By Ncebakazi Manzi
I did not know anyone who was seeing a therapist when I started searching for one in December 2010. There may very well have been several people but no one in my circles spoke about seeking that kind of help. I relied on books and movies to give me a sense of what consulting a psychologist entailed and to understand the value of examining one’s life. In most instances, those references were not in any way representative of me – a Black South African woman coming of age. My desperation to see someone was too profound for me to search any deeper and so with the little information I had, I made a cold call to a psychologist close to the office where I worked.
Long before making that call, I knew that something was amiss. Whenever I filled in those quick personality tests that were/are popular in some women’s magazines, a persistent thread emerged: that my self-esteem was low and I had very little sense of who I was at the core of my being. As a result, I did not have strong boundaries and was eager to please others even at my expense. In many ways, I did those tests to confirm what I already knew from examining my interactions with people around me. I had my suspicions about the series of events in my childhood that could have been the cause of my misery but the dots were not connecting well enough for me to be able to work myself out of it.
In my immediate family and broader community, I grew up believing that, for a woman, there is dignity in suffering in silence and I was determined to draw little attention to myself. As a girl, and later a young adult, I was incredibly stoic and hardly cried about the traumas I had experienced or showed much emotion about much else. By the time I was 28 years old and in search of a psychologist, the cracks of all those years of holding myself together were showing and I needed to talk to someone.
Dr Candice Peterson* agreed to an appointment and I saw her within a week of calling her office. I don’t remember that first session well but suspect that it would have begun with her asking me, “What brings you here?” Although she would have only asked the question in that first session, I have spent the last eight years in her consultation room trying to understand everything that moulded me into the person I was when I first saw her.
For the first few months of consulting, I did not tell anyone, besides my boyfriend at the time. I made it known to my therapist that I had no intentions of revealing this part of myself to anyone and she simply smiled and said, “We’ll see about that”. At the time, I was deeply ashamed about being in therapy and for the most part, it was a journey that I took alone. Fast forward to eight years and close to 400 sessions later and I tell just about anybody that I’m in therapy if the conversation calls for it.
The reasons for my openness are varied. Firstly, my need for external validation has diminished considerably and therefore I care less about being judged. Secondly, there is a genuine interest amongst so many people who suspect that they may need therapy that I am usually keen to share my experiences with them. Finally, I am inspired by the few Black people I’ve come across on my Twitter feed who update about their experiences like it ain’t a thang. While I started opening up about therapy in my private spaces after the first year, I published a public post about being in therapy only in my seventh year. When I come across tweets in which people mention being in therapy so casually I marvel at their courage and am inspired by how nonchalant they seem to be sharing this part of themselves in public.
The upcoming podcast, IN THERAPY, of which I am the creator and host, is inspired by my own courage to talk about therapy in private and others’ boldness to speak about it in private and in the public space. Over ten episodes I will be interviewing people about their experiences and how being in therapy has impacted their lives. In the wake of the growing consciousness about the importance of mental health within the Black community, this podcast is my contribution.
IN THERAPY will launch on Wednesday 28 November at 1 PM. Click on the podcasts tab to find it. Follow Nceba on Twitter @ncebamanzi or send an email to: [email protected] to give feedback or share your story.
Listen to the latest from IN THERAPY