I know that everyone is eagerly awaiting the topic that I will explore this month. Well, good news, I have finally decided what it is! But you are going to have to wait one more day before it is revealed. I know, I know, you are heartbroken. 🙂 But as I began writing today, another topic came out of my writing brain that I would like to share.
I have frequently shared a lot about my therapist and my counseling work. This is for two reasons. First, I was lucky enough (in my opinion) to have found one of the best counselors in the business, and I believe that people can benefit from many of the stories of how she has helped me. The second reason that I am so open about seeing a therapist is to strip the shame that is associated with seeing a mental health professional. There is a common stigma of weakness, especially within ethnic communities, and particularly for African-American women about mental illness, and about seeking help for mental illness. I was thrilled to recently see a series of commercials on Black television that addressed this stigma. The commercials used several well known black women for these commercials who said, in no uncertain terms that it is “okay” to seek help if you are suffering from depression. These are the types of campaigns that are needed within ethnic communities to squash the stigmas that surround mental illness.
My mind tracks back to an NBA championship game several years ago where at the end of the game, one of the best players, who happened to be African-American, in addition to thanking his family and friends, also thanked his psychiatrist. I saw so many jokes and so many people puzzled as to why he would do this.
I know exactly why he thanked his shrink. If I ever win an award, my shrink will be on the “thank you” list right with my mom and everyone else.
One of the things that I am learning is that there is no shame in asking for and accepting help when I need it for any problem…especially for mental health. The World Health Organization (WHO) has defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” To me, this means that in order to be healthy, your mind and body must have balance. If you’re in great shape physically, but you still got “issues” you’re still basically unhealthy.
The problem I have found is denial. In my opinion, the shame is really in being in denial about actually needing help. Unfortunately, there are many people running around in denial about their issues. Those are the same people that are quick to call people like me “crazy” for confronting and working through my issues. But I always say,
I’m working through my issues and not running from them. Who is the crazy one?
Another challenge is that we are afraid of what we will find if we start confronting things…especially things from the past. This Spring I am celebrating 3 years in therapy and 1 year in 12 step recovery. I have found in this time, that the only way to truly put the past behind me is to confront it. My therapy work coupled with my 12-step recovery (another source of shame) has taken me places that I have been running from for years…my therapy has taken me places that I forgot existed. Places that needed love and healing…places that needed admittance…places that needed forgiveness.
I will not say it has been easy. It’s not. This self-work really sucks at times. If I’m honest, it really sucks right now…today. But I know my True Self today more than I ever have before. And that’s a good thing…something I embrace when things get tough.
The work that I am doing with my current therapist began when I needed to get over a failed relationship with a married man. I got over the married man in two weeks. And I’m still working on myself 3 years later. But 3 years later, there has been layer after layer that I have found that needs to be worked through. I often ask (or yell) at my therapist,
When will this be over? When will I walk in this office and NOT need to be here? I JUST WANT TO BE OK!!
My therapist usually responds by saying,
You want a date on a calendar?
It takes as long as it takes.
Being “OK” often starts with admitting we’re not “OK.”