LOS ANGELES (Sep. 14)
I’m not mental. Really. I’m not manic- depressive, hypomanic, borderline schizophrenic or psychotic. I don’t hear voices or imagine I’m being followed by Marie Osmond. I don’t have tics or a compulsive need to wash my hands or avoid cracks in the sidewalk.
Like a lot of people, I could just use someone to talk to. That’s all. I figure it can’t hurt.
After all, my family is like a who’s who of mental illness.
When I read about a study indicating that Ashkenazi Jews have a higher incidence of depression, I wasn’t surprised. Relatives on both sides of my family have spent short and long stays at various mental institutions. “Grandma had to go away for a couple of weeks” and “sometimes grandpa doesn’t like to get out of bed” and “there’s the mental hospital your Uncle Marty was in” are things I heard growing up.
So far, save for a few bouts of garden-variety melancholia, I seem alright. But with genetics like mine, you can’t be too careful. That’s why I’m on the hunt for a good mental health care professional.
Since relocating to Los Angeles, I’ve had no trouble finding a hairdresser, a reliable dry cleaner and a woman who administers an almost painless bikini wax. After just about a year of living here, it finally seems time to track down someone who will gladly listen to my problems for money.
In my mind, I picture a sort of therapist dating game.
I line them up and toss off a series of questions: Therapist No. 1, if you were a vegetable, what would you be? Therapist No. 2, if I were to have a nervous breakdown at 3 a.m. and call you at home, what would you do? Therapist No. 3, if I were to use humor in the course of discussing my life, would you laugh? Or would you just stare blankly and ask why I feel the need to joke?
I’ve heard getting a referral is the way to go, but from whom? It’s not the kind of question you want to ask just anyone.
I’ve gingerly approached the subject with a few acquaintances. Sometimes, people hand over the name of a trusted therapist without flinching. Other times, I can just see them thinking, “I had no idea Teresa was MENTAL.”
I’m a little leery about referral agencies ever since my experience with 1-800- DENTIST. I called asking for a friendly, experienced dentist in my area and ended up with an octogenarian whose 1950s dental machine was dinette table yellow and probably about as sterile as the counter at a good Jewish deli.
I go see “Beth,” the therapist of a friend of mine. Beth’s office is conveniently located and her building has free parking so I’m really hoping for the best.
I don’t want to say she wasn’t nurturing, but it was like talking to the Great Santini in a flowing pants suit.
“Are you always this nervous?” “No. Only when I’m about to have my head shrunk to the size of a pea by a woman with the demeanor of a drill sergeant.”
Well, that’s what I said to myself. What I said to her was, “Do I seem nervous?”
Perhaps I was thinking about the check I was going to have to write. She informs me I need “deep” work. I think she means deep into my pockets. She assures me that many of her “industry” clients become outrageously successful under her therapeutic tutelage, and I am enticed by her self-proclaimed Midas touch. Still, I doubt she is “the one.”
Lots of counselors and counseling services don’t even return my calls. I’m feeling rejected. The whole process makes me needy and insecure, the very qualities I’m trying to ameliorate.
I press on. I’ve got people asking people to ask people to ask their people. It won’t be long before that perfect therapist, sort of a cross between Barbra Streisand in “The Prince of Tides,” and Judd Hirsch in “Ordinary People” comes along.
Those feelers are out there. Just last night I got a call from a prospective therapist.
“So, why are you seeking therapy?”
“Oh, you know, the usual stuff, who am I? What am I going to be? What’s it all about? Why is Marie Osmond following me?”
“Just a joke.”
“Why do you feel the need to joke?”
And the search continues.