’s pulling teeth to go deeply into authentic cognitive behavioral therapy. Probably great for someone dealing with a breakup but not for someone with a diagnosed mental health condition.

For my specific experience…

I just felt super misled. Maybe my expectations were too high, but the services tout “therapy for how we live today,” with all their therapists’ credentials posted and talk of unlimited messaging from therapists ready to talk with you right now.

Well the therapist are real, but they are in no way available right now and pretty much never will be. I rarely got more than 2 messages a day, and usually only one of the messages would be “long”. Both companies advertise you can “write whenever you want!” “Sessions vary depending on the interaction between you and your counselor.” Whether I wrote a sentence or pages, there was no telling when I would get a response. By the time I heard back I had lost my train of thought and my passion for the issue. Or sometimes I kept sending additional messages as things came to mind and the therapist would write back and address the thing that really wasn’t a big deal. Other times they would misinterpret something and I’d have to (it felt like to me) waste an interaction clearing that up. There is a live chat option, but you have to schedule it, in my experience, at minimum a day ahead of time. I requested 3 live chats with 3 different therapists. One needed 4 days’ notice, one said anytime that day was fine and then never responded to my time, and another scheduled one for the next day, had an emergency, rescheduled, and never showed up. We finally talked 2 days later.

I brought this up with the therapists and customer service.

My BetterHelp therapist told me basically well you’re not writing enough to get anything done–most people treat this as a journal and write a ton and get one or two responses a week. A) That’s absurd. Why am I paying from $20-55 a week to have someone read my journal? B) There’s no B it just sounds better.

I started writing more and still just felt like it wasn’t going anywhere. I told her I really felt like I needed a live chat at least in response to my longer writings so we could dissect them. I didn’t get a response…I wrote back and said my subscription was ending and I hoped to hear from her before that and didn’t for 36 hours, at which point I cancelled and was offered another free week with a new therapist, which I took. Even less responsive.

Like the BetterHelp therapist, my TalkSpace responses were slow to come and for both of them it was glaringly obviously that this was a side job. Both of them said at different points, with a more apologetic tone from TalkSpace than BetterHelp, that they were busy with their jobs and couldn’t always be available to me. Well I understand that but also I’m paying for this service just like others are. When I contacted customer service about what I could expect from responses, BetterHelp did offer more time for my trial but TalkSpace said “your therapist is busy just like you!” If I’m waitressing as a 2nd job, I can’t tell my table their food is cold because I’m busy doing work from my 1st job!

If you really dig into the FAQs for each service you can see the fine print saying this service is in no way a substitute for in-person therapy, which is pretty much directly opposite their statements all over the main pages of the sites. The sites and customer service I talked to also say a week’s worth of chatting = one in-person session and most people need about 6 months to get anywhere.

The lack of responses makes each response seem more precious, so the biggest frustration was that most of the responses just didn’t cut it. I said right away that I’d been in therapy, I’d been medicated, and I have these issues and want to get to the bottom of them because that would make me feel more able to understand my feelings and address them.

Some of the responses I got were [paraphrased]:

can you catch yourself having negative thoughts and tell yourself not to have them?

if you spend time worrying you can’t smell the roses

is there really any point to identifying the source of your anxiety?

you shouldn’t be worried about time going by quickly, most people don’t have as much free time as you do.

I guess a silver lining is that I really got forceful with what I wanted and how wrong these perceptions were. But even so I don’t feel like it was productive to pay for a service that caused more stress than my additional issues. TalkSpace especially infuriated me because when I asked for a new therapist they told my current therapist I wasn’t happy and then I had to speak directly to her about changing, and since she was very nice and one of my main issues is disappointing people I felt so bad I stuck with her. A week later it still wasn’t going anywhere and even after talking to customer service there was no option of changing without involving the current therapist.

Both services were pretty much identical but if I had to choose I’d go with BetterHelp because of their far superior customer service. They checked in 3 days after I signed up, and when I said I wasn’t sure if I was satisfied they extended my subscription by almost a week. When I cancelled the last day, still not thrilled, they gave me another free week to try a new therapist. They are, however, more expensive than TalkSpace for shorter-term plans. I would never go so far as to say these are a scam but they overstate their efficacy and methods for sure.

Hindsight

Ever go on a date and it’s kinda ok and then you get home and start identifying all these dealbreakers?

This seems to be happening kind of a lot lately. While we’re hanging out chatting I’m not dying to get home. I think “I’d give him a second date.” Then I get home to my couch’s warm embrace away from the glow of whiskey and feel compelled to text.

“So I just went out with a more bitter version of [insert ex here].”

“So this guy tonight was grilling me about where I work. Is my job weird?”

