Jay-Z and I have something in common, I think.
On his latest album, 4:44, the hip hop star and business mogul raps, “My therapist said I relapsed.” Upon hearing that line on “Smile,” I thought to myself, that’s some good sh-t, even Jay got a therapist. I don’t know if it’s true, but I hope it is, and I hope other Black men catch on. Apologizing for the harm that we’ve caused is good, but there is so much trauma that can be prevented by just working on ourselves. Escaping the ‘hood, getting an education or earning money the legitimate way is not enough— we need to heal.
But you can’t heal what you never reveal.
Many of us need help shining the light on trauma that’s created everything from anger to abandonment issues. Most of us don’t realize that it takes work to heal the pain caused by family, sexual, intra-community, and institutional violence—yeah, all of that. We have to do the work to deal with anger and anxieties, and accepting our insufficiencies. We can’t fix what we don’t face.
Dealing With Pain
I, a cisgender, heterosexual, southern, Christian, Black male scholar approaching 40, see a therapist to reveal, heal, and deal with my junk. Ironically, my intersecting social identities make folks assume men such as myself—and Jay-Z— are the least likely candidates to seek professional help, at least not of their own volition. However, two Black men and the ethos of my faith community encouraged me to go to therapy. And I’ve had a consistent relationship with the same therapist for more than a decade. Of course I get the obvious question, “You’ve been in 11 years of consistent therapy—why though?” My answer: “Because it works.” Talk therapy has saved my life and prevented me from destroying my relationships with others.
Issues from my past, my responses and negative thought patterns led me to seek mental health treatment. In my early twenties, trauma and my stinking thinking lead to depression and anxiety that wreaked havoc on my personal, romantic, and professional lives. My education, the little bit of money that I was making, and my natural gifts could not save me. I needed professional help.
I’ve been in therapy for 11 years because I believe it is— just like the expertise of a medical doctor— essential for wellness and wholeness. I visit a general practitioner at least once a year for a check-up because my family history puts me at risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease—my high cholesterol won’t let me be great. I try to get tested for STIs every six months. I go to the dentist to get my teeth cleaned and cavities filled twice a year. I go to the eye doctor often because I have a progressive eye disease (Keratoconus), which significantly impairs my vision. I do all of this because I not only want to heal the stuff that ails me, but also prevent future sickness.
Talk therapy helps me heal pain and gives me the tools to maintain my current mental and emotional wellbeing.
I will likely always have a relationship with a therapist because I’ve got sh-t to do that requires me to be mentally and emotionally well. I’ve known since at least the age of 16 that I was called to use my voice, pen, and intellect for something meaningful. Since that time, in various contexts I have been living my life out loud, doing justice work, and helping folks transform their lives. This work gives me life, but it’s also a heavy load to carry that can lead to burnout, self-sabotage, or harm of others. I can’t effectively do any of it if I am not whole. My Black life has to matter as much as the Black lives that I am advocating for.
Therapy has helped me heal a great deal of stuff—I’m now a better version of myself, which translates to how I treat my loved ones—but I still have stuff to work through. Issues from my past creep up in the oddest ways and therapy helps me identify sh-t with the potential to cause depression in the present, and attack it. To be clear, I haven’t been in therapy every week for the last decade. The frequency of my appointments has changed over the course of my treatment, from weekly visits during the first few months to on an as-needed basis for much of the last nine years. What does that mean? When I’m feeling stressed or have an issue that I know may trigger something—everything from work to family issues—I schedule an appointment to talk things out. In therapy I get to be 100 percent honest about how I’m feeling and get some emotional space to figure out how I want to handle things. I want to encourage more Black men to sit on the couch because our refusal to do so is destroying our lives and the lives of others.
Changing My Life
Therapy gave me the tools to manage the depression, anxiety, and ADHD that I live with every day. Before treatment, I allowed each of these conditions to manage me and wreak havoc on all areas of my life.
Therapy saved me from suicide. I used to let thoughts of death deluge my mind for days because I would rather be dead than be a failure, face punishment, deal with the hurt of abandonment or disappoint someone whose love I wanted.
Therapy gave me the confidence to name and talk about my feelings. Articulating my emotions allowed me address the root causes and begin the healing process.
Therapy helped me accept that I needed to get on anti-depressant medication, and gave me the insight to know when it was time to develop a strategy to get off them.
Therapy gave me the tools to face and manage conflict, when before I let it build up then I would implode or rage.
Therapy helped me to move away from co-dependent toxic relationships to a healthy romantic partnership.
Therapy helped me set boundaries.
Therapy helped me get unstuck.
Therapy helped me love myself.
Therapy helped me to accept myself.
Therapy helps me stay better.
Maco L. Faniel, a native Houstonian, is an educator, scholar, writer, speaker and advocate. Maco is the author of Hip Hop in Houston: The Origin and Legacy, and he currently researches the history of the war on drugs in Houston. Follow him @macofaniel.