I had my first psychotic break in high school. I was cleaning my very mess room when I suddenly collapsed, crumpled to the ground and began weeping. Not crying--WEEPING. Like the kind that they talk about in the Bible where there is gnashing of teeth, keaning, rocking. I lost control of my body. I felt that I was a prisoner in my own mind. All I could do was weep. My body was wracked with sobs so strong that they physically pained me. There was a rope of snot dripping, sliding in a single thick line from my face to the carpeted floor. I could not see past the tears. I kept crying and keening, sobbing long after my body ran out or water to for my eyes to weep with. It HURT. All through it I thought to myself : GET UP! WIPE YOUR FACE! MOVE A FUCKING FINGER! -- that’s how I screamed it at myself. I couldn’t. I think I remember that moment most because every time I see that scene in Kill Bill where Uma Thurman is trying to move her toes I am reminded of that one time when I couldn’t move my own toes.
I do not know how long I sat there on that floor with my snot and my floodgates of tears. I was vaguely aware of my dad coming into my room. He was scared. I was not a crier. I never cried. Even when I was berated, bullied, injured or punished, which was often, I did not cry. Maybe I was saving all of my tears for this moment? At any rate, the crying scared the shit out of my dad. His fear showed up as rage. One of the few emotions that he accessed and expressed, rage was always close to the surface for him. He yelled at me to get up, to stop. He pulled at my body, nudged me, stormed in and out of the room. He called a friend to yell with them about me and my nonsense. He was yelling at me outside and I was yelling at me inside. Neither of us knew what was happening or what to do. Both of us were scared. Both of us lacked the knowledge, skills and practice to support me in that moment. All we could do was wait it out.
Eventually I collapsed from exhaustion. Weeping takes a lot of energy!
When I woke up I felt normal. Which is to say that I didn’t feel anything. There was a long time where I did not have access to my emotions either. Physically I was sore, dehydrated, fatigued. We did not talk about it then or ever. I had asked before to go to therapy. My dad’s response was “ what thoughts Is your mother putting into your head.” My mom struggles with mental illness and it runs on her side of the family ( probably on my father’s too tbh). My bio parents have been broken up from an unknown former relationship that somehow produced three children each two years apart. They have vehemently hated each other for all of my living memory. I think this means that at some point they must have been very much in love, so much that the loss of that love still fuels the rage and hate that they have for each other. Must have been something.
At any rate it wasn’t my mother’s words that prompted my interest in therapy. I had never known her to go, but maybe that’s because I was somewhere else while she was doing it. I had known her to be medicated and self-medicated. I had seen and lived through the consequences of her struggles with mental health and the constant stresses and trauma of our daily life. I wanted therapy because I wanted something different for myself than what I saw my mom go through. My mom and I are the same in so many ways. I feared that we would also be the same in this.
It was several more years after that break before I got to go to therapy. After my adult adoption it was one of the first things that my momma set up for me. The therapist was a white lesbian woman who saw people in her West Hartford office. My mom was one of her patients. The therapist was great. I did not have to explain as much as I would have because she already had context from her sessions with my momma. Both about me specifically and about Black culture, queer culture and southern culture more broadly.
I have had a number of therapists since then, in the brief periods where I could afford it or had insurance ( healthcare should be free, it is a human right). Out of all of the therapists that I have had only one of them has been Black, that same therapist was also the only one to be queer and the only one to be from the US south. They say that it doesn’t matter who your therapist is or what identities they do or don’t share with you. That is a lie. It is colorblind propaganda that is actually rooted in white supremacy and some other things. It absolutely fucking matters. Let me tell you why.
