Thomm Quackenbush, author

The Lake of Better | 2017 | Liz the First

05.02.17

It is thanks to my evening reading alone that I am still more or less sane.  

-W.G. Sebald



Seeking: Sherpa

Dear Therapist I Do Not Yet Have,

I have been trying in earnest to again work out the last few psychological kinks between me and full happiness. I acknowledge this won't be easy.

Not for me. I am willing to work and so ready it is obnoxious I haven't started proper therapy yesterday.

No, it won't be easy for you.

The primary issue I foresee is that I am an extra, extra clever mongoose. Especially when someone might be about to muddle about in my head, I am going to defensively throw up every ten-dollar word and literary allusion to test them. I am placing a lot of trust in you and I need to know you are worthy of it. I need to be psychoanalyzed by someone who is compatible, competent, and capable.

Years ago, when Emily left me, I attempted therapy with a man who seemed horrified by my avid explanation and use of humor to be honest with him. (Also, let us be frank, by the fact that I came to the first session with a stack a fifty pages thick of things I had written about my mental state since the breakup, which I assumed would be of use to him but which he regarded as though I attempted to hand him a bag of dog feces.) I saw him only twice before deciding he was useless to me, too attuned to resistant tweens or repressed forty-somethings. In short, he wanted to work with people who were less inclined to glue themselves back together.

It is akin to finding a lover, but I've never wanted to date. I just wanted to find one person I could work with, not play the field. Not, especially, when the right person can be kept from connection by scheduling and insurance coverage. (There is a therapist, one who advertises as wanting to work with artists, writers, and those on a spiritual path, one who says she teaches mediation through knitting. Of course my insurance doesn't cover her, but it does cover a man who advertises curing porn addiction through regular application of the Bible. If my gods are an unfathomable obscenity to you, you are not going to do me a bit of good.)

I don't mean to be difficult but, more than that, I do not care to have a moment more of my time wasted, not with the contentment of the rest of my life riding on it. If you aren't right, I want to know immediately. So I will test you, but I want you to pass. There is no sense locking up my full happiness beyond retrieval, but I won't have my padlock picked by those who have only dealt with the locks on toys and diaries, those who learned their skills from television and weak burglars, or ones who got a degree in fingering their own keys.

And, my gods, you cannot be timid! I am not. I am resolute in trying to solve a problem, so if you hem and haw over a simple phone conversation deciding if I can get an appointment, you are not only useless to me but I doubt that you serve anyone well. I called one woman whose separate practice is housed in the same building as my current "therapist," one whom my insurance recommended and swore had availability. On Sunday, she emailed saying that I ought to call her the following Monday to see if I could get an appointment. I called Monday and she didn't answer the phone. I emailed her to make certain she had gotten my voicemail. She said she had seen my phone number, didn't care to answer and didn't check her messages, but that I should call Tuesday between 6:30 and 7. I called then, several times in that appointed half hour, having rearranged my schedule to be available. She again did not answer. When I had given up on her and gone grocery shopping, she called. She seemed disproportionately flustered at the idea that I was in a parking lot, that I wasn't sitting around my dying phone for her exceedingly late call. It took five minutes of my reassuring her before she admitted that she wasn't comfortable working with me because I was currently a client of my "therapist," even though the aforementioned pharmaceutical rep does not provide anything approaching therapy (certainly not competent or helpful therapy) in the ten minutes every two months she sees me but instead makes sure her toying with my meds hasn't killed me yet. This woman on the phone knew from the first email who I was currently seeing and could have merely told me she has no openings, as so many had before. Instead, she was exceedingly avoidant, wasting my time and hope, sounding like the personification of a cornered mouse. If I need to reassure you while you are rejecting me for weak reasons, you are being actively unhelpful to someone reaching out. Have some guts and be able to say no when you need to.

I need a therapist who has a strength of personality that matches, if not exceeds, mine. I do not want one who has no apparent confidence in speaking to someone on the phone. I want one who is a person, not a bundle of neuroses with an advanced degree. I need one in whom I can have confidence that she can manage the feat of helping me over a few mental hurdles, because I am fairly low on the scale of mental illness. If you balk at my imp of a mood disorder, if you cannot handle someone who wants to do the work, you are in the wrong business. You are probably mistreating suicidal kids and wives dealing with their husbands' mid-life crises while billing their insurance hundreds.

