Updated: Jul 16, 2020
My ass should have been in therapy a long time ago.
Honestly, when I was younger, we probably couldn’t afford it anyways. Looking back, I remember having ticks and twitches. I was an extremely worrisome child. Anything less than perfection in anything: sports, school, etc., sent me into a panic. I can probably thank my dad for that.
Once I left my favorite jacket at the mall. It wasn’t an expensive jacket, and it sure wasn’t my only jacket. Looking back, it was such a minor mistake for a 12-year-old to make. My dad screamed at me like I had just started World War III. I remember crumbling, crying, panicking that I had done something completely unforgivable.
Anything my dad pushed me in, I grew to hate. Tennis, sports, even music, which is such a huge part of my life, at one point, I actually had very little motivation for. I didn’t truly love it until I found my way back to in during high school, when I auditioned for the Grease and got the part of “Sandy.”
It was very clear that I was expected to be “the one who makes it out.” The exceptional Negro. My IQ is 140. I was 3 grades ahead at one point. Perfection was expected in everything. I was less a daughter to my dad, and more of a trophy for him to flaunt and brag about. Unless I performed in perfection, I felt undeserving of love. In my moments of weakness and sadness, when I needed tenderness, I was met with disdain for being weak.
Now that I am an adult who knows what the symptoms of anxiety and depression are, I recognize it in my younger self. I remember feeling sleepy all the time for no reason. I don’t remember feeling panic ALL the time, but I DID feel a constant anger. And when I mean constant, I mean from the time I was 13 to about age 20. I didn’t always know what it was directed towards either. It was just there.
I grew up being told that “therapy is for white people.” The first layer of subtext I gathered from that as a child was that white people were more sensitive and had weaker minds, and thus “believed” that they needed someone else to guide them through their fEeLiNgS. Conversely, the subtext was that as Black people, we are stronger and more capable of handling pain and dealing with life’s bullshit. When shit happens, you shake it off and move on. You be strong and REPRESSSSSSSSSS.
I think my mom tried to have me see a counselor when I was about 13. I resolved to be belligerent and resistant to every question the counselor asked me. I was sarcastic and dismissive and felt attacked for being asked about my feelings. It was a waste of time, and I just kept asking “are we f***ing done yet?”
When I was diagnosed with PTSD in my 20s, I told my dad. He asked me “when did I become so weak.” He blamed my diagnosis on me. At this point in my life, I started to wonder why, as a Black girl, I was taught that therapy is for white people. I started to do some research on where this stigma comes from…
…from what I gathered, turns out it goes all the way back to the plantation…
When a farm animal gets sick or goes crazy, a farmer would shoot the animal. My enslaved ancestors were seen as animals. Any indication of sickness, physical weakness, inability to bear the burden of the work, mental instability etc. would decrease the value of a slave. Any of these indications would warrant a slaveowner to kill off a “weak” slave that would just be dead weight.
So, we learned to hide it. We learned to pretend to be okay even when we weren’t, for the sake of survival, because our worth was determined by the amount of abuse we could withstand. This survival mechanism, just like recipes for fried chicken and macaroni and cheese, got passed down in our culture and remains alive today…
…and that’s when I finally understood the second, more hidden layer of context of the phrase “therapy is for white people:”
Therapy is for people…like, actual people that matter…whose feelings matter.
We were never initially afforded that luxury because we were not seen as actual people. We turned that survival skill of repression into something to be proud of, something to set us apart as being stronger. This “strength” became not only an expectation from white people, but from other Black people as well. So we attack our own for seeking mental health help instead of just muscling through our trauma. We attached worth to this “strength”, but all of this stemmed from the fact that we did not matter.
Now it’s 2020. I am in no way, on the plantation. However, I still feel this need, this pressure, this compulsion, apparently passed down over a few fucking hundred years, to prove how strong I am, instead of seeking healing.
And my own Black father is there to remind me that I’m only worth as many lashes I can take, or else I might as well shoot my own self in the head, before the slave-master gets to me first…
…no wonder it took me so long to book my first therapy session!