“Being honest about how we feel doesn’t make us weak — it makes us human.”-Sangu Delle
In the African community, the stigma against therapy is something else. When you tell the traditional African you’re in therapy, it comes with so much antagonism. There’s so much pain, hurt and trauma we are packing on and we just keep going, we keep transferring the hurt. We fail to acknowledge that not all battles should be fought alone and we can get the right support when we are struggling. We deserve to thrive not just survive, if not, what’s the point? Therapy teaches us a lot about ourselves, helps us to be kinder, understand our triggers, unpack our trauma, cope better with lives challenges and not hate ourselves for hurting. We need to stop pretending our problems don’t exist all because of what others may think of us.
What bothers me the most is how many people walk around, living with mental illnesses, undiagnosed. There are children termed ‘olodo’ who might simply be autistic, you say that person is starving themselves meanwhile they might have an eating disorder, you call your neighbor lazy meanwhile they may be struggling with chronic depression… it’s a lot, but the first step to healing is identifying and acknowledging that we need help. Religion, cultural context, mindsets and biases definitely play a huge role in the stigma against therapy (we will get into this in another article because, opoooor).
In this first part of the ‘Why I went to therapy’ series, I chat with a dear male friend of mine Chinomso on his journey to therapy and the space he is in now, enjoy!
1.) What did life look like before therapy?
My life before therapy was unbalanced. I struggled with depression but had no idea how to deal with it. I lost interest in the things I enjoyed and started feeling a greater urge to isolate myself from people. I was functioning; however, the way I was functioning was not sustainable long term.
2.) What was the final straw that pushed you into getting therapy?
The final straw was when I went off to graduate school and had a massive mental breakdown in 2009. I had to take leave of absence for a year to tend to my mental health. I have never experienced anything like that before in my life before. I was out of options and one of my professors was so kind as to direct me to therapy. The first therapist I saw was just to get me to stabilise. After, I was semi stable, I found a therapist that was better suited for me.
3.) How has therapy helped?
Therapy has helped a great deal. It has allowed me to first become emotionally literate which has helped enhance emotional intelligence. I am able to identify the feelings that I am experiencing and also have gotten tools to put into my mental health toolbox that I can employ whenever life challenges occurs. Through therapy, I was about to identify what my triggers for depression were. I must point out that therapy alone is not a magic pill. For me, for therapy to be effective, I had to do work outside the therapy session such as exercising, getting enough sleep and eating well. However, I do believe that therapy combined with doing the work suggested by the therapist is equally important.
4.) What should people look out for in a good therapist?
I view finding the right therapist for you as finding the right partner to marry or date. It will take some time so I encourage people not to give up so quickly. To me, Step 1 in finding a therapist is to ensure that they are licensed by any accrediting body. I recommend this so we can know that the person is qualified to provide therapy. I think a good therapist is one who is able meet the client where they are at. This entails having a personalized treatment plan for the patient not using a cookie cutter approach.
5.) Will you recommend therapy?
Yes, I would strongly recommend therapy. It will equip one with the tools to live a meaningful mentally healthy life.
There’s absolutely no shame in going to therapy, instead, you should be proud of seeking help, of unlearning toxic masculinity, of looking your demons In the eye and confronting them. I hope this inspires you to seek mental stability for yourself first and for the future generations. Let’s build a mental and emotional safe space and show that it is okay to seek help. Let’s stop being so scared, so afraid of what others think about us because more often than not, they are facing similar challenges. If we can go to the hospital when we are physically ill, we should also seek help when our minds don’t feel well.
Here’s a link to Chinomso’s story, I hope you watch this; Chinomso’s Mental Health Journey.
Have you ever been to therapy? What was the experience like for you?
Your friendly neighborhood slay queen,