Content Warning: This page mentions suicidal ideation and sexual abuse..
Like many men, I have struggled to identify and interact with emotions.
My inability to do so has caused me a lot of emotional pain and distress. I had tried to address these shortcomings on my own at first. But recently, I started working with a therapist through the website Better Help, and it has been a top 10 decision in my life. Here is my story:
On the surface, everything looked great. Imani and I had saved up enough money to quit our jobs to travel and start our own business. Our Insta photos were picture perfect. But that wasn’t the whole story.
All of the newfound free time was giving me the opportunity and space to think, feel, and process, and it was dragging up some painful thoughts and emotions that I had been pushing away. I tried what I had done all my life: to continue pushing them away as they came up. But this time, the emotions became worse and worse. Things reached a tipping point in India, when, while sitting at a cafe, I began to have suicidal ideation and imagined running into traffic.
That moment was a reality check for me, but I still did not reach out for professional help. I spoke with Imani and, for the first time, we talked about how Imani’s own trauma had impacted me. Imani was sexually abused by a family “friend” as a child, and consequences of this abuse had obviously negatively impacted her greatly (in ways only she has the right to speak to), and her mental health had been the priority in terms of what we needed to address. But because we had been working through it for years and she was stronger than ever – “almost a different person” by her account – I finally felt like it was time to share how my desire to be strong and steady “fixer” while addressing her trauma further perpetuated and reinforced my bad communication habits. These included not sharing my emotions, not prioritizing how I honestly felt, not understanding how events and experiences affected me, not prioritizing my own well being, and invalidating my feelings in general.
After sharing this with her, I felt better, but it opened up a can of worms. I began feeling a lot of the emotion and pain that I had been pushing away in order to be a “rock” for her (even though, to be clear, pushing away emotions was something I had started years before I had even met her). Afterwards, I began working to process these emotions, but I didn’t share or talk about my experience or what I was going through with anyone except Imani.
Why didn’t I go to therapy at this point? Well, I didn’t feel like I needed professional help, because I wasn’t taking my own problems seriously enough (which, ironically, was the issue at the very center of the very problem I had).
Another negative habit I learned growing up was not reaching out for help. And admitting I needed help would be admitting that my problem was serious. Perhaps, ultimately, I had too much pride to do so. After speaking with many of my friends, I feel like this is a common problem among men specifically; we are not typically as encouraged to express our emotions, ask for help, or admit we have problems, especially mental ones.
The next several months were an emotional roller coaster. I was all over the place, and Imani was the only one there to help me pick up the pieces. One evening, after I had begun to recover from another depressive episode, Imani told me that she couldn’t help me on her own. It was becoming too much for her. I could see the pain and hurt in her eyes and hear it in her voice, but I could also feel the love. She encouraged me to reach out to a therapist.
In a moment of clarity that night, I created a profile on Better Help and started the intake process. I had my first therapy session with my therapist several days later. It was nerve-wracking, and I was apprehensive. I didn’t know what to expect. That first session, I shared so many truths that I had never shared with anyone – not even Imani – because I hadn’t realized or understood them before. The next day, It was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. My therapist helped me validate my feelings and emotions and through discussion, also recognized that I had emotional trauma of my own that I hadn’t been dealing with.
Sharing with my therapist has given me the strength to share my truth not only with Imani but with many of my friends. They have all been so supportive and I’ve learned that some of them are seeing therapists as well. Sharing my story and being heard after repressing and holding in my emotions and feelings has been a life changing event.
I still have a long way to go and many obstacles to overcome, but taking my mental health seriously and reaching out for professional help has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I am without a doubt a better, stronger and healthier person than I was before I started therapy. It has dramatically improved my own life, but it has also improved my relationship with Imani.
Those of you reading this who are working on your mental health and seeing a mental health professional: I applaud your bravery. Those of you who have not embarked on this journey, for whatever reason: know that you don’t have to tackle the depths of your emotions alone. I encourage you to reach out to someone you know, or contact a mental health professional.
Covid may make it difficult to see a therapist in person. I personally recommend using Better Help. If you use this link, you’ll get your first week of therapy for free.
If you’ve had a positive experience with therapy and would like to share, please don’t hesitate to share in the comments below.
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