Unlike my future captor Tom Cruise, I’m a big fan of psychiatry. Why? Well, it’s given me opportunities I never could have experienced without medical intervention for depression, agoraphobia and panic attacks. To put it more simply: Psychiatry has saved my life. But thanks to a couple of friendly letters from health insurance companies, I’ve recently learned I don’t deserve to go to the doctor.
And here I thought I was doing well.
I think of myself at age 21, skinny from lack of eating, sickly pale from avoiding the dreaded outdoors, stinking of piss and wasting away in a bed I was afraid to leave (even to go to the bathroom). And then I think of myself now, at age 31, curvalicious from a combination of genetics, a hearty appetite and a gym aversion, eager to greet each day in my new home in California, smelling of delightful things like ginger bath bubbles (hi, Origins) and vanilla perfume (hi, Body Shop) and good old-fashioned hope (hi, Jesus). These days, I tackle the mean streets of Los Angeles in my sexy 2003 vehicle, Camry Diaz. I go to meetings. I go for hikes. When I’m home, I work on my second book, a young adult novel. Next month, I’ll travel to Michigan and Pennsylvania to speak to college students about mental health. I’ll also visit New York City to celebrate my 32nd birthday. Back when I was 21, none of this would have seemed possible.
I didn’t just grow out of being crazy –- I learned to manage it through a combination of talk therapy, cognitive behavioral techniques, and medication. And where did I learn those things? The psychiatrist’s office.
I thought my dedication to taking my medication and attending my psychiatric appointments was a good thing. I thought it showed a certain dedication to my own health and wellbeing, a certain zest for life, a certain commitment to taking good care of myself so that I wouldn’t end up in the emergency room or on the streets or in other unsavory locations, burdening society with my unchecked madness. I thought that I was doing the right thing by taking advantage of the privilege of healthcare. So, naturally, when I moved from New York to California, I applied for health insurance.
That’s when I got The Letter.
The Letter thanked me for considering Kaiser Permanente for my health insurance needs. Then the letter informed me that I didn’t qualify for coverage. Why?
Undaunted (well, maybe slightly daunted), I applied to another health insurance company, Anthem Blue Cross. I received pretty much the same response, but this time they were more specific:
Oh, hey, thanks for the deets, buddy!
And that medication Anthem so kindly referenced? Well, it runs me about $450 a month, because Abilify hasn’t gone generic yet. Silly me, for obeying my doctor’s suggestion that I combine my cheap selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor with a pricey atypical antipsychotic!
Needless to say, I was pretty disappointed. Because if you aren’t already depressed, rejection for being a nutcake might just do the job.
Then my friend Rebecca told me about the California Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan. Thanks to Obamacare, “California has a contract with the Federal Department of Health and Human Services to establish a federally funded high risk pool program to provide health coverage for eligible individuals.” Hooray! And the rates look pretty affordable, too –- about $218 a month for a gal like me, which ain’t too shabby.
Here’s the catch, though: To qualify, you’ve got to be denied by an insurance company and go six months without insurance. I’ve got the first bit down, but the second bit is going to be kind of a challenge. My meds will cost me a cool $2,700 during my half-year without insurance, not to mention the out-of-pocket costs for seeing a psychiatrist and other docs.
So right now. I’ve got a decision to make.
I can carve out the space in my budget for $450 a month for meds and another fistful of cash for a shrink (and, y’know, dentist, eye doctor, gynecologist, etc.)
Or I can go off my meds, skip the fancy M.D.s, and invent a DIY mode of managing my health!
Using my can-do American spirit, I’ve devised a list of tactics, techniques and treatments for anything that may ail me over the next six months. I submit it for your approval, because you ladies are smart and knowledgeable and opinionated. I’m sure you’ll agree that my homemade, organic, handcrafted approach to mental health care is pretty amazing.
Sara Benincasa’s DIY Healthcare Plan
PROBLEM: Broken leg
SOLUTION: Crush up Flintstones Vitamins. Make paste with water. Rub paste onto leg.
PROBLEM: Bleeding gums
SOLUTION: Bleed onto a plain white canvas. Frame it, hang it up, and call it art! Someone will buy it, which will probably cover the cost of at least half a false tooth
PROBLEM: Explosive diarrhea
SOLUTION: Move into bathroom. Live there for as long as problem persists.
PROBLEM: Lump in breast
SOLUTION: Ignore it! It’ll probably go away.
PROBLEM: Anything else
SOLUTION: Pray! Historically, this always works.
If you’ve got any of your own DIY suggestions for me, please leave them in the comments below. Or, y’know, if you have any health insurance horror stories of your own, this might be a nice time and place to vent. Meanwhile, I’ll be choreographing a magical interpretive dance that will surely cure me of my desire to bang my head down on my desk and give up completely.
Sara Benincasa is a comedian, a writer, and an editor — the order in which she lists these occupations varies day to day, depending on which occupation brings in the most filthy lucre. Her debut memoir, “Agorafabulous!: Dispatches From My Bedroom,” is available here. This piece was originally published on xoJane.com.