You Come First–Really


You are the most important element in the psychotherapeutic relationship. You—not the money, not the agency and not the therapist. They all exist to help you, and if they don’t know that then you shouldn’t go to that person or agency. In Syracuse, Brownell Center for Behavioral Health is an agency to which you should not go.

For many years, the Onondaga Pastoral Counseling Center (OPCC) had an operating license from the NYS Office of Mental Health, then the license was transferred to Brownell. (And don’t we wonder what that was all about?) Brownell is a subset of Liberty Resources and claims to be “the largest community based outpatient mental health provider in Onondaga County . . .” and more’s the pity.

I called Brownell and was immediately transferred to the intake person. She told me to come in and fill out the application. There are two relevant facts here: (1) the application was one page of name, rank and serial number, and (2) traveling by Medicaid wheelchair van, it would take me about three hours and cost you, the taxpayer, about $50 to get this one page filled out, so I asked her if she could email me the application. She said yes.

And then she didn’t do it.

So I waited a couple of days and then called her boss. That’s what an activist does. Regular people give up and go away; an activist calls back and talks to your boss. You should keep that in mind when screwing with people. So I told her boss that I was multiply disabled and requesting accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Would she please read me the questions and let me answer them over the phone?

No, she would not. However, she said she would email me the one-pager, and she did. I could not figure out how to answer it on-line so I printed it, filled it out, and then couldn’t figure out how to fax it back on account of one of my disabilities is in learning. So I’m standing there by my printer/copier/fax machine, fighting back tears, and I call Dr. Robert Feldman, the director of Brownell Center, and discover that he should have “see and avoid” tattooed on his forehead.

(Let us keep in mind that throughout all this I am suffering from severe depression. I have insomnia. I cry a lot. I spend hours staring at the television, which is problematic because it’s not turned on.)

I told Feldman my little story about his intake person, his intake person’s boss, and my depression and multiple disabilities. Feldman’s answers were cold, pedantic, and uncooperative. At one point he said that he didn’t know why I was being so hostile. Babe, I know hostile when I’m being hostile, and I wasn’t. I was being cold and uncooperative, just like Feldman, but I had just cause: his people were screw-ups.

President Truman had a placard on his desk that read “The buck stops here.” He knew that he was at the top of the heap and every screw-up by every government employee ultimately landed on his desk. He knew he was responsible; Feldman hasn’t figured that out. As director, if the people who work for him screw up then he has to deal with it. And you’d think, wouldn’t you, that a guy who came up from being a therapist might be, well, nicer to a person in pain? Not Bob Feldman.

Finally he says, “I’m trying to help.”

“No,” I replied. “If you were trying to help then you would be saying ‘Here’s what we can do.’” Instead, he was just asking a lot of questions punctuated by l-o-o-o-ng silences. So, after another long silence, Dr. Robert Feldman asks me my name, which I had given him at the outset. Finally—I get to be me! After another long silence, he asks for my phone number. Then he coldly says someone will call me.

A couple hours later a nice lady calls me, asks me the questions on the form, and I give the answers. Then I go back to waiting. There is, roughly, a two-week wait between each step in the Brownell process.

Then I get a phone call setting up an appointment to go in for the real intake—I think. I show up at the appointed time, wheel up to the reception window, and get handed FIFTEEN pages of paperwork to be filled out and/or signed. Fifteen pages. I am suffering from severe depression and have to fill out fifteen pages of paperwork before anybody will talk to me. I am hurting, and I have to sit in a waiting room with a guy playing rock music and a little baby screaming, and fill out paperwork.

Okay, so here’s the point: if you are in pain and somebody hands you fifteen pages of paperwork, walk away. Better yet, run screaming. They do not have your best interests at heart. They care about money and power, not you. You will not get help at this agency. I have no idea why I stayed—some combination of desperation and docility, just like everybody else, I suppose. Maybe it’s hope: you keep thinking it will get better. Nobody could really treat you this badly, could they?

