Black people don’t do therapy, we smile.
Last week I was waiting in line at Costco, ready to check out with a bulk supply of water, paper towels, and those tasty keto coconut clusters that I shamefully devoir in one sitting — -real first world shit. The cashier and her assistant were cheerful and friendly, smiling with their eyes as we can no longer see creases around the lips thanks to COVID and mandatory mask requirements.
The cashier asked the gentlemen who was checking out ahead of me if he found everything he was looking for. The guy paused for a brief moment and said, “Well actually, no I didn’t.” He went on for about two minutes talking about some drink they used to sell at that particular Costco location and how he has been searching for it and was upset he could no longer find it — -again more first world shit. I admit it was a longwinded story considering I was holding in my hands a case of water, paper towels, and tasty keto coconut clusters. The guy finally finished his story, paid for his items, and walked away.
The cashier turns to her assistant and says, “Well, that is the last time I will ask a customer if they found everything they were looking for. I wasn’t expecting to be dumped on…” And they laugh it off.
She then turns to me and says, “How are you doing today?”
I’ve never been one to outwardly express how I really feel, at least not regarding my internal mental state or emotions. People always ask “How are you doing?” but deep down I know they really don’t want to know the truth. No one wants to hear how a person really feels because who wants to have a dark cloud impede on their day of sunshine? This is why regardless of how I am really feeling, when asked how I am doing, I smile and enthusiastically say “I’m good!” or “All is well!” or “I can’t complain!” — — when in reality I am not good, all is not well, and I have lots to complain about.
If you follow me on LinkedIn or any social media platform, you may notice I have not been active in about the past six months. I could say that I’ve been extremely busy working on my business and cool projects, but the truth is while 2020 I celebrated ten years of being a self sustained business owner, 2020 was my worst year ever in business — -I did not turn a single profit. Midway through 2020 I decided to try my hand at raising VC capital to help me take my bias mitigation AI platform to the next level, but I gave up because I realized the same biases I am aiming to mitigate with technology are exacerbated in Venture Capital…so I said “fuck it!” and decided to figure out how to continue building on my own.
In addition, for the past two years and counting I have been dealing with a home rehabilitation project that has left my family homeless for a period, living in an active construction site for more than six months, depleted all my savings and financing, got me dodging bill collectors now, and now representing my family Pro Se (without legal representation) in a litigation battle against a team of high dollar lawyers representing one of the largest mortgage service companies in the United States and a decent sized mortgage loan originator in the Midwest because my wife and I could not find a lawyer we could afford or one willing to take our case on a contingency basis because it was not going to be an easy enough win.
I can’t forget to mention, like many parents, my wife and I now have to figure out how to be teachers, playmates, counselors, in addition to the regular parental duties for our preschooler and kindergarten babies.
Things I once enjoyed doing like art, making music, even shooting the breeze (talking) with good friends, I’ve stopped. I even started to develop “dad bod” due to me not working out any more. Needless to say, all of these things have had me spiraling down a path that I am unfamiliar with, depression.
This past September things got so bad I found myself in the emergency room due to my blood pressure being in hypertension, and an anxiety attack I didn’t know I was having. I was out of commission for about two weeks. At times I feel alone, but don’t have the courage to reach out to talk with anyone, afraid of being judged. Beyond this legal battle, I have not been able to fully focus on things that I know will fulfill me. I find myself alienating my family at times, not being the father my boys are use to, or the man my wife married. I lie to my extended family all the time, again pretending as if things are okay. Truth is I feel like I am alone and I have no one who understands or can help.
So, why am I airing my dirty laundry? Honestly, sometimes I feel more comfortable expressing myself in written word shared with thousands of people, strangers I may not ever meet. More than likely I am seeking the dopamine high from people engaging with me on social media — -an attempt to make myself feel better. Regardless of me trying to fulfill myself in some capacity, I know someone else out there is dealing with the same issues and my hope in me sharing my world, they too will find some since of solace.
Society has conditioned many of us to not be honest in how we are really feeling. Men are raised to tuck those emotions in, suck it up, and man up. And it’s this very toxic masculinity that is allowing many men, including myself, to walk around feeling empty on the inside.
I find myself perpetuating the same false bravado with my oldest son as he is highly emotionally charged and not only wears his heart on his sleeves, but his whole shirt. While I sometimes come down on him to stop crying and “Be a big boy…,” the truth is I should be taking note from him. Me hiding my emotions and how I am really feeling is not helping me get through this phase of my life.
It’s been said that “Black people don’t do therapy!” or “Seeing a psychologist is for rich white people.” While Black folks are a resilient people, at some point, we too break. I’ve been doing what I can to pull myself out of this state of mind, but so far I’ve been struggling. I am starting to believe I may need professional help.
While I do recognize professional help will be beneficial with my bout of depression, knowing what I know about systemic oppression and the inequity that exists in the healthcare system when it comes to the treatment of Black people, I feel paralyzed in taking the necessary steps toward relief. For years I have been emotionally charged by addressing inequality and inequity for people who are often marginalized, but with what’s taking place this past year, I feel overwhelmed.
My grandfather is about to start chemotherapy treatment to address prostate cancer which research indicates takes a harsher toll on Black men than other American men, including other men of color. Knowing this, while I am trying to be optimistic for a speedy recovery for him and hopeful he will come out on the other side healthy, I can’t help but to feel anxious about his treatment. I can’t help but wonder with all the research and understanding around cancer, why hasn’t more been done to address this disparity when it comes to not only the treatment of prostate cancer, but most health conditions that disproportionately affect Black people?
When it comes to mental health, Black mental health consumers may not get culturally sensitive care, particularly when white clinicians fail to recognize racism and racial trauma. While researching a therapist to help me with my depression, 90% of the professionals I came across in my area where white. How I am going to find a professional who is culturally competent enough to help me with my disorder?
All this to say, I have a strong distrust and skepticism when it comes to healthcare and receiving proper treatment.
Although some days are better than others, I realize I am allowing stress to take my life. Me continuing to hide behind a smile and the façade of everything being okay is no longer sustainable.
I am sharing how I feel with you because I want you to know how I am really doing. More importantly, if you too are struggling know that you are not alone. LinkedIn is a professional social media platform, but professions are made up of people. Most of us will live the majority of our lives working, building, or doing something revolving around a career. Even if you love what you do, there will always be some level of stress involved that may negatively impact your life. Our lives outside of work may directly impact how well we perform and the reality is work life balance is diminishing; the two are no longer mutually exclusive. For many of us, life is changing in ways we may be unfamiliar with and sometimes putting on your professional face is not enough to help you get by.
This global pandemic is not easing up anytime soon, the U.S. appears is on the brink of another civil war thanks to peoples fear of change, more people are struggling financially, jobs are being lost, and businesses are closing. People need each other to get cope and get by. I encourage you to remember to check on your friends. Check on your LinkedIn acquaintances. Check on your family, your neighbor, your teachers. Simply check on those around you, even if it’s been a while.
If you are going to ask “How are you doing?” be genuine in your inquiry and willing to really listen because you never know that by simply lending your ear and being an active listener, your sunshine may help someone’s cloud go away, even if only for a moment.
Louis Byrd is also Chief Visionary Officer at Goodwim Design, an ingenuity and design consultancy helping organizations stimulate inclusive experiences and bold solutions people will find whimsical, thoughtful, and simply — dope.