Better Help

I’ve been thinking I’d like to find a therapist. The last few years have been hard and I could use someone to talk to. I have Eric, true, and my daughter. Friends. But there are things I don’t want to burden them with when we could be talking about whatever’s streaming or whether or not they’ll put the concrete blocks back out on our local streets so that people can drink alcohol on the sidewalk this summer. You know, crucial, important stuff.

Same goes for accountants. The last several years I’ve done me and Eric’s taxes via TurboTax. It’s not that there was anything wrong with using a professional — I think I just needed to come to grips with the whole process to finally accept that there are many many things about making money and paying taxes that I will never fully understand. But I came by this knowledge honestly, through hard work. I put in a lot of hours and learned a lot of things before I threw up my hands.

A friend recommended an accountant down in New Jersey — all strictly remote of course — and a couple of podcasts I listen to mention Better Help, an online therapy service. “Speak to a professional from the comfort and privacy of your own home.” It makes sense, I guess. No need to factor in travel time, Covid risk, scheduling. My insurance offers the same through an app. I guess it’s what people do now?

Only the idea is completely unappealing to me. Not just unappealing — downright untenable.

It occurs to me I don’t want to just talk to someone — I want a window into the life of my professional. Only through putting myself in someone else’s environment can I truly see where I’m at.

I tried the Babylon app through my insurance, setting up an input appointment via FaceTime. I felt comforted knowing the person I was speaking with was based in Queens. It helped anchor things — I pictured one of those cute 1920’s Tudor apartment buildings in Kew Gardens, near where my dad’s been living. But when the therapist came on the screen, her pretty face, smooth hair and big white teeth were interchangeable with one of the YouTube yoga instructors I follow. I wished she’d pull back the camera just a little so I could at least see whether there were pocket doors or the original casement windows in her apartment. I feel like I could’ve unburdened myself better then.

If you can’t have parquet envy or imagine yourself living an alternate life, not better or worse necessarily, just more well-appointed, are you really getting the help you need?

Maybe I should go into real estate.

I started looking back over the professionals of my past, and it occurs to me they were all so much more adult and together than I could ever hope to be and had the home decor to prove it. Elevator buildings; matching furnishings…art hung on the walls! That’s what I’m looking for. Confirmation that my choices in life are what make me the seeker and them the font of knowledge. Their ability to provide the trappings: the Kleenex box (real Kleenex rather than some off brand), not one couch but two (one for the waiting area!) and subtle lighting help convince me they have what it takes to support my quest for a deeper understanding of myself and in the case of an accountant, things of a financial nature.

When I lived in New York City, I was East Village all the way until we got priced out and ended in Williamsburg Brooklyn, back when it was a dump with not much more than a C Town supermarket and Polish bakery that featured day old pastries and rancid coffee in styrofoam cups, not the mecca for the fabulous like now. Every year at tax time I had an adventure traveling to my accountant on the Upper West Side — often the only time I made it up to that part of town. There were boutiques! Cafes and famous delis. It was the Movie New York I’d imagined my life would be, before I knew anything about…life.

Mr. Accountant lived in a modern-ish high rise with a balcony. I feel sure there was furniture with sleek metal tubing involved, an actual dining table with cane seat chairs. I’d drop off paperwork and then make small talk, a Jill Clayburgh wannabe in grubby Keds and a thrift store overcoat. My eyes lingered over every detail in the place: the ABC Warehouse rugs, a cream-colored couch. He practically had to shove me out the door after the appointed half-hour.

My first NYC therapist allowed me the same coveted window into — Stuyvesant Town of all places. I’d lived across the street from the leafy middle class enclave for years, and only glimpsed the lives of the inhabitants in passing and at the annual “yard sale” where everyone used the shopping carts they usually cluttered the aisles of D’Agostino and Gristede’s with to haul their unwanted copies of My Mother, My Self and Vidal Sassoon hairdryers out to the shaded sidewalks for an afternoon or two.

Joan the Therapist had the neutral furnishings, the earth tone clothes I imagined were the spoils of a life well-lived. Like a soundcheck before a gig, my subway ride into Manhattan, wait for the lobby buzzer and elevator ascent set up the session. Entering this other world clearly stated that my problems were fixable. How would I know when I was better? When I didn’t need the peaceful hum of Joan’s window fan, her view of a verdant courtyard so much less chaotic than the siren wails and ice cream truck cacophony outside my own windows?

My daughter’s pediatrician was my West Village fantasy life — just around the corner from Balducci’s, at an address I could only afford once or twice a year via Child Health Plus.

