“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. ”
2016 was, without a doubt, the most emotionally full year of my life. I celebrated my 30th birthday. I obtained one of the most prestigious research fellowships in the nation. I finished my PhD in clinical psychology. Heck, I was on Wheel of Fortune.
But, I also lost the “only girl in the world that know me best” as Kanye West would say. On April 12, 2016, I found out my mother, the light of my life, was battling Stage IV breast cancer. On July 29, 2016, less than a month after I turned 30, she lost her battle. She was 52.
To describe her loss as personally tremendous would be an understatement. As an only child in a single-mother home, our lives had been inextricably linked for as long as I literally could remember. She was my greatest cheerleader and simultaneously my greatest motivation. So, to expect to grieve was to expect to breathe. It was a given. And while I certainly experienced the full spectrum of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance (DABDA)-while she was still battling and definitely shed my fair share of tears, I reached a point where I thought I was good. Well more accurately, I became too busy to really be attuned to how I was feeling. After all, I had to finish my dissertation. Handle her affairs. Move to a new city. Be strong for my family.
It wasn’t until breaking down at her gravesite on Christmas morning that I told myself that while I may not have been experiencing the hallmark symptoms of depression or even a “typical” grief response, I needed to process things with someone. A professional. As a therapist, I had been encouraging my clients, family, and friends to do this for years. I was familiar with the statistics on the gap between mental health service need and use, but I had never been on the receiving end of these services. And so, for the first time ever, this therapist set out to find himself a therapist.
My search for therapy consisted of many of the same questions and concerns that many considering therapy may have. I wanted to find a therapist who would accept my insurance. I wanted to find one who would have the skills necessary to help me in the grieving process. And finally, I wanted to find a therapist who could understand my experience as a Black man. Luckily, a not-too-difficult search on Psychology Today led me to the page of a Black woman therapist in the area. An e-mail exchange led to a wonderful phone conversation about my experiences, what I was hoping to get out of therapy–I simply stated “healing”—and ended with an appointment for our first session.
Fast forward four months (and nearly a year after I lost my mom), and our weekly Wednesday meetings are one of the highlights of my week. My therapist, a wonderful brown skin woman, is helping me through the loss of the sweetest brown skin woman I have ever known. We laugh, cry, reminisce. Things are not always easy-she challenges me to explore my feelings and answer tough questions in unprecedented ways; but, my therapeutic relationship has put me on the path to “returning to equilibrium” as I have called it.
I recognize that my path into therapy may have been more seamless than it is for many who have attempted or will attempt to seek mental health services. But I encourage everyone to at least try it out. You can still pray. You don’t have to be White or rich. You don’t have to be “really struggling”. Just go.
“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done.”