This week's episode of BET's "Being Mary Jane" was tragic. One of the characters committed suicide and what followed was a pretty compelling episode about the after-effects of death by suicide, the guilt and blame experienced by friends and family and the stigmatization of mental illness. It was a necessary spotlight on some issues that are rarely discussed, especially among black people worldwide, and though it was a sad storyline, especially with a character we had grown to love, it incited a conversation and brought some awareness to this taboo topic.
I recently discussed the importance of therapy with a friend, and do not hesitate to share it as a valid resource for emotional stress and inner discord. I took advantage of the free counseling and psychological resources while I was in college, and I recall visiting a resident psychologist twice. Those sessions were extremely beneficial and aided in restoring some balance. Therapy is challenging and trying as it makes you pick apart and analyze difficult moments, emotions and thoughts in a quest for self-discovery and healing. What makes therapy successful is obviously that you do visit a counselor, but also important is how committed you are in using the techniques you have been taught. Not everyone is in an emotional, financial or geographical position to pursue therapy, so I've come up with five suggestions on how to self-therapize.
1. Don't Wallow. Though ruminating on feelings can serve its purpose in gaining insight and therefore achieving greater understanding, it is important to make sure that you don't focus on your issues for too long. Allow yourself to process your emotions for a certain amount of time - say 15 minutes - and once it's up, do something counteractive. For example, if you are pacing, take a seat or slip into your favorite yoga pose. This is necessary to interrupt your usually self-deprecating contemplation and move forward.
2. Air It Out. This is crucial. When my life is going haywire, I like to vent to a trusted person. If I'd rather deal with the process alone, I like to write in my journal in free-flowing prose. Once I feel satisfied that I have expressed myself and released some of the inner tension, I tear up the piece(s) of paper. Pro Tip: Don't read what you wrote; Don't store it somewhere to reminisce over. Other strategies include: cardio exercise; yoga or pilates; creative expression, like music, art, design
3. You're Human. You won't be happy all the time. Having negative emotions is uncomfortable, but normal. Therefore, allow yourself to recognize your emotions as part and parcel of your existence and just feel. Overall on the African continent, pervasive in our cultures is the fact that men can't show their sensitive sides. Even worse, it filters out to a stigmatization of behaviors that are not part of the cultural norm. Those little comments like, "just get over it" or "what's wrong with you?" mostly serve to perpetuate the stigma. Understand this: the admission of emotional upheaval is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it is the opposite. It's no easy feat facing your demons. You become a better person through it.
4. Give. Part of what spurs on the cycle of negative emotions is our tendency to be self-absorbed. So, distract yourself by being of service to someone else. Perhaps you can volunteer somewhere. It could even be as simple as calling a friend and only listening.
5. Think Positively. It is a challenge, but nothing good comes easy. If you're experiencing bouts of depression, condition yourself to actively counter your negative emotions with positive ones. Write them down to make them more real. That sounds simpler than it is, but it really does make a difference. It is a good practice to learn as it teaches you how to avoid the inevitable negativity avalanche.
I use these strategies to navigate complex emotions and I have found them helpful. However, I still maintain that if you feel as though you need more help, please seek a professional opinion.
Do you have any additional tips?