Archive | January 2013

On Getting Therapy

by Rhonda Sherrod, J.D., Ph.D.

(c) 2013

 

Get therapy if you need it.  As a psychologist, I want you to know that you might be surprised by who gets therapy – brilliant, high-powered, high achieving, successful people!  They give themselves permission to get therapy, so that they can live fulfilling lives.  Getting therapy is not a sign of weakness or sickness in the debased kind of way that so many people still conceive of it; instead, it is a sign of maturity, strength, and self-love.  Doing something therapeutic for your mind is not any different from doing something therapeutic (like exercising and eating nutritiously) for your heart.  Good mental health is just as important as good physical health.  In the future we might even start getting an annual “psychological” just like one gets an annual physical examination.  Sigmund Freud called his brand of psychotherapy “the talking cure” because just having a dispassionate professional to talk to, who doesn’t impose stifling judgment or sanction, can often be highly satisfying, liberating, and even life-sustaining.  So, don’t be afraid to do it.

If you were somewhere suffering the signs and symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, and did nothing about it, people would consider that “crazy.”  So, if you are suffering mightily, mentally or emotionally, why shouldn’t you be able to access help in that situation?  Think about it.  I’m a firm believer that mental health is like physical health.  Just as your body can be compromised with a cold, or the flu, or something worse that requires medical attention, so, too, can the mind get compromised, breaking down your usual immunities for combating mental and emotional anguish and distress.  Nowadays, people laughingly talk about needing “a mental health day” off from work, just as you would take a few days off if you were physically ill.  That concept is always met with knowing laughter and affirmative nodding, because the truth is that people are really on to something even though they say it in jest.  Sometimes we do need to take some time off or engage in a course of psychological treatment.

If we look at mental health on a continuum, at one end of the spectrum is excellent mental health and at the opposite end is poor mental health, but most of us lie somewhere in between those two opposite poles.  Few people are completely at either end of the spectrum; that is, few people are in very poor mental health at any given time and few people are in the absolute best of mental health, no matter how they try to insist that they are.  Often, they are just “fronting.”  (I had to chuckle when one of my male students emphatically asserted in an undergraduate psychology class that, “Nobody is ever in the best mental health!”)

Again, most of us lie somewhere in between the two poles, but any one of us can shift – going in either direction – on any given day for a whole host of reasons.  So, you’ll hear people say, “I should have just stayed in the bed today,” or “I knew when I woke up today that this would be a bad day.”  Or people will say, “I’m going through it” meaning that for a couple of days or even weeks things just “aren’t right.”  Or people will say, “I’ve been kinda depressed,” or “I’ve got the blues,” but no one really wants to entertain those kind of comments, because we resist the idea that something could be wrong mentally or emotionally, and, in any event, we rationalize that the person will be “okay.”  Sometimes, we even, gratuitously, assert to our loved one, friend, or associate, “All, you’ll be alright.”  We, mindlessly, say that to people all the time even when we have no idea about the depths of a person’s psychological pain.  That is why we are so shocked when beautiful sisters, like the talented songstress, Phyllis Hyman, take their own lives, when they destroy their gifts by medicating their pain with alcohol or drugs like Whitney Houston, or when they burn through life fast like Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes.

The brain is an organ of the body and, just like any other organ, it can, to use the vernacular, “get out of whack.”  Looking back on your legacy as a person of African descent, Ancient Africans believed that the mind, body, and spirit/soul should be healthy for one to have overall good health.  Like a car, we should be firing on all pistons.  So, if one thing – say the body – is out of whack – it can throw the whole system out of sync, thereby making the whole system unhealthy.  If your mental state is not particularly healthy doesn’t that “piston” deserve attention?

As Black women, often no matter how smart, pretty, charismatic, and wonderful you are, your lives can still be stinted and circumscribed in so many ways, on so many levels, for so many reasons.  Sure, we are socialized to “shrug” any and all problems “off,” to “just keep on keeping on,” and to “keep the faith,” but we are only human just like everyone else.  So we need a new paradigm.  In fact, your brilliance and dynamism, Black woman, seems to be more than this society wants in a Black woman.  So, you end up internalizing your hurts and sorrows and chasing a cupcake, instead of a legitimate dream that could have and would have been fulfilled in a more just society.  Then health and spirit, and even sanity, can become compromised because you know that you are not living your life as you had previously envisioned it, or as you deserve to live it.

