If you see me and I don’t speak
That means I don’t fuck
– Cardi B
If you see me and I don’t speak, it could mean that I don’t fuck with you, but it could also mean that I’m trying to hold my shit together because I’m over stimulated and really just want to disappear…
I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety at the age of 14. In January of my freshman year of high school, I was seeing a therapist regularly. After a handful of sessions, I asked her what my diagnosis was; I needed a word or phrase to describe or explain what was wrong with me. When she told me generalized anxiety disorder, I was kind of disappointed. The “generalized” part seemed so vague, like a catchall. But in fact, I did have anxiety about pretty much everything, big and small. This disorder can show itself in a number of ways, but physical symptoms many include:
- Muscle tension or muscle aches
- Trembling, feeling twitchy
- Being easily startled
- Trouble sleeping (trouble falling asleep and staying asleep)
- Nausea, diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome (various gastrointestinal issues, including nausea, vomiting and irritable bowel syndrome)
Even writing this, I feel anxiety creeping upon me. There is uneasiness that accompanies talking about mental illness. I fear many things, including someone strolling these Internet streets, reading this “coming out” of sorts about my mental illness and holding it against me. Will it prevent me from getting a job? Will someone want to take away my kids, deeming me unfit to parent them? Or maybe, simply, laugh at me.
In September, I went on a girls trip to meet up with a number of friends from all over the country for a special milestone birthday celebration for one of them. I was sick with a nasty sinus infection, so I was worried about the atmospheric pressure affecting my ears as we changed altitudes. I was worried about my mother’s major surgery, just two days before I left. I was worried about leaving my husband and small children. I was worried about everything.
I am often self-isolating in fear of others abandoning me or walking away from me first. Where there is a conflict, I tend to walk away because I don’t know how to quickly and fully process my thoughts and emotions in a way that will make someone see where I’m coming from and how I’m feeling. Or, I don’t know… maybe being a Black woman and knowing that we are consistently seen as irrational and hypersensitive, aggressive and attitudinal, makes me feel like I have one shot to express my feelings and I need to retreat before I blow it.
This is all so fucking exhausting.
Many years ago, I jokingly said, “I’ll start therapy at 35.” I knew that I was carrying a lot of anger, anxiety and though I didn’t believe I was depressed, I had a history of it. I didn’t realize that it is an old, unwanted “friend” who appears again and again in different outfits and sometimes, its hard to recognize depression for what it is.
It wasn’t until a friend was going to to the opening weekend of the Blacksonian (aka the National Museum of African American History and Culture) in DC and I told her to be careful.
“Why? Did you hear something?”, she asked.
When I told her that I had heard nothing, but am always afraid that when we get something nice, its taken and tragically, she spoke up. She asked that I not say things like that because they trigger her own anxiety and mentioned that she was concerned that I was depressed. I got so defensive, immediately, and told her that I wasn’t. I sat with this for weeks. In December, I signed up for an FSA at work and allocated $40 every two weeks to be deducted from my check for therapy copays. I was determined to get on a therapist’s schedule and help myself into wellness. I was going to do the work. I called my husband and let him know I was planning to take the deduction because the $80 per month was going to be substantial to us, but he encouraged me to do it.
I found a Black-owned group of mental health professionals and was so eager to sign up with them. When I called to schedule an appointment, I was told that they had no spaces open in their calendar. I hung up the phone and cried. I felt defeated, this one little blip had me sobbing in my office. I went to psychologytoday.com a few days later and searched for a Black therapist in my city. I found one, located close to my house. I was elated.
I started going to therapy, working through past traumas, depression and anxiety. I used therapy, working through coping mechanisms to ride out the weeks leading up to and following starting two new jobs this year. I’ve finally been able to start trying to heal myself. I’ve worked hard on being able to “call a thing a thing”, identifying my anxiety for being that. I’ve been able to tell people when they make me feel uncomfortable, overwhelmed or unsafe. Going to therapy has helped me learn to communicate better with my husband, to be more patient (and also laying firmer boundaries) with my children. Its made me a better friend. Its made me a better me for me.
This month, I read (okay, listened to it on Audible) The Mother of Black Hollywood by Jenifer Lewis. It’s a great tale of her life on on the stage and in Hollywood. Jenny’s been around, y’all. Listening to Jenifer tell her life story, in her own voice, from a poor little girl in Kinloch, Missouri to who you see today as a 60 year old fabulous diva who don’t want nobody fucking with her in these streets, is a gift. Her account of her battle with undiagnosed bipolar disorder and sex addiction is sobering. Her climb to maintenance of her disorder, going through therapy and gaining control over her life is just inspiring. She gave me hope and affirmation that I’m heading in the right direction.
I’m also going to say that having a Black woman as my therapist has been a large part of my healing. I went in able to not waste part of my hour explaining things to give context. She understands microaggressions. And after having a string of bad experiences with white healthcare providers (including an incident less than two weeks ago) who give their own set of microaggressions, the level of safety I feel with her is unmatched.
With that said, I really want to say that if you’ve been meaning to go to therapy or have been in conflict with people, feeling lonely or erratic, seek help. Its okay. It takes so much to be able to ask for help. The work is not easy, its not a straight path to health but it is one that so many of us need to take. So Brown girls, love yourself. In 2018, make a plan to heal. Be kind to yourself, patient with yourself, be soft with you. We are almost a year into a shitstorm of a presidential administration and we have no idea where we will be a year from now. But if a war is coming, we need our strength and we have to stop and heal in order to regain it.
Here are a few resources that might help you.
- Therapy for Black Girls: LOOK. A whole damn directory, listed by state, full of Black woman therapists OMG.
- Psychology Today: This gives you a pretty extensive listing of therapists across the country. You can search with a number of filters to find a therapist by gender, approach, specialty, etc.
- 7cups: A community of trained therapists, counselors and listeners with low cost monthly subscription and free options.
Sending you wishes of health and healing, my love. Happy New Year.