Monday, January 9, 2012

We are happy together. So they denied our coverage.

While shopping for private health insurance for our family because of My Guy’s change in career, we found a serious flaw in the system. Well, one among many in our broken health care system that is.

Because we were seeing a therapist as a couple last year (a.k.a. couples’ counselling), the provider denied our coverage. It didn’t matter that we’re both in great health and good shape - they wouldn’t even entertain any other factors outside of the fact that we were in therapy.

Stressful times
About a year ago, our relationship was at the brink of extinction. It was possibly the scariest chapter of my life. But when My Guy suggested therapy, I was vehemently opposed to it.

I’m Asian. Dirty laundry stays in the house. Preferably in the dryer, where it doesn’t see the light of day because talking about our weaknesses is shameful. And shame likes to lurk in the dark.  

I also had a (mistaken) notion that we were too old to change, so my partner either had to live with my flaws or I could find someone else who would. As you can see, we’re still together, which means we opted for change.

I am reading Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection, and in there she says, “Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.” 

She’s right of course.

Hard work
Change we did. But it didn’t happen overnight. At least not after the first session. Or the second. Or even the third. It took awhile before things finally began to click. We were beginning to make tiny breakthroughs that slowly and eventually lifted us out of our despair.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying therapy is the miracle drug. It’s hard work. Outside of our weekly 50-minute sessions, we had to push ourselves to communicate, to recognize potential threats, to sometimes do the unthinkable - to love and to forgive in spite of the hurt and anger. Basically, we had to drag ourselves through the muck before achieving clarity.

I know some people may think, I have a great network of friends who will listen to my problems; I don’t need to waste my money on therapy. They will understand where I’m coming from and give me the support I need. They will always be on my side.

But that’s exactly why therapy works better for me. I don’t need someone on my side. I need someone to tell it like it is, and someone who doesn’t judge. I also need someone who has no stake in my decisions or my partner’s. Therapists are impartial, and they make us think. But they don’t do the work for us – that’s entirely in our hands.

Not even the best therapist can save a couple who won’t do the dirty work of stripping themselves of ego, shame and discomfort and doing whatever it takes to acknowledge and work through the breakdown. Or if the feelings are no longer mutual, like my previous marriage, all the hours in therapy will not resuscitate a relationship that’s D.O.A.

For it to work, I strongly believe that there needs to be love above everything else. And that was never an issue with us. It was what got in the way that derailed us. Therapy helped us see and move those obstacles. One giant boulder at a time.

One year and many sessions later, here we are - stronger and happier than we’ve ever been. But now that we’re happier (and it’s known that happy people are healthier), our insurance doesn’t want to cover us.

How ironic. And stupid.

Stigma be gone
I wrote this post today for two reasons. One, to join the collective voices in their health care  rant, and two, to come out about our therapy, hoping that it will help dispel its stigma. 

I want to step out of the darkness because shame cannot abide in the place of light (again, thank you, Brene Brown for my ordinary courage). We sought help because we love each other and wanted to find a way to stay together - why should we be ashamed?

As Sheryl Crow says, “sometimes love just ain’t enough”; we needed the guidance to help us navigate the often murky waters of every day living. When two people care enough to want to right the wrongs in their partnership, shouldn’t we be supportive? When divorce is so prevalent in our society, shouldn’t we encourage those who seek the alternative?

Sadly, that’s not often the case. We think that if we seek therapy, it’s admitting weakness, imperfection or failure. But then again, so what? Are we not allowed to stumble? Or even fail? Why do we spend so much time trying to be perfect when things aren’t? If people spent that energy they use to pretend everything’s fine on getting the help they needed instead, perhaps they would be happier?

Let in the light
"There's a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." -- Leonard Cohen

Recently, a friend asked me confidentially for my therapists’ information. She was secretive and hesitant, and I can understand that – I was her not too long ago. Going to therapy is about exposing the most vulnerable parts of ourselves. And it’s scary to reveal what we spend our whole lives trying to protect.

But as Dr. Brown says, “"I know that vulnerability is kind of the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it's also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love."  

Indeed it is. We can attest to that.

Months after My Guy and I survived our “scary time”, we continued to attend our sessions because we liked the atmosphere it created for us - a neutral ground to assess our progress, and a safe haven to explore our past and future together. We looked forward to our appointments with our therapist.

But now we no longer have that option, thanks to our wonderful health care system.

Thankfully, I think our past work will prepare for us for the hurdles and potholes along the way. And for that, we will always be grateful to our therapist. It’s not always going to be smooth-sailing, but at least now we have some sense of how to weather the storm.