Here’s the deal: I’ve known for yeeaarrsssss that I needed therapy. I mean, D’uh!
My mother died of cancer when I was eight, my father (unknowingly) shipped me off to a physically abusive aunt for a couple of years, scooped me from her then dropped me off with his verbally abusive twin sister. Several years into that situation, he disowned me not once, but twice. My only positive self-identification of being an honor roll student was desecrated when I practically flunked out of college my first year. Two cherries on top of that shitty life sundae: I was in a near-fatal car crash ON MY BIRTHDAY and a year later a dear family member was killed. I had the distinct honor but displeasure of planning his funeral and delivering the eulogy.
This all happened before the age of thirty, which is the age I finally earned my first undergraduate degree, even though it had been the dream, nay plan, to at least be working on my second Masters or earning a PhD. I finished college, and earned my Masters but I still felt like an unaccomplished loser.
By the end of my first session with a real, live therapist—not a self-help article, book or podcast—she diagnosed me with anxiety, depression and PTSD. I had the nerve to say, “I do? Really?” All these years I’d grown accustomed to people—friends, family and strangers—telling me to smile, relax, calling me negative, a pessimist, a Debbie Downer, having an attitude. No doubt I was a called a bitch behind my back.
Was I aware that all my emotional baggage could be tucked into a matching Samsonite luggage set including the tote, backpack, duffle, garment, and laptop bags? Of course. I wish the set could be Louis Vuitton, but homegirl does not have that type of disposable income. Nevertheless, as today’s youth say, I figured I was a Bad Bitch—Survivor, if you will—because I was a functioning (on most days) human being, although I didn’t feel like one. When Andre 3000 and Lil Wayne refer to themselves as aliens in their songs, I feel that. No one, not even my siblings who had some shared experiences, have trouble making human connections as I do. (I wish I could say I’ve had a Best Friend for 20, 10 or even 5 years.) They’re both divorcees with three kids apiece. Meanwhile, this year is the first time I’ve taken a trip with a paramour. It only took turning 40, but a win is a win.
While others around me were entering into relationships, getting married, having children, rekindling old relationships, getting divorced and remarried, etc., I was 100% single. No solid relationships, just situationships. The problem(s): I had trouble trusting and loving OR I trusted and loved too much.
How can one love too much? you ask. Welp, if the mother fucker disappears without nary a text, call, email, voicemail or pigeon for months then pops back up without uttering an apology wanting to resume things without skipping a beat and you give him a second chance, $200, and a Foreman grill even though he doesn’t take you on dates, well, that my dear, is trusting and loving too much. In another case, nine months in, you discover he has three kids by three women but YOU STILL WANT TO MAKE THINGS WORK, that’s trusting and loving too much. It’s also called being a fool and not knowing your worth.
Or perhaps it’s because I was convinced I deserved every shitty treatment or word that came my way. Actually no “perhaps” about it.
A heavy funk has always loomed on my heart and mind. When it got heavy, I considered ways out. The first time, at ten years old, I took a bath, put on my prettiest nightgown, wrote farewell letters to two cousins, and downed 6 Tylenols thinking I’d OD and leave this cruel world. Damn you, soap operas! When I got older, I tried to make the cloud dissipate by reading self-help books and articles. I scribbled affirmations on Post-It Notes and taped them to my apartment walls. When online checkout purchases asked “Is this a gift?” I’d check the box and type into the complimentary box for a note:
You’re the Greatest!
Get it? Sher and Ring. Sherring. My weird and unique name. It’s the engravement on the back of both my iPods, the Classic and the Touch. It’s on a notecard in my bathroom mirror. I glance at it instead of the scar in the middle of my forehead–remnant of the car crash.
For years, online shopping was my therapy of choice. I didn’t self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. I couldn’t escape with casual sex. Are you kidding? I did not have the self-esteem to get naked with random strangers. I couldn’t even masturbate without it ending in tears, so I didn’t. FML! Stress and sadness didn’t lull me to sleep, so at 2, 3, and 4 am, I’d be click happy with the mouse in my right hand.
