The First Time I Saw A Therapist
My parents would never ask me this question so I might as well tell you all about it. As a Cameroonian, the idea of therapy or any semblance of mental discrepancy would not only raise eyebrows but concern as to any abilities to be a ‘normal’ human. In Cameroon, there are only two kinds of humans: the normal ones who never mention their mental health and the mad ones, like me, who do and need internment.
As you can imagine, because I have always written about my struggles with depression and the like, the only reason why I haven’t been locked in a faculty was that I left the country.
Few people ever read what I wrote; I learned how to navigate my troubled waters as neutrally as I could.
That is what happens when you function too well for your mental health to be taken seriously.
I haven’t been diagnosed. Not really. Although I always wanted to see a therapist, mental health in Cameroon is just getting a system update that started sometime in 2017. When I scroll through my Facebook timeline (and after many deaths by suicide from friends of friends of friends) I notice there’s a change in attitude and even the inkling of an actual national conversation.
It is even more encouraging that the age range of the people taking a voice to be open about the existence of mental health issues is varied. I have even been lucky enough to get in touch with a young entrepreneur building a platform to increase assess to existing mental health professionals in the country and a therapist working in Bamenda, at the heart of the current civil crisis who is doing her best to help her community.
Before I moved, I was reticent. My opinion on mental health treatment easily skewed to medication and as a creative, I was very worried about how this could potentially impact my life’s work. I had read too many articles on how medication made patients groggy and functioned below their optimal.
This was all without any medical confirmation on any treatments or even if I would need treatment.
My wife is a medical student and the conversation took months of coaxing. I eventually moved and we found a way to afford it after we got married.
I can tell that after feeling homesick, moving to a new country, not making any money, dealing with anxiety and lack of self-worth, I was completely ready to meet my therapist and more than excited to get help in order to navigate myself and this new world.
I cannot remember how that conversation went exactly, but today, after another session, I got similar feelings to those I had the first time:
Therapy isn’t for everyone.
For a twenty-eight-year-old African who has never gone in-depth with his feelings, I was hyper-aware of the strangeness of the session and how much I would never have taken part if I didn’t have a powerful incentive — my relationship with my wife.
For many years, I have had most of my feelings and emotions on lockdown. They only come out through my writing, never in real time: I have had to re-learn how to express what I feel inside.
My robust logical system ran everything. This was aptly reinforced by my efforts in self-development and having these tremendous goals that required I constantly worked towards a solution.
I had become so good at fixing things or adjusting to them that I became an emotional chameleon: I’d read a room or a person, identify patterns of behavior and apply the permutations necessary to achieve the path of least disagreement.
Don’t ask me how I do this, I have no idea.
My therapist helped me identify this complex system I had built to navigate the world which had been quite useful — until it wasn’t.
I think the only reason why I have benefitted from therapy was that I felt I had an issue and I was open to having a professional on the subject of the mind to bounce ideas with.
That said, in the beginning, I went looking for answers to why I did what I did. I found out early t it didn’t work this way.
Therapy became a conversation where someone else, with the necessary tools to listen and ask, made me see patterns I had grown unconsciously accustomed to.
My therapist has more questions than answers and all the answers come (or would eventually come) from me.
Given the conversations I have with my wife after different sessions she’s had with her therapist, I realize that we have different outcomes really based on ‘where we’re at’.
Six months ago, I wasn’t married. I was stressed out about living in a new country and I had no idea what was awaiting me. Now, I am stressed out about the government shutdown, the new role I have, and what it means for the future (among other things).
The conversations with my therapist have evolved. I can almost predict how a conversation can go based on my personal input. What I love most about this is how much more I get from the sessions when I choose to let go and trust.
I think its easier for me to trust my therapist because I know there’s little she can gain from it (well, it’s hourly and she gains money, true, but when I say ‘gain’ I mean in terms of information to be used against me at some point in the future —yes, I am that paranoid).
I am learning to identify patterns that may have been more destructive, walls built to protect me from the world which end-up shutting me off from everything including the good things.
As the world (and Cameroon) increases the conversation around mental health, I feel that success will only be arrived at when we understand and accept how much of the treatment for any mental health issue isn’t dependent on any one party.
I have caught myself disagreeing with my therapist only to realize why I was so protective. I am still against medication but open to the idea based on factors I am pre-determining such as if my behavior crosses a threshold that would be detrimental to the relationships that matter to me.
Therapy has opened conversations about my personality and identity as well as how it may affect others with or without my control.
I have learned that there’s only so much I can control. I have learned it’s okay for me to feel things strongly and that other people have their issues I cannot fix.
I think everyone should try therapy at some point, even though I am more certain than ever that it may not work for everyone. I also think that we probably already see pseudo-therapists: spouses, priests, friends, counselors, parents, etc.
Where I am at right now, I would love to see a therapist on a more regular basis. I feel we’ve just touched the tip of the iceberg and there’s a lot more work for me to do.
Nothing says my opinion won’t change in the future.