My work in advocating for a space for mental health will never end. This series is so dear to my heart, because they are real stories from real women who walk among you. They could be your sister, wife, mother..their voices matter. Even if they are sometimes silenced by other forums. Here at HER..their voices are sacred. Each woman was asked the same series of questions to give this piece some continuity. I asked that they remain anonymous so they could answer truthfully.
The details maybe triggering for some to read, so read with caution, but also read with open minds and eyes.
Gender Identity: Female
Racial Identity: Black
Explain a bit of your background your family dynamics and school environments (elementary, jr. high and high school) and any religious experience you may have had. How did these experiences shape your view of self?
My family was a typical family with a slight twist. We were extremely dysfunctional. As far as anyone knew we were the perfect family.At church smiling just great. Inside we went home to yelling, screaming and threats of our parents separating almost everyday. My parents also used me as an emotional crutch. I knew intimate details of their marriage at a young age and honestly I always felt responsible for their happiness and keeping us altogether.
In school, I was always the good girl. Smart and athletic. But boys never noticed me until junior high. In junior high,I read as much as I could on flirting..i felt powerful getting guys to notice me. But I never went too far because I am a” good girl”. That image was something that I really held on to and honestly that was for my father. He was a stern, hard man and I felt like if I played by his rules then I would receive and keep his love and if I didn’t..I honestly didn’t want to find out what that was like.
I used flirting to distract from my chaotic home life and to get some control back. This shaped all my interactions with men..i didn’t want to get too close because intimacy meant vulnerability and I was not about to be like my parents. As I grew older my friends were amazed at my ability to disconnect from pretty much any and every one. When I did finally have sex with someone, who I claimed to love, I realized that it was a power move. My parents relationship was spiraling out of control and I used that situation to take back control. I felt like I had lived my entire life trying to make them happy and be the perfect daughter, but they were so far from perfect. I felt like the pressure to be perfect was suffocating. Our family was falling a part, yet no one knew. I didn’t have anyone to talk to and the pressure, I just didn’t want that on me. So sex became my release. When I look back at my encounters I know now that my reckless behavior came from the fact that I just didn’t care about me any more. I was so used to living for others and their standards that I didn’t have a clue of what I truly wanted or believed. It’s amazing that I wasn’t raped or ended up with an STI. I put myself in some not so safe situations, because the power high I felt was incredible. I was a user of people and I hate to admit it. I summed it up to being young and “men do this all the time”. I wasn’t even sure how to connect to people any more. Counseling would have stopped all the negative behavior, because if I am honest I was severely depressed during this time. The fallacy was that because I didn’t think of “death” or dying that I wasn’t depressed. The fact that my behavior put me at risk and the highs and lows I kept experiencing…that should have been a trigger, But I was young and felt like because I wasn’t using a substance I was going to be ok.
When and why did you first think about seeking mental health services? What was that process like for you?
I ended up coming into myself after about a year of wilding out. I felt a longing to reconnect with God and who I was. I thought that my entire being was focused only on my parents and didn’t realize that before the familial crumble I did have my own relationship with God. I saw His hand in keeping me when honestly I didn’t want to be kept. I didn’t go to a counselor per se but I reached out to church members and really prayed and journaled. On my journey to healing I met a man and fell in love. I was excited and terrified, because I didn’t want to repeat what my parents had. I wanted to do premarital counseling but my partner wouldn’t go with me. I knew that my parents marriage was not what I wanted and I felt like counseling could help. Since my partner nixed it I went with his wishes. I regret that now because I was so broken when I entered my marriage and even if we didn’t go as a couple, I should have gone. We did eventually end up going to marriage counseling which was extremely helpful and probably could have saved us so many arguments. The process was actually fairly easy the only issue is once you figure out you really want help many places have a waiting list. The waiting can be hard especially when you know there’s an issue and you don’t have the tools to fix it.
What do/did you look for when seeking a therapist? Does gender matter? Race? Why or why not?
I usually look for someone 30 plus and black. Black families face some unique challenges that the main population doesn’t. I honestly wanted a male therapist for our marriage counselor ( i felt maybe my husband would be more open to another male).
What are some of your therapeutic goals? Have you been able to successfully obtain those, why or why not?
My first therapeutic goal focused in on communication. What I thought I was communicating and what my partner heard were two totally different things. I was always told that I am not responsible for how someone else feels, but there was some fallacy in that way of thinking. If I am saying negative things to my partner, it is only natural for people to respond to what we say. I am not currently in counseling, but I think I may go back to sort out my next professional step.
What makes a session successful?
Success for me means seeing my partner as my helper and not my enemy. So many time I would look at my partner and not realize that he did truly love me. His words werent critical but due to my upbringing, I took his comments as a total jab at me as a person.
Have you told anyone that you’re in therapy? Why or why not? If you did tell them what was their reaction?
Um. Yes. I at first only told a few close friends. I thought people might think that something was “wrong” with me or my marriage. Truth be told, we all have areas we can improve on, actively working towards wholeness should not be something ashamed of.
What is your relationship like with yourself? What is the driving force of those thoughts?
My relationship has grown over time. I used to be so critical of myself, my looks, my intellect. I always compared myself to other women and always came up short. I started being kind to myself when I turned 30. It’s a hard life to not like who you are and being so mean to yourself for 3 decades. I now regret the time I spent not being kind to myself because..damn it I am amazing!
Do you have a support system? What does support look like to you?
I built what a tribe.
I have what I’d like to call a tribe of women I look up to. My mother is the head of that tribe. She’s always worked so hard for my entire life and I see her differently now that I am a wife and mother. I was a bit critical of her when I was younger and now I see her through the lens of grace, because I know that she always does and did her best.
My tribe is really heavily feminine, but my husband is a huge support as well. I have really grown as a woman since being married. I actually let someone in, which when I was growing up was not always encouraged.
Who are some of your idols and why do you admire them?
Honestly, I am constantly inspired by so many people. I admire anyone who has stepped outside of themselves and chased down a dream even if they were scared to do it.
What does it mean to you to be a strong, black woman? Has this hindered you from seeking treatment?
I was raised to not show emotion. Emotions would be used against me and someone would assume I was weak. Absolutely, as a strong black woman emotions never overtake me. I can conquer all…I can do all. Or at least so I thought until I had a panic attack. The anxiety and pressure of being perfect was literally killing me. Strength now is me fully standing in all of who I am, ok standing in not being ok and that has been so healing. I also know and value what I bring to the table and not letting anyone disrespect my peace or my space.
What are some ways you think we can change the conversation around mental health?
This is helpful. Writing, sharing this is therapeutic for me and I hope that this encourages others to have open dialogue about this issue. The saying “hurting people hurt people” is true, but I believe healed people can heal people as well. You have to acknowledge brokenness in order
Being real. Stop saying “I’m fine” when youre really not. Of course don’t be reckless with who you share your intimate thoughts with, but don’t lie to those who truly can and want to help. I spent so much time lying about how I felt that once i really needed help I didn’t know where to start. Start..today. this very minute.
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