I remember when I found my first therapist at the ripe age of 19. I was sifting through a list of names and rubbing my fingers over the paper as if the voices of the people would come through the sheet of paper. I don’t remember her name but I eventually settled on a person that seemed to have a “good vibe”. This was in the days before the internet was as big as it is today. There was no scrolling through webpages and looking at pictures or clicking on a name and finding detailed information about their educational background with copious reviews from other patients attached. No. This was the stone age compared to today when a person actually had to do the research and grunt work on their own to find what we needed. Of course I had no idea what I was looking for nor did I know what I was going to talk about once I did find what I was looking for.
My high school years were rough, sophomore year was particularly difficult when it felt like my world went dark. When I reflect on that time period in my life I actually see a dark haze around my already fuzzy memories. I had started my sophomore year with a cloud and couldn’t seem to shake it. My friends didn’t know how to respond so retreating from me seemed like the best course of action. I couldn’t blame them. The person they had met in our freshman year was a complete 180 degree shift from the person who had returned. Even my mother wondered what had happened during the summer to cause such a seismic shift.
I had no idea where the cloud came from but it descended upon me like a tsunami. When I started to have some minor health issues my mother took me to my pediatrician who recommended that I see a therapist. She felt that what was happening in my body might be result from some things going on in my head. Though I tried to pretend that I wasn’t listening I couldn’t help but overhear the information that the doctor was telling my mom. I had a very loose understanding of what a therapist was. All I knew from the various television shows that I watched was that you go to someone and lie down on a couch while they take notes and after a subscribed amount of time passes they tell you the appointment is over and you go on your happy way. One thing that television didn’t explain was how long you actually go to a therapist so I assumed that all of my problems would be resolved in that one appointment.
Interestingly enough my mother didn’t take the advice and follow up on the referral. I say interestingly because my mother is not your typical mom. She would always try and find the most holistic path for whatever ailments, always adding her dash of spiritual medicine. Conversations with angels, sniffing various essential oils even getting energy work done to balance and cleanse my chakras were all very typical. I figured that meeting with a doctor where all I had to do was talk would be right up her alley. But I was wrong. This was one of the first times that I was bearing witness to her humaness in all its grandeur. She believed that if I went to a therapist that I might be deemed as “crazy”and that the label would haunt me for the rest of my days. She didn’t want that stigma to follow me around, especially since I was only sixteen at the time.
I couldn’t understand what the big fuss was about and her insistence on me not going only made me want to go even more. What was so bad? My sixteen-year-old mind would always go to the most extreme outcomes. At worse this doctor could think that I was unsafe, a dangerous shell pretending to be a human. I imagined being carted away from my appointment in a full straight jacket. I would be admitted to a hospital where other people with mental illness lived and I would have to share a room with a girl who screamed in the middle of the night. If none of that happened then I could consider therapy a success.
When I was finally out of my mother’s house and taking my first steps to adulthood I decided (on my own) that I would seek out a therapist. If I was going to be labeled as crazy then it would be on my own terms. When I got to my first appointment I was surprised to see a black women greeting me at the door. She looked like a younger version of my grandmother and gave me the same warm comfortability that my grandmother did. Her voice was soft and quiet and she always had a smile on her face. That warmth allowed me to open up and talk candidly about how I felt and what had been going on in my life. I left every single appointment feeling better than when I had gone in.
If I had waited for my mother to come around or listened to her thinking about being labeled crazy I would have never made an appointment and started my journey of self help. Often times our families are the ones that can be our main road blocks from growth. Of course they love us and want the best for us but that can often be a hindrance rather than a help. I’m 36 now and have met with many therapists over the years and talked about a plethora of topics. I’ve been diagnosed with various forms of mental illnesses from severe depression to Borderline Personality Disorder. I never lost a job or went to a job interview where someone had a piece of paper that said I couldn’t work there because a doctor said I had BPD back in 2000. I never lost friends because of my mental illness and I’m still happily married. Seeing a therapist wasn’t my death sentence, it was my rebirthing.