I have not been shy talking about my experience with therapy and the wonders it has done for my mental health. Heck! I have even spoken to my mother about it. My mother, who is from the era of Caribbean parents who don’t really understand what mental wellness looks like or how to attempt to preserve it.
In a LinkedIn post I made a little while ago, I declared that if the only thing that remains from my life’s work is expanding ideas of wellness and normalizing conversations around mental health then I would have fulfilled my purpose in this life. From the very first time I heard the phrase “a healthy mind in a healthy body” it stood out to me and I never forgot it. It used to be an abstract phrase I would repeat to myself with no specific meaning – just one of those slogans that get stuck in your head. But as I got older, as I realized that everyday we make choices that we sometimes can’t see, and got to understand that we choose how we react to the stimuli we are exposed to – it was no longer a phrase without rhyme, reason or meaning…it was a mantra.
Discovering who you are in a world that wants you to be so many things to so many people, is an act of rebellion. We are all on this journey – seeking ourselves, putting together the pieces of the puzzle, but mental wellness is the glue. Our picture is only complete if the pieces are held together – otherwise it crumbles, and we crumble. So, our mental wellness is not only paramount, but critically important (yes I am aware that these basically mean the same thing, but EMPHASIS lol) to our discovery of self.
On this path of discovery and on this mental health journey I have found out things about myself that I would have preferred left unknown – but that’s the thing about this journey. It brings you clarity – the good, the bad, and the ugly. You don’t get to choose which parts of yourself you want discover and which you want to stay buried. In this process of becoming, in this process of healing from our trauma, we may go through some rocky roads before we head into paradise. But this is the gift of the process. Every memory, every bad thought, every traumatic event, every unlikable trait holds the key to the self we really want to become. The idea is that we learn why these less desirable parts of our being exist and what purpose they served.
Then the real work begins: figuring out whether we simply change our reaction to whatever stimuli causes us to respond in these ways or whether we do away with the activity in its entirety. For example: I used to slap people when I heard a really funny joke (this was a long time ago – during my high school years). It was a completely unconscious habit, I only became aware of it when I realized a few of my friends started wincing or flinching every time I raised my hand or gestured in group discussions. When I asked why, and whether they were afraid of me – they told me about my involuntary slapping, that started out casually but were now starting to hurt. Needless to say, I felt terrible. I didn’t even realize this was happening and my friends were on edge every time they spoke to me , because they never know when I would strike – literally. I made a conscious effort to change and I have not slapped anyone since (I think).
In the same way that I was slapping people without even realizing it, there may be some actions that you don’t even know about yet. Some subconscious ways of handling the cards you’ve been dealt. If there’s one thing about our body, it’s gonna protect us – so a lot of the behaviours that we may subsequently aspire to change are in response to traumatic events (and any event that looks and feels like the event that triggered that behaviour). So, we must never think our actions are “bad” per se (unless you know, you’re a criminal or doing something illegal). Our actions are functions of precedent – what we have always done in similar situations. The even better thing here is that we are able to change these behaviours. We can change how we react to stimuli by identifying our triggers and carefully outlining how we would prefer to respond.
This is a big task, a long journey and we may enlist the help of a therapist or healer or some other neutral third party who we ask to help us on this path to self-discovery. I find it helpful to speak with a therapist because I feel like there’s no judgement, we have no previous relationship and I don’t have to worry that they will be either praising or berating me for choosing to identify triggers and modify my responses. Building trust with a therapist is not easy though. I can’t say how many sessions it takes but when you know you know!
There are also different types of therapists. It may take some time for you to find your “perfect match” so to speak and if you have to say no to a few on the way – do not feel guilty about it. Let me tell you why I had to fire my therapist…
Now, from my very first introduction to therapy I have only had women therapists. I’ve found a certain comfort level with speaking to a woman. I feel like I can cry and express how I truly feel, because even if they aren’t Black they can understand some of my experiences traversing this patriarchal world as a woman. I don’t know, I just feel more comfortable talking to a woman …period.
Now, for this particular period I am about to talk about I had not seen a therapist in probably over a year – which was completely out of character for me. I thought I was holding it together though and in effect it was a mirage. I was miserable for weeks, but kept “forgetting” to call a therapist or make an appointment online. I figured since I had gone for more than a year without professional help – I got this. Sum total of the things I did not “got” = this ! 🙊LOL.
I was not ok.
One night I jumped out of bed and just burst into tears. I went into another room because I didn’t want to wake up my husband (and also didn’t want him to know the gravity of the situation) and I BAWLED. I can’t recall how long I was crying, or even why really, but at that point I knew I needed help. Professional help. So I started looking at my health plan (at 12:30 AM) and realized they had a centralized counselling service. I also realized that they had a 24/7 online chat, and I pretty much sent an SOS via online chat and was paired with a therapist.
I didn’t care who it was, I just needed someone. Upon meeting my new therapist (via Zoom) I was not convinced this would be a long relationship, but who am I to be picky when I very desperately needed to talk to a third party? I had never had a therapist who was a man, and I knew that would be a huge struggle. But our initial meeting was fine. He asked some opening questions, I outlined some things I wanted to work on and we hung up after he gave me some homework.
As I graduated from my state of desperation (which didn’t take very long, about 2 meetings) I started to realize that for my healing to continue I needed to speak with a woman, specifically a woman of colour. At our third meeting, I let him know I was grateful for his assistance at a time when I truly needed it, but I feel unable to fully express myself and would like to end our sessions. It took a lot for me to say this, instead of just “ghosting” him, because that’s really want I wanted to do – avoid conflict because I don’t want to be the bad guy. But, I decided to confront that fear and chose not to respond how I always responded but instead to be firm about what would be best for me.
To experience the level of growth I want to achieve, and to continue adding to my progress I needed to be paired with a therapist that could foster that. Maybe this non-Black, male therapist could have helped me along this path, but I did not feel comfortable in the situation. I felt muzzled, and the last thing you want to feel in a therapy setting is muzzled. Instinctively, I also felt like I needed to “tone down” my problems because I can’t really make this man know what I am going through. I can hardly explain it, but there’s this “thing” that some women (including me) develop when you work in a male-dominated field. You don’t ever want to be the “damsel in distress”, and you don’t want to ask too many questions because then you’ll end up falling into that typical “what they expect from a woman in the office” role. That’s exactly the dynamic I felt with this male therapist.
Growth is hard, but therapy shouldn’t feel like this. So, I decided not to try to make this work. I decided to achieve the healing I want on my own terms. You don’t deserve second-best boo. Don’t settle.
As we continue to heal, as we continue to grow and discover new parts of ourselves, it is okay for us to outgrow the healers and teachers who took us to a certain level. It is okay to level up and to leave behind the practices, behaviours and even the people that no longer serve us.
There is no roadmap for healing, but you get to determine how you want your journey to look, what you want to feel like as you go through different phases and the company you think you need to attain a higher level of clarity. Don’t sell yourself short. If it means firing a therapist to find one that’s better for you, if it means talking to a friend about how your relationship can improve, if it means talking to your partner about mental wellness, if it means creating boundaries, if it means breaking off that friendship or relationship…
Growth, wellness and this journey of becoming is not particularly easy, but it’s so worth it. At the core of every person who has ever done anything great, is passion and perseverance. There are a few sayings like: “nothing that is worth it is every easy”, “if it’s easy it’s not worth it”, “it will be worth it in the end” that may cover why embarking on this difficult process is a good idea, but ultimately it’s about loving yourself passionately enough to want to embark on this journey of becoming more yourself.