Let’s be honest, we haven’t seen or heard cishet Black men speak about mental health. Hell, just men in general. At least, not openly and regularly. So what better time than now? What better year than now, for me to share my journey with mental health?
Yes, I know you’ve heard it a million times but it bears repeating. This year hasn’t been kind to anyone and utterly ruthless to many. It’s largely responsible, for myself to finally seek out mental health support. This will be very personal, and honestly, a lot of will be very uncomfortable to read. However, I share this with the hopes that it’ll help you seek mental health support. I mostly hope that this particularly encourages members of the Black community everywhere.
Before, I begin I would like to remind everyone, seeking help with mental health doesn’t mean you’re broken. It doesn’t mean you are weak or anything else negative. Everyone could use some guidance and tools to help them work through rough patches. It’s a service that exists for the sake of our wellbeing. It helps us all assess our lives and help us stay well. We all personally, have different degrees of help we could use.
So, what exactly lead me to seek professional help for myself for the first time in my life? Well, I could say A LOT but that captures a mere microcosm of why I made this decision.
First and foremost, an unprecedented pandemic that has made the world standstill. A pandemic that is statistically more dangerous to Indigenous, Black, Brown, and poor communities. Great, we’re in danger because of systemic racism within medicine and science — it’s the American way. Then comes the fact that most essential workers are from the same aforementioned communities. Then most folks who are unemployed due to COVID are also Black and Brown. I was already pissed off at society with the clear message being sent. They would rather have the gear of capitalism move rather than have welfare systems in place to protect and provide us care.
Angry is too simple of a word to capture how these realities made me feel. This is, of course isn’t taking into account the politics where the highest office has been an avatar for white nationalism. However, society isn’t too down with Black folks being too loud. God forbid, we might get labeled radical, socialist, or whatever the public reads as a problem when we advocate for our lives.
Then came the senseless murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Tony McDade, and others. The theft of their lives reminded me again, how society operates. It’s a well-oiled machine that oppresses and crushes Black lives without missing a beat. Yes, even during a deadly pandemic, an embarrassing political climate, and dismal circumstances, anti-Blackness refused to take a backseat. Racism was again reminding us that our lives mean absolutely nothing.
So, as many protests and rightfully rioted in response to our pain, my mind was racing. I am experiencing collective Black trauma not just on a national level but globally. I was thinking the same thoughts we all have; why can’t we live? Can I not be persecuted and hated for my skin tone? I was asking the same questions that have been echoed for centuries by our ancestors.
So, I’m struggling, thinking about true Black liberation instead of the lies we’re fed. Am I emotional? Ha! What can I say that hasn’t been said before? My rage can burn the very ground I walk on. My anger could set on fire everything I see within view…rightfully. I’m so sad and hurt, my tears could replace the world’s oceans themselves. Thus, I’m teetering with these thoughts and emotions. You’ll notice I didn’t say was and or were. These emotions haven’t left and never will. More on this later though.
Before I continue, it’s important for me to note that, as a Black man, I face and process racism differently than my Black peers. Black queer folks, Black gender nonconforming folks, Black women, and anyone that’s not an able-bodied man faces greater pressures. The more intersections your life encompasses the further you are marginalized and subject to harm. This isn’t to undermine my mental health concerns in any way. It would be disingenuous for me to not acknowledge that others have even further complex issues. Racism is also intersectional.
So, how did I know that I really wasn’t doing well? Society kept giving me reasons to remain angry. Then we had to see wave after wave of white guilt and performative allyship. All of a sudden, society as a whole remembered our racial equities. Career fields, industries, and spaces where we don’t even encompass 5% put out a statement of “Black Lives Matters.” Do you know how utterly insulting and infuriating this was/is? Our societal inequalities have been well documented longer than we’ve all been alive. So now, as a response to Black death, white and non-Black folks are trying to get us hired? That’s not going to reform an entire society that works against us collectively.
Every activity I did was becoming too much. I had to show up to work because hey, we live in a capitalist society. So hey, I’m glad to have a full-time job, but then I’m wondering if I’ll be lucky to live to be as old as my mom. Working during the most mental anguish you and your community has ever had? It’s unbelievable in every way imaginable. Also, being told how I should feel and process my pain by non-Black people continued to piss me off. Then to have conversations with friends who were hurting was also a lot. I was tired like I’ve never been before in my life.
I was tired spiritually; Black folks know what I mean. The kind of tired no amount of sleep can fix. I would get enough sleep and I had my appetite but I was still tired. I work out from home? Tired. You may not know but I’m a consistent runner. I run every day, sans the rain. So, I would finish my 6-mile runs, sweaty, but my mind and attention was elsewhere. I would run and sometimes cry over the existential threat we have face.
