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Let’s Talk About Therapy

Therapy is not about correcting craziness; It’s about preserving sanity.” – Amanda Seales

I know, I know. It’s been quite a while since you heard from me, but don’t roast me. My love for blogging hasn’t changed; I’ve just been focused on taking some much needed time to work on me.

While we’re only 3 months in, 2018 has already been an eye opener for me. I started this year with the usual resolutions: get healthy, save money, work hard, drink water, keep my melanin poppin’…you know the rest. But, more than ever before, I really felt an omnipresent force pushing me to look beyond the general goals we all recite in the spirit of New Year’s optimism, and really put my words into action.

Why such a shift? Why now?

At 2018’s birth, I had a haunting realization: I realized that I am officially 3 years into my twenties and I have very little to show for it.

Yeah, I graduated. I have friends. I’ve accomplished a few things. I’m only 23, and I understand that I’m not supposed to have it all together. Regardless of that, it hit me that I am in the prime of my youth and I didn’t yet feel like I’d LIVED; instead, I had just been in a perpetual state of existing. I was standing almost halfway through what are supposed to be the most fun years of my life, and I hadn’t had much fun at all. I would work and come straight home. On weekends, I sat in the house. I found myself creating more excuses or say “no,” to new things, instead of “yes.” I might go out sometimes, but for the most part, I had become a homebody. This is not necessarily a major issue in itself, but the fact of the matter is that that lifestyle has never been me.

Through this reflection, I decided that 2018 must be different; this new year would be one of personal evolution for me. I declared that this would be the year in which I would learn to prioritize real self-care, and not just claiming “self-care” in the interest of justifying certain purchases. Instead, I chose to start making conscious efforts to work on improving every facet of my life, beginning with my mind.

The first step to fulfilling my goal would be exploring something that I had easily advocated for others, while being terrified of doing it for myself: going to therapy.

Therapy….you know that strange place we envision as a dreary room with books, a chaise lounge, and a stranger holding a notepad? That place some believe is only for white people when the perils of life that we push through, seem to throw them over the edge. Where the culturally ingrained “what happens in my house stays in my house” mentality is challenged by the debilitating needs for emotional cleansing and release. Where we have to be vulnerable and bear our souls in ways we may typically avoid. Therapy: the place where we have to admit that we’re hurt, or lost, and need help because we don’t have it all together the way we may portray.

Going to therapy was something I had been interested in for a while, but like many of us in the African American community, I kept putting off because I told myself that “things weren’t that bad.” At one point, my thought process was, I don’t need therapy, I’m not suicidal or anything. I’m just a little down sometimes…Until I admitted that I had reached the point of feeling “down” more times than not, and at times didn’t even know why.

I should mention here that I, like so many others, have the Black Superwoman Syndrome. You know, walking around with a smile on my face, feigning enthusiasm and a pep in my step, and always armed with an “I’m blessed/good,” on the tip of my tongue in case someone asks how I’m doing. I’ll smile through pain and perform well enough to secure academic and professional achievement. I will encourage others, keep it together on the outside, and won’t let anyone see me sweat – even when I may be the main one crumbling internally. Many of us master these coping mechanisms early on, and after so long it almost becomes believable – until the day arrives when you lose the steam that once pushed you forward, lose your motivation, and find yourself trying to pour into yourself and others from a dry cup. It wasn’t until I reached this point for myself that I acknowledged bottling up your troubles can be more destructive than helpful in the long-run. The time came for me to hang up the act and get some help.

The thought of going to therapy made me very nervous in the beginning, but I knew that it was the first thing I had to do to embark on my self-care journey. By the time I decided to go, I was also so exhausted with everything on my plate that I knew I had nothing to lose. So, I asked around, found a practitioner that met my needs/preferences, and scheduled an appointment. The day came. I stepped into the office right on time, my heart beating in my ears, and met my new therapist.

I remember thinking silently, My therapist? I’ve really got a whoooooole therapist, fam. This is wild.

I was quickly comfortable with her though; she met me with the warmest energy I’d felt in a long time, and I felt so much weight being lifted off my shoulders as soon as we started discussing my reasons for seeking help. Simply having a safe space to be honest about my burdens, encouraged, and heard without judgement, was enough to make me start feeling better.

