Punctuality is Too Much to Ask For

I was firing on all feisty cylinders yesterday at the mental health center where I go for therapy. It started with the long-standing pattern of taking me in late for my appointment. Because the sessions are expensive and every minute counts, it’s unfair that my sessions routinely are truncated by a late start, which is not compensated for on the tail end with extra minutes to make up the time. We always end at a hard 45 minutes after the hour but we start as late as 10-15 minutes. With my high copay, this calculates to a prohibitively high cost-per-minute of service abs shortchanges me needed time to discuss my problems.

The lateness was at its all-time worst yesterday. As usual, I checked in about fifteen minutes early so I could pay my copay, use the bathroom, and get in the right headspace for doing hard emotional work. I also use that time to review the notes I keep in my phone about issues to discuss. Since I’m only doing one session monthly right now and two per week on my own, I compile quite a few things I need help working through; physically jotting them down in a list jogs my mind when it matters in therapy so I don’t leave major problems unaddressed.

At ten past the hour when my appointment was to start, the waiting room had cleared out, as all the other patients had been retrieved and called back by their respective providers. I went up to the front desk to verify I had the correct time because even for my therapist who tends to be tardy, this was surprisingly late. The lady tersely told me she’d page her and to sit down. Three minutes later (it was now 13 past), I asked again, as I was now 1/3 of my session. The front desk lady snapped at me and told me in a harsh tone while pointing an index finger rapidly toward the ground like one would gesture to a dog, “sit down!” My gutsy self responded, “why are you yelling at me? I’m the patient here and I’m just checking if we are on for today because she’s now nearly 15 minutes late!” The woman looked at me with a frown and said, “she’s five minutes late! You need to SIT down and CHILL out!”

With that, any bashfulness I tend to carry was thrust into the great beyond. I showed her my phone screen and said, “according to Verizon and every clock on your wall, it is now quarter past. Please don’t yell at me. I’m not in the wrong and I just paid thirty dollars for my time.”

Fortunately, before things got more heated, my therapist indeed came out for me. My eyes were watering because I felt disrespected by the receptionist and taken advantage of by starting me so late. As I meekly gave one-word answers to the greeting and initial banter with my therapist as we walked back to her office, I think she picked up on the cues that I was fighting back tears and clearly upset. She asked if I was okay and I said the front desk lady was rudely yelling at me because I was inquiring why I hadn’t been called in yet and it was so late. My therapist then said it was because I checked in late. Of course, since I had checked in fifteen minutes early, I said that wasn’t true. She told me that the reception desk normally does an electronic check-in so that the providers know that their patient is there. Either there was a glitch in the computer program or the receptionist had accidentally failed to check me it until ten after when I had first gone up to check on what was happening. Regardless, it would have been polite if the receptionist had apologized.

I found my therapist to be very respectful and understanding of me feeling upset. She apologized and tried to settle me down so I could jump in and get going on discussing the many things I had on my mind prior to the frustration with the late start.

Although I had a tough time transitioning initially and focusing on moving on to discuss my feelings and issues listed in my phone and on my mind, I did get there after a few minutes. At first, I could tell, she was having to use strategies to coax me to talk and let go of my immediate feelings and open up the way I normally do. I give her credit for being patient and gentle with me and helping me calm down. As Ben says to me a lot, “letting it go” is not easy for me; it’s a frequent struggle, especially if I feel wronged and disrespected.

I ended up having a really productive appointment, which was maybe only 20 minutes of good emotional work after the significantly late start and initial half-invested succinct answers I was providing when I was stewing in my frustration and hurt. I opened up about some really tough stuff and I felt like just getting it off my chest was therapeutic. Moreover, my therapist was a good listener and had some helpful feedback and follow-up questions that will be useful in trying to work through the issue. I ended up crying a lot, but not because of the problem starting the session punctually and without getting yelled at. Instead, it was painful and difficult to share some of the thoughts and feelings I’ve just started working though. Luckily, I’m starting to feel emotionally safer with my therapist, which is crucial for building trust and comfortable to explore wounds and problems. It’s far from “easy,” but I feel definite progress in my ability to express myself and bounce ideas off her during my appointments.

I found the entire episode at the mental health center to be exhausting. I left with residual tears in my eyes and struggled through the rest of the afternoon. By 2:30pm, I was totally burnt out and read my book, Donna Kauffman’s Blue Hollow Falls, to relax. I didn’t like some of her fluffier romance books, but this one has much more depth and the characters are more realistic and endearing. I would have preferred to make much more productive use of my time in the afternoon, but my physical and mental energy were completely tapped out. Maybe today will be a bit easier emotionally; I sure hope so.

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