It was 2008, and I had long ago given up on the idea of writing a book about the extraordinary year Robin and I experienced together in 2003, since I couldn’t figure out how to tell the story without violating her confidentiality. A lot had happened for Robin during the five years after her meltdown, as she attempted to come to terms with the dramatic and devastating turn her life had taken. A lot had happened for me as well.
In 2003, I was settled into my career as a psychologist. It had been eleven years since I had started my first job following the completion of my Ph.D. and I was still working at that job. I loved my work as a therapist. It was very rewarding to help my clients. I used to tell people my job was never boring, and that after spending my days immersed in the worst of people’s pain I would usually go home to my relatively calm life feeling grateful. I had no regrets about my choice of careers. The problem was, being a full-time therapist was exhausting. I started to get to the point where something had to change, or I was going to completely burn out before I even reached the age of 40!
The administrators of the agency identified me as a leader and had tried several times through the years to promote me to various management positions. But, as I said I was an anxious person by nature. Although doing administrative work would allow me to do less therapy, it would add different stress. Part of me was intrigued by what it would be like to take on more responsibility, but my fear of change and my desire to keep my life as stress free as possible won out.
As I said, 2003 changed me. I became less stressed by lots of things. My perspective about what to worry about shifted. The other change that happened was that I became more confident in my ability to trust my own gut feelings. Working with Robin through that terrible year, I had to extend the boundaries of our relationship in ways I had never done with a client before. My gut kept telling me I needed to do so.
In July 2003, I was summoned to a meeting with the President and CEO of the agency where I worked. In the eleven years I had worked there, I had never had a conversation with him before. I wasn’t even sure he knew who I was, since the agency had over a thousand employees. I had no idea why he would want to talk to me!
To make a long story short, this conversation was the beginning of what would become my new career path. I don’t know if I would have said yes if I had not already experienced some of the changes that happened as a result of helping Robin through her nightmare, but my gut told me that if the CEO of the agency suddenly asked to talk, it was important to listen.
I was asked to lead the professional staff organization, and was then promoted several times over the next few years to increasing levels of responsibility. I fairly quickly became a member of the senior management team, and was involved in the decision making of running the agency. In 2008, I was in the role of Senior Vice President of Clinical Services. In this position I was the administrator over all clinical programming for the agency including three psychiatric hospitals, residential programs for all ages, and many outpatient and day treatment programs. The agency was serving 18,000 clients per year. Needless to say, this was a stressful role. But, in the years following Robin’s meltdown my increased stress tolerance and ability to keep perspective continued. I enjoyed being able to use my skills as a leader.
As I took on more management responsibility, I decreased my caseload of clients. I went from an active caseload of over 100 when I was a full-time therapist, to a caseload of fifteen clients who I felt I either wanted to or needed to continue to see. Robin was obviously one of those people. She was aware I was seeing fewer clients and had become a big administrator. I had reassured her I had no plan to stop our work together. We had spread out our sessions and were not meeting as frequently. I think we were probably meeting a couple times a month, but I honestly don’t remember.
Robin, in 2008, was still trying to come to terms with her new identity as a person with a severe mental illness, and was reading various memoirs of people with bipolar disorder or severe depression. Given everything that had happened in terms of my career, writing a book was the last thing on my mind.
So, imagine my surprise when one day, Robin came into my office and said, “I was reading a book by someone who has bipolar disorder. I think my story is as interesting as hers. I’ve been thinking about writing a book about my life.”
Wait. What? I was shocked to hear these words come out of Robin’s mouth. It is important to understand that in the fifteen years I had known Robin, I had probably suggested about a million times that she journal as a way to process her emotions. She had, not once, made an attempt. It had become a kind of inside joke between us. I would say “Gee, journaling might help,” and she would say, “yeah, I’ll get right on that.” And we would laugh.
So, I was well aware that Robin was not a writer. But, she was serious about writing a book. It didn’t make sense. I asked her to explain her thinking….while inside I was already debating with myself about whether I should tell her I had also thought about writing a book.
“I have lots of time. I need more to do. I just thought it would be a good way for me to do something productive,” said Robin. She said she had gotten a new computer, and thought writing a book would be a good way to use it. I couldn’t believe she was serious. Was this a test? She had no idea how compelled I had felt to tell her story and how she impacted me, or that I had actually started trying to write about it.
There was something else Robin did not know. As I was continuing to expand my management role at the agency, I was starting to imagine a time when I would stop being her therapist. Not just her therapist, everyone’s therapist. I was beginning to realize that many of the clients I was seeing, who were people I had worked with for a long time, were stable enough that they no longer needed me as their therapist. There would be benefits for many of them to work with other therapists, and some probably did not need to be in therapy at all. I was starting to imagine a point in time when I would end that role. But Robin was not aware of any of this.
So, I was faced with the dilemma of whether to tell Robin that I had also thought about writing “the book.” I trusted my gut. I told her.