I am a black christian woman - therapy saved my marriage

May 3-9 is Mental Health Awareness week and as I have mentioned before, I want to share how therapy has literally changed my life and my marriage but not for the reasons you think.

Soundcloud audio version will be up soon!

A lot has changed around the way we talk about mental health and therapy today in general and specifically within the black community. However there is still a lot of stigma when it comes to mental health. For starters there are assumptions that mental health refers to mental illness. This is not helped by the fact that within the faith circles, we are often encouraged, pressured even to pray about our issues. Prayer works. I am a testament to that. God has also given us knowledge, wisdom, tools and resources which we don't often access especially when it comes to our mental and emotional health. I moved to Canada as a teenager (late teens) and the whole process of leaving my family and coming to Canada to study was a lot to bear for a young adult. I never once considered that I could access mental health services to help me process what I was going through. Had I known then what I know now, I would certainly have accessed these services.

Fast forward to almost 20 years later, and I was married with toddler twins and a preschooler. This life season was BUSY - so very exhausting. Most of my evenings were spent trying to keep up with the twins and the preschooler. I was also working full-time as was my husband. He was actually working evenings so I was solo with all 3 kids every single evening except weekends. Stress is no good for a marriage so as you can imagine, tempers were short and hot. Screaming matches were the norm - from either one of the 5 of us. Not surprisingly our marital relationship was strained. I felt I unsupported by hubby and so grew very resentful. I have to underline that this is how I felt but wasn't entirely a reflection of what was going on. I often felt overwhelmed and frustrated by this particular season of parenthood. I would actually threaten to bring hubby to therapy so it could speak to him and change him. Ha! I tried to talk this out with my spiritual family but that wasn't much help.

I was met mostly with Christianese clichés which often felt like toxic positivity: this too shall pass; it is well; by God's grace; be grateful you have a job; be grateful you have children. Meanwhile I was literally flailing and drowning - Career Slay Mama.

While I get that this was ALL coming from a good place, it wasn't very helpful in that particular season. You all know the story - well some of you do. October 2018, 10 days before we moved into our new house (did I mention we were also buying a house in all this crazy mix) I had a car accident. I suffered a concussion and back injury. My health deteriorated rapidly and I was finally diagnosed with a concussion. I ended up being off work for a year (2019) - I wrote about this in a blog post and you can read more about it here.

The concussion meant that I had to stay in the dark and literally do nothing for days on end. To some that may sound like heaven but to a do-er and a go-getter like me it was literally the worst thing that could happen to me. I started a number of therapies including physiotherapy, vestibular therapy, occupational therapy. I was being seen by a Concussion specialist and I literally had a medical team of about 5 members including my family doctor. The concussion specialist suggested that I go for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. I had never heard of this before. This is a type of therapy that helps you process what is going on and helps you manage the psychosocial aspects of concussion. Concussions don't just affect you physically, they also affect you emotionally. I used the Employee Assistance Program that is offered to us for free for Public Servants through the Government of Canada. I called the general line and a therapist close to my physical location contacted me within 24 hours. We scheduled an appointment.

I had no idea what to expect. I was still wearing sunglasses because I was photosensitive and I was fragile in everyway - physically, emotionally and mentally and yes even spiritually. The therapist understood where I was coming from as an immigrant to Canada as they had a similar experience as I did. I had 8 sessions with her and those 8 sessions literally changed my life. I was so bitter and angry and resentful in that season.

We covered a lot of ground and when we finally came to relationships, I said to her that I was frustrated and angry with the hubby because I did not feel supported and I didn't feel he was doing as much as I was. So one of the exercises she asked me to do was to write down all of what was involved in maintaining the household. So I made this LONG laundry list of ALL the chores involved in the house. I proudly brought this to her to the next session. She then asked me to use a highlighter and to highlight what I did vs what hubby did. I was soooo ready to break it down so I did that.

To my utter surprise, it was pretty much a 50/50 split and in some cases he was doing more. I was so shock-ed. So we talked through it and I had to revisit why I thought it was unfair. We uncovered that the TYPES of things I was doing were not necessarily the same. I picked out all the clothes the kids wore and that required some extra thinking - the weather of the day or the season, planning what to wash and when. I cooked all the meals and so this was not as straight forward as taking out the trash. I had to think ahead plan ahead, make sure the ingredients were there. On the other hand I had not shoveled snow since we got married. I didn't even know what day the garbage went out. Hubby paid ALL the bills so I didn't have to worry about what was due and when.

This one shift, completely changed the way I was looking at hubby. I am not saying a marital issue is that easy to fix BUT I can tell you when resentment builds up, it comes at you and filters through EVERYTHING. I also gained language to articulate what I was feeling and its impact on me. For example the brain injury meant that processing things was slower for me so having to speak French all the time to my kids built a different type resentment in me. So hubby and I talked about this and how to balance this out. The funny thing was I didn't tell him just then. Call it pride or whatever...one evening in the middle of laughs a few months later I told him I went to therapy to try and fix him and found out he was doing more than I thought and maybe even more than I was. We had a great laugh about it.

Therapy was really key for me in my personal healing and a HUGE turning point for our marriage. In the remaining sessions I learned a lot and gained a lot of great resources not just for marriage but also for parenting. Right before COVID hit, we were on the mend and the time at home just the 5 of us meant that life was a lot less crazy and intense and a lot more meaningful. We were already quite used to just being together so it helped us build on this.

The one thing I would say is consider therapy in fact don't just consider it, invest in it as part of your mental health and wellness plan. Yes friends and family are a great help but a therapist has the professional tools and resources to to guide you and empower you. Beyond a shift in perspective I received tools and resources that helped me better communicate with hubby and we were both the better for it. Going for therapy doesn't mean that you're mentally ill - in fact its quite the opposite it makes sure your mental health is in good shape so you don't become severely depressed or anxious or eventually develop a mental illness.

I hope that speaking candidly about this will encourage you to seek out resources that can help you heal and grow emotionally even as you pray and surrender all to the Lord.