It’s at this point, I saw an email reminder from my employer. “Don’t forget, there’s help available.” There was a link to the mental health service that they cover. So, I said what the hell. I know all my emotions and concerns didn’t come from nowhere. I knew how I felt was real and valid. But again, I allowed society to have me question how I should be processing. At this point, I had to ask a professional: Am I wrong for feeling this way for all this damn racism?
Thankfully, I was able to find a therapist with Talkspace. So what did my months of therapy help me understand? I was able to address the three main concerns on my mind; being angry at society, being frustrated at the world, respecting the mental health of others. When I tell you how comforting it was to hear a Black professional tell me I wasn’t wrong. I felt seen like a complete human being. Something I desperately needed.
Our sessions helped me to really understand why I was here. They also helped me to take those small steps to ask myself those tough questions. Speaking to a professional is nothing like speaking to each other about our mental health concerns. You’re being asked questions to help you explore what worries you. As well, being given tools and thought processes to help you unravel your problems.
So, why am I mostly angry at society and the world? Anti-blackness literally poisons everything and has infiltrated every corner of life. It robs us of life, equity, and even the ability to be seen in the most marginalized of communities. Why would I logically not be angry at what could end my life prematurely?
So as we talked, I remember we don’t ask for this pain and trauma. Yet, we still persisted in lieu of all this across the diaspora. I also came to really realize that the work I engage in is in response to this rage. It was a reminder that I work to highlight our humanity because I care. I’m using that anger as a reminder that our humanity demand we belong in all spaces fairly and equally. If I didn’t care I wouldn’t be half the writer I am today.
The next thing I have and still continue to struggle with is frustration. My frustrations with the performative allyship that came and went. As well as words of support but zero details on how they will change their racist (not discriminatory, racist) systems to be more equitable left me tired.
Again, I know we know it’s legitimately frustrating. To quote my therapist: If you can’t change a baby’s mind, do you think you can change the mind of grown adults? Yo, that was a moment as I found myself silent during our video chat. You can’t teach or demand change from people whom don’t care to do so. Why waste that energy on them?
My frustrations were a big one for me, I took a step back. I reassessed my work and relationships with everything. I never compromised my values and choose to not respond to white guilt. Over time, I have found myself working and connecting with new people and platforms. People who actually give a damn about marginalized voices in spaces that are painfully homogenous. If not for the clarity and reflection my sessions provided me, I honestly don’t believe I would’ve been responsive to these connections I have now.
The other issue I particularly struggle with is being mindful of other people’s mental health issues. We all are going through it right now. So it’s easy to ask “how are you?” This is more often a programed courtesy we can’t help. Regardless, in the year of a pandemic, economic stress, political unknowns, etc. people doing “good” might be a stretch.
Anyway, I now actively say hello and it’s good to see or hear people in the moment. This will be hard to stick to and reprogram myself. However, this is an act to let people know you appreciate them. This carries the same energy of “how are you?” I reciprocate the same when the question arises. I push through any awkwardness that may arise. The alternative possibly opens a door in which neither of us is trained professional to help our mental health concerns.
I know I’ve only been having sessions for a few months but I need to mention the following. Your mental well-being is not (I repeat, is not) the job of others to fix. Your partner, family, friends, coworkers, and/or, etc. Yes, people may care a great deal about us and express that in many ways. However, we can’t be each other emotional/psychology punching bags. We are all not trained licensed professionals. We don’t possess the ability or skills for that work. Despite how much we want to help and recognize the pain, it’s the job of people whom are paid to do so.
I regularly talk to friends in various group chats and how we’re doing naturally comes up. As I’ve mentioned before, I share I’m glad to be with them and keep it moving. I’m in a relationship with some and often get asked how I am, my day, and so forth like most people would ask. I make it a point to not project my deep concerns. I will surely mention the various issues that I feel comfortable with. I regularly have to remind them; I’m working through things with my therapist. It’s not a lack of not waiting to share how I am or how I am doing. I’m actively making sure I’m not the source or a part of someone’s mental fatigue. If you find yourself having to do so, please reassess that relationship. None of us deserve that but hey what do I know?
I’ve said a lot but I really urge you all to please seek therapy. Everyone can use the time and care to speak to a therapist. We all can use the time to unpack and work through our most pressing thoughts. You owe it to yourself truly. Now, again I did write this mostly for Black people. To Black women, Black trans folks, Black folks please seek out this support. We all deserve it, but the most marginalized of us truly deserve to seek out these resources.
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I leave you with these few thoughts. I’m a cishet able-bodied Black man. I have a full-time job and actively work to become a full-time writer. My concerns and complaints are low relatively speaking. However, that doesn’t take away the fact they are legitimate problems that I possess. They are just as valid as everyone else’s. I want you to know that your problems are legitimate and there’s help available.
PS, shout out to my therapist for recommending that I write about this.