There was a dentist in the flower district, a midwife practice on Fifth Avenue near the Flatiron Building. I knew when I moved upstate, those moments of approximation to posh or, let’s be honest —solid middle class respectability— weren’t going to happen anymore. When we first moved here I got help from an accountant at a chic West Village address but it just wasn’t sustainable. Maybe that was why I went online to do taxes…the very house we live in now once belonged to an accountant. A Catskill accountant with wood-paneled walls, a dodgy wood-burning stove in the corner and battleship grey cubbies to hold his paperwork – it was all still in place when we moved into this house. It was a foreclosure. Where’s that accountant now?

But back to therapy, where I’d like to go. There’s this therapist I have my eye on who lives at the foot of a mountain. She told me she wasn’t taking new patients but to get in touch if I was stuck. I’m imagining purple clapboard with bright green trim…a babbling brook to babble by out back. My expectations have changed— not lowered, just adjusted. By this point in my life, I’ve bought a few things at Crate and Barrel myself and I know that’s not the answer. It’s just an older wiser woman I’m looking for really, maybe even one who can chop wood. Please let there be a gazing ball in the yard…

Not exactly a therapist’s couch

10 thoughts on “Better Help

  1. Donald Ciccone

    Are you any less professional than the professionals you envy? I’m thinking of the tours you organize for yourself and the performances you have given every time I’ve seen you. Of your albums, your book, your diary, the daughter you raised, and most of all, the love you have given. I reached out to you once when I very badly needed a friend and you were there for me. I’ll never forget that. You’re my idea of a professional.

    1. amyrigby

      That’s really kind of you Don. I wonder what the word is for someone who’d do something whether they got paid or not? Amateur has bad connotations (even though it sounds like the word is based in love). Maybe it’s just…artist. Anyways, thank you!

  2. Ellen Storm

    This is wonderful! And great timing too. Just last week I called my HMO and started the process of finding a therapist. All my professional life I’ve been told in workshops and classes that interpreters need a therapist; but except for one session where I dumped a metaphorical bag of “stuff” in the middle of counselor’s office and left it I’ve never really known how to go about getting a therapist.
    There was a Life Kit podcast asking if I should change therapists and I thought, I really want, need a therapist!
    I always thought I would work until I couldn’t because I love my work; but after getting vaccinated last year and starting back to work, a few months I couldn’t seem to send in my invoices. So a few more months of working for free, (it didn’t occur to me to hire an accountant) and the agency stopped calling.
    So I guess I’m retired now. A therapist would be so nice to navigate this life transition. They asked if there was anything about the therapist they would match me with; but being in an age group similar to my own wasn’t an option on her computer screen. Maybe a person facing all the options of career and college is really not so different.
    Anyway, your timing is impeccable. (I would look up impeccable to be sure it means what I think it means; but I’m afraid to leave this page without completing and saving it after all this writing)
    Much love to you and yours 😘

    1. amyrigby

      Thanks Ellen. It’s funny, when I lived in NYC it seemed like everyone had a therapist they’d recommend! But that was ages ago, now it’s probably like contractors, there aren’t enough good ones to go around so people keep that info quiet? The whole telehealth thing seems so random but random can work sometimes. Good luck in the search and the retirement! Lots of love!

  3. Hal Davis

    This is beautiful. ‘Fraid I fell in love with this image: “I’d drop off paperwork and then make small talk, a Jill Clayburgh wannabe in grubby Keds and a thrift store overcoat.”

    This entire blog post could be the treatment for a film. Who’d you cast as a younger you?

    1. amyrigby

      That’s such a cool idea Hal, thank you! So much of it could be done in FaceTime with the flashbacks in real time. Have you watched Claudia Weill’s Girlfriends with Melanie Mayron recently? It’s wonderful. I’d want those scenes to look like that. Had never seen it when it came out, and was reminded because she (Mayron) directed last week’s episode of the HBO Julia series.

      1. Hal Davis

        “Have you watched Claudia Weill’s Girlfriends with Melanie Mayron recently?” Have not, but I’ve always liked Melanie Mayron’s work. Glad she’s directing Julia, whose casting includes Bebe Neuwirth, Judith Light and Isabella Rossellini.

        I was also imagining at least one of your soignée professionals played by Meryl Streep.

        1. amyrigby

          Sarah Lancashire’s Julia is leaving Meryl’s in the dust (and can’t I have Barbra Streisand as a shrink a la Prince of Tides?)…I thought no one could top Stanley Tucci as Paul Child but David Hyde Pierce is heartbreaking! I should have just written a Julia appreciation. That episode (Called Bread I think) was the only one I’d noticed directed by Melanie Mayron.

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