“So this guy tonight said he puts butter in his coffee…”

(Ok so that last one is apparently a real thing. And actually something I might try when I’m not busy scarfing straight brown sugar.)

Am I sabotaging myself or am I trying so hard to be open minded I don’t even know what kind of company I like to keep anymore?

Like when I met up with the guy this week for drinks and he didn’t drink. That seemed weird and also awkward since I enjoy drinking and did so heartily. Naturally he didn’t pay for my drinks, which as we know is a major annoyance that I worry I should be more modern about but don’t want to be modern about. Espesh when my bar tab for the night is $9.50.

Also when I tried to explain him to a friend and said “he was kinda super negative but maybe it’s good to not always be optimistic?” Hearing myself out loud rationalizing a guy’s behavior by suggesting a positive outlook is a bad thing was jarring…

The past two half-hearted 2nd dates I regretted and the fact that I decided against sending a thank you text lest I have to have a conversation were a push to let it be a one and done with this guy. But I’ll keep wondering if I’m letting a guy’s one bad night keep me from a relationship or if I’m just too picky.

Trying to trust your (anxious, prone to depression) gut while also having an open heart is as confusing as it is tough.

 

 

*PS: That VH1 show Hindsight was awesome. Bring that back!

(Wo)Man Up

I am facing an epidemic of p-word men. Men are not supposed to be high maintenance. Go drink your scotch and grunt somewhere. I have enough time keeping myself together, I can’t worry about stroking your ego.

The past week has featured two separate p-word situations. I’m sitting back and observing, because I am not going to jeopardize my content solo life surrounded by pets and pillows if I’m expected to put in work before the first date even happens.

Scene #1: OkCupid

Message exchanges begins and goes very well. Witty, casual, shared interests. Without fail, responds within 15 minutes of every message, but reliable is nice sometimes.

Then comes: “Not sure if this is too forward, but I thought maybe you might be open to chatting on text. Here is my number if that’s ok with you.”

You’re not asking for a kidney. Just exchange the numbers and carry on.*

Accidentally on purpose I text a few days later.

“Oh it’s so great to hear from you. I assumed I had been too forward and felt bad for giving you my number.”

If he feels bad about giving me a phone number can you imagine the trauma if he was late to dinner one night?

Needless to say, he has not mustered the courage to schedule a date. He has referenced his diet and the gym on more than one occasion. I even know where his gym is located. And I know what he bought at the grocery store to “keep it tight. Girls don’t want any roundness.” I was not aware of that but fine.

He has referenced things we could do on a date:

What kind of food do you like? If we went on a date, I’d need to know.

Yet, no dates. And I’m neither holding my breath nor keeping it tight in anticipation. I’m keeping it cheese.

Scene #2: I didn’t meet this guy online.

I repeat: I DID NOT MEET THIS GUY ON LINE.

Automatic first place. A real person interesting enough in real life to exchange numbers/accept my number thrust at him.*

Except then the multiple texts by the time I got home from the bar.

“I’m so grateful we talked. I’m just kicking myself for not having the courage to come up to you myself and talk”

(Pro-tip: Avoid revealing weakness and lack of self-confidence in the first text. Really, withhold all emotions until the 6 month mark, and even then save the gratitude for things like pizza.)

He did manage to set up a date relatively soon, and follow up without assuming my scheduling issues were an outright rejection. Unfortunately the actual planning of the date involved multiple messages requiring multiple 3/3 screens worth of text. No restaurant in the zip code was left unsuggested. I seriously almost cancelled, nervous he would pee his pants when I walked in the door.

Once we met up we really had a nice time. No sarcasm. He was gentlemanly, easy to talk to, and lighthearted. A red flag or two but a good time. He went along with petty bar theft and wanted to bet on football. He wins and his prize was a 2nd date with me. Adorbs! Flirtation AND Gambling.

Get home and again a text from him. This time assuring me that he wants a second date but he wants me to know I don’t really have to follow through with the bet if I don’t want to because I shouldn’t ever have to do anything I don’t want to do but it would be really nice to go out again because (^&@&^#$%*&)^$@()!*&^#$.

I assured him I’d be happy to go out.

Few days later I ask how the rest of his weekend was.

“Saturday was the highlight. I had sweet dreams all night after meeting a wonderful lady: you! I hope to be able to relive the night.

And no date request since then.

I’ll go out with him again, despite risk of barfing. But a 44 year old needs to figure out on his own how to ask for a 2nd date without reciting a sonnet.

I don’t do high maintenance. No one should have to. Sexist or not, you need to man up.

*Just ask for my number. Seriously. Don’t make me do the work!!