His name is Dr. Evans. And we often spend the last few seconds of our meetings comparing fashion notes. “I like your shoes, Dr. Evans.” “Thanks,” he replies, “When I wore them, I wondered if they matched my sweater, but then I saw this cream/khaki color and knew it worked!” “Where did you get those pants?” “H&M,” I respond. “Oh, do you think they have pants to fit my body size?” he smiles while asking. “Hmm, I believe so,” I say, and repeat a smile. The meat of our meetings, though, we talk about me -- my insecurities. Why I’m so damn hard on myself. My negative self-talk and how I spend so much time ruminating on things I cannot control. My fears parenting a multiracial six year old. Learning to forgive myself for not appropriately grieving my mom’s death sixteen years ago. Accepting that going through a divorce does not make me a dead-beat [black] dad. The conundrum that is me -- self-assured, bold, and confident in so many moments in my life and anxious, scared, and unassertive in many other times.
Dr. Evans, of course, is my counselor. And we’ve been seeing each other for nearly a year now. And I am not ashamed to admit that I have a counselor. Perfect, meticulous, precise Stephen has a counselor. Messy, unsure, overthinking, hyper sensitive Stephen has a counselor. Bold, confident, hilarious, personable, empathetic Stephen has a counselor. ACPA Vice President, tenured associate professor, often-requested consultant on difficult dialogues Stephen has a counselor. Painfully lonely at times, needing community, feeling isolated, sheltered Stephen has a counselor. Self-reflective parent, compassionate partner, slow-but-always-moving runner Stephen has a counselor. Learning to love my Blackness Stephen has a counselor.
For 60 minutes, twice a month, I get to talk about me and have Dr. Evans’s undivided attention. For someone who spends so much time being in charge and taking care of others (facilitating a class or workshop, giving a keynote, being a parent), I get to focus on me. And I love it. And it’s excruciatingly hard work. He gives me homework. I won’t insert an eye roll after that sentence because the nerd in me loves it. The most impactful of these homework assignments has been monitoring my negative self-talk and practicing being kinder to myself.
Turns out, I spend A LOT of time engaged in negative self-talk. That I am not worthy of my partner’s love and affection. That I am not a good parent. That that last class was poorly facilitated, and all the students will give me the worst teaching evaluations ever. Ever. That I am too short. That my legs are too long. That my torso is too short. That this article will never get accepted. That I am too sensitive. When I get into negative self-talk space, it consumes me. I am unable to be creative and write. I feel so lonely. And I feel so unloved. And I am incapable of showing up as me. And then I get mad at myself for not being able to write, and the cycle continues. I have been a negative self-talker for my whole life. My. Whole. Life. But, I’ve been able to manage it with my perfectionist ways. From 2014-2016, however, I was unable to manage it. So, I stopped resisting getting help and reached out. A good friend recommended Dr. Evans, and so I reached out.
Oh, and Dr. Evans is Black. And that matters. A Lot. I’ll tell you why in a moment.
Wait. That seems too easy, right? A good friend recommended Dr. Evans, and so I reached out. And so I reached out. Just like that, I reached out. Wrong. In fact, I’ve known I needed professional help for some time. When I was going through problems in my marriage, I went to a marriage counselor. And I left virtually every session feeling miserable. I’d mention how racism was impacting me, and my counselor would be silent. Or, she’d find some alternative explanation for what I was feeling. And so, naturally, I stopped bringing up the excuse of racism. I constantly felt like a terrible person for choosing to end my marriage. I felt like I needed to stick it out for Sebastian’s sake. She talked about how he might be harmed by living in two different homes. For an already insecure, anxious person, marriage counseling only worsened my feelings of failure. And so, when my current partner mentioned counseling to me, I resisted it vehemently. Why did I need to spend my time and resources getting help when I wasn’t the problem? I’d framed myself as a problem. No, let me rephrase that. I’d learned to accept myself as a problem given the racism I was experiencing in my black body. When my partner pushed me to consider my financial resources and privilege in the situation -- the fact that I had the ability to access counseling, I swallowed my pride and admitted that she was right. Even so, reluctantly, I sought out counseling. But, I knew I needed a black counselor. This is not to frame all black counselors as immediately getting it -- the it being how systemic racism works and what racial battle fatigue is. Hesitantly, during my first counseling session, I mentioned words like racial microaggressions and racial battle fatigue, and Dr. Evans got it. He understood. And that’s why Dr. Evans being black matters. A lot. Equally important, though, is his knowledge of what I was experiencing. His ability to believe me when I said racism was happening was crucial. The feeling of not having to explain myself and defend what I was experiencing matters. His validation. His empathetic pushing. All that mattered, too.
I won’t go into a long soliloquy on the importance of black people seeing counselors. I know why so many resist, and I know why I resisted. And we need not apologize for our resistance. History matters, and historically, white folks have not believed us when we divulge how racism impacts us, or they minimize our experiences. But, I will say this: we are worthy of taking care of ourselves. We matter enough to do so. It is not self-indulgent or selfish. It is a courageous act, one that we must celebrate anytime a black person chooses to practice self-care. It is an act of resistance. A bold, fierce act of declaring that we matter in a world that often tells us we don’t. So, I celebrate those who choose this act. And I know it is not easy. And yet, I celebrate you, see you, and believe wholeheartedly that you are worthy of loving yourself and practicing self-care and healing.
Okay, maybe that was kind of a long soliloquy. Whatever. It’s my blog.