Sometimes, having someone to talk to is a beautiful thing.  It’s okay.  There are places like the YMCA, county hospitals, and centers for women that provide good low-cost therapy.  Get therapy, if you need it, because you are ill (e.g. clinically depressed or bipolar), grieving the death of a loved one, experiencing existential angst, having a hard time adjusting to a major, unsettling transition, having a difficult time managing intense emotions, dealing with an unaddressed longstanding trauma (e.g. childhood sexual abuse or adult rape), experiencing drug or alcohol addiction, diagnosed with a major chronic physical illness, suffering from a life altering permanent disability, or if you just need someone to talk to in order to sort out some things.  Get what you need, without fear, shame, apology, or need for approbation, because, trust me, many of your White sisters have no problem accessing therapy, and I am talking about the well-educated, wealthy ones with high-powered careers.  There is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t recognize your humanity, too, and get whatever you need to be happier and more successful in life – even if it’s therapy.

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A Few Good Books to Read

 

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison,

An Unquiet Mind is an excellent memoir written by Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, a renowned clinical psychologist, scholar, and researcher as well as a phenomenal writer who suffers from Bipolar I (manic-depression) disorder.  She is an unsparingly honest author who writes movingly and unflinchingly about her very serious illness and how she has managed to craft an enviable academic career and a life filled with love and beauty in spite of it.

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Surviving the Silence, Black Women’s Stories of Rape by Charlotte Pierce-Baker,

Dr. Charlotte Pierce-Baker is a professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and English at Vanderbilt University who has written courageously about devastating matters, including being brutally raped in her own home.  Her faculty website page notes that:  “Since the publication of her book, Surviving the Silence:  Black Women’s Stories of Rape (W.W. Norton, September 1998), Professor Pierce-Baker has continued to travel and lecture on issues of black women and sexual assault.  She has taken the topic of rape into the classroom with her course on women and trauma.  Finding and creating a language is, for her, the first step in acknowledging and documenting the ‘colonization of the body of woman.’  Her book, the first of its kind, provides a forum for the heretofore-muted voices of African American women surviving the trauma of rape.”

 

Professor Pierce-Baker’s current book, This Fragile Life:  A Mother’s Story of a Bipolar Son, is a poignant memoir about her very smart son who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder while he was a young film student in graduate school at USC.  She and her husband entered therapy to help them deal with all the things that were taking place in their world following their son’s diagnosis.  Pierce-Baker’s writing makes an invaluable contribution to the sparse literature concerning Black families’ attempts to accept, address, and treat the mental illness of a family member.

I attended a lecture Dr. Pierce-Baker delivered at Northwestern University to promote this book.  It was extraordinarily interesting and left the audience filled with compassion for and goodwill toward her obviously talented son whose trenchant poetry is interspersed throughout the book.

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Willow Weep For Me:  A Black Woman’s Journey Through Depression by Meri Nana-Ama Danquah

Meri Danquah is a brilliant, highly engaging, Black female writer who immigrated to America from Ghana as a child.  (She now spends most of her time back in Ghana.)  Her work has been featured in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Essence, and the Village Voice, among other publications.  Ms. Danquah has crafted a beautifully written memoir about her own struggle with depression.  (She also talks about how difficult it was for people around her to accept her illness – after all Black women are mythologized as, and supposed to be, “superwomen” who are impervious to pain and who are supposed to carry everybody else’s pain while denying or repressing their own!)

Health

Health (Photo credit: 401(K) 2013)

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The Significance of Michelle

(This quarter’s theme is:  Complexity)

Message to the Black Woman – Message 2

by Rhonda Sherrod, J.D., Ph.D.

(c) 2013

(Again, I ask, Black Woman:  “Don’t you know who you are?”)

“Only the Black woman can say, when and where I enter, in the quiet undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole Negro race enters with me.”

Anna Julia Cooper, Ph.D.

From A Voice From the South published in 1892

                                                                                                                                                

Intellectual.  Disciplined.  Charming.  Warm.  Witty.  Classy.  Generous.  Attractive.  Sporty.  Grounded.   She is also a loving and affirming mother, and a strong, responsible, and motivating wife.  She is on the list of the most admired women in the world.*  She is the one everyone watches, and her style is the style everyone wants to emulate.  She is Michelle Obama, the First Lady of the United States (or FLOTUS).  So, it would appear, Black woman, that we have come a long way.

There was a time when the only place in the White House for a Black woman was as a slave or a servant.  Since then, Black women have arrived at the White House to advise presidents, like Mary McLeod Bethune did with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and to serve in presidential cabinets, as Patricia Roberts Harris** did when she became the first Black woman to hold a cabinet position, after she had already served as the first Black female American envoy under President Lyndon Baines Johnson.

