Topic Tuesday: Therapy

I have shared many times before that I went to therapy while in undergrad and it was a life altering experience.  Honestly I wish I had received some type of therapy right after graduating from undergrad, while in law school, after law school, before we got married, and I wish that I was receiving some right now.  Therapy is not a bandaid or a sole solution to any problem, but a process that helps you categorize and properly place experiences in a comfortable place in your mind.  Many times we overemphasize a situation in our life that may hold little value or minimize a situation that needs to be held in a different light.  Therapy helps you step outside of your silo and see how each experience has played a role in your life without judgment and external pressure.

I am so open about my experience because I truly believe therapy saved my life.  My anger sent me on a destructive path and caused me to mistake realness with being hurtful and mean.  Much of my anger was displaced and targeted people who had characteristics of the person who hurt me the most.  My coping strategies were ineffective and unhealthy.  I found myself in a cyclical process that I wanted to escape from, but I did not know how to reach the exit.

During my assessment for clinical services the director interviewed me and asked me one question, “Tell me about your parents.”  I immediately began to sob and cry.  I could not formulate my thoughts or my words.  She looked at me, looked down at the paper and agreed that I needed services.  I walked out of the building in disbelief.  This woman broke me down in less than 5 seconds.  I was fragile and broken.  I needed more help than simply believing that everything would get better.  My sanity required more than someone to listen to me, but someone to help me.

I have always been very open and honest so I told all of my friends that I was in therapy and they were happy for me.  Over time they started to see the changes in me and that encouraged me to continue with the process even when I felt that I no longer needed help.  I knew that being in that building held a stigma, but my future could not be derailed because of the fear of being judged.  I do not know where I would be if I never took the final step to seek help.  I do not even want to think of where I could have ended up.

I want everyone to know that there is someone qualified to listen and help you organize your thoughts and emotions.  Life is hard and will never be without bumps.  We have to accept that life will come and we need effective coping methods to properly deal with those overwhelming things.  Although I had two amazing experiences while at Howard, I had a not so great one when my husband and I went to sort through our issues.  Despite her failings, I know that there are some amazing therapist out there who will help us refocus our perspective.  Do not let one experience define your future in obtaining the things that you need.

We need more than coaching, we need therapy.  Take a moment and find time.  Get a referral and follow through with an appointment.  Get the help you need. Be you.  Do you.  Tell your own story.  On your own terms. #BeExcellent

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Suicide Isn’t For Black People

I sadly believed this statement up until I began working for Dr. Donna Barnes at the Mental Health Center at Howard University.  At that time, I had never personally dealt with suicide, and I had only heard of a situation that occurred on campus the previous summer.  That incident was discussed more as an accident than a potential suicide.  I wrongly assumed that this was not an issue that affected people who looked like me and therefore I did not have to deal with it.  Working with Dr. Barnes on Suicide Prevention on campus and learning more about suicide changed my outlook and way of thinking.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death overall, but the 3rd leading cause of death in persons aged 10-14, and the 2nd leading cause of death in persons aged 15-29 (CDC Vital Statistics 2011).  Suicide was the 3rd leading cause of death among young black males from 2001-2010 (CDC Report 2010).  Comparatively, African-Americans commit suicide at a lower rate overall,  but there still remains a concern amongst our Black youth.  Black youth are affected by suicide at a higher rate than Black adults, and on average, die from suicide a decade earlier than White Americans.

The numbers may not be alarming enough to make people wake up and realize that we have an issue on our hands, but the reality is that we cannot wait any longer to discuss this topic.  Now is the time to begin to look at the root of the issues that are affecting our youth.  Suicide is not a comfortable conversation to have.  As a health care provider, I have never become comfortable asking someone about their mental health status.  It is a very private and personal topic that very few feel comfortable sharing.  Understanding suicide, the warning signs, and knowing where to go for help, may not be able to save every single person, but may be able to teach us how to reach someone who may need our support and save a life.

The first thing we have to do is stop putting a face to suicide.  We see suicide as a White issue and that barrier prevents us from taking the time to discuss, understand and recognize suicide as our issue.  Secondly, we have to be ready to relinquish the idea that we have to be strong to survive.  Yes, our strength and resilience can be an asset you our success, but it also can be a trap that leads to someone feeling overwhelmed trying to live up to that image.  Lastly, we have to support each other and check-in on one another.  Many times someone crosses our mind and we brush it away, instead of picking up the phone and reaching out.  When people say things that show that their troubles are beginning to overwhelm them, we have to express empathy and patience, instead of ignoring or sweeping it under the rug.

Suicide is not a new issue and will not quietly go away with any one solution.  There are so many pressure points that we have to recognize, address and deal with in order to provide people with options.  We have to change the way we talk about suicide, mental health, depression, counseling and even the use of prescribed medicines.  The conversation may be hard to start but once we are honest with ourselves and each other, we can grow and empower others.

After working with Dr. Barnes I became more aware of suicide and the potential signs, but it did not prepare me to lose someone close to me.  To this day, I think of my dear friend often and I have vowed to continue the conversation as a way to honor her life and all that she was to so many.  The pain that those left behind endure after losing someone to suicide is indescribable, but I can only imagine the pain that she was dealing with that led to her decision.

On September 20th I am walking in her honor at the Out of the Darkness Community Walk, to appreciate her contributions and to continue the conversation.  Feel free to support or send words of encouragement.  I continue to pray for her family and loved ones.  We will never forget who she was to each of us. This conversation is deep and has so many layers.  This is the first installment of many that will help to facilitate the conversation.

Know that you are not alone.  Be you.  Do you.  Tell your own story.  On your own terms.

Donation page: http://afsp.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=585209

Resources to learn more: 

http://www.nopcas.com/absu.html

http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/suicide/