Mental Health Awareness
It is Mental Health Awareness Month and I am so delighted to highlight the work of the founders of United Paths, an organization that specifically focuses on culturally competent Mental Health care. I was listening to their ongoing Saturday night series Therapy and Tea on Facebook when I began to digest and recognize that my own positive relationship to therapy and getting support is somewhat unusual in that is has been almost completely positive.
It wasn't until I was an adult that I realized that one of the misconceptions that many people have about therapy is that getting help might be overwhelmingly scary or open the flood gates. As if once the tears started to come, they might never stop. When we work so hard to be perceived as cool or ok, why would we want to set aside time to face so many difficult and conflicting feelings? Having been the pivotal person instructed to encourage or convince families to consider receiving services time and again in a variety of settings, I have had to explain a lot about why, despite the risks and the fears, this resource is so essential for so many of us.
One take away from my own story that remains with me is how amazing some of the most terrible events in our lives can lead to an opening or opportunity that is hardly evident in the midst of the experience, but becomes especially apparent upon looking back.
In my case, I was 9 and in elementary school when some of the most traumatic events of my life took place. Those events have informed many aspects of my career and decision making for better or worse. But the most outstanding event in that year was that, on my way home from school, I was hit by a car. I actually don't remember much about the incident itself except for the fact that after being hit I tried to get up, pronouncing that I was fine, when nothing could have been further from the truth! The fact that the driver, an extremely apologetic neighbor, visited me during my stay in the hospital also stands out. That and the smell of the collard greens my mother brought to the hospital because she didn't trust their food.
But, as an adult, what stays with me most was that this almost fatal accident was the reason I began therapy as a child. It is the reason that, despite many difficult experiences, I have always felt comfortable finding safe places and ways to express myself. Sometimes via writing. Sometimes via dance. Other times only prayer or gospel music would do. But it was my positive experience with my therapist that led me to continue electing to see someone even months after I was told I might no longer need it. It was my therapist in high school who encouraged me to begin writing in a journal. So, as a result, what I tend to remember most about an accident that altered my level of functioning and short term memory, is the good. While I was afraid of what this accident would mean for me as a girl with a new ADHD diagnosis, knowing where I could go for help alleviated many of my fears. What I remember is leaving my high school weekly in Weston and rushing to catch a train back to Cambridge in order to make my appointments because I could readily see the value in my life and decision making. More importantly, I learned that it was ok to say that I wasn't fine and that, ironically, this declaration alone could help to make things significantly better. I learned that there was no wisdom in sticking with a poor decision simply to avoid being wrong.
I appreciate and want to encourage our awareness of organizations like United Paths because it is so important for us to receive services from providers that look like us. And, honestly, it rarely occurred to me until I was much older that my positive experience with therapy was unusual for children/ families of color. There was never any question in my mind that therapy couldn't be helpful until I began to see how biased and common it is for families of color to have bad or unuseful experiences with providers who are not culturally or spiritually competent.
It is so important for all of us to know that therapy is a resource, and having an objective, and thoughtful listener who can offer an additional perspective and other ways to address problems, is a privilege that should not be underestimated. I hope this short primer ---let's link to the series-- on this powerful resource will inspire many of you. And given how stressful this quarantine and the significant fall out from Covid19 has been and will continue to be, I pray many people will seek out solid resources to assist them in dealing with the loss and grief that we must all eventually face. Because never before has it been more universally acceptable to say: I am not fine and I need help. After all of the trauma we have experienced in so many ways, it is essential that we get the competent support we need and deserve to get to the other side.