Do you remember those Cathy comic strips your mom used to have tacked to her cubicle wall or office board? The one’s her and her co-workers would share and cackle and point at while nodding their heads in agreement and uttering ‘Yup, so true’? You’d look at those comics as a little girl with a blank stare, confused as to why so many of your mom’s female co-workers related to this neurotic, cat owning, chubby white lady who spent the majority of the comic complaining about dieting,exercising, yogurt, work and dating.
Now I ask you, do you remember the day you realized you BECAME Cathy?
For me it was when I was around 30, I was on the phone in the grocery store with my friend discussing this new wellness challenge I saw on IG, where you cut out all refined sugars for 30 days, and there was some hashtag involved. I looked in my basket and saw one bottle of white wine, a container of sugar free Greek yogurt, and cat food. Somehow, I had morphed into the Millennial (am I a Millennial? I was born in 85’ idk) Colored Cathy. This wasn’t a moment of panic, but definitely a random moment of self realization. This was 30, and I was doing the things black women in their 30s do. Maybe its an American thing, but a large part of adulthood in our culture heralds “self-improvement.” We must always be striving to be fitter, richer, healthier, better educated, more skilled, glow-upier versions ourselves. This is especially true for women and hell, I was, I am no different. To be content with who you are in the present is seen as resigning oneself to mediocrity. It’s lethargic, and un-ambitious. Cardinal sins in our current “Rise and Grind”—everyone’s a personal brand-social media reach quantifying ass world.
Fast forward several months where I’m 31, and miraculously still had not managed to 30 Day Challenge myself into a better me. I had hit a wall. Well, a couple of walls and I hadn’t the faintest idea why. I couldn’t concentrate on this “great” new job I just got, I was more reclusive than usual and couldn’t even find enjoyment in the little pleasures I’d typically turn to during my more gloomy spells. Sure I’ve always struggled with self-discipline but that’s always a part of myself that I attributed to being ‘artsy’ kind of. However, the list of goals I wished to accomplish but never followed through on grew exponentially. My personal life was about as uneventful as a Chris Christie’s political future, my friendships were suffering, I was more irritable than usual and I was even becoming withdrawn with my son at home.
It wasn’t until I had a late night discussion with a close friend where he tearfully revealed he’d seen a therapist and had been diagnosed with depression, that I entertained perhaps seeking professional help for my mental well being. Of course I didn’t think that I was as sick as my friend, when he asked if his diagnosis surprised me I responded in typical “Of course I knew, nigga I’m glad you caught up” Danielle fashion. “Oh yeah, of course not, I had always said you would benefit from therapy, with what you’ve been through? Of course a diagnosis of depression makes sense. I’m proud of you for finally taking care of yourself”.
After hanging up the phone, my own words I used to reassure my panicked best friend echoed in my head. “With what you’ve been through..of course it makes sense. I’m proud of you for finally taking care of yourself.” My friend, like a lot of Black men who grew up in Chicago ,has experienced a lot of trauma, especially in his childhood, but damn so did I. I soon realized that I was guilty of the same mental health neglect I audaciously and frequently lectured him about when we’d discuss his failed relationships and stalled professional life. I had a lot of Black ass nerve, here I had pretty much spent the latter half of my life having gone through the mental trauma equivalent of several car accidents and not once thought to cart my ass to a physician to see if there was any internal bruising. So soon thereafter, I started researching therapists in my local area and booked my appointment.
My therapist is a Black woman in her early 60s. She looks young for her age, she has a short ceasar hair cut, and wears Uggs. She’s short and busty, and her face always looks as if she’s empathizing with you. Her office is very small and quiet. She has one of those faux waterfall things meant to provide calming serenity. It’s kind of annoying and looks really cheesy but I try to ignore it. Our first session, she told me that I was at the age where most women seek therapy. “You’re…31. Yeah this is where most women hit a wall, your jar is full and you can’t keep putting your head down and pushing forward, now you’re having problems functioning and have to compensate for years of self-neglect, this is normal, it’s what women in their 30’s do.” During our one hour session she asked me the questions I suppose all therapists ask, about my current life, my childhood, my love life, my past, and what I want for my future. I was pretty candid, and had no problems going into full detail about everything.
