In the fall of 2011, shortly after my 19th birthday, I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. It meant two very sure things: medication and a therapist and I dreaded them both. I would be seeing a therapist for the first time outside of a school counselor; I was less than enthused.
It is no secret that I’ve struggled emotionally since I was a child and though I saw a guidance counselor or two in middle and high school, I mostly made up fake problems in order to keep from talking about the real ones. Now, you’re probably thinking “shouldn’t you have just talked to them and then possibly staved off a diagnosis later?” You are absolutely right, except for one big issue: I’m black and like a lot of black people, I was taught to tell my business to no one, especially not to white people.
“Suffer in silence. Push that shit down and keep it moving.”
I knew that the assumptions and whispers of people who saw therapists weren’t good. When I was a kid, I remember crying about being in wheelchair, because thanks to ableism, I thought something was wrong with me. However my older sister remarked something about me being depressed and seeing a therapist and I remember going,
“NO! I’M NOT GOING TO SEE A THERAPIST! SO SOMEONE CAN THINK I’M CRAZY! NO!”
I was a seven and no one ever brought it up again.
Back to 2011, I’m sitting in the waiting room of my doctors office and am the very definition of on edge. After 30 minutes or so, my name s called. I turn around and there’s a petite white woman holding open a hallway door. We go to her office and she starts to tell me about herself and about the rules of her sessions. For the first few minutes, I was completely in La La Land, as a queer, black, disabled woman, the person I’m supposed to learn coping skills from is almost the complete opposite of my entire existence. I’m supposed to trust her? After I’ve been born and bred not to? You’ve got to be kidding me! In fact, the only reason I stayed with my psychology program in college was because I thought I could become my own therapist and avoid outside help.
However, I soon learned I was wrong. In that first session, with my new therapist I realized she’d been through almost the exact same training I was currently in school for. I’d been going through my own illness enough to know that I deserved to feel better, so why not take the opportunity in front of me? I knew that the act of suffering in silence had drove me to my breaking point. I hadn’t reached 20 and yet I felt much, much older. I felt scared and unsafe in my own skin. I needed out of that hell or there was no way I would come close to surviving my 20’s.
I may not have that same therapist anymore, but I still go to therapy regularly. It truly does help me. I no longer care about whispers from others, because I know this is what’s best for my health and happiness. Stigma can kill you just much as an actual illness and it certainly will try. I do my part to reduce that by sharing stories, just like this one.
They say life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. Well, it’s like this: depression happened to me and at first I reacted badly, but now I know that I can help other people and that changed my reaction. I have close friends who love me and care about my health and that changed my reaction. I suppose the lesson here is to put yourself first as well as another well known adage of life: Do the things that scare you, it’s how you grow. So if you’re afraid like I was, remember it may be uncomfortable, but this is your show. Run it your way and ask for whatever you need.