It’s now been a couple of months since I began, and therapy’s benefits have only increased. Seeing a therapist has helped me gain a new sense of strength. It has helped me to constructively release negative energy I was carrying, renewed my thirst for self-discovery, and empowered me to become more comfortable with playing by own rules in living my life for me, unapologetically. Therapy is teaching me how to navigate certain relationships in more mindful ways, and giving me the tools to set boundaries that prevent me from internalizing other people’s issues as if they are my own. It’s easing some of the growing pains that come with young adulthood and inspiring me to stop giving into fear. Since that first session, I’ve spent more time fostering old friendships, starting new ones, studying for my graduate school entry exams (which sucks by the way, despite its necessity), worked on organizing my life slowly but surely, and I am finally getting back into feeling more like myself.

Perhaps my biggest takeaway from therapy has been learning that healing is still a process, even when it is aided by professional guidance. Healing is still a form of growth, and growth still isn’t located in your comfort zone. This conclusion is currently forcing me to reckon with my tendency to stand in my own way. Sometimes when new things compromise my comfort, bring uncertainty, or feel overly unfamiliar, I may pull away from them altogether or my effort toward sticking with them may stagnate. This played a part in my sudden break from blogging, and therapy hasn’t been exempt from the self-sabotage either. However, I am so much more concerned about becoming the best version of myself than staying comfortable (and miserable), that I am willing to continue fighting through my reservations in order to unlock my full potential.

If you are facing challenges similar to the ones I’ve discussed, know that you are not alone.

Life gets rough and we all find ourselves carrying around more emotional baggage than we’d prefer at some time or another. However, if a few sullen or distressed weeks turns into a few bad months, or years, it may be time to explore opportunities to unpack the issues weighing you down. I can’t tell you what that looks like for you, but I can say from experience that therapy is definitely a valuable option to try.

Resources like support groups, self-help books, and hotlines are great, but having a therapist gives you the ability to receive the one-on-one attention and guidance that you may need in order to work through your specific situation. This is not meant to dismiss the value of those other resources; by all means, if those are your preference, then go for those options. But, if you feel that they are not enough for you on their own, using them as supporting tools while incorporating a therapist into your healing process may be more beneficial.

While I am a fervent advocate of therapy, I am also very aware of some of the challenges that may prevent some people from trying it. First, therapy isn’t free (in most cases). As millennials, many of us do not yet have enough financial security to drop an average $75-$100 per session. All hope is not lost though, as there are a few ways you can try to seek high quality therapy that is also affordable:

  1. Some health insurance plans have therapy benefits. Check to see if yours includes any sort of therapy coverage, or if you want to see a specific therapist, see what insurance(s) they accept.

  2. Ask about “Sliding Scale” rates. Some therapists’ fees are on a sliding scale, meaning that they go by your income.

  3. Check online directories like Therapy For Black Girls (which also has a great podcast) and Psychology Today. These websites provide information for therapists across America, and often include general information about their rates.

  4. Ask around! I found my therapist by asking someone if they knew of any good ones in my area that wouldn’t break the bank. I would also advise asking a trusted individual with ties to the healthcare industry. Even if they don’t know of someone specifically, they may at least be able to get you started in the right direction.

I also fully understand how the stigma surrounding therapy in the Black community can make one hesitate to sit with a stranger and discuss your personal issues; but don’t let that stop you.

Keep in mind that needing help overcoming challenges is not synonymous with being crazy. Additionally, don’t be a slave to traumatic secrets just because somebody may be offended. Under the trauma of many lies a myriad of taunting secrets that should have been addressed long ago. Don’t let other people’s assumptions, bias, or resistance discourage you from getting the help you need to free your mind and live your best life. At the end of the day, people who truly love, support, and care about you will be happy to see you taking steps to live a better life and won’t try to stand in the way of that.

In conclusion, therapy is something I really encourage you to try if you’re in a tough place mentally. For me, going to therapy has been like finding healing water in a sandstorm. It’s putting me back on track to be the best version of myself. It’s helping me to heal old wounds, stop being hindered by them, and boosting my confidence. Overall, it’s giving me the means to overcome emotional baggage in order to grow. I hope that it will do the same for you. You only get one life to live, and you owe it to yourself to protect your sanity so you can live your life to the fullest. Therapy is lit; don’t miss out.

Be Healed. Be Blessed. Stay Kultured.

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