May is Mental Health Awareness Month and I want to share a glimpse into my story in hopes that it will encourage someone else.
Since college, I’ve been dealing with depression and anxiety. Back then though, I didn’t realize that this was what I was experiencing. During my undergraduate years, I was often unhappy and felt worthless. I found ways to mask these feelings through binge drinking at parties and being involved in countless unhealthy relationships. Each year—freshman, sophomore, and junior year—I found myself delving deeper and deeper into darkness.
It wasn’t until senior year that I became slightly more self-aware, while superficially finding ways to heal myself. I often burned incense in my small apartment room, while listening to neo-soul. On a sheet of paper, I used to write all of the toxic people and things I wanted to forget. Then, I would burn it in my trashcan— super melodramatic, I know. I thought I had my feelings relatively under control.
Then, I was sexually assaulted.
Following my assault, l still didn’t see myself as a person with depression. I just tried to move on as quickly as possible, and act like nothing happened. Then, things finally exploded a year later in Chicago. I moved to Chicago for my graduate program, which I mentally wasn’t ready for. It just seemed like the right thing to do at the time. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my career. I just knew I needed something to do and I wanted to leave Michigan. It was at the beginning of my program that I realized that I needed help. I was miserable, aimless, lost, and unhappy.
I never considered therapy, but when I realized I could get twelve free sessions through CAPS, I decided to give it a try. I specifically requested a therapist who was a woman of color. Why does this matter? Because I wanted someone to implicitly understand my struggles as a woman of color. One who could connect to my intersectional identities without my explanation. The only woman of color, a woman of Mexican descent, was the best introduction to therapy I could ask for.
After my twelve sessions with her, I looked for women of color therapists in the area AND tried group therapy. Group therapy forced me to learn to confront people head-on and in the moment. I learned to be more assertive and it provided perspective from people from all walks of life. I went from no therapy at all (except one time sophomore year with a white man; it was quite anti-climatic and unfruitful) to therapy overload.
While I was trying to grapple with the root of my issues, I found out I was pregnant. That’s a story for another time.
In recent years, buzzwords like self-care, self-love, and the conversation of mental health encouraged me to pursue taking care of my holistic wellness. I want to work to destigmatize the role therapy plays in our society, especially in the Black community. Many think you have to go through something traumatic before you seek therapy. Talking to a mental health professional can help get you through the stresses of school, dating, or the everyday struggles of existing in the world. Therapy helps you sort through your thoughts and guides you in identifying healthy ways to cope. Sometimes you just need an unbiased professional, instead of your friend that isn’t mentally equipped to support you the way you need and may actually give poor advice. Black men and women need to start taking their mental health seriously if we are to stop generational curses and trauma. Your mental state has the power to consume and dictate your life inside and out. In order to control yourself and your path, it starts with being in control of how you move through the world, and that starts in the mind.
My journey to self-awareness and healing is long, but I’m thankful. I still battle with depression and anxiety daily. Therapy isn’t a cure-all nor is it always pleasant. Outside of your sessions, you have to stick with the plan your therapist provided along with a healthy diet, working out, meditation, journaling, positive self-talk, spirituality, and a support system that encourages your healthy lifestyle changes. Whatever you feed your spirit, comes out in one form or another.
I’m appreciative of shows like Insecure that promotes therapy as a healthy way to deal with your issues. Podcasts like Therapy for Black Girls and The Friend Zone are also important because they talk about the ways in which mental health in the Black community is stigmatized and how no one should be ashamed to say they need help.
I’m thankful my therapist, a wonderful Black woman, is giving me the tools to cope in healthy ways. I have to be the best mentally for my daughter as she’s getting more active and curious. She deserves a whole and healthy mommy. I always say everyone can benefit from therapy, no matter where you are in life. You may be going through a storm, but there are always ways to live the life you were meant to live. I have to remind myself of that daily.
Helpful resources and Podcasts:
Therapy for Black Girls - Therapist Directory: https://www.therapyforblackgirls.com/therapist-directory/
The Friend Zone - The Other Side Of Therapy - Featuring Jor-El Caraballo: https://soundcloud.com/thefriendzonepodcast/the-other-side-of-therapy
She’s Beauty and the Beast - Audio Vision Boards: https://soundcloud.com/shesbeautyandthebeast/sets/audio-vision-boards
Iyengar Yoga Detroit: http://www.iyengaryogadetroit.com