But Michelle is the first Black woman to reside in the White House as the First Lady.  The significance of Michelle is major and worthy of several books.  In short, however, in a country that has traditionally bound up (White) womanhood and motherhood in a phantasmagoric cauldron of saintliness, sanctity, sacrifice, benevolence, and goodness (even as it, paradoxically, debased women and motherhood), to have a Black woman as First Lady is major.  It is the reason that Michelle suffered so many unwarranted, vicious, unkind, and even unconscionable attacks when her title was first conferred.  Considering the fact that there was a time when Black women were not even considered “ladies” in this sad and still racist society, some people have had a very hard time accepting a Black woman as the face of American womanhood and as the “mom-in-chief.”  (Let us remember that it wasn’t too long ago when the great Sojourner Truth*** posed the question, “Ain’t I a woman?” in a speech delivered during a women’s suffrage convention before slavery ended.)

With the weight of all that history, and with all of the next-to-impossible expectations of her from every corner of the country and the world, Michelle has handled her role as the quintessential cosmopolitan woman with the poise, dignity, and grace of the champion that she is.  (After all her husband is “the leader of the free world.”)  Nowadays, with consistently high approval ratings, Michelle has a specially constructed platform to show the world what America has been attempting to conceal (not quite so successfully) for all these hundreds of years – a beautiful, brilliant Black woman with savoir faire, conducting a satisfying relationship with her incredibly adept Black man, with whom she has normal, smart, good-looking kids, in a pressure filled situation (because Black people have always functioned under a great deal of pressure – it’s our norm).  And America and the world are the winners for it.  Michelle’s very presence strikes a strong blow against the White supremacist thought that plagues the globe.

So, when you beam and smile upon the President as he takes his oath of office for the second time, be sure you take a good, long look at the sister beside him, and smile at her, too, because she was instrumental, just as Black women have always been, in making this country a better place for all of us.  After all, she delivered Barack to the world.  The President has told us over and over that Michelle is “the love of [his] life,” that he “could not have done it without her,” and that she is his “rock.”  And if you do the research on them individually and as a couple, you will know that he speaks the truth.  They have assumed power together.

So, as we enter this second term, with Michelle Obama as the First Lady of the United States of America, let us:  remember who we are, recommit to loving ourselves, and put our crowns back on our heads.  Let us commit to better relationships with each other and with Black men, and to rebuilding our communities and saving our children from the clutches of a poor education, violence, and a rapacious prison industrial complex that wants to devour them.  After all, there are many Baracks and Michelles in our community.  Let’s save ourselves, as proud Black women (and help Black men save themselves), so we can save our children.

Again, Happy New You to you!

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*On a list of the most admired women in the world for 2013, Americans chose Hilary Clinton, in her powerful position as Secretary of State, number one, and Michelle Obama was selected for the number two position.

**Patricia Roberts Harris was President Jimmy Carter’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.  Subsequently, Carter also appointed her Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare (now the department of Health and Human Services).

***In a moving ceremony in Emancipation Hall presided over by First Lady Michelle Obama, Nancy Pelosi (then Speaker of the House of Representatives) and Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, Sojourner Truth became the only African American woman to have a bust in her honor placed in the United States Capitol.  (see http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/28/AR2009042803936.html)

If you want to read an extraordinary and concise book on the social and political history of Black women in the United States, Paula Giddings’ book, When and Where I Enter:  The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America is a great go-to resource.  Ms. Giddings is a Professor of Afro-American Studies at Smith College.

Also, historian Darlene Clark Hine is a scholar of Black women’s history and has written extensively about Black women.  She is a Professor of History and a Professor of African American History at Northwestern University.  In addition to her other publications, Dr. Clark Hine is the co-editor of a wonderful three-volume set entitled, Black Women in America, Historical Encyclopedia.  

“Our crowns have been bought and paid for, all we have to do is wear them.”  James Baldwin

“The kind of beauty I want most is the hard-to-get kind that comes from within – strength, courage, dignity.”   Ruby Dee

 

“I have heard the Bible and have learned that Eve caused man to sin. Well, if woman upset the world, do give her a chance to set it right side up again.”  Sojourner Truth, 1851

“There is a very real cultural war going on in this country right now and we’re all part of it.  People who have invested their life work in creating or constructing a certain vision of American history are not just going to lie back and die and say, ‘Okay, you’re right, you young Turks, just take it and go with it.'”  Darlene Clark Hine

“I am deliberate and afraid of nothing.”  Audre Lorde

Michelle Obama, official White House portrait.

Michelle Obama, official White House portrait. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Happy New You!

Message to the Black Woman

(Theme for this quarter:  COMPLEXITY)

January 1, 2013

copyright, Rhonda Sherrod, J.D., Ph.D.

 

Happy New You!  

(Don’t You Know Who You Are?)