All this said, my hope is that you pass every test, that you can keep up with me. I am not dull of mind (that's one of the problems, because my issues are as smart as I am) and I am not close to ignorant of psychology, though I had damn well better not know any part of it better than you do. I am well aware that one can be a slack-wit and still attain an advanced degree. I earned my Master's degree alongside a surprising number of them. I do not think it is much different in other human services field. So far, my experience in searching for a therapist leads me to suspect I am correct.

Or you could simply have a technique or modality that isn't complementary with my own. I contacted a crisis chat a week ago and the operator on the other end of the line affirmed my every statement without actually engaging in conversation. I might as well have been dealing with a robot and called her on that, but she just affirmed that I thought I might as well have been dealing with a robot. If you cannot engage me the way I need you to, you are no good to me. If you need to linger in your freshman psychology seminar because you are not used to clients who tried to fix themselves already, who can rattle off hierarchies of need and psychosocial crises, I am not going to want to be your client and will be pissed off that you wasted my time.

I have said in the past, copping from Franny and Zooey, that I basically need a guru to really get to the bone of my problem. I need to be able to instill in this other person such confidence and relatability that I believe they can help me overcome my difficulties. I need to believe that they think I am not only worth helping, but it is a duty for which they are satisfied.

We can contrast this with my current "therapist," though it has ceased to be glib and had become more honest to refer to her as my drug dealer. All she does for me is call in prescriptions to CVS. When I tried her for advice - because she charged my insurance for half an hour of therapy she does not give me; she actually tries to get me out of her office in under twelve minutes - she gives me the equivalent of "Have you tried not being gay?" or "Wow, I don't know why anyone would think or want what you do! I certainly don't!" or "Why would you want to be that religion?" or "You should watch Transparent, though I think it might be anti-Semitic." She is, in short, awful for me. I struggle to believe that she is good for anyone, though I suppose she must be. The last time I saw her, I broke down when I came home because she was so actively unhelpful - she almost could not have been worse. (Part of this is because she again overprescribed medication to me. I soon after emailed her that I was cutting back because it was making me worse. Her reply was, in total, "ok.")

One therapist - who had room for me in her schedule and who took my insurance - called to tell me that she would not work with me because she preferred people who were riddled with cancer or age. She would not, in essence, work with me because I could not tell her I was dying. I have bad news for her, because we are all dying, but I took her point that we would not be a match.

I will tell you everything going on in this precious little head of mine because I am paying, if not in my deductible, then in my time and hope. I want this to be successful and I will not hold back if I think doing so may impede my progress. This is to say that I am going to absolutely bury you in answers to any questions you might have. This is not an avoidance tactic. I would probably tell you if it was. This is just because I am a storyteller and I think that you will be best able to arrive at a point of helpfulness if you have as much of the background as I believe I can tell.

I have contacted, as of this writing, thirty-six different therapists in the area. I know this for a fact because I had to make a spreadsheet of everyone I've contacted to keep track of their rejections and reasons. My process has refined a lot in the week I have been trying to find you - oh, yes, I will definitely contact thirty-six strangers in a couple of days if I think doing so will help me, even as I detest talking on the phone and think it is outright rude for a therapist to not allow the anxious to email them instead. I now understand how to go in through my insurance's site, click around a bit, and be able to filter to providers who take my insurance. Or, in theory, this is the case. However, my insurance does not keep up-to-date information and I have been rejected by a few therapists who claimed that they did not take my insurance. I thought one of the benefits to working for the state was that providers would be inclined to take this expansive policy, but I have been proven wrong.

I want to fix this problem, particularly while summer is coming and I have more mental fortitude. While I understand that I may have to be on some form of medication for a long while, maybe forever, to enable me to be my best self, I do not anticipate formal therapy to be a lifelong pursuit for me, as it is for some. It is more like physical therapy, making sure the afflicted limb has a full range of movement and then exercising it. I can articulate the issues I am having because I keenly know my mind at this point. I see the apex. I just want a Sherpa to help me over the more treacherous cliffs.

Soon in Xenology: Adventures. Spring.

last watched: Black Mirror
reading: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
listening: Great Big World

The Lake of Better | 2017 | Liz the First

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.



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Works by Thomm Quackenbush

The Night's Dream Series

We Shadows by Thomm Quackenbush

Danse Macabre by Thomm Quackenbush

Artificial Gods by Thomm Quackenbush