Black Folks and Therapy

Something I talk about fairly often is black people and their reluctance to seek professional help for their problems. There is a huge stigma in our community as respects mental illness and therapy. I have my theories on why the stigmas exist and how they’re perpetuated. But that’s neither here nor there. The fact of the matter is that we really need to “do better” when it comes to accepting that sometimes we all need a little help. In light of the reported suicide of actor Lee Thompson Young, I thought I’d mention it yet again.

As a people we’re doing a much better job of opening ourselves up to experiences we used to be quick to say were “for white people.” One of the last frontiers for us to conquer is being able to admit that we may not be able to work through our problems alone and taking action to get the help we need. Big Mama is an amazing woman but she doesn’t always have all the right answers. Yes, you can “take it to Jesus” but like I told someone last night “God is busy. I’m not worrying Him about that nonsense.” (It really was trivial.) Our mothers, sisters, sista-friends and good girlfriends only know so much. As well as they know us, they don’t always have best answers. Many of them don’t have the skills to properly manage their own lives yet and still they try (with all best intentions) to help us manage ours.

Sometimes after we’ve prayed about it, talked to Big Mama about it and dished about it to our girls, the issue remains unresolved. There are things that we need help exploring, and resolving, in a constructive manner in order to heal from them once and for all. Too many of us are afraid to take a cold, hard look at ourselves and admit that we face challenges bigger than ourselves. We find it difficult to admit that there are problems impacting our lives and our futures that we simply cannot handle alone.

So what do we do? We self medicate. We use food, shopping, sex, alcohol, drugs (“they’re not drugs, drugs. It’s just a little weed and a few pills every now and then.”) and countless other methods to soothe our hurts and mask our pain, fears and insecurities. Self medicating is more destructive than the thing it is we’re attempting to cover up. While self medicating grants us a temporary reprieve from our issues, it doesn’t actually solve the problems. In fact, self medicating creates more problems in our lives. The food leads to weight gain which leads to health issues. The shopping often leads to financial destruction. Sex, well, while it’s fun if we’re not careful, and sometimes even when we are, can jeopardize our health. Alcohol and drugs not only lead to health problems but they can lead to financial ruin, death and a string of bad decisions made under the influence.

So how do we get our people to understand that therapy is sometimes necessary? We take away the stigma associated with it. Some of us would rather walk around glassy-eyed and reaking of alcohol (even when we’re not drinking) instead of going to therapy and risk having someong call us “crazy.” Which is better: “crazy” and alive or “normal” but dead of of Cirrhosis the liver at age 35?

If you know someone who is “going through it,” let them know that it’s okay to seek professional help. Even if you don’t necessarily believe in therapy, don’t discourage them, or make them feel ashamed if they mention it. Support their decision. The stigma wasn’t created overnight so it won’t be eliminated overnight. But please do your part to help. You could be saving the life of someone you love.

You Talk Like a White Girl

[Throwback Piece]

I’m convinced that being black, and “successful,” in America means being at least a little schizophrenic. I consider myself to be black, and “successful,” in America. Yeah, I know. That probably means I’m a little schizophrenic.
My “mental condition” was first brought to my attention back in my early twenties. I was volunteering for an organization that helps under-employed and unemployed 18 to 24 year olds find gainful employment. Volunteers helped youth write resumes, practice interviews and conduct productive job searches. Did I mention that while I was doing this I was just 24 years old? I was teaching my peers.
I volunteered during my lunch hour so I was often dressed in a business suit when I met with the students. One day while conducting a seminar on “Interviewing and Networking” I was interrupted by a brash 22 year old who took pride in informing me that “[I] talk like a white girl!!” Without skipping a beat, and with a decidedly “urban flair,” I responded, “And I make money like a white girl too!” What followed was a short stare down. Chrissy is the champion of the stare down. My record remained intact that day.
The classroom that had been only half listening up to that point was now at full attention. Without me having to specifically address black schizophrenia, they got it. They got that while I was able to speak like them, I was also able to master “The King’s English” in a way that allowed me to maneuver through mainstream America in an attempt to obtain the American Dream. Here I was, the same age as them, dressed well, with an education and a “good job” in corporate America. The typical volunteer with this agency was middle-aged and white. Now they were receiving the message from someone who not only looked like them but was also the same age as them. One student later told me that hearing me deliver the message made it feel like the American Dream was something she could achieve. She even gave me props for being able to “switch it up” when I needed to.
I had just about forgotten about this “schizophrenic” episode until early this morning. I was on the phone, like a teenager, talking into the wee hours of the morning when the person on the other end said, “Damn, what did I do to deserve the ‘corporate voice?'” I hadn’t even realized that I’d slipped into “work speak.” At first I was a little embarrassed. I take pride in being able to switch it up at the drop of a dime. But this had been unintentional. Then I felt stupid for being embarrassed. Why should I be embarrassed that I have a firm grasp of the King’s English? That is after all what my parents taught me. That is after all what helped make me a “success,” right? So here’s to being black, successful and “schizophrenic” in America.

Who is Riley Cooper?

Who is Riley Cooper? The answer: someone whose name I didn’t know two weeks ago.  I had no clue who this man was two weeks ago but in the time since his story broke, his name has been a constant on my Twitter feed, Facebook timeline and favorite ESPN podcasts.  I posted the following status on my own Facebook timeline a couple of days ago:

“The Philadelphia Eagle’s locker room appears to be divided. Could you get past a co-worker who was caught on tape using insensitive language (re: race, gender, sexual orientation, etc)? I can (and have). I [go] o work to make money, not friends. As long as you keep your hands off of me, I’m good. I’m very well equipped to verbally defend myself when needed. So say what you want. Just be prepared for what comes next.”

I had several interesting comments. Some felt that the other team’s defensive lines would serve as karma for Mr. Cooper’s insensitive words. Others thought they’d have a difficult time working side by side with Riley Cooper because of what he’d said.  Not me.

I’ve had a job for most of my life.  I’ve been working for 22 years. I don’t get up every morning and go to a job because I don’t have anything better to do. (I happen to really enjoy what I do, however, if I hit the PowerBall . . . deuces!)  I go to a job because I have goals and aspirations that require the funding gainful employment provides. I work so that I can live – not the other way around. I work to support my real life, the life where the people I love, and who love me, reside.  As such, I can work with people who don’t love me.  I can work with people I don’t love.  I can work with people who hold views that are in direct contradiction to my own views. I can work with people who I think are soulless human beings.  I can work with people for whom I hold zero respect.  Why? Because MY dreams, MY goals and MY aspirations are bigger than all of them.  My personal goals and well-being are far more important to me than a person to whom I will likely never speak once we no longer work together. So why would I let someone so incredibly insignificant to me adversely impact my livelihood? I wouldn’t!  Plain and simple.  I’m not going to let some idiot get between me and what I have planned for my life.  Stay stupid my friend.  Stay.  Stupid. I’ve got a life to live and goals to reach.