To the Therapist Who Called Me a 'Strong Black Woman'


I knew at the age of 16 that life wasn’t going to be easy as a teenage, single parent. Somehow between the late nights and early days, I was able to walk across that stage and receive my high school degree. That was just one of many obstacles I battled through.

My son was nonverbal until he was 5 years old. There were times he was upset and could not tell me why. It took years of fighting with doctors, teachers and other professionals to finally get some answers. My son has autism, which is characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as unique strengths and differences. There was nothing I could do but be the best mother I could be.

After that, life kept handing me one stressful situation after another. Miscarriages, a failed marriage ending in divorce, having to work as a stripper because I could only get someone to watch my son at night. One day I couldn’t take it any more. I gave away everything I owned, so the children and I could move back home.

The stress and the pressure that was my life was too much to bare. I could barely make it out of bed. There were days that I just… cried. I tried to keep it together, but I couldn’t. I drank more than I should have. I wasn’t living; I was just surviving.

I confided in my mother about being completely overwhelmed with life. I needed some help. I suggested therapy to help me cope. She was totally against it. “Don’t you go telling them people what happens in this house. What goes on in this house stays in this house. They are going to blame me anyways. They always blame the mother. Plus, you need to pray about it,” said Mom.

It would be weeks of replaying that conversation (over and over again in my head) before I would pick up the phone and call your office. I had to force myself not to turn the car around, and go back home several times. I made myself sit in your waiting area against my words of my mother and my faith.

Why am I telling you this? I wanted you to know I was hanging on by a thread. You were my last hope. I didn’t know what else to do, so I turned to a therapist. The drinking, crying and feeling helpless could have been signs of depression. You were supposed to help me. You didn’t.

I told you about me, my struggles and how I was feeling inside. You sat there in your expensive clothing, your perfectly decorated office and smiled at me the entire time. When I finished being open, vulnerable and raw, you said words that would haunt me to this day.

“You seem like a strong black woman, and found ways to cope. I’m proud of you. Please come back if you feel like life is too much to handle.”

Why didn’t you hear me? Why didn’t you acknowledge the internal battle between me, my culture and my faith that I had to overcome? Why didn’t you see all of me? Why did you ignore the tears that streamed down my cheeks? Why didn’t you know I had had enough of being “strong?”

Perhaps you believed the stereotype that black women are strong and conditioned to handle stress better than a white women like yourself. Maybe you accepted the belief that this is my lot in life. I’m destined to struggle and somehow, make things work out. That’s what you see on television, usually solved by the end of a sitcom’s episode, or a movie: the strong, single black mom making it all work out in the end.

I’m not strong because I want to be, or because I’m trained to be. I’m strong because I have to be. You invalidated and ignored my pain, allowing me to nearly drown in my own sorrow because you didn’t care enough to know me.

I’m now speaking on Decolonization and Microaggressions in Therapy. Not only do I share my story, but I share stories from other women who had similar experiences.

No, you didn’t save me. Maybe I can help save someone else from just being “A Strong Black Woman” and coping with it themselves.

This piece originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Thinkstock


Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.


Related to Depression

woman

Why I'm Opting Out of the 'Recovery' Narrative

Roughly two years ago, I wrote a personal essay about mental illness. I subsequently shared it on social media, shamelessly embodying my generation. It was primarily a cathartic tell-all that detailed my own experience with depression, but it was also objectively informative in some ways. I made an effort to weave in some statistics and [...]
messy teenage girl room

Why I Can't Just Clean My Room, Even When My Parents Tell Me To

“Your room is disgusting, you need to clean it.” My mom says that to me at least once a day. “How come you never help out? You just sit in your room all day.” See the thing is, they have no idea how hard it is for me to even get out of bed some [...]
Glass full of sugar cubes on a pink background with a blue straw

What You Need to Know About the Study Linking Sugar Consumption to Depression

Editor’s note: To give context to this study, this piece discusses figures that could potentially be triggering to someone with an eating disorder. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. Depression is complicated. From genes to the environment, there are a number of factors that contribute [...]
A jar with colorful popsicle sticks in it

What This Small but Significant Gesture Can Show Us About Loving Someone With Depression

It’s easy to feel hopeless when your significant other is caught in the clutches of depression — because if you can’t “love” depression away, what can you do? While small gestures can’t cure depression, they can help — and Reddit user bovadeez shared an adorable and creative example of what significant others can do when their [...]