Lately, I’ve had a hard time attaching words to my experiences, which I think may have a connection with my issues with being the big “V” word…VULNERABLE. The heart of this post was written months ago, but after sorting through all of my anger, disappointment, frustration, disbelief, and simply trying to understand. My experience isn’t always pretty or easy.
I’ve spent many hours wondering, how do I, as a black female, in a helping profession be conscious and objective about situations that have such a close vicinity to something I can never escape…the color of my skin? How do I keep helping when I’m fearful and disappointed? How do I help when I’m still deep in my own processing of death after death, argument after argument? I was struggling to be objective! This particular struggle was different for me, because I’ve been directly affected by social injustice. At the age of 18, I, along with many others were gassed using CS gas by the local police for no reason. There was no history of violence occurring at the particular location, the police simply decided to use CS gas on a crowd of young black people, not provide medical attention and close the only store in which we had access for that night. We received very minimal compensation for this event, but the damage was done. Through the course of the events I discovered the scars were deeper than I knew. I’ve healed, but my wounds were repeatedly agitated over a short timeframe. There was no amount of money that could erase what happened to me, and how it shapes my perception of the killing of people of color and other minorities. I don’t agree with ANY of them, officer or civilian!
So, I’m listening to Solange’s new c.d. “A Seat at the Table” and the song, Mad featuring Lil Wayne began to play. What I received from the song is that things happen in life, and in particular to individuals of African descent and others who are considered as a minority. People, I, have a right to be mad when considering the circumstances in which we live. Individuals life are ending at the hand of people who are were sworn to protect and serve or individuals who simply hate and have nothing to do with the uniform or job. The song goes on to also explain to not be consumed by your anger, as it can also hinder your progress and process. Song lyrics help me to put words to my feelings. I can’t play one instrument or sing a tune, but I love the art of music and musicians for that reason alone. I had to keep going, keep pressing and keep achieving despite the anger. In these particular circumstances that was my struggle. I knew what I needed to do, besides I had done it before. I was struggling not to be mad when being made was appropriate, but it has somehow been given a completely negative association. Anger can be used as motivation for change. One can be mad and not be violent or allow anger to manifest into hate.
I didn’t know how to do what has become comfortable to me, being objective and being able to separate the person from the behavior. It’s hard sometimes, especially when things hit so close to home. I’ve helped and know various people from ALL backgrounds and walks of life, and I believe we forget that we are all connected at some point in our lives in some shape, form, or fashion. When things are happening in other countries it doesn’t mean that people in America aren’t directly affected. We forget people visit other countries for various reasons and connect with the country on various levels for various reasons and now when something happens in that particular country that person can be affected. When a person of color is killed doesn’t mean it only affects people of color. We go to school and work together, help each other or know someone who may be directly connected to an incident. We all know the feeling a pain, and to see another person in pain affects me. When people are affected by situations it creates an imminent fear of it could have been me or someone closer to me. I believe at that point people go in to primal survival mode. Today, we have a nation of hurting people in survival mode. In the mode it’s hard to think and feel. Everyone is just simply trying to survive and live through the hurt, pain, and anger of simply turning on the television, getting a news update on your phone or scrolling through various social media news feeds.
The question I began to ask myself is how disconnect and connect at the same time. As a clinician you must have some connection or understanding of what’s happening. My struggle was how do I connect without feeling my own trauma, because trauma doesn’t go away you learn to manage. How do I be sensitive to my own needs, along with not wanting to be in the situation to have to figure this out. I didn’t want to figure out how to engage with people, I didn’t want to figure out how to feel. I intentionally do not watch or participate in certain events or watch the news because it’s just too much to sort out or the risk of being affected is too great sometime. Honestly, watching the news, for me, is too much emotional work. I don’t want to see the world through the eyes of the media, it’s awful and makes my life and the work that I do hard. I don’t know a therapist that faithfully watches the news. We would lose hope if we did, and one thing you never want is a hopeless callous therapist. So to wake up day after day to news of lives being taken took a toll on me.
Sometimes, as a therapist we are forced you to manage things in ways you may not want to in that moment. The world is in an uproar and a new “hashtag” is created every few hours to honor a person, state, city, country. I became lost in the “hashtags”, and I struggled with staying there, because some moments it just felt easier. I knew it wasn’t me. Sure it’s in me to be angry, but circumstances and situations do not define my state of being. Sounds like something I have said or will say to a client, but at that time I needed to hear those words. I knew someone else would need to hear the exact words. I chose not to remain lost for the next person who would potentially sit across from me with the hope of being helped and gain clarity, hope, and comfort for the same situations I saw on the news daily. I went to a group to help me process what I was feeling, and it made me angrier because I again came to some harsh realities, but again I had to fight to not remain angry for the next person that may have needed my help. Being a clinician comes with a lot of unmentioned and undefined responsibility. People trust that you have assessed yourself before or while you assess someone else. People trust that you will be non-judgemental and have their best interest in mind ALWAYS! As I explained to one individual, one “perk” of being a therapist is people more than not perceive you as being nonjudgmental, and for me that is a huge compliment that I value and I know facilitates the work that I do with my clients.
I feel I have been pushed into situations that caused me to revisit and visit situations that I thought were done and well maintained. I have made choices that I probably wouldn’t have made had I not been a therapist. As a therapist you process and push through events for your benefit as well as the benefit of the people in which you serve.