“When you feel sad, it’s okay. It’s not the end of the world. Everyone has those days when you doubt yourself, and when you feel like everything you do sucks, but then there’s those days when you feel like Superman. It’s just the balance of the world. I just write to feel better.” – Mac Miller
My emotions often feel like a burden.
Four years ago, I sought help by going to therapy. There is a stigma surrounding mental health and therapy, especially for black men. We aren’t taught to talk about our emotional experiences, and mental problems are considered a sign of weakness. At the time, I embraced the stigmas. I thought that I wasn’t crazy, so why would I need therapy?
Making that decision to go to therapy wasn’t a sign of weakness, it was a display of strength. I found therapy to be helpful in not only understanding my emotions but where they came from.
I learned that it’s okay to not be okay, and it’s also okay to seek help.
I became an advocate for mental health and utilized writing as a healing tool and also a form of expression. I shared my personal experiences to help combat the stigma against therapy and to normalize the topic of mental health amongst my peers. As a writer, I was an advocate, but over the years, I stopped going to therapy and never sought the help I needed.
Instead of therapy, I attempted to rewire my brain of negative thought patterns through self-medication or by ignoring them altogether. I felt like a fraud and an imposter. How could I advocate for anyone else’s mental health if I wasn’t taking care of my own?
That all changed this week when I took an essential step of real self-care and booked my first therapy session in four years. Before my session, I was anxious but incredibly proud of taking the necessary action in my healing process.
As the session progressed, I told a bit of my story with tears involved. The dam broke. All the emotional turmoil that I buried deep inside of me started to make its way out. I couldn’t ignore them anymore, but I was in the right place to let go, to release my tension, and to release myself from my own doubt.
After the session, I walked away with many lessons, but the three most important ones that stuck with me are:
1. There is no perfect
Perfectionism is a curse that gives, but it also takes. It takes away your self-worth. Perfection is a moving target that is impossible to hit, and each time you miss the mark, it lowers your self-esteem. This is how I operated for the past 30 years. I’ve always tried to live up to the idea of ‘perfect’—being the perfect boyfriend, the perfect friend, the perfect employee, or the perfect sibling. But where does the concept of ‘perfect’ come from? The idea of ‘perfect’ is something that we make up. There is no ‘perfect,’ and ‘imperfect’ isn’t real because imperfection implies that perfect exists. We are neither perfect nor imperfect. We just are.
2. Don’t invalidate your emotions
I often use different excuses or make up scenarios as a reason to invalidate my emotions. This act of invalidation only buries the feelings deeper into your subconscious to the point that they become harder to release. Emotions aren’t who we are, and they don’t define us. It is okay to validate what you’re feeling, but be sure to not hold onto whatever it is. Emotions are never permanent, they are fleeting as they come and go. If you’re sad, feel sad, but don’t define yourself as sad. If you’re angry, feel the anger. More often than not, when we’re mad, it’s for a good reason. Those reasons are real, and it is okay to feel the anger that comes with it. But don’t hold onto it. Don’t invalidate your emotions, but feel them and then let them go.
3. Stop holding onto worries, failures, and disappointments
This one hits close to home for me because it is something that I’m frequently guilty of. I am my own worst critic and also an overthinker. I live in my head, which is at the root of my anxiety. It is hard for me to overcome the act of failure because I dwell in it. My worries become more prominent than they need to be because they swirl around in my head like a Ferris wheel. I overthink every situation and scenario, the bad ones included. When you begin to overthink and hold onto worries, failures, and disappointments, it creates problems that aren’t real. Holding on makes something out of nothing. Just like emotions, validate whatever you’re holding onto and move on.
There is no shame in seeking help for your mental health. When it comes to our mental health, we often look for an easy way out. We don’t want to confront our thoughts or emotions because we’re scared of seeing ourselves. Going back to therapy was an investment in myself. I also hope that by writing this, I can inspire other men, especially black men, to take the leap.