This happened today:
“Dr. Beck, did you see the story in the news about the 19 year old guy who had COVID-19 and almost died?”
“I did. Did you find that upsetting?”
“Yes, but I think it will help me not to think about suicide again – at least for a while.”
“I’m so glad to hear that but tell me how that happened because it might help someone else.”
“It’s pretty easy to figure out. I was watching TV, listening to this guy talk about how scared he was that he might die and I realized that I owed it to him to stay alive and be glad that I haven’t been sick like he was.”
As I was puzzling over the logic of this, my patient went on.
“I don’t know this guy or anything, but to me, it’s like he’s been in hospital frightened of dying and in pain on a respirator. You could tell just listening to him that he was terrified and lonely when he was sick. If he can live with all that, then I will live with my anxiety and depression which is my life-threatening illness, and work to get better. I just have to do it. Just like he had to fight, I have to fight.”
I could not think of anything to say after a revelation like that, so I waited.
“Shit!” He said over the phone.
“What?” I asked.
“I’m going to have to have a therapist. Can we do that without telling my mother? I cannot take her fawning all over me grateful, or worse crying.”
“No one has to know,” I said, “and you know what the best part is?”
I reminded him: “While all your therapy is by phone or be telehealth, it will be harder for your Mom to figure out because she doesn’t have to drive you to an appointment.”
With this short conversation, I learned two important lessons for my future work.
First, heroes can inspire you to be a hero.
Secondly, virtual appointments can give teens and youth privacy from their parents’ caring but stifling interest.