BROTHERS AND THERAPY
By ALLEN ALLENSWORTH IV
People respond to adversity in a lot of ways. Some people try to find themselves. Others turn to God. Still others turn to sex, drugs, and/or rock and roll. If you’re a black man, you have a lot of options, but finding yourself isn’t one of them. Especially if it means going to therapy. Black men may go to church or the titty bar, but we don’t go to therapy. I don’t mean court-ordered counseling or your cousin over a drink (probably at the titty bar). I don’t mean couple’s counseling. I mean one-on-one with a clinically trained, board certified, MD-having, drug-prescribing psychiatrist.
There are a lot reasons why. The expense is certainly one of them. Many health insurance plans don’t cover mental health and those that do don’t cover it completely. But the biggest deterrent is social. If you’re a black man in the D, your boys are not likely to be publicly supportive. You don’t reply to, “What up doe?” with, “Great, therapy really has me understanding myself.”
Your average black woman isn’t likely to think much of it either. I can just hear the internal monologue, “So wait, I’m working two jobs, raising my kids alone, volunteering at church, starting my own business, dealing with racism AND sexism all while deal with your raggedy ass … And you’re in therapy? N, please!”
In the black community, mental health isn’t something we talk about, even though we all know somebody who needs help. I guess that isn’t surprising. Mental health isn’t a big priority in society at large. And if mental health in general doesn’t matter, you just know the mental health of black folks is a low priority. Detroiters my age still remember the impact of then-Governor John Engler shutting the Lafayette Clinic and putting the mentally ill patients out on the street.
You know where I’m going with this; yes, I’ve been to a psychiatrist. (I also was in a relationship with one for almost a decade; we’ll get to that later.) What’s interesting is how I got there. I fancy myself a creative type – though a manly creative type – so baseline I’m a little eccentric. It’s kind of amazing I’ve gotten as far in life as I have because for most of my life I wasn’t terribly disciplined or focused. I was prone to the blues. I accomplished things in spurts. I had days or weeks of intense inspiration and focus. These were always followed by days or weeks or months of blah where I couldn’t get out of bed. Ok, yeah, easy enough to see this as depression from the outside. But from the inside, it was just how I was. And like I said, mental health isn’t something black folks talk about.
I also had a temper. I didn’t just get angry, I got scary angry. In college, I threw a guy through a window... Seriously, I fought a lot. And by this time, I was big enough that very few people would willingly face me when I was enraged. Rage is a bad thing on a college campus, but it’s completely unacceptable in a professional environment. I suppose I knew that because I never lost control at work. (I also never lost it in a relationship. Or rather, I never directed the anger at whoever I was dating. In the worst argument that my ex-wife and I ever had, I threw a T-shirt at her from across the room. It didn’t reach her.)
I went along like this for years. Through college. Through grad school. Through law school. Into practice at a big law firm.
So yeah, time to see the psychiatrist.
©2017 Allen Allensworth IV