Finally a young man comes to the waiting room and escorts me through a long labyrinth of hallways, deep into the heart of darkness. The kid is a graduate student doing an internship—and doing what he’s told. He’s been told to ask me a bunch more questions. In fact, he’s got pages more questions, but these are not the simple questions as on the first fifteen pages. These are the big, painful questions:

  • Have you ever been abused? Emotionally or physically? By whom? When?
  • Have you been sexually abused? By whom? How often?
  • Are you, or anyone close to you, an alcoholic? Grandpa? Daddy? Mom?
  • Have you taken drugs? When did you last use? What was your drug of choice?
  • Have you been in rehab? Where and when?
  • Have you been in jail? When? Where? What for?

Now, what’s wrong with this picture? (To be continued)

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About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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6 Responses to You Come First–Really

  1. Paul says:

    I will do. Thank you! 😉

  2. Paul says:

    No need to be abrupt! They did destroy a huge chunk of my life. However, i do understand where you’re coming from. The assholes should be held to account for causing brain damage without my consent.

  3. Paul says:

    i know how you feel. i have all of the symptoms of thrombosis and even visual symptoms but they won’t do further tests and they quite simply don’t believe that i am in as much pain as i say i am (Pure burning and aching from the inside out!) :).

    On top of that i was on neuroleptic drugs for almost ten years that destroyed my entire life and gave me a dementia like illness for most of my 20’s (i’m only 28 now) so i’m somewhat mentally impaired, even after living medication free for just over a year and i have a huge stigma hanging over me. Nobody wants to know my troubles and help me. My doctor won’t even do a brain scan to compare with the brain scans i had done at the beginning of my psychiatric journey.

    Luckily i’m a tough cookie so i’m sure that i’ll be victorious one day.

    I love your blog x

    • annecwoodlen says:

      Okay, Paul, you need to get a grip. Neuroleptic drugs did not “destroy your entire life.” You are still able to write coherently and work on a computer; your life has not been destroyed, just made a whole lot harder. You are, as you say, “only 28”; you have an enormously valuable life ahead of you. It will be different from what you intended, but so what isn’t?

      You took drugs for ten years and only have been off them for one year. I took drugs for 26 years and have been off them for 10, and I am still recovering. My rule of thumb is that it will take one year to recover for every three years you took drugs. Call me in another two years and let me know how you’re doing.

      To speed your recovery, (a) get a regular pattern of restorative sleep; (b) see a dietician and get on a healthy diet; and (c) engage in regular challenging exericse. Get a therapist to tell your troubles to, preferably a psychologist. Don’t depend on other people to help you; help yourself. Get a new doctor and request the brain scan again–but what for? To confirm what you already know–that drugs damaged you? Doctors hurt you; you’re nuts if you think they’re going to help you undo the damage they did. First, they would have to admit that they did damage, and that’s not going to happen.

      This has been your reality check for Wednesday, November 30. Go in peace.
      Anne

  4. telula says:

    Brownell…I go there…and i am so glad I am soon to be NOT going there. that place is beyond useless. The waiting room is more depressing than anything. I cant really say anything else about that without sounding like a jerk. and just because they got that building and put a crap load of money into it to make it look nice does NOT matter! That place was enough to make me feel that there really was no hope for me.That’s the message I got anyway and when you are down enough and that feeling gets reinforced you could be well on your way to nowhere. I had the best counselor ever when they were Still the Pastoral center. She went to work for another doctor who didn’t take medicaid etc…I really think she just could NOT work there anymore. she was the best! The one I had for the past two years is nice enough but as far as counseling goes I get better help from talking to my cats! Not to mention the time I checked in a half hour early and sat there….nobody told my counselor I was there. I figured she was just running late since I was told a the desk I was all set. and the time I was yelled at and hung up on by One of the rudest receptionists. She used the attitude that i must be crazy since I am a patient there and refused to transfer me to someone who had left me a message and asked me to call them back concerning some prescription screw up. Yeah Brownell is a bad place for sure!

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