I casually rattled off the instances of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse I’d experienced from childhood into adulthood that I was sure was norm for women my age. My divorce, my son, the death of my father, my close, but dramatic and at times confrontational relationship with my mother, my job hopping (four in one year I think), my chronic insomnia, etc. And even when I casually looked up to her slightly raised brows while she scribbled notes on her notepad, I wasn’t sure how serious I was taking it, but it was cathartic to talk to someone unfamiliar with my story. It wasn’t until the end when she said she needed to tell me something that she usually waits some time to disclose to her patients that I knew what was at stake. “Danielle…you’re sick. I don’t think you realize how sick you are because this is the only way you’ve known how to function for the majority of your life..but honey…now you need meds and you need help, I hope you’ll let me help you." This was actually unexpected, I was so sure she would have praised me for my perseverance, my resilience in having withstood what I had gone through while somehow still managing to become an arguably productive and functioning adult. It hadn’t dawned on me that maybe all this time, I really wasn’t “functioning” at as high a level I thought I was, that my “normal” was abnormal that my “fine” wasn’t fine. Maybe I had been giving myself entirely too much credit?
I left her office that day with a couple of diagnosis: Clinical depression, anxiety, PTSD, and some other acronym that I always forget. Ultimately she told me that before we could even hope to engage in successful therapy sessions, I needed to discuss anti-depressant meds with my doctor. “You mean I’m so fucked up I need medication to be eligible for therapy?” I laughed. The laughter was not returned. Shit got real. I promised to contact my PCP right away to discuss my options and gingerly paid for my session. When I got home, I laid on my couch and catatonically stared at the ceiling till sunrise. I don’t even remember blinking. For the first time in my life, I was the one with the diagnosis. This wasn’t about my friend’s depression, my ex-husbands sickle cell, my mom’s heart condition, or my son’s autism. It was me. For the first time I was the patient that I needed to take care of. I was used to being the calm, analytical, reassuring caretaker, who helped my loved ones research therapies, and medication options. But now, I was the one who was sick, and for the first time in a long time; I didn’t have the answers, and I was scared.
Currently I’m still scared but I’m discussing med options with my physician. I’ve since had a few more sessions with my therapist and I’m getting more and more comfortable with the idea of both needing and accepting help, and my needing therapy and help not being an admission of my own inadequacy. I like my therapist a lot, and my friends and family are supportive. I accidentally sent her a dirty text message meant for some dude once but she laughed it off-she cool as hell. I still do my little challenges, in fact I signed up for some 28 Day fitness jumpstart just the other day. Like a lot of black women in their 30s I’m also starting to find myself entertained by things like numerology and astrology. Especially ironic coming from me of all people a consummate cynic, but I get the appeal. People like being told who they are, it’s less legwork. To think there’s a universe out there as invested in my self actualization as I am is an attractive ideal. I’m scheduling myself a tarot card reading as we speak. I’m even looking into life coaches, because shit, why the hell not?
There’s a Sartre quote where he says: “As far as men go, it’s not who they are that interests me - but what they can become.” It speaks to the notion that the “self” is constant and ever changing and it’s something I think about when I fall into this possibly futile albeit earnest cycle of self improvement. Humans are tasked with the burdensome freedom of deciding who we are, and then embarking on the journey in becoming that actualized person. When I told my mom I had decided to start going to therapy, she cheered. She said it was long overdue, and exclaimed relief that I finally decided it was time. She had been in therapy over the past three years and found it helpful. My mom, like a lot of black women her age unfortunately, has experienced a lot of trauma, but she’s seeking help and scaling her own walls — and damn so am I. Maybe that’s enough.