Many of us were raised to be strong, black women who didn’t need help handling our emotions. Because of these Superwoman attitudes; a survival mechanism developed during slavery which normalizes our own suffering, it’s easy to see why we don’t often seek therapy. However, not seeking therapy can lead to detrimental consequences. With more awareness, openness and less shame, we can begin to shift the attitudes around anxiety, depression and other mental health many of us face.

In our multi-part series on mental health care that will examine the many stigmas around mental health, as well as the lives of women who battle depression, anxiety and other mental health and self care issues, Mariama Bramble openly shares intimate thoughts about her journey to mental strength through her personal experiences with therapy and how it has helped her to become more self-aware.

Right now I’m listening to my last session on my phone. I’m half smiling half frowning. It’s weird to hear my own voice and I feel slightly nervous or maybe embarrassed about the story that I’m telling my therapist. I start by running through all of the things that I signed myself up for in January, including writing this column. I start talking about a dream I had about someone who really hurt me. I’m chuckling as I read the notes the I wrote down when I was experiencing it all.

It feels heavy and why am I laughing? In addition to my day job I have a slew of very time consuming projects that I’m working on executing in January. Who the fuck do I think I am? I ask myself this regularly, actually. But Let me back up. Why the hell am I here?

At the beginning of 2015, I began to recognize that I was not meeting my own needs for self-care. I’m usually very self aware and I knew that there were patterns that I needed to get a hold of to move forward. I was making the same dating mistakes, “dealing with “ what felt like crippling anxiety, and perhaps seeking acceptance and approval from outside sources. And as a 30 something woman, I don’t think that shit is cute.  I kept saying things like “I feel like my life is in shambles” without really identifying specifically what that meant.

In fact, my life was not at all in shambles. I made a move from Boston to D.C., I bought a condo at 28 nine months later, I was making lots of new friends, etc., etc., and for all intents and purposes I was doing well.

I had to really keep it 100 with myself to begin to define what “in shambles” meant for me. It was really that I needed to work on emotional strength. I felt like I was not in control and I was uncomfortable with the amount of power other people had over how I felt. This power that I was allowing people to have was learned behavior from my up-brining. (Perhaps more on that in a later column.) I knew that I wanted to make changes in my life, but I wasn’t exactly sure where to begin. So I decided to go to therapy, to really make long lasting changes in my life.

So I googled “therapist, D.C.”…LOL. This was not helpful at all. What actually worked for me was to tell everyone that I knew and trusted that I was interested in therapy and my tribe came through! I had a slew of life couches and therapist to choose from. Now, the first one I went to was awesome, but I wasn’t making progress. She was really great but her style did not work well for me. And this was the first lesson that I learned. Kind of like dating, finding the right fit is a process.

It has been a few months now and I feel armed with more tools that will help me get to my goal of complete awareness and emotional freedom. Since I’ve been doing this for a little bit now, there are a few things that I want to share on how to find a good therapist and getting the most out of your therapy sessions:

Set Goals For Yourself And Your Sessions
Your therapist should be goal oriented and you should be too. The point is to make progress! You’re not there just to vent. While that does happen, you are there to connect the dots, so that you can identify problem areas and make changes.

Make Sure Your Therapist Is A Good Fit
Your therapist should have an initial meeting with you to make sure that they are a good match. Because as I mentioned before, just because they are good doesn’t mean they are good for you.

Be Real With Yourself
You should spend some time with yourself really thinking about what you want. You may not have all the answers but this will help you inform your therapist. Try to identify patterns. Present day and from your past. For example, based on my experiences I narrowed down the things I wanted to work on to be anxiety and confrontation. These are the two things that I felt had the most negative impact on my life personally and professionally.

Feel Free To Get Your Life
Your life doesn’t actually need to be in shambles to benefit from therapy. It takes strength and awareness to recognize that you may need help and that you don’t have all the answers. Plus your friends are not therapist, and I’m sure they are as tired of your shit as you are!

I’m still a work in progress, and I will be here sharing my lessons and trying my hardest not to feel like a complete vulnerable hot mess as I share them here, but I’m loving the growth that I see so far. Many times our minds are stuck in the past while we make our way through life working towards our dreams. I have a greater respect for my past and what that means for my future as I am learning to be present.

I’m just here doing my best to find balance.

— Mariama Bramble

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