I almost didn’t pick her. She looked mean. Curly ‘locs draped past her shoulders shaping her round mocha face perfectly. Her eyes were stern, uninviting. I bypassed her to call a seemingly happy-go-lucky professional instead.
But something kept gnawing at me. Don’t give up on your determination to find a progressive black female therapist. Call her. Her voice was nothing like the small photo I’d saw while searching, with great fervor, a popular online database for NYC therapists. Her tone was almost demure. Welcoming, kind, knowledgeable, happy to answer my queries. I knew she was the one.
No one thing led me to make that cold-call on a bright spring day. It was a culmination of events, habits, triggers and feelings. It was time.
By the time many of us have hit twenty we’re royally screwed up from childhood traumas, loss, abandonment, dysfunctional relationships and all of the other storms life throws our way with no roadmap on how to survive wholly. Here I was in the last year of my 20s on a quest for better—better being happiness. Real happiness. The kind that wasn’t fleeting based on circumstances, rather a joy I could feel deep in my soul.
Zora said, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” The four years I’d lived in NYC had been the former.
For over 15 years, on and off, I’d felt the same way. Me against the world, like Pac said. How did he know my life? Everybody was out to get me. And I believed none of it was my fault because…hard life.
My mom was emotionally abusive, physically too, although she’d never admit either. Her negativity and detachment from emotions weren’t easy to deal with as a child. The darkness of certain adolescent memories has forged an unmovable barrier halting the mother daughter relationship I’d yearned for for so long.
My dad was finding himself and dealing with his own battles many states away. (He has an awesome story, but it is not mine to tell). Summers with him in Baltimore were always glorious, but weren’t enough. Three months a year weren’t enough for me to feel completely loved. I’d resented him for not saving me.
As an escape from the chaos in my home from not only my mom’s bitterness, but from the dysfunctional relationship she had for nearly a decade, I found an escape in reading, dancing, acting and writing.
Fortunately my mother had the smarts to put me in every extracurricular activity you can name— everything from Taekwondo to ballet to Girl Scouts— and by high school she encouraged me to audition for Nashville School of the Arts for both dance and theater. I was accepted for both.
Achievement was how I coped with constant pains of feeling like both my parents had failed me in some ways.
Lack of attention in the home is a hell of a drug. Ma’s career was always first. The older I get the more I realize it wasn’t at all self-serving. In her mind, the more educated she became, the higher the career ladder she climbed, the better the life she could provide for me, a child she had at 25 (college degree in tow) and was raising on her own. And I am forever grateful for her commitment to education, sense of pride in being black, making sure I knew I could be anything I wanted and allowing me to see the image of a prideful black woman who was dedicated to her career.
But kids need attention. I’d been a latchkey kid since the age of seven. Because my mom’s career was demanding and she was doing it all alone, I spent more time home alone, at after-school activities and the houses of the community she built— the village who helped raise me.
By high school all of those pent up feelings turned into a plethora of problems: low self-esteem, lack of self worth, loneliness, rebellion, unhappiness, no respect for authority and negative self-talk.
By college bad habits had become as natural as breathing. I’d tried to commit suicide when I was a freshman in college. I’d ended up in a domestic abusive relationship and had no clue what a healthy one even looked like. I’d done things that I’m not ready to share with the Internet that caused many, many problems and hurdles in my life for years to come.
By the time I hit my late 20s I realized I was still doing shit I’d done in relationships when I was 17. I had habits that weren’t so easy to shake just from reading a handful of self-help books. One day a self-proclaimed prophetess tweeted something to the effect of “God has to tire you out from your own mess.” And tired I was.
After attempting suicide the week before Halloween my freshman year of college I spent about 10 days away from school in a state psychiatric ward. I was told minors (I was 17) who attempted suicide had to be sent to the facility for examination. I’d resented my mother for sending me. Only now can I imagine how difficult it must’ve been to send her only child to sleep, eat and shit behind the saddest grey walls I’d ever seen in my life where I was relegated to one visit and timed phone calls.
Shortly after being released I’d tried my first therapist. After a couple sessions the therapist had decided my mom was a trigger for me and I needed to remove her from my life. Ummm. No thanks, lady. I never returned because in all honesty I wasn’t at all receptive to the idea.
Twelve years later I found a black female therapist in NYC. The one session we had was ok for the time being although not a match made in therapy/client heaven. I’d called her before our next session to reschedule (and yes, it was last minute so that’s my fault) and she talked to me as if I was a child. I knew then I’d never return.
I was still relentless in my search. Between the last therapist and my current therapist I’d read Be the Miracle by Regina Brett. I’d also picked up Learned Optimism but got distracted with life. I knew books were great start or could be a supplement to therapy, but I needed to see a professional.
Therapy has been freeing. Ain’t no honor in suffering in silence.
It’s reinforced a lot of what I already knew—I’m way too hard on myself, I can let go of the tactics I used as survival when I was a child, fear has crippled me, I must forgive my parents, self-love is key, I have the power to change, I need to live in the present— just to name a few.
It’s been a space to completely be me. Flawed and vulnerable. Honest about how I really feel without judgment. Mostly I adore my therapist and sessions because it’s practical. Every week I have homework that is relevant to actually making changes. My therapist isn’t a longterm therapist, meaning she doesn’t have any clients longer than a year. So she is serious about being action-oriented and change driven. I’m also relieved to know I’m not “crazy” (yup, I asked my therapist if I was “crazy” or bipolar to which she thought was funny I asked and quickly determined I wasn’t). Nothing is wrong with me that a shift in thinking, habits, positive self-help and letting go can’t heal.
Although I have much work to do and years of trauma to work through, I’m grateful I found a trained professional to assist me with the process. And what a process it is.
“How you gon’ win when you ain’t right within?”
Lauryn knows. And the fact that she assumingly wasn’t ‘right within’ when she rapped those prolific words is a reminder we all have stuff and we’re all trying to do the best we can with what we’ve been given.
*Finding a black female, progressive, feminist leaning therapist was crucial for me. There are nuances and pain specific to black women that I didn’t want to have to explain. When I was unemployed without insurance I talked to a former friend about needing therapy and she suggested resources for the uninsured, but there were no black therapists. She implied I shouldn’t be picky considering I didn’t have health insurance. Nonsense. Would you just choose any ol’ OBGYN just because you don’t have insurance? I’m glad I waited. Finding a therapist that is the right match is critical to the actual growth and healing you hope to do.
**Currently I’m reading You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay. I haven’t finished it, but highly recommend it. There are literally thousands of testimonials on how this one book single-handedly changed lives.
*** Here’s a book list of 30 self-help books that my awesome boyfriend sent me. The authors are overwhelmingly white though. Take from it what you want, leave the rest.