I wish I could tell you that I grew up learning healthy ways to manage my life, but unfortunately that wasn’t always the case — especially when it came to mental health.
Where I come from, we didn’t talk about mental health or depression, much less how to find help if you needed it. I grew up thinking that therapy was not for people like me — strong black women don’t get depressed, right?
Back then the prevailing idea was that therapy was for wealthy white people who weren’t strong enough to solve their problems on their own. In my community, if you were depressed, you just learned to get happy again. If you couldn’t get happy again on your own, you learned to fake it.
The problem is, you can only fake it for so long.
Have you ever tried to stuff down trash so that you could get more into the trash can so that you don’t actually have to do the work of taking out the trash? You keep pushing and pushing but eventually the bin will overflow.
I feel like this is also what happens when you try stuff down or ignore your feelings. You can only make so much room before you’re forced to clean up an even bigger mess.
Once I reached a personal breaking point, I realised I had to stop trying to push down and push away what I was feeling — and I had to seriously rethink a lot of the “norms” and ideas I was taught about mental health.
That’s how I found my way to therapy. I not only realised that therapy wasn’t just for the affluent, or for people who didn’t look like me, but also that seeking out help didn’t mean that I was “crazy” or “broken.” In fact, it meant that I was brave.
It wasn’t easy at first. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the sessions, what to look for in a therapist, or whether or not therapy would really “work” for me.
But if you’re like me and previously thought that therapy wasn’t for you, or if you’re nervous about giving it a try, I can tell you from experience that it is most definitely worth it. Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider to find out more about options in your area and look for resources online.
In the meantime, check out a few of my personal tips to consider as you get started.
Talk therapy is exactly what it sounds like. In this type of therapy, you meet with a mental health professional and talk about what sorts of challenges you’re dealing with.
In my opinion, with talk therapy it’s always a good idea to figure out what your goals are. If I can identify what I’m trying to accomplish, that helps me to feel more productive in my sessions.
Your goal could be as straightforward as looking for ways to help manage your depression symptoms, or it might be something more specific.
Do you want to overcome a bad breakup or perhaps work through some unhealthy dating patterns? Are you concerned about your relationships with your family and friends? Is there some challenge in your life that you are struggling with?
Whatever your goals or unique obstacles are, there are skills you will need in order to cope with these problems and therapy can be a useful tool in helping you learn those skills.
You may want to seek out a specialist
For every challenge in life you need a strategy to overcome it. It’s difficult to work on a problem if you don’t have the right tools.
Because I am living with both ADHD and depression, I wanted to find someone who had expertise in working with others with ADHD to better understand how my two conditions might impact each other.
Not every therapist specialises in other conditions beyond mental health issues, but finding a specialist may be worth looking into if you live with another condition that impacts your depression symptoms.
Find someone you trust
If you’re going to enter therapy, now is not the time to get shy. It’s important to always be completely honest with your therapist. If you’re not giving them the best information, how can you expect them to effectively treat you?
This is why it’s important for you to select someone you can trust. For me personally as a black woman, that meant finding a therapist who is culturally competent.
If you’re always trying to explain where you’re coming from, it may be difficult for you to get comfortable with your therapist. If you’re not comfortable, you won’t be able to be truthful, and if you’re not being truthful… well, you know the rest.
Tell the people who matter most to you what you’re doing
During this time, you’re going to need the people who you love most to realise that you’re going through this process. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they will understand, but that’s OK. It’s totally fine for you to proceed into territory that your loved ones won’t understand.
The people who love you will support you even when they don’t understand. Being honest with them will let them know what to expect when you’re going through the therapeutic process and that you may need a little extra love.
Be gentle with yourself during the process
You are not going to change overnight — no one does. Therapy and any kind of inner work requires both time and space before you start to see and feel the benefits.
I know how badly you want to heal. You want to be healed immediately. But healing doesn’t happen like that. Healing means learning new skills and trying different strategies until you find what works.
Healing may be slow, but don’t worry. You’re going to feel relief bit by bit. You can do it.
Therapy is just one tool to help along the journey of depression recovery and management, but it can be an important one. It’s important for you to know that. Self-help books alone can’t do it. Leaning on your support system alone can’t do it. Medication alone can’t do it.
If you’re struggling, consider working through those issues with a professional. It could be one of the most positive decisions you ever make for yourself.
Job Code: UK/MED/18/0256
Date of Preparation: August 2018