I’ve always been fearful those long couches would give away my secret—even though I had an uncomfortable many of them.
For years I was trapped in unresolved feelings that lingered from my childhood. I fell deeper and deeper into a near fatal depression as I aged, and I didn’t see myself coming out alive. I was singing the Black Boy Blues, lingering emptiness and devastation from growing up disproportionately Black and male in America. I knew I needed help.
Therapy was always out of the question, though.
The truth is, Black men like me have traditionally been terrified of therapy—and for good reason. Our distrust of the medical field dates back several generations to the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, which caused hundreds of perfectly healthy young Black men to die from untreated injected syphilis. Their families were devastated as wives were unknowingly infected with the disease and children were being born with congenital syphilis. This massive human rights fail could have been prevented if those infected men hadn’t been manipulated and lied to by the U.S. Public Health Service.
For the larger Black community, there has always been the stigma that seeing a therapist is admitting that we’re crazy. We would rather take our problems to Jesus on Sunday mornings, hoping that prayer service would completely erradicate our mental health problems. There has also been a large distrust of the American mental health community, particularly psychiatrists, who have histories ofover-medicating and hyper-diagnosing young Black children for typical acting out behaviors.
While I didn’t fully subscribe to these ideals about therapists, I was highly skeptical of what I would gain from a trip to the couch.
I finally chose to break through the brick wall and take a seat on that dreaded couch. That initial session wasn’t long, like in the movies. The couch was soft Black leather and the therapist’s office was warm and inviting. I opened my mouth and began to sing my blues.
I spent a total of 8 weeks with a therapist this summer and that miniscule amount of time created a plethora of opportunities for me to reframe my entire existence. We began by surfacing those memories which haunted me and blocked my ability to move forward in relationships with the people I love most. I won’t say that it was joyful to pour out painful experiences, but it opened me up to a healing I’ve needed more than air in my lungs.
In reality, our blues are simply untreated diagnoses which have caused us to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. We walk around daily with full-sized depression, anxiety, anger, schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder. We live in bubbles and tread lightly around our friends and family, yet cry in dark spaces, praying that the voices and thoughts will be eradicated from our minds. We are scared to be placed in mental wards or prescribed unnecessary medication for our conditions.
Too many young Black men have been afflicted with various mental health issues. For instance, Dave Chapelle fled the country due to his increasing anxiety, spurred on by the demands of his wildly successful variety show.
We won’t soon forget the effects that bi-polar disorder left on talented singer-dancer Bobby Brown. His tragic self-medicating with cocaine-laced marijuana displaced his ability to perform at the high caliber of his New Jack Swing years.
Recently, singer Houston suffered a career-halting suicide attempt. The singer had been under psychiatric care for manic depression for nearly a year before he tried to jump from his 13 story London hotel room balcony. After being locked in a floor-level room, he finally gouged his eye out hoping the impact would send him up to heaven.
These stories are merely a representation of a fragment of Black men who have experienced the horrors of untreated mental health issues.
Although I have not fully conquered my depression in 8 weeks, I am in a much healthier place, having begun the work to end my own Black Boy Blues.
I’m no longer scared of the couch and fully believe it is crucial to our survival that we, Black men, participate in mental health treatment. We have so much to offer the world and debilitating circumstances have all too often taken us away from our destinies.
The blues are in all of us, but they don’t have to be.