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: Blackety Black..lol
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?
I am the 10th of my mom’s 11 kids. I shared a bed with my sister until I went off to college. I went to the same school with the same kids from Kindergarten to 12th grade. I always felt shameful about being one of the overweight kids in school but I found out to make others laugh in high school and that has been way to cope with situations. I can make others laugh with me and not at me. It took me a while for me to find my self-confidence, like junior year in college. I can’t remember people being overtly mean to me, well except junior high but I think I put more pressure on myself than others. I do feel how I viewed myself had a lot to do with my self-esteem.
When and why did you first think about seeking mental health services? What was that process like for you?
I actually majored in Community Counseling and if I knew then what I know now, I would have gotten a counselor when I first began the program. 1. I believe it would have helped me a lot with the inner critic that I fought so hard with when I started actually counseling. Currently, I don’t counsel and I think, feeling as if I wasn’t beneficial to the client strongly persuaded me in finding a job that wasn’t so heavily counseling lead. However, what led me to getting counseling this year, is actually a medical condition. I was found to have a 17 cm cyst (size of a melon) on my left ovary. I got it removed at the beginning of this year and I then contracted the flu. It was the worst feeling I had ever faced. I was physically sick, having terrible cramps, with no appetite and I was isolated. I didn’t feel like my partner was taking care of me as she should have. All I had was the TV and a viewless window. I cried and cried. I was off work for almost 2 weeks. I truly felt like this was how 2018 was going to be. I had great friends who allowed me to cry to them on the phone, which I’ve rarely ever done and they all gently encouraged me to go to counseling. Feb. came and I was feeling better so I let the counseling talk fall to the background. March- April, I had another bout with depression/anxiety and my sweet friend asked if I needed her to make the appt. for me and that made me tear up because my friends knew how much I was hurting and they just wanted to help. I sought a counselor out through my company’s EAP and I have gone to 2 sessions as of now.
What do/did you look for when seeking a therapist? Does gender matter? Race? Why or why not?
When looking for a counselor, I definitely hoped that it would be a woman, African American woman. Gender matters to me, more so because I want a person who I feel identifies with me and with similar experiences. I don’t think that a therapist has to be everything that I am but I do want the therapist to be aware and honor who I am as a person, my whole self. I think I would be open to a woman of an opposite race. I would honestly have to research the person first.
What are some of your therapeutic goals? Have you been able to successfully obtain those, why or why not?
If I remember correctly, my goals are to develop healthy ways to work on my work stress and my overall anxiety levels. Also, to communicate more effectively with my partner. I would have to say it is a work in progress. I have worked hard and see wins in communicating with my partner. I don’t shut down as much and I do my best to not automatically assume that my partner knows why I am upset.
What makes a session successful?
For me, a successful session is a session that has me thinking a different way. I sometimes get so caught up in my own head that I don’t always feel that there is an upside to things. Going to counseling allows me the freedom to go in to depths into thoughts but also come out with real tangible ways to cope.
Have you told anyone that you’re in therapy? Why or why not? If you did tell them what was their reaction?
Lol, Yes, I have! I do a monthly show with my best friend called (redacted). Before then, I mentioned to a supervisor and all of my close friends knew. My close friends have been supportive and they themselves are in the helping field so they know the benefits of having taking care of yourself mentally.
What is your relationship like with yourself? What is the driving force of those thoughts?
Wow, this should be a simple question but I literally have to think about it. I don’t treat myself well. There is honestly nothing that anybody can say about me that I haven’t said about myself and 10 times worse. I just went through a writing event where I promised myself that I would treat her better and love her like I love my best friend. I wish I knew the origins of those thoughts, hopefully that’s something that I could discover in my counseling sessions.
Do you have a support system? What does support look like to you?
I do, they consist of family and friends. I talk to my mom and sisters daily, most times at least 2 times. We talk just about everything. I have very close friends that I talk to everyday. My support system gets me. I don’t feel like I have to pretend to be someone I am not. This wasn’t overnight but my friends and I have been through thick and thin and I feel that they are more family than not. Support to me looks like, being my cheerleader but sometimes being my coach. It means seeing things in myself that I am scared of or can’t bring myself to see in me. Support means coming out of your comfort zone to help your friend. Support means difficult conversations but for the benefit of the friendship.
Who are some of your idols and why do you admire them?
I am not sure if I have idols but I admire anyone who’s willing to live in their truth. I admire anyone who says that what is going on around them is not right and they will tell it to anyone who is willing to listen. I admire the doers. I admire the single parents who make it happen for their children. I admire the young couples who know that fighting doesn’t have to equal divorce. I admire my niece for being fearless. I admire my nephews for learning how to speak up for what they want early. I admire anyone who is willing to put one foot in front of the other.
What does it mean to you to be a strong, black woman? Has this hindered you from seeking treatment?
I honestly don’t know if I have ever really identified as the strong, black woman. I always felt as if my anxiety hindered me and made me feel less than. However, if I had to define it, a strong, black woman has to be strong even when she doesn’t want to, when doesn’t have the strength to. A strong, black woman takes care of things because that’s how she was raised, to never depend on anyone, man or woman.
What are some ways you think we can change the conversation around mental health?
I think that there is a big misconception with social media and being open about certain things. I have heard people, from all age ranges say that people put ‘everything’ on social media and true, some people do and it’s their right to. I share pieces of my life, to let people know that they are not the only way going through tough situations. I hope about sharing about my good times and my difficult times (weight loss, anxiety, same-sex relationships) helps someone else in the process. Overall, shedding light on mental health in any way begins the conversation. If that means we start having wellness fairs or podcasts or live talks, let’s do it. Knowing that we have the power to help just one person in our daily lives is enough for me to help break the stigma. That one person may be the person to break a generational curse or may go on to be a great therapist to help others become whole.