Clothes, shoes, books, electronics, skin- and hair-care, furniture. All those years of night-shopping are still kicking my ass. Hello credit card interest and low credit score. I peaked at 732, but a recent slump snatched me back to the mid-600s. I signed up for several monthly subscriptions that were $30+ each and bought a Dell 2-in-1. In my defense, it was on sale and they offered interest free payments. I’m almost done well before the allotted 12 months.
Becoming a recluse, I rarely shopped in-store anymore. When I did, I did some serious damage at TJ Maxx and Marshalls. Thanks to layaway, I’d put down a $50 deposit, then 2-3 days before the 30 days were up, I’d rush in to charge the remaining $100-200+ balance. Put anything back? Never! During one of these shopping sprees I was hellbent on giving myself a makeover. I wanted to incorporate more dresses into my wardrobe. Years later, some still hang in my closet, unworn, pricetags still attached.
The cognizant whisper in my head became a roar from the Universe. Every writing workshop made mention of therapy/therapists. Reality shows included scenes at therapists’ offices. Power 105.1 The Breakfast Club’s Charlamagne tha God spoke incessantly about therapy, almost to the point of annoyance. He wrote a book called Shook One about his anxiety. THE Howard Stern was on The Tonight Show talking about his latest book being possible because of therapy. Kanye West’s behavior spurred talk about mental wellness. Athletes talk about it. Hosts of podcasts I listen to recommend it. Mother Oprah has talked about it for years.
I knew I was not ok. I was having panic attacks in social settings, causing me to last no more than half an hour at events. In tears I called my cousin on the west coast to calm me down. I’d gone to an Author’s Guild gathering at a bookstore in DUMBO. Little did I know that I’d have to sign in, slap on a nametag and GASP!…mingle with other folks. I couldn’t handle it. At another conference, I was within arm’s reach of two of my favorite authors, but I couldn’t say hi–even though I’d met them at book signings before.
Before turning 40, I promised it would be my best decade yet. I wanted to be fit, happy, healthy, progress in my career, and to find love. I had to check my baggage. I was scared. My traumatic experiences are always on my mind or triggered by a book, article, show, movie, comment, song, picture, color, scent, flower, something unexpected.
I knew therapy would make me have to talk about the moments, relive them.
I said to myself I’d go to therapy, but I also thought just kidding! I drafted an email to a former book club member who was a child psychologist to ask for an adult recommendation. I never hit send.
A month before my 40th birthday, I was sitting in a free writing workshop I learned about on Instagram. Including me, there were about six people. The workshopping was over, and everyone was sharing stories about their therapists (haha, Universe). Except me.
“I don’t have a therapist. I know I need to go, but I want a black woman, preferably of Caribbean descent, and she needs to be based in Brooklyn.” I thought I was being slick with my specifics. Surely, they understood how hard it was to find a therapist who checked all these boxes. Oh, what an ignorant fuck!
“I know someone! That’s my therapist. And she gets me together. I can give you her number if you want,” said the 20-something year old sitting to my right.
I turned my neck as slowly as an old, creaky door. The Universe had called my bluff. Time to get my ass into a therapist’s office, on her couch, feet up optional. I thought I had an out when she couldn’t find the number in her new phone, but she took my number and promised to be in touch when she located it.
When I arrived home, I replied to her introductory text for me to save her info and reminded her to send the therapist’s number when she found it. Fourteen minutes later she sent the contact card. “Had it saved under Dr! So sorry!”
I ignored the number for days. When I worked up the nerve to call, voicemail answered but the box was full. I lamented my situation on Twitter, to which someone replied to check therapyforblackgirls.com. I already knew about the site, Instagram page and podcast.
The Universe wanted me to go to Dr. C. I could feel it. I tried again. Voicemail. Left a message. Missed the callback. Left a message again. When phonetag was over we set up an appointment for that immediate Saturday at 11:45 am.
The office is in the old Canarsie, Brooklyn neighborhood I lived in when I first moved to New York. It’s on the same bus route and bus stop I took twice a day, every day, to travel to and from work. Further proof of the Universe winking at me: by the size of the headwrap on Dr. C’s head, I could tell she had locs at least down to her lower back. She confirmed. I told her that I had recently cut off my butt-length locs and it was somewhat cathartic, but I wasn’t sure why. She smiled, jotted notes. Her accent had a soothing island lilt.
I sat down, exhaled, and started to talk.