Do not give your past the power to define your future.”~ Unknown
I only remember her face, not her name, so I will call her Jane. She looked like a Jane. When I first met Jane she greeted me with a glimpse of a smile; that would be the most emotion she ever showed me. I would be OK with that because Jane changed my world.
The afternoon I first met Jane, I left work early. We had a 5:30 pm appointment, and I didn’t want to be late. I wasn’t thrilled to meet Jane, I was very reluctant and nervous, however, I wanted to respect her time so I didn’t want to be late. It was a sunny fall afternoon, and I took the 20-minute drive in silence, that’s how I knew I was really nervous. The drive entire I wondered what she looked liked. We spoke briefly on the phone, but I could not begin to assign her facial features based on our short conversation.
I arrived at the address, parked, and stayed in my car. I was about 10 minutes early and sat there for nine minutes before getting out of the car. I was nervous. I didn’t know what to expect. I wasn’t completely sure why I was even doing this. I wasn’t sure what I’d say to Jane, or what she would say to me. I felt so uncertain in this moment, but I was here so I had to at least meet Jane. Right?
I found the door, it was red. The blinds in the window looked a little tattered. I immediately thought this was a mistake, because, well her blinds were tattered. Yes, I judge people based on how the blinds look from their window. I always have and probably always will. I rang the bell and I waited. I rang the bell again and waited. I was growing impatient with Jane and her tattered blinds. I rang the bell one more time, and she opened the door right away. She was old. Her face was soft yet wrinkled and her hair was gray and frizzy, somehow the tattered blinds fit. She invited me in, and I stood staring at this older lady with old hair and an old face, thinking THIS is my therapist?
As a young black woman, the idea of a therapist was a foreign concept to me. Of course, I was aware of what a therapist was, I was a college graduate and corporate trainer. I just never thought that people like me, young and Black, used a therapist. No one I knew had a therapist and I never heard Black people talking about seeing one. People that looked like me only discussed talking with their medical doctor and their pastor. I only saw older white people and troubled children talking to a therapist on TV and I was neither. As a young Black woman, I had no idea how to choose a therapist, I felt like I had reached my hand into a black hat and old lady Jane with the tattered blinds was what I pulled out.
She asked me to sit downstairs and complete paperwork, while she finished up with a client. I sat down in a chair across the room. This seat had a clear shot of the door. I needed to see who else was seeing a therapist. I was secretly hoping they would be Black like me. If it was another Black person, I would feel a bit more confident in Jane with the tattered blinds. As soon as I begin digging in my purse for my cell phone so I can list my co-worker as my emergency contact (because my family could never know I was here) a person walks out the door. I didn’t even hear them come down the stairs-DAMN IT! I wanted to peek out of the blinds, but I was nervous the tattered blinds may fall.
Jane calls me upstairs to her office. For the record, this office space looked like a converted rowhouse. Downstairs there was one office and the waiting area, upstairs there were two offices and a bathroom in the middle. I walk in her office and hand her the clipboard of paperwork. She glances over it and confirms my name and address. She then moves from her desk to a single chair in the corner, almost perfectly diagonal from the couch. She crosses her leg, and her polyester pant leg rises, showing a tan slouching sock and a black casual shoe. Oddly, this pant, sock, shoe combination would be what I stared at through most of our sessions, maybe this is why I cannot remember her face.
“I don’t know”.
“I am unhappy, a workaholic, and have family issues.”
“A friend suggested that I find someone to talk to. ”
These were my responses to her first series of questions about why I needed to see a therapist, what was going on in my life, and why I decided to make the phone call. She told me a little about herself, and how the sessions would be structured. She reminded me that anything we discuss is completely confidential unless I was going to harm myself or someone else. Next, she gave me the simplest, yet most difficult request: Tell me about yourself.
I began with my usual job interview answer, giving details of my education and work history. Then Jane began with her questions, her very simple questions that would prove difficult for me to answer. “What was I most proud of at this point in my life?” “What was I unhappy about?” She asked questions about my job and then moved on to the questions that were more difficult for me to answer. They were difficult to answer because I was taught ‘what goes on in the house stays in the house’. I gave her general answers hoping that would suffice, but her questions just became more specific, and even more difficult to answer. I felt like I was breaking the rules by discussing family business. She wanted to know why I felt this way, and why did I believe that way; I became irritated. I wasn’t irritated about the questions, but because she would only nod and write. I didn’t say anything because even though I was frustrated, it felt good to get a lot of stuff off of my chest. It felt good to say “I felt like my family didn’t love me, so who else would!” and “I felt like no one cared about us when my mom got sick and how my family was slow to help but quick to criticize”. It felt AMAZING to say these things out loud, shed tears about it without judgment, and without fear that it would get back to them at the next family function.
By the end of the session, I had forgotten all about Jane’s tattered blinds and old hair. She told me some things she wanted us to talk more about, and she offered me some kind words about my strength and bravery. She gave me verbal applause for my accomplishment thus far in life, given the childhood I had been handed. I would continue my sessions w/Jane until I moved to a new state. After only a few sessions, I began to feel different. Jane made book recommendations, and gave me different perspectives on situations, and most importantly she helped me get to the ‘WHY’. Even though I considered myself an open minded person, she told me things about myself that I never considered. Jane explained to me that some feelings that I beat myself up about were expected and gave me ways to work on them. Jane changed my world.
I used to hide the fact that I had a therapist because I thought it was not something young successful Black women did. As I began opening up about it, I got strange looks, and odd comments. They would say “Girl you don’t look crazy” or they wanted to know what tragedy happened in my life that pushed me there. I learned that I was depressed, that I probably had been since I was a teen. I was no longer able to cover it up. I encourage anyone who is constantly feeling sad, angry, frustrated, not sleeping or sleeping too much, not eating or eating too much, or just generally unhappy and can’t explain it, find your Jane. Be honest with your Jane or you’ll be wasting your money. Jane’s results won’t be quick or easy, but worth it! I have had three Janes and now I am in a new city searching for my fourth.