The waiting room of a doctor’s office means well. It tries to look inviting, doused in calming earth tones and outfitted in quasi-comfortable furniture pieces, but it’s usually just the gateway to some kind of awkward experience. On a visit this past spring, I didn’t have to wait long. Awkward was ambitious and came to find me early.
I was there for my daughter, Skylar, who has struggled with depression and self-injury—her preferred method is cutting—for four or five years. Once one of my most guarded secrets, it’s something we’re downright conversational about now. She vents on social media and I share our story in my writings because when I discovered she needed help, I had a hard time finding it. Self-injury in general wasn’t heavily discussed, so you know self-injury in the Black community was a non-factor. It was just me and Google, going it alone.
After stumbling through appointments with unhelpful therapists, health insurance squabbles and her own resistance to being treated, Skylar was seeing a psychiatrist who thought medication may be useful to control her impulses to cut and improve her motivation and self-sabotaging in school. Neither one of us was thrilled with the idea of pills being a solve-all but, weary from weathering so many trials and errors, I was willing to give it a shot. We just needed to make sure she would have as few physical side effects as possible once she started taking meds.
The office receptionist, a flamboyant, gossip-loving little whiff of a man, paraded over to me with a clip board and leaned down with a question. “Are you here for a routine physical?”
I glanced up and smiled politely. “No, my daughter’s psychiatrist wants to make sure she’s medically cleared to be prescribed anti-depressants. She just needs some blood work and a few tests done.”
He flinched and fluttered his eyes. If he’d been wearing pearls, he literally would’ve clutched them. Instead, he rested his hand daintily on his collarbone. “Oh,” he said haltingly. “Well, do you have any paperwork from her psychiatrist?”
He asked two, maybe three more questions after that and each time he said the word “psychiatrist,” his voice dipped to a raspy whisper. Each time I answered him, I said it back in a clear, even, unapologetic tone. We’re not embarrassed because we don’t have anything to be embarrassed about. The child doesn’t talk to herself at bus stops or bay at the moon like a bloodhound. She’s a regular kid who needs help sorting through thoughts and feelings that have unfortunately—but not altogether abnormally—spilled out in an unhealthy way.
If we keep reacting to psychological self-care like it’s an anomaly, it will continue to be just that. Like my boy at the reception desk, we’re too often taken aback at the mention of anything mental health-related and, in that response, fuel the stigma and project judgment onto people who probably have more in common than we care to admit. Folks are already plenty reluctant to confess their imbalances, insecurities and somethings-not-quite-rights to themselves, even if it’s common knowledge among the relatives, friends and co-workers who have the most regular and closest interactions with them. This life thing gets worrisome and no matter how good at it you are, we all have snags in our mental and emotional fabric from time to time.
About a month ago, I started seeing a therapist myself. There, I said it. I have a therapist. There, I said it again. It took a while for me to be that free with it myself, but there it is.
I knew I needed to go before I really wanted to go. Finding a course of treatment for my daughter’s injurious behavior was my priority and like most mamas, I put my child’s needs in front of my own, particularly since mine seemed far less pressing and much more garden variety. Parenting worries, broken heart and relationship residue, money stresses. Self-esteem fails, rocked confidence, long-lingering physical hang-ups. Spikes in anxiety, work overload, and just as frazzling, not-enough-work underwhelm.
I bulldozed through them all because that’s what women do, right? We confront problems and situations and adversities and sometimes we pray and a lot of times we cry and intermittently, we vent our exasperations to our treasure well of confidantes. We come out on the other side a little rattled but we either aren’t afforded time or don’t allow ourselves time to reflect or even exhale before we’re on the next tour of duty. Resilience and strength are two different things. We push ourselves to be strong, but something that’s strong still has the potential to break.
I didn’t notice it as it was happening, but soldiering through all of those challenges was wearing on me. Every time I powered my way past an issue, something valuable—my free-spiritedness, my trust, my confidence, my faith—was being chipped away from my personhood and, in its place, I was accumulating a cynicism and general tiredness that had me feeling physically weighted. I was sighing these huge, heaving sighs that erupted so frequently and so subconsciously, they got on my own nerves. My mind was chaotic, my train of thought a dandelion spore subject to float and flit off at the least little baby distraction. At least once a day, I had to physically hold my head between my hands to focus on what I was doing. Still have to sometimes, just not quite as often.
A few weeks ago, I met with a fellow freelancer for an early morning chat, just to talk shop and swap stories. During the course of our conversation, I said just as casual as can be, “Girl, I said to my therapist…,” like I was talking about my hairstylist or my pastor or some other completely routine person. Her eyebrow went up ever so slightly but I breezed right past it, hoping I was freeing us both in my off-handedness, me to admit it and her to contemplate it, if she did at all. It’s been helpful not only personally, but professionally too.
Therapy is not making me perfect. No point in going in with highfalutin expectations to come out with my inner Barbie on shine. More realistically, though, it’s catalyzing the wholeness I want for myself. It’s the core of my self-care and self-improvement and self-worth and a whole bunch of other hyphenated self words. It helps me systematically figure out my own damn self, which is often my greatest mystery. I’m slow-walking my healing from wounds that have been seething and others I didn’t even know existed.
And, in the process, I’m hopefully, prayerfully, expectantly becoming a better parent to my beloved Girl Child who has her own special set of emotional and psychological needs. When I told her I had a therapist too, she smiled a bright, broad smile and said “Really? Like me?” Guess it does every soul good to know they aren’t the only one finding their peace.
Freelance writer Janelle Harris is a creative spirit in a transitional moment, excited to see what God gon’ do next. Chat her up on Facebook or Twitter.