“How do you see yourself? “
The first words that came to mind were the words I always use to describe myself: 6’0’’ without the heels; an enigma wrapped in a mystery; big hair, big boobs, big personality… the words that get a laugh when I’m conversing with strangers.
But his unwavering eye contact told me that my sarcasm wasn’t going to cut it today. I had to go deeper, to that place beyond my defense mechanisms and my projection. I had to reach down into the murky waters of my past and uncover the hurts, rejections and insecurities that were strangling my future. I had to keep it real.
A few months ago, I started experiencing what I call the 3:30 wake-up call. No matter how hard I exercised the night before or how many pages I wrote in my journal, my eyes would fly open and thoughts of rage, embarrassment and pessimism would flood my mind:
Rage: What did I do to deserve this?!?!?
Embarrassment: I know everyone is talking about me right now.
Pessimism: I’m just not good enough and this is never going to get any better.
The Trauma DJ would take me on a vivid journey through all of my failures in the past three years, interspersing those memories with comparisons to others and reminders of every single one of my insecurities. My body would be covered in sweat and tears would sting my eyes as I sat up on the side of the bed, crying out to God in the way that you can only cry out to God in the early morning hours. And still, I struggled.
One day, I was sitting in my office (downing another cup of strong coffee) when I felt the urge to find a psychiatrist. I nixed the idea initially, telling myself that therapy should be reserved for people who are really in crisis mode: grieving, suicidal ideation, stuff like that.
And then I saw my reflection in my cell phone. The bags under my eyes and the smile that didn’t quite go all the way up were a dead giveaway: for me, this was a crisis. I started making phone calls immediately.
Therapy has almost always gotten a bad rap, especially in the African-American community. We are guilty of saying we don’t need help or REAL Christians don’t get depressed. However, I think the biggest issue is simply fear of the unknown. People don’t know exactly what to expect when they meet with a mental health professional.
Let me remove the stigma for you.
1. It’s always a brown leather couch.
I have visited psychiatrists and psychologists several times in my life, usually in the aftermath of great personal tragedy. They have been in different parts of the city; all races and both genders. But one thing remains the same: they all have a brown leather couch. I’m pretty sure they receive their couches when they graduate, sort of like when nurses receive their caps.
There are usually other places to sit, but why break tradition? The couch is usually the most comfortable anyway.
2. It’s not expensive.
My payment is the same price I pay for a regular doctor’s visit. Most mental health professionals will either accept your insurance (thankfully, mine does), or have a sliding scale based on your financial situation. Most offices will work with you on the payment—if they won’t, thank them for their time and keep calling other offices until you find someone who will.
I suppose some would argue that $60/month is too expensive. But you know what’s more expensive than that? Living a half-assed life full of fear.
3. It’s (sort of) like talking to a friend.
I know that sounds really cliché, but that is the best way for me to describe what a typical session feels like.
When I walk in, he asks me about my week—what was good, what was bad, etc. We discuss the things we talked about in the last session and whether or not they are still pressing matters. If they are, we revisit them and explore what can be done to change my thought process. If not, we celebrate the victory and move on to something else. We also talk about everything from The Bachelor to the NCAA tournament….and he laughs at my jokes. That might just be because I pay him, but whatever.
He listens. I’m not afraid that what I tell him will (accidentally or intentionally) slip out in future conversations with others; I don’t have to worry that my issue is somehow overshadowing something that he is dealing with in his life. I know that for one hour, this is about me. Sometimes, that’s difficult because…
3a. He does not give me advice.
My favorite question to ask my best friends is: “if you were me, what would you do?” I can’t ask that of my psychologist. Well, I suppose I could, but he won’t answer. Instead, he will ask me how I choose to respond. I’m forced to say out loud the words I’ve been so afraid of saying for years, because I thought people would judge me.
I love it.
4. You will probably cry.
That’s why there’s a box of tissues on the leather couch.
See? There’s another reason why you should sit there!
5. You’ll feel better.
Make no mistake about it: this isn’t Punky Brewster. Life is just so daily and there will always be things that make you angry/sad/stressed. But therapy has taught me how to better cope with all of my emotions, both good and bad.
--I can be upset that someone cut me off on I-35, but that doesn’t mean today is going to be the WORST DAY EVER.
--I can be sad that a relationship didn’t work out without assuming it was solely based on my attraction/weight/personality.
--I can say no and mean it. (Chile….this right here was worth every penny I have spent thus far!)
--Fear looks way bigger on the horizon than it actually is.
--My life isn’t over. In so many ways, it’s just beginning.
By the way, if you call me at 3:30 tomorrow morning, I won’t be answering.
I’ll be sleeping like a baby.