As we cross over the threshold to a new year, isn’t it time to do some soul-searching?   Brace yourself for some real talk here:  Isn’t it true that far too many of us have been living far beneath our worth and our dignity… for far too long.

Years ago, I wrote that, “When the Black woman is left alone, unmolested by the forces of White supremacist thought, she is a true force of nature.”  Indeed, her genius often manifests itself as a splendid tour de force in any and every realm of endeavor she chooses.  But how does one get to that psychic space where one is “unmolested by the forces of White supremacist thought?”  It is not easy.  It requires study, critical thought, thorough analysis, and faith.  It requires one to consciously craft a self-concept that consistently and permanently respects the self and that rejects other people’s pathology.  It requires one to believe — really believe — that “I am; yes, I am.”  I am what?  I am all that I need to be, and I have, as Paul Tillich would say, “the courage to be.”  Or, as soul singer, Chaka Khan, has stated, “I’m every woman.”

If you are everywoman, and you are, and if all you need is inside of you  and it is, then you have the power to be who you want to be and to get what you want out of life.  You have the power to define you.  You have the power to put your dazzling imprint on this world, just as so many other Black women have already.  You have the right to self-determination, and the right to be a whole human being — not just an attachment to someone else, or a travesty of womanhood, a caricature for other people’s amusement.  The Black woman’s history of dynamism, discernment, determination, common sense, tenacity, intelligence, and sophisticated behavior, even under the most trying circumstances, is much too rich for us to falter now.

The question is how do you navigate through the toxicity that permeates the environment in a culture that has been designed to oppress all women, but at the same time, paradoxically, to elevate certain women and relegate Black women to the complex position of being disrespected even as we are performing heroic tasks and being all things to all people?  Black women are dishonored even as other people (that is, ALL other people) take full advantage of our energies and vast talents to enrich themselves.  So, how does the Black woman create the environment she needs, so that she can have, at the very least, a fighting chance at expressing the power that is in her to benefit her and her community?

That is a tough question because what is required is a brand of fearlessness that, through a relentless period of attack and miseducation, we have been led to believe we don’t possess.  We have been beaten down, psychologically and emotionally, just enough to make us believe that we don’t have the courage, the will, the faith, the tenacity, and the brilliance that powered and emboldened Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Pauline HopkinsJosephine St. Pierre RuffinIda B. Wells Barnett, Francis Watkins Harper, Mary McLeod BethuneMaggie Lena WalkerBessie ColemanMary Church Terrell, and countless other Black women who lived in times that were even more difficult than the one in which we live.

So, the truth is that in the sacrosanct area of your very own mind – where the genesis of most great things resides anyway — you are free.  Psychologically, the aforementioned women were free.  Those women possessed the belief that as Black women we have the right to a life that is worth living at every level and manner of existence.  They believed that we do not have to, and they certainly did not, settle for other people’s corrupt vision of what we deserve and other people’s circumscribed version of who we are.  Those sisters made those decisions in the holy, inviolate, inner sanctum of their minds, and they activated those decisions through their studied and well thought-out behaviors and actions.

Answer these questions:  Have we lost the belief in self that powers the mind to engage in things that are meaningful, that animates the spirit and soul to feel free to soar, and that gives us permission to do what we came here to do?  Are we letting other people, or tough situations and circumstances, get in our way and drag us down?  Are we allowing other people – even people close to us – to convince us to minimize our talents and abilities?

Go ahead, with great sensitivity and self-compassion, and search your soul and answer those questions.  Then take the time to study and divine how to get to the New You in the New Year — the you that you were divinely designed to be in the first place!  (If, for whatever reason, you cannot access the beliefs that you have a right to what you want and that you have the power to get it, start doing things devised to get what you want anyway and make a believer out of yourself.)

In the meantime, best wishes for a healthy, happy, and prosperous new year, and Happy New You to You!

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“We have to talk about liberating minds as well as liberating society.”  Angela Davis

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”  Alice Walker

“Never be afraid to sit awhile and think.”  Lorraine Hansberry

“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.”  Audre Lorde

“The major premise of effective education must be self-knowledge.”  Dr. Na’im Akbar

Ida B. Wells Barnett

Ida B. Wells Barnett (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bessie Coleman

Bessie Coleman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bessie Coleman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mary Church Terrell

Mary Church Terrell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Mary McLeod Bethune with girls from t...

English: Mary McLeod Bethune with girls from the Literary and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls in Daytona, circa 1905. Source: Photographs of Mary McLeod Bethune, her school, and family from the Florida State Archives Photographic Collection. Retrieved October 22, 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This entry was posted on January 1, 2013. 5 Comments