LeRon Barton had to get past all the supposed reasons a strong black man doesn’t need therapy.
Yesterday, I received an email from my girlfriend commenting on the untimely death of Karyn Washington, blogger and creator of “For Brown Girls.” Above a link about Karyn’s death, my lady asked the question:
“is it a common trait of the black community to feel as if you don’t need mental health services and/or seeing it as being weak?”
I read her question over and over and several thoughts and memories went through my mind. I just sighed and shook my head.
Several years back I was going through a pretty tough time in my life. I was under a lot of stress from my job, my personal life was a mess because I was still trying to figure out my place in San Diego, and I felt that I was in a rut. I was literally stuck and did not know what to do. Working out didn’t help. Taking long walks didn’t do any good, and staying out all night drinking didn’t change anything. I knew that something was wrong, so I called my mother and told her that I was thinking of seeing a therapist. In typical fashion, she replied:
“You are alright, there is nothing wrong with you. If you need to talk to someone, talk to your priest, a pastor, or God.”
I just shook my head and ended the call. I was not surprised by this because as long as I could remember people in the Black community never talked about mental illness or therapy. It was seen as weak, a bunch of nonsense, stuff that White folks do, or just a waste of time and money. Have a mental illness? The answer to that is talk to God, pray, or just brush it off. If you even bring up going to a psychiatrist or psychologist and you are looked at as crazy. Plus there has always been this perception that therapy is expensive. When I mentioned to a friend that I was thinking of seeing someone, they said:
“Dude, do you know how much money that would cost? At least 100 an hour bro! Who has that kind of money to give away on seeing a shrink?”
It sounds silly, but that line of thinking is so prevalent in the Black community. I have always thought that with all of the hostility that Blacks have faced in America, it should be mandatory (LOL), but we do not see it that way.
One of my favorite writers is F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Great Gatsby is my favorite book of all time and is one of my biggest influences with writing. At one point in his life, Fitzgerald faced a mental challenge and documented it in the essay, “The Crack up.” While I would never compare myself with F. Scott, I was on my way to cracking up. I just knew that something was not right and that I could not fix it. One of the hardest things in life is to realize that you cannot accomplish or complete something, and that you need help. In the Black community, the man is looked at as an alpha, and if there is any sign of weakness, he will be emasculated, immediately. But in my case, I didn’t care.
The first session with my therapist was interesting. I could not stop squirming in the chair and was nervous as heck. I thought to myself, “How is this going to work?” I immediately starting thinking about all the television shows and movies I’ve seen where the patient is laying on some comfortable couch talking to a therapist in a very stiff suit in a tan or brown office (Don’t ask me why, many therapist offices I thought of were brown) talking about, “When I was a child….” So when my therapist entered the room, I was a bit surprised.
Here was a guy in a Superman T-shirt with a super relaxed demeanor (pun intended), short blonde hair that exuded cool. Typical Southern California folk. He began by just asking me some basic questions and I just opened up. After the first session, I felt great. I felt lighter in a sense. Like all this stuff that I had in me was just being unloaded off. And I went back, it became easier. And I went back the third and fourth and… etc. We laughed, joked, and talked openly about what was going on in my life. The thing about seeing the therapist is that I had gotten a chance to talk to someone who had no biases toward me. Homes didn’t know me from a can of paint and he didn’t judge, and that was the best part. By seeing a therapist, I was able to not only work through what I had been going through at the time, but also connect it with events from my past which gave me the opportunity to face and begin to resolve the issues.
It was awesome to see things more clearly and to come face to face with my fears, worries, and challenges. When I told my mother of this, she didn’t sound too enthused. She thought that I should talk to a priest or “pray on it.” I said, “Mother, a priest is not a licensed professional.” She didn’t get it. But later what I realized is that by me seeing a therapist, it was looked at as a knock against her. Like she didn’t raise me right. Or if word got out that I was seeking professional help, there would be whispers from people saying, “Something happened when she was raising LeRon,” or even guilt on her behalf for something that she didn’t or did do. Being a single parent raising two boys was tough enough. The thought of one of them having to go into therapy? Oh my.
What I don’t think that my Mother understood is that it was not about her. It was not about the way that she had raised me as a child, to a teenager, and to finally a man. I have always looked at my mom as the most influential person in my life bar none. She has always been there to talk with and give advice. But as I grew older and encountered different challenges, I knew that my mother would not be able to give me the answers that I was looking for. It was about me and my demons.
In my life, I feel that seeing a therapist was one of the best things I have ever done. I was able to get a handle on things that needed to be resolved. I am not saying that everything is perfect. Heck, if you knew me would probably ask, “Why are you not in therapy now?” But with where I was in life, I desperately needed it. Matter of fact, I think everyone should see a therapist. If not to just de-clutter your life and get a different view of things. When I think about Karyn, I say to myself:
“I wonder if she had someone to talk to? I wonder if the stigma of being Black and talking with a mental health professional got to her?”
I don’t know, but what I can say is that coming from this Black man, it changed my life.
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