“After evaluating all of your tests, I have diagnosed you with ADHD, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Persistent Depressive Disorder…”was what the Psychologist said to me in January 2017. Although she kept talking, I could no longer hear what she was saying. Everything was silenced and as I watched her mouth move, I kept thinking about what these new labels meant for me. While it was a relief to know that there was a concrete,underlying issue, another part of me was overwhelmed by what all of this new information meant now.
Dr. Blake must have noticed that I was zoned out and she asked me if I wanted her to explain what this means. While going deeper into my diagnosis with great detail, I became at ease because it explained many of the difficulties I had been experiencing. The overarching feeling, however, was one of defeat. You see, I prided myself on being the strong woman. I was the one that everybody came to and I was the one that had it all together, but listening to what was happening under the surface made me feel weak. Not just regular weak but a weak that needed more help than I realized. I was not used to being this vulnerable. I taught myself at a young age how to survive and make it look easy, but now that false identity was crumbling in front of my eyes.
Who was I now? Does this mean I am not strong?
A few months prior to this diagnosis, I went to get a Psychoeducational evaluation for the first time. This is a test to identify any learning barriers concerning focus, attention or aptitude. While most of my life I never felt smart, I did, however, know exactly what to do in order to get good grades. I learned how to play the game. I barely slid out of college due to the increased level of difficulty, but I was able to keep HOPE alive both literally and figuratively. Now, in Grad school, I was at a level that required more than I felt like I could give. My mentor suggested I get evaluated and I finally listened. I had to undergo a few tests to see if there was a deeper issue behind my academic difficulties. The results from that test only revealed a 3rd of this story, uncovering only Anxiety. This was not too hard to hear, and I began therapy shortly after finding this out.
Therapy opened my mind and heart to so much of myself that I left hidden. I opened up the Pandora’s Box on my inner feelings and it helped reveal some things about me:
- Career:I realized I was putting pressure on myself in all areas of my life, but mostly my career and this mindset to be at a certain place by a certain time was hurting me more than helping me. I thought that I was called to be in the medical field, yet I kept seeing and feeling doors close in my face. Trying to figure out why this was happening drove me crazy.
- Relationships:I realized I was a people pleaser, always wanting to appease everyone else’s feelings but what about mine? I’d experienced several seasons of depression and knew that I needed to start truly taking care of myself. Before therapy, I had a few close friends that I felt that I could go to, but I can count only a few moments when I was completely vulnerable with them. There was so much of myself that remained in a hidden place because I felt it was necessary to protect myself. I allowed people to place their pain and strongholds on me, but these individuals never asked me if I was okay. There were many times when someone I love would call me, unloading about the things they went through. By the time they were finished, I was so exhausted that I would not even have the energy to share the details of my bad day. I did not know what to name this at the time,but I realized that I am an empath. I naturally feel everything and take on things that have nothing to do with me. Of course many of the people that came to me did not know this or were just as unaware as I was so this created a habit of unloading on to me.
- Mental Health: There were seasons I became so overwhelmed that I could literally feel the heaviness in my heart. I was also extremely hurt about some things in my life like sudden death of family members, heartbreak, and failure that I never let anyone in about. I came to terms that I’ve just been coasting through life not processing the trauma I went through.Depression was knocking on my door and if I didn’t seek help, there’s no telling where the enemy could’ve taken my mind. Therapy helped me briefly share these things and it actually felt good to release as well as have my feelings validated. The words, “you have every right to feel the way that you do,” was seemingly all I needed to hear.
As loving people, we try our best to give advice to our loved ones but the simple fact in the matter is we are not trained to give advice. We attempt to help and guide without ever asking the person, “Do they need advice or just need to vent?” Sometimes we do not know what we need but we know we need to be heard. I was tired of sharing with loved ones what I was going through because they didn’t seem to understand my pain, and I was honestly fed up with feeling the way that I did. It is so dangerous to suffer in silence and never let on to what you may be feeling. I knew that people had an expectation of me to be to positive because when I shared that I was in therapy, I got a lot of shock and surprise from those who love me. Either they did not understand what I was feeling or they could not imagine that the same girl that was smiling in their face and full of life 24/7 needed something as deep as therapy.
But when did therapy become such a taboo topic?
To be black in America comes with so many stigmas and mindsets that are often hard to break. I knew that going to therapy was different from where my community usually went for help and assistance. Our community does not trust the medical field because it has failed us time and time again in the past. Therapy is said to be only a thing white or crazy people do. It is not often looked at as a form of self –care. There is also a religious crutch we use when it comes to getting through our problems and while I understand the importance of leaning on God, I often question if the lean is the only thing we rely on. In the black community, there’s a stigma with mental health and we always tell people to “Just Pray!” “Read your word!” “Just Trust God!”
Go with me for a second.
