This past Thursday I had the privilege of attending the inaugural event of Black and Brown Women Rising at the Toledo Museum of Art, Glass Pavilion. As a graduate of the Rise Advocate Academy, Diana Patton, founder of both, invited me (and all graduates) to attend. I admit, I almost didn’t go. Even though I’d been excited about and looking forward to going, when the day arrived a litany of excuses swirled in my head…it’s not safe because of COVID, it’s too far to drive at night for me, my daughter might need me, my husband might need me, I’m too tired, I have too much work to do… But really I was a bit nervous about going… Why? Two main reasons. 1) I hate going places by myself where I won’t know anyone. 2) I’m not Black or Brown.
Mainly, it was #2. I was afraid others at the event would resent me being there because I was white (doubtful they even noticed me). I was worried it would feel weird being in the minority and not know anyone. However, I quickly reminded myself this is how my Black and Brown friends and colleagues feel all the time and they don’t have the option of “not” going. Embarrassment burned my cheeks at this realization. This event wasn’t about me, but it would be an opportunity to learn, to be an ally and to show support for my Black and Brown sisters. And, I remembered my 2022 word of the year is “stretch,” so I stepped outside my comfort zone and went. I’m grateful I did.
The focus of the event was on the mental health of Black and Brown women and obliterating the stigma associated with seeking help for mental health problems. Stepping through the doors of the venue, I was immediately surrounded by warmth, light and upbeat music. The space overflowed with the positive energy and love of over 170 women and men, from all races, ethnicities, nationalities and religions, but mostly Black and Brown women (as noted from a post-event email from Diana). Diana greeted me and pointed me towards the group of women who’d been in my Rise Advocate cohort. Being the introvert that I am, I made a beeline to find and greet them. Not much of a mingler, I hung out with them until the main event began in a conference room space.
What came next was amazingly, inspiring. Prior to the event, Diana encouraged us to read You Are Your Best Thing: Vulnerability, Shame Resilience, and the Black Experience by Tarana Burke. This book is a collection of essays by talented Black authors, who share their stories of vulnerability and shame through the lens of being Black. As the authors did in this book, Diana vulnerably shared her story with those present. She let people know it was to ask for help when they are struggling. She shared her past trauma and reminded others it’s OK to take care of yourself and to invest in yourself. In addition, to sharing her own story, she brought together a group of expert panelists from different backgrounds to continue the conversation of mental health. Each had their own story to share that continued to connect each woman to the other. We could all see a piece of each other in the other woman’s story.
Two reasons Black and Brown women historically haven’t sought help for mental health I learned is because 1) they are taught to keep their problems within the family. It’s no one else’s business. 2) religion. If you pray hard enough or have enough faith your problems will go away. These two points brought about a lot of affirmative head nods. I too could relate to number two, especially. While I have sought help for my mental health issues, early on I struggled a lot with the idea that I wasn’t letting go enough or praying hard enough and was somehow being punished by God. One of the panelists, called out “God created therapists too!,” to a chorus of cheers.
Therapists are wonderful resources that can help us unravel and heal from mental illness. Over the past 25 years of my life I have seen different therapists on and off. I have gleaned ways to co-exist with my anxiety from each. In the past, a couple of barriers prevented from sticking with therapy for long periods: time and money (isn’t that the way with everything?) The first barrier was time. In the beginning of therapy, the therapist wanted to see me once a week for a 45 minute session. A 45 minutes session, however, meant two hours away from work (driving back and forth, waiting in the office, etc). At the time, as a single, working mom that was difficult to carve out. Where would I find time to make up two hours of missed work? If I could get an appointment after work, who would watch the kids? I can imagine other women with less understanding companies, would find this even more difficult to overcome. Each appointment came with a $30 co-pay and at an appointment a week, the co-pays added up fast. I made too much money to qualify for assistance, but not enough money where an extra $120 a month out of my paycheck was an easy lift.
I am once again looking for a therapist. Finding a therapist isn’t easy though. I think the pandemic has made it more difficult as more and more people are seeking help (a good thing). Time changes and so have my circumstances. The barriers I had previously aren’t as difficult as before. One benefit of the pandemic is a lot of therapist now offer video appointments. This would at least mean, I’d only miss 45 minutes of work, which is much more doable. I could take a long lunch. Two hours away from work would still be problematic for me. The co-pays would be doable, though, if I can find someone that will take my insurance. I called a local resource first and they referred me to a counseling center the focused on trauma-centered therapy. Unfortunately, they were no longer accepting patients with private insurance. Next I reached out to NAMI of Greater Toledo. They were wonderful and hooked me up with a counselor that specialized in what I was looking for and who took my insurance. This time, however, I was disappointed to find out my appointment was not actually going to be with the therapist NAMI recommended, but with another associate in that practice. I looked up information about that therapist and she didn’t have the qualifications and experience I was looking for. My next step was to look into the EAP my company offered. Again, I found a therapist that (at least on paper) looked like she would be a good fit for me. I scheduled an online appointment and then two days before my appointment I got an email that my appointment was actually with someone else in the practice, not the woman I scheduled with. I cancelled the appointment, and joked with my husband, “maybe it’s a sign that I don’t need more therapy!” He disagreed and said it was a sign that “this just wasn’t the right therapist for me.” I haven’t given up yet, but I am going to take my time to find the right therapist for me.
As the event came to a close Diana, while the wonderfully talented L O V E L I performed her song 48 Hours, she had us sit still and breath. Diana gave each of us a candle to turn on for 48 hours. She said that within 48 hours every thing can change. She asked us to turn the candle on for 48 hours to honor the light in ourselves and in others. She asked that people claim a word for 2022, consider a therapist and/or a group and encouraged us to commit to learning, unlearning and knowing thyself. I left with my candle on feeling energized, encouraged and inspired. Thank you to Diana Patton, Rhonda Sewell and the other panelists, participants and sponsors who made Black & Brown Women Rising possible. I look forward to attending your next event.