On the low end therapy costs $60 - $75 per session. For people who have insurance the co-pay can be lower. For folks who do not have insurance the costs can be significantly higher. This is partially due to the outrageous costs that therapists have to bear: education, licensing, continuing ed, liability insurance because therapy can be life or death, office space that is secure where confidentiality can be kept, etc. I need weekly sessions, sometimes I need two sessions a week depending on what is happening. At the low end that means that I am paying $250 - $500 a month for therapy. For more context that is 10 - 40 hours worth of work at a $15 minimum wage. A lot of times lack of access to care can impact employability and ability to hold a job. I will not go deeper into that here, but I’m just saying. I’m providing this financial context so that I can get to my point about why it does matter whether or not your therapist and you have shared identities and cultural understandings.
A therapeutic hour is actually only 45 minutes, 50 if you are lucky. When I have a therapist who has shared context and cultural understandings I get a whole 45 minutes of therapy. I get to use the whole 45 minutes to work through whatever I need to work through. When I have a therapist who lacks shared context and cultural understandings sometimes my whole therapy hour gets eaten up by me having to explain the context so that the therapist has enough information to be able to accurately assess what is happening with me and provide appropriate feedback and advice. In this situation I am paying at least $60 an hour to teach someone about Black culture, southern culture, queer culture, trans and non binary identity and culture, the culture of poverty etc. In therapy as in life everyone has to explain their personal history. Everyone does not have to explain common, basic ass cultural understandings some of which are now even google-able. The truth is that these people are trained to see cis gendered heterosexual white wealthy people. They are trained to understand, diagnose and provide support for mental health issues in the ways that those mental health issues show up in those contexts. Therapy is one of the countless places where this dynamic exists. This dynamic is one of the hallmarks of the cis-heteropatriarchy (thanks for that language bell hooks!)that we all live in.
I have been so lucky that I have had the opportunity to work with Quinn Gee at Magnolia Mental health (@magnoliamhealth). With Quinn I got the whole hour for myself. No teaching required. With Quinn I did not need to brace myself for the possibility of casual transphobia, antiBlackness, shaming me for being poor or shaming poor folks in general, and a number of other things that can and do happen in the course of daily life and in therapy. With Quinn I was able to be supported in an emotionally safe environment--IMAGINE! not being emotionally safe in therapy, the place that is supposed to provide emotional support. If you are Black, queer, trans, poor, southern, raised in a culture outside of the US or one within it that is not mainstream. If you are any of the whole host of identities that are not cis gendered heterosexual white and wealthy then you do not have to imagine this. You have probably already experienced it. Or you don’t go to therapy because you do not want to experience it. Valid. Completely valid and logical response, not subjecting yourself to additional, avoidable violence. I have been there. In fact I’m there right now. The work of identifying a safe therapist is exhausting and can be triggering AF, especially when I am already in a stressful and or emotionally fragile state. When I most need it, I am least able to access it ( healthcare should be free. health workers and everybody else should have the things that they need to thrive whether they work or not.)
Quinn made therapy more accessible by offering sliding scale fee options to uninsured people. When I started with her I paid $30/hour. My income became unstable while I was working with her. Quinn did not drop me as a client (fuck capitalism, how is it that this is a thing being dropped when you cannot afford care and most need it??). Instead Quinn dropped the per session cost to $5. I could do that. With Quinn’s support I was able to go to a partial hospitalization program (php) when grad school pushed me to the edges of my sanity. In that php program and in therapy with Quinn I learned skills that have leveled me up in ways that I did not know were possible.
When you see me out here GLOWING THE FUCK UP-- producing new bodies (plural) of impactful work, winning solo show, getting published in an international journal, winning fellowships and residencies and fellowships to attend residencies, living my best most supported life despite COVID and suffering a devastating house fire--know that THERAPY did that. I did that. I did the work in therapy to be able to do that. I am actively still doing that work to be able to care for myself and access a high quality of life.
Today I am inviting you to support my communities by sponsoring some sessions for someone at Magnolia Mental Health. Message them through their profile @magnoliamhealth or through their website to get the details on how to make that donation.
*For my birthday this year I’m asking you to celebrate with me by supporting my joy, my work and my communities. Each day I’ll be sharing one simple thing that you can do to support me in each of these areas.