Yesterday at 2 a.m., Mark signed up for TherapyNOW in a fit of desperation.
The emotional numbness was normal. But the sleeplessness was new, just started in the past couple months. He wasn’t worrying about anything in particular. He had a good job. Good house. Good benefits. What did he have to be numb and sleepless over?
A few months ago, he got a few self-help books. After he bought them off Amazon, he got a pang of guilt for not buying them from his local indie bookstore. And after he got them in the mail, just looking at the box made him feel anxious. Was it maybe more related to the book’s content versus purchase location? Probably, but that didn’t change that the books still sat in their shipping box in the corner of his bedroom.
But he decided the new year was time to go all-in. Come January 1 he was going to fix … whatever this was. Last year he had actually indulged on New Year’s Eve, wandering around Fassler Hall with a 6-dollar bottle of champagne in his hand like all the other post-college bros. This year staying in truly excited him. A quiet New Year’s Eve meant he could have a super refreshed start to the new year.
Thus, the self-care and self-improvement blitz began.
As he frequently catalogued in his mind, he tried meditation, yoga, chakra realignment, acupuncture, cupping, heliotherapy and herbal supplements. He consumed no gluten, no grain, no dairy, no alcohol and no sugar. He was doing it all “right.”
So why was he still wide awake at 4:30 a.m., watching the alarm clock tick closer to work o’clock? All of his meal prep and sweat on a yoga mat was supposed to fix this. He had promised himself this shit would change with the new year. The only thing that actually changed was that he bought a new calendar for the kitchen.
Tonight, the fact that he couldn’t sleep had been rattling around his head since 11:00 p.m. He let out a long sigh and opened his eyes. It was time to admit defeat. Mark rolled over to his phone. He squinted at the blue light as he logged in to TherapyNOW. He had some missed notifications.
9:30 AM, 2/2/2020: Hello Mark! My name is Jessica Trevayno, LPT. It’s lovely to meet you. I saw from your intake form that you’re dealing with some sleeplessness and depressive thoughts. I'd love to schedule an initial period where we can both be online at the same time, then I'll be around whenever you need me.
5:27 PM, 2/3/2020: Jessica here, just checking in. Please let me know when you're available.
Mark started a message in the reply window.
4:50 AM, 2/4/2020: Hi Jessica. I'm Mark. Can we do our intake tomorrow night sometime? And yeah, you can see from the time I'm suffering from some sleeplessness, haha.
Mark paused. What else do you say in texting therapy? Mark pushed send on his phone and put it on the nightstand. Just a few more hours to kill before he had to get up for work.
Cassie sat on the edge of her bathtub and swiped through the 15 selfies she just took, looking for the best one. She had been riding out a wave of hormonal acne and major bloating this week. She had hoped by Saturday she would be ready for her next check-in social post. Her poses with a timed sip of blender bottle seemed convincing enough considering her deadline.
She pinched and zoomed into various parts of her body on a couple of her selfies, sighed and opened up Facetune. She hated editing photos because of her “authentic” reputation, but this post had to get out the door.
A 15-minute zit zap, tummy tighten and arm shrink later, her selfie was ready. Her eyes flicked to the time. 11:30 p.m. TangoTango wouldn’t be pleased at how late this drop was, but better late than never, right? She hurriedly typed out a caption.
Hitting the #fitfam grind hard. 💪 Down another 3 lbs this week, thanks to @TangoTango. Every sip of #TangoTangoFuel has green tea antioxidants, red grape flavonoids, raspberry ketones, spirulina, carcinia cambogia extract and bitter orange! Plus, it tastes great.
Try my product code “fitcass” at tangotango.you for 10 percent off and a free shaker!
And, posted. Cassie closed her eyes for a moment, watching the inside of her eyelids pulse in time with her heartbeat. BUZZ.
Cassie opened her eyes and swiped around on her phone. Along with 32 likes on her post, she had a gentle reminder to text her therapist. Must have slipped her mind.
She opened up TherapyNOW, found the alert and read the reply.
5:27 PM, 2/3/2020: You don’t have to lose weight for resolutions or anything else if it distresses you, Cassie. The only person making you doing this … is you.
Cassie's face flushed and the pit of her stomach dropped. She put her phone on the bathroom counter and paced the short distance from the tub to the door. Then, she quickly walked over to her phone, grabbed it and started to type.
11:40 PM, 2/3/2020: Easy for you to say. Like I’m stressing about every god damn piece of kale I’m shoving in my fucking mouth so that I can make another post about losing more weight. I can’t keep faking weight loss for TangoTango with Facetune and shit so I’m just going to have to keep doing this. Your “advice” isn’t going to pay my rent.
She jabbed send, then with a few taps submitted a complaint to customer service. She left the bathroom to flop on her bed.
A few minutes later, Cassie felt a little bit queasy. She assumed it was just the spirulina in the TangoTango Fuel.
11:23 PM, 2/3/2020: I don’t know how I can keep carrying on like this. My mom …
11:40 PM, 2/3/2020: Easy for you to say. Like I’m stressing about every god …
1:18 AM, 2/4/2020: I wish you were online right now, I really really need yo …
4:50 AM, 2/4/2020: Hi Jessica. I'm Mark. Can we do our intake tomorrow night s …
Jessica scrolled down to note 16 more unread messages while she slept. She wondered how much more of this she could handle.
She remembered how it felt after completing her TherapyNOW training and submitting her paperwork. It was a thrill to see people needing help pop in her inbox. At first, it was just four clients. And after scheduling their FaceTime intake appointment, she counseled them on their mental health challenges.
