Breaking Barriers: Convincing My Mother To Go To Therapy.

I’m 17 and have found myself in the office of an unfamiliar face wanting to know intimate details about myself and the world I live in. Initially, I am resistant. I am too full of repressive rage to unleash anything because I know that even the slightest remembrance of why I am in rage will bring me to my knees. I’ll be vulnerable, and I was taught to never allow vulnerability to become a part of who I am — as it was considered something that would bring me uncomfortably close to demise.

After about six sessions filled to the brim with silence, I finally opened up. It was the day that my therapist said “Listen, you don’t need to talk to me, but I’m not going to give up on you. You’re afraid of yourself, but I’m not afraid of you. We can do this forever, because I’m in this, forever — if you’ll have me.” I’m not sure if I was annoyed or moved by her consistent effort, but something about her words caused me to open up. I talked. I caved. I wept. And much to my surprise, that rage that often sat heavily on my chest, choking me into silence, subsided. I was not brought to my knees; instead, I was standing upright — legs no longer buckling underneath my own vengeful weight. For the first time, I was happy and when I suggested this to my mom, she was happy for me. Convincing her to partake in the same efforts, however, was another story.

My mother is from Kampala, Uganda; A country with a history of inflammatory, prejudicial politics that often effect both remote, and inner city communities. Uganda has a vast, bloody history and while my mother has lived in America since my birth (22 years ago), she sometimes still feels the aftershocks of living there. Combined with her assimilation to American culture, I can only imagine that her mental health has been effected in ways unseen, and unknown to her family, peers and lovers. I often feel guilt for not checking in on her more often — for falling victim to the narrative that our parents are superhuman and without the emotional turmoil that us, millennials, feel. Not only did I believe in this narrative, she did too and because she did she couldn’t see the benefit of seeing a therapist.

“Why should I see a therapist? Eh! I’m fine. I don’t have issues.” She would say.

It was at that point that she also introduced me to another harmful narrative: we often believe that therapy must come only after we become aware of our trauma, or are in need of help. This is harmful because we treat mental health as something to treat retroactively instead of proactively. Sometimes, it’s okay to visit a therapist for a check-in, to assess your current lifestyle, and to simply have a safe-space to speak.

After a course of a few months, I learned something new about my mother’s state of mental health. For most of my life, I had always watched my mother assimilate to American culture, in the best way she knew how. What I didn’t know was how seriously she took this assimilation — this need to fit into a land not built for her use, but for its usage of her. For a long time, I didn’t know how much this bothered her because she would often come home from work and joke about her “oyinbo” co-workers. She would joke about their ignorance — about how unaware they were of her intelligence. My mother is a pharmaceutical doctor, and working for that title took both patience, and hard work, but it also boiled down to her intelligence and my mother was, to me, a genius. So, because of her laid back demeanor in regards to her world of labor, nobody saw how often she was covered in worry.

After she became more comfortable within our relationship, she eventually told me about her anxiety. She explained how she would be up before dawn, sometimes not having gone to sleep at all. She was worried about her job — about whether her employers had seen through her facade. She, like most immigrants living in America, knew that no amount of assimilation would give her the protective status of being American, and along with being black, an identity she often declined, she knew that at any moment her hard work would mean nothing. I cried silently, as to make sure she wouldn’t hear, when she told me this. Here was my mother, a woman who had endured war, and abuse, and a myriad of other atrocities, worrying about the opinion of individuals that could label her as disposable at any moment. I wept for her, not only because I knew she needed someone to talk to but because she did not know she needed someone to talk to. We had all failed her — her family, her environment, her everything.

Finally, after extensive conversation, some crying, some arguing, and some silent treatments, my mother finally decided to give therapy a try.

“I’m only going because you won’t stop nagging me.” She said.

To this day, I don’t know what has come of those therapy sessions, and I don’t think I want too. I don’t know if she still goes, but I make an effort to check on her and she seems better, less hidden, and more herself. I don’t ask her about her sessions because I want her to have her own separate safe space away from everything, and everyone else to release her worry — to be human, and not super, to be vulnerable and far from demise.