written by Tanya Barnett
I knew I was exactly where I needed to be. I wished I had done it earlier. I was so happy that I came. But I was also mad. I was mad at all the people who had told me my entire life that therapy wasn’t for us. That it was for “white people.” I was mad at the stigma. I was mad that it was taboo so none of my friends knew that I was here.
The only reason I was there was because of my husband. He was the one with the anger management issues and who needed the help. My agreeing to accompany him was more of a manipulation. It would get him the help he needed, and I would be able to go on about my business and hopefully a peaceful marriage. But in that therapist’s office, as I cried and released emotions I didn’t know were there, I knew it was exactly where I needed to be too. My soul was partially cleansed in a way I hadn’t experienced before. I was so relieved that I came with my husband. But more than that, I was sad that I hadn’t made that appointment years earlier.
According to the US HHS Office of Minority Health, “Adult Black/African-Americans are 20 percent more likely to report serious psychological distress than adult whites.”
I am a Black woman who is a wife, mother, Generation-X grandma, daughter, and so much more to so many people. But I am also human. At times, I can be strong and fearless. At other times, I feel weak, afraid, overwhelmed, anxious and even stuck. I’ve forged through life, barely taking time to breathe. Some days, I’ve wanted to run away and be by myself. Other days, I’ve wanted to curl up in a ball and just disappear. But then I am reminded that I have a family who loves me and needs me. I love and need my family even more. But I’ve been left begging, “What about me? What about my needs? Can’t you see I need a brain break?”
A few years after that appointment with my husband, I found myself in a dark place. I was crying in my bed, in the car, in the bathroom at my job, and even at church. I couldn’t eat. I felt nauseous. I would get dizzy. I had no time for me because my calendar was full - all the time.
I was still conducting meetings, showing up to community events and serving in church like a BOSS- what? There was no way in the world anyone could remotely tell that Sister Tanya was drowning on the inside. I legitimately had moments when I couldn’t breath. It got to a point where I couldn’t get out of bed and was calling out at work.
After witnessing me call out several days, it was my husband who sat on the edge of the bed and told me I needed to get some help. He made me call the therapist to make an appointment. Talk about Black Love! When I got to that appointment, I literally laid on her sofa and sobbed.
My therapist helped me see that I was dealing with so much stress and anxiety. I was afraid because we didn’t know how to tell our youngest daughter that we did not have enough money to start her freshman year of college. I also had the added stress of my oldest daughter living hundreds of miles away from me with her new baby. I could not deal with the fact that I was not there with them. I felt like an awful mother in both instances. The therapist helped me see that neither situation was my fault and that I should let my girls figure their situations out.
I’m sure you are wondering why I am sharing this.
Listen, I’m tired of us repeating the same behaviors at the beginning of every new year. We attend vision board parties and leave motivated to conquer the world. We scroll through countless Instagram posts with awesome inspirational quotes and pin them to our Pinterest boards.
When was the last time you were intentional about seeking professional help as a way to jump start your new year?
For years, I’ve had the idea of the perfect woman who’s got it all together with her fly and fabulous self. Her kids are in the junior honor society and make first-chair in the orchestra. She has a supportive partner and her bank account is overflowing with money. She is widely respected by those in her community.
On the other hand, the reality is that there are some of us who have kids that are acting up in school and at home, we aren’t connecting with our partners, and we refuse to answer the phone when a number displays that we don’t recognize.
Trust me, I’ve been there. I actually wrote a book about it. I totally get the frustration and dread of facing these situations. When your home life is a mess, it is hard to stay motivated. There are even some women who have everything going right for them, and they still feel overwhelmed. None of us is immune, ladies. If this is the case, why do so many of us not seek professional help? I really don’t have an answer for you, however, I can tell you why I didn’t — the taboo of therapy within my community that had been passed on generation after generation: white folks go to see “shrinks”. Therapy is not for Black people.
I came from a family of God-fearing folks. I was taught that you are supposed to fast and pray and allow the Holy Spirit to heal you. This way of thinking also was taught at my church. Seeking outside help was “airing your dirty laundry”. I lived by this dogma my entire life until life spiraled out of control to the point where I needed help in order to survive.
But making the choice to see a therapist wasn’t easy. Honestly, I was deathly afraid to seek help. I didn’t think I needed it because I was for lack of better words, “all good”. I thought it would be an admission that I did not have it all together. I knew my husband needed it because he had anger issues. It wasn’t until I found myself lying in my bed unable to move, breath or eat, that I knew I was in a terrible place.
When I found out that two good girlfriends of mine not only saw therapists but were also on medication that their therapist prescribed, I was shocked. These sisters were professional Black women, like me. Knowing this and talking to them helped me feel a tad bit more comfortable about seeing a therapist frequently.
Did you know your insurance may even cover therapy sessions? Check with your HR department about your company’s free EAP benefits.
According to Psychiatry.org, Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) have been around for decades, and many companies provide them for their employees and families at no cost. An estimated 97 percent of companies with more than 5,000 employees have an EAP; 80 percent of companies with 1,001–5,000 employees have an EAP; and 75 percent of companies with 251–1,000 employees have an EAP.
Yet, no more than five percent of people with access to EAPs use them. Up to 40 percent of workers are unaware of whether their workplace provides EAP and what services are available. In addition to not knowing about EAP services — reasons people do not use them include the stigma associated with mental health and substance use services and concerns about privacy and confidentiality.
Honestly, getting over the stigma associated with mental health services was one of the best gifts I have given myself and my family. It saved my life. Once I learned how to use our EAP benefits, I used them, I told everyone I knew about them.
Most companies give each individual who is covered by your insurance eight free sessions. Everyone in our household has been to see a therapist, including our kids. My husband regularly goes to therapy. I regularly have my sessions via tele-health(on the computer). My husband and I have also used our EAP benefit for marriage counseling. Our 19-year-old daughter used her free sessions two summers in a row transitioning from eleventh grade to twelfth grade and then to her freshman year of college.
The reality is that many Black folks, especially Black women, are suffering in silence. We have to stop this insanity of pretending we have it all together. I know, because I did it. We have, for far too long, been carrying burdens we need to finally release to live and love freely. Whether it is the burden of your past, your relationships, your children, your job or even your current situation, a therapist can assist you in processing. Therapy really is a life saver if you go into it with an open mind and sincerely want improvement.
I challenge you to look into using your free sessions for whatever your needs are. The sessions can be used for stress on the job, moving, having a new baby, the expansion of a business or whatever. Make sure to have this conversation with your partner, your family, and your friends. Let them know they are leaving free mental wellness services on the table every single year.
Do yourself a favor this year, give yourself the gift of therapy. It just might save your life.
Tanya Barnett is a published author, Tedx speaker, and veteran.