How do you tell someone that when they’ve done all these things and still seem to be failing in various areas of life? How do you tell someone that when they’ve done everything by the book and things just don’t seem to be working out? How do you tell someone these things when life literally has rocked them so hard they’re just trying to catch their breath? How do you tell someone that when they’re seemingly mad at God for allowing things to happen in their life? How can you tell somebody in the middle of depression to just pray it away? How can you tell someone that is on the verge of committing suicide to just trust God and let go of everything they feel the right to feel? How can you tell somebody that has suffered so much loss and trauma to just give it all to God?
This is an inherent problem both in the black community and the community of faith. Due to both of these belief systems, so many people are suffering in silence with seemingly no way out. There are so many people that are relying on religion to get them through yet they lack emotional intelligence. Lacking emotional intelligence looks like getting upset that you are reacting in a normal way to something. I remember when I was in therapy and I told my therapist about a tough season I had in my life.
I mentioned how it was one of my lowest moments and when I got done telling her everything that transpired, she reminded me that anybody in that situation would have reacted the way I did. Something clicked when she said that, had I been getting upset for reacting to my life’s trials in a normal way? Did religion teach me that it was not okay to feel normal emotions?See that is the moment that I had to realize there was some things I had to unlearn if my life was going to ever change. Believe it or not, therapy made me closer to God. It caused me to release many of the false narratives religion taught me and to actually work towards a better relationship with him. I truly believe that God provides the resources outside of the four walls of the church to grow and I know for a fact that He was not upset with me for needing to talk a person unbiased about the challenges I was facing. Loved ones are great but they are biased to you and love you so it is important to get a therapist, to provide an unbiased and non-subjective opinion in your life. Therapy is a ministry, too.
I have had two therapists in my life and both have imparted different things in my life that I needed in each season I have gone to therapy. When I was in St. Louis, I went through a University Psychological Services because it was the cheaper option and there I had therapy twice a week when I first started to help with the anxiety and then bi weekly until I was. What started off as getting help with test anxiety, turned into a life transformational change that I didn’t know I needed. My therapist was Caucasian and she opened my eyes to so much about myself, but there were moments I would be doing my usual cover up of feelings that she would not catch. She noticed my progression in some areas and thought that it was time to stop therapy. I was not hurt about it but I did feel like I still needed some time. I used all the tools I learned there and began applying them to my life.
In March 2017, my life begin spiraling out of control and I had just left therapy so I thought I was okay to deal on my own. It was not until I moved back home to Georgia that summer did I realized in my stillness that there was some healing that I needed in my life. I contemplated going back to therapy but said if I go back this time that I wanted somebody that looked and understood my plight, an African American woman. I went through my insurance and was able to find one after going through two intake processes. Upon meeting her, my spirit was calm as I prayed before I walked into my first session with her. She mentioned that she was a Christian based therapist which excited me even more. She has affirmed me, let me cry, called me out when I was trying to cover up, and have caused me to take a deeper look at my life. As I reflect on this past year of healing and self-care, I realize just how much harder it would have been had I not had a therapist to talk to.
Therapy has changed my life and opened my eyes to so many more possibilities in my life. It has helped me release the pressure. It has allowed me to have hard conversations with loved ones. It has taught me to say No. It has taught me healing in the both beautiful sense. It has taught me that wholeness is possible for my life. It has taught me to stop pleasing others and to start caring more for my heart. It has pushed me to build a better relationship with myself and God. It has allowed me to grow in ways that would’ve taken me years to get to. It has allowed me to retrace sabotaging patterns and traits.It has forced me to truly ask myself what I want out of life and love. It has shown me myself in a better light and increased my self-confidence. It has never judged me and always had a solution even if it was something I knew the entire time. It gives me the opportunity to talk to someone about what weighs on my heart and mind. I know better and I do better because I know better. I am a better woman and person because of it. Many of the same friends and family that were confused that I was in therapy are now getting the same help and guidance; their lives have changed tremendously because of the decision.
If you truly want your life to change for the better, start the process by finding a therapist so that you can too feel the peace and assurance that I feel.
Below are resources to get connected to a therapist:
- Therapy for black girls (This is a resource that puts many African American female therapists in your area into one database to see which one works for both your financial situation and what you may need in this season of your life. They also have an amazing blog and podcast that may be helpful to you as well)
- Insurance (calling your provider and going through behavior health will allow you to find one. Some jobs and school programs provide a certain amount of free sessions each year so ask if that is something that is available through your insurance)
- University Psychological Services (Go to a local university website and contact their counseling and psychological services. They work with you based on income.)
I pray this post encourages someone to seek therapy. You do not have to suffer in silence because there are resources available for you to get through anything you may be facing. I personally needed God, therapy, and the want to change before I saw any differences in my life. No matter what you need, it’s available and out there. Your life is worth living and you deserve to live freely.