Why Telehealth Could Have Given Me a Chance to Attend My Sweet 16

Why Telehealth Could Have Given Me a Chance to Attend My Sweet 16

By Jennifer Beasley, LPC, CEDS, Primary Therapist, Within Health

“601” was the pager code of “Happy Birthday.” One of the many pager codes I had to know as a pager user. Before cell phones were a thing for the average person, numeric pagers were used where people came up with codes to communicate basic messages.

But I missed this message, along with many others. I was not allowed my pager while in a residential treatment facility. It was not my first time there. In fact, this was the way I had been spending my last several birthdays, separated from family and friends while undergoing therapy for an eating disorder. 

It was a difficult time for me. I was struggling and sent to residential treatment. I did well there with the structure and controlled environment of support and lessened stressors, so I was then discharged home. 

But the cycle would repeat itself. My 1990’s were gone in a blur of admissions and discharges. There were times I thought, “Maybe recovery is just not meant for me.” After all, the relapses provided  direct evidence to this deep rooted belief. 

I received letters from home. My sisters (aka partners in crime through my parent’s divorce) were writing about the holidays and adolescent school happenings. The house parties that were unallowable, yet they were throwing together as a team and experiencing life, and how our peers didn’t believe I even existed. It made sense for them to question this, as I hadn’t attended many days of school to prove my existence in the middle and high school hallways. I remember feeling displaced at home and school. Even more so, than I had before developing an eating disorder. 

It was my 16th birthday. A birthday cake was my “food challenge” prescribed by my eating disorder dietitian employed at the treatment facility where I was spending my “sweet 16.” I was sad. Not only for me, but the empty seat sitting beside me. Where my twin sister would be my “let’s blow the candles out and make a wish” buddy if I had been at home. And I could have been there, if only telehealth was an option. I could have received the help and support I needed and been at home to engage in these experiences.

Recounting the years lost from my adolescence that could have been lived in my real life world and getting the treatment I needed is the reason I stand behind the benefits of telehealth treatment today. There are years “missing” from my story. Years of stories at family gatherings that I was not a part of, weddings, birthdays, holidays, etc. Years where I feel “left out” where I was attending treatment. My children look at these photos and ask, “where were you mom?” Good question, kids!
They are not aware that I was living in transitional housing, foster homes, etc. Basically, anywhere that made it possible to attend PHP and IOP treatment that wasn’t offered close to home. It required me to be more removed from my life, whereas, I needed to be connected and “in it” with the support of my treatment team. I needed telehealth options.

I needed my treatment team to be in my home, my life, my family. I needed them to “see” what I was living and to know all of it. I needed them to support me through it. I needed them when I left the safe nest of residential and returned to my home. I needed it to prevent the relapses. Now that technology can provide so much more than a numeric pager sending messages through “code”, the need has been filled.