Seemed like all of the Glassdoor reviews on TherapyNOW’s model were wrong. The workload felt very reasonable and she was getting paid for it, too. It was totally doable.
Then she got her first check.
She shouldn’t have been blindsided, she had no excuse. Jessica knew the payment break down; it was in the contract. But, damn, after fees and everything, she could’ve gotten more driving Uber last month.
So, she upped her client base. In fact, it was required. She got an email two days before the new year that she was no longer a “provisional therapeutic contractor” (whatever that was). Now she had full status as a counselor on the app. Because of that fact, that she needed to up her client capacity to deal with the influx of “New Year’s Resolution-ers” into the TherapyNOW system.
They wanted to lose weight, gain weight, have more sex, have less sex, go out more, stay in more. They also wanted to set boundaries, be okay with failure, become more confident, get a raise and quit their day job. Most of them wanted to do all of this at the same time. Most of them also ended up quitting therapy within a week.
But she still found herself with a full caseload of 100 clients even into February. New people wanting new quick fixes. Between when she went to bed at 10:00 p.m. and when she got up at 6, she had 20 unread messages from clients, not to mention the ones that started coming in now that people’s mornings were starting.
Her 100 clients received three messages a day, five days a week, as per her TherapyNOW contract. And not just three quick texts, the kind you send to Mom to tell her when you’re available for dinner with grandma. But three thoughtful, considerate, pensive replies that weighed each word of the client’s message while honoring their unique emotional experiences and truth. Oh, and guiding them into new insight into their own psyche.
It was just … a lot.
In the first couple weeks she learned the hard way that it was not good for her to stay in bed and try to work. Even sitting on the couch in sweats was questionable, after realizing she hadn’t left her house in a few days while the takeout containers stacked up and a mild depression set in. So now she always showered, dressed in something comfortable (but not sweatpants) and sat at the kitchen table to sort through any of her client’s messages.
This morning was no different. She got halfway through her unread messages by 10:30 on her laptop when she received a call on her cell. The ID said “TherapyNOW.”
She sighed and swiped to accept the call. The familiar robot voice said, “This call may be recorded for training and quality assurance purposes.”
“This is Jessica.”
“Hi, Jessica, this is Marco with TherapyNOW Customer Satisfaction. How are you doing today?”
Jessica started clicking the pen that sat on her planner.
“I’m doing fine. May I ask what this is about?”
“Sure. So, Jessica, we had a report about your performance with a couple of your clients today and wanted to follow up with you to investigate those reports.”
Jessica dropped the pen and wedged the phone between her shoulder and ear to look through each of her clients’ recent conversations.
“Okay, can I have the client IDs?”
“The first report is from client ID 7482301. Client 7482301 reported you for ‘Unsatisfactory Reply’ and—”
Jessica frowned. “By ‘Unsatisfactory Reply’ do you mean I was offering her the type of encouraging questioning a therapist would do in traditional talk therapy?”
Marco paused. Jessica heard a few clicks of a mouse. She bet his customer service report script didn’t account for this.
“Jessica, due to HIPAA and TherapyNOW’s own internal privacy guidelines, I do not know the context of the conversation, client’s past behavior or any exchanges that take place in these encrypted messages. All I know is I received a report for an ‘Unsatisfactory Reply’ and I am performing my job and following up.”
Jessica clenched her jaw. “Noted.”
“Next, we’re moving to client ID 7384901. Client ID 7384901 put out an ‘Active Response Request’ over two hours ago. You did not fulfill that request.”
Jessica was having difficulty not letting the frustration creep into her voice. She walked away from her computer and to the sliding glass door that led onto the patio.
“If you bothered looking, this client has put out three ‘Active Response Requests’ from approximately 1:00 a.m. this morning until now,” she said in a rush. “I have replied to two of these requests, but I have other clients I have not even replied to once today.”
Seemed he was prepared for that one.
“Jessica, ‘Active Response Requests’ are a paid service that need to be dealt with immediately to fulfill our duty as a guest-first, consumer-friendly therapeutic health care service.”
“Even if I haven’t talked to some of my other clients once today? What you’re doing is giving fast lane access for people who can afford it. How is that ‘Do No Harm’?”
Marco proceeded with his next comment as if he didn’t hear her.
“Due to these reports and the other incident reports in your profile, we will need to temporarily garnish your earnings for service period of—"
She leaned her forehead against the glass and closed her eyes. “Seriously?”
“Service period of February 2nd through February 7th,” he continued. “We also hope that by offering some additional training resources that we can help you and your clients become a more successful mental health team. Thanks for your time, Jessica.”
He hung up. Then a robot voice asked her cheerfully, “Would you care to rate Customer Service agent MARCO on his performance today?” Jesus.
She felt defeated, disheartened and demotivated. And it was only 10:45. But the show had to go on: she went back to her computer and continued to answer messages, only taking a short break for a sandwich at 1:30. And by the time 7:45 p.m. rolled around, she had finished up all her messages for the day. She logged off. Only 30 seconds passed, and her phone dinged again. Mark. Something about sleep again.
You and me both, dude.
What had happened to her goals? Her resolutions? Her life just became so absorbed in this TherapyNOW stuff that she hadn’t made the time to even look for a job. Part of her knew she should probably just quit TherapyNOW and deliver Postmates while looking for a mental health job that would satisfy her. For all the people in her client inbox that were going through “the shit,” she was, too. Her mind flicked back to her conversation with Cassie. With how angry she was when faced with the truth.
The only person making you do this … is you.
Jessica knew it wasn’t going to be easy. But she knew she had to take her own advice. Take the leap. Make the change.