On Disability

I think individuals with disabilities (especially visible disabilities) tend to be an afterthought in mainstream society. I consider housing discrimination (my own apartment building does not have an elevator but has three floors), special education inefficiencies (separate classes for disabled students), and unemployment gaps. In my perspective, disabled individuals receive unwarranted pity. I think it’s stereotypical to think a disabled person lives a poor quality of life b/c of their disability. This type of thinking further drives that stigmatization.

I worked as a coordinator for a University disability support office for three years and saw that most disabled students wanted to be regarded the same as everyone else. I think this can be tricky in a counseling session, however. If a new patient comes into my practice, and is missing an arm, but requests counsel about an issue completely separate from her missing arm, is it rude to not address the disability? Is addressing her disability necessary if she doesn’t say anything about it? But at what point does it become “the elephant in the room?” Navigating those waters as a Therapist, at least when it comes to visible disabilities, will be interesting for me. I laugh when feeling uncomfortable, and would hate for a disabled person to feel like I’m laughing AT them. That could harm them and certainly wouldn’t look good for my business’s reputation.

As always, competence is important in the helping profession. These clients will trust my clinical expertise, and it would behoove me to know how to handle my own uncomfortableness.

How Old Are You, Again?

Last week, while at the airport, I had on a beautiful, intricate necklace I found in South Africa. A white woman, who could not be any younger than 82 years old, complimented me on the necklace and asked where I got it. I told her South Africa, and she beamed w/happiness. “I just knew it– I knew it! I love ethnic jewelry.” I smiled politely. She then asked, “Are you from Africa?” Internally, I rolled my eyes. “No, I’m from Ohio. I had only visited South Africa,” I said sweetly.

I know this stranger meant no harm, and what good would it have done to speak my mind about her comments? Maybe b/c it’s never too late to learn right? Well yeah, true, but it was not worth the uncomfortableness for me at that moment. I have a soft spot for older people even when they assume things about me or act inappropriately. Another example comes to mind when I asked a few people to hold my spot in line for an exclusive art gallery while I went to grab coffee. When I came back and seemingly cut the hundred of people in line, an older white man asked me who was I to skip all these waiting people? I stammered before a few good folks stepped up and spoke out on my behalf. I was so grateful for that moment, and the defenders were white!

As much as modern society changes, I believe respecting one’s elders will continue to be an instilled value, specifically in African American culture. Elders face their own sets of issues like loneliness, health issues, maybe some financial difficulties, and the unescapable reality of their mortality.  I can imagine counseling an elder and them thinking, what help could I possibly provide a person who has seen more than I’ve seen and who has lived twice as long as me. I would try to focus on the issues presented and not get caught up in the age game or a question of my expertise. Age is a state of mind anyway!

“Holiday”

Listen, I wrote about Halloween w/love. And there is just something so magical about Christmas; t’is the season fills my heart w/joy. But something about Thanksgiving just does not sit right to me.

Dr. Williams says we should know the history behind the holidays we celebrate. I assume he encourages this so we can make adult, conscious decisions about what we celebrate and what message that sends. I knew a little bit about how Pagan traditions and Capitalism are wrapped all throughout American holidays but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying Halloween and Christmas (Christmas lights, decorations?! I don’t see myself ever relinquishing that haha). However, as warm as my memories are of Thanksgiving meals and family gatherings, I have not trekked home for this man-made holiday in years.

I learned about the truth of the pilgrims and Native Americans at a young age. Luckily, I had an aunt whom went to an HBCU and spared no expense when explaining the history of America to me. I remember feeling deeply sad for the Native American groups, but as a child, pushed those thoughts aside and reveled in the mac and cheese and honey-baked ham. As an adult, and after reading more about the history of America in general, it didn’t feel right to celebrate the lie of Thanksgiving. I love seeing my family and eating home-made food. But if I used my money to purchase items in conjunction w/Thanksgiving, I would be contributing to capitalism in the name of this atrocious slaughter of native peoples. In MCC, another group presented on Native Americans and I learned things I did not know before, which confirmed my convictions. I was completely disheartened, upset, just all around sad after the presentation. My heart hurt for all the suffering.

Counseling a person whose ancestors were the first on this land in America would have to address generational trauma, in my opinion. Of course I would need to focus on the issues presented, but I personally feel like it would be a disservice not to consider Native American’s history w/regards to the treatment I provide. For example, if the person is struggling w/alcohol usage, I would have to approach it w/knowledge of the historical aspect of alcoholism in this group. The same thing w/Suicide as suicide rates amongst Native Americans are extremely high. I would work to build this person’s strengths and self-awareness. Encourage the relishing of the person’s culture. Emphasize the resilience of Native Americans.

Another Type of Culture

Sex is the most spiritual act two human beings can participate in. It is the only act that allows one person to physically enter inside of another. When a person steals sex, I liken it to theft of part of the victim’s soul. Sexual assault leaves people broken. I worked part-time at a sexual assault intervention hotline for three years and some of those stories have stuck w/me and left me in disbelief.

Of course, sexual assault can be done by the hands of either gender, but many people cannot or will not acknowledge that. It’s crazy to me how survivors of sexual assault are regarded based on their gender. Male victims of sexual assault are often looked at incredulously. “What are you complaining for?” In my perspective, a man is seen as losing his boyhood, and being initiated as a man when he loses virginity, even if it is against his consent and especially if it is to an older woman.

For far too long, men have been told that the world and everything in it belongs to them. That they are somehow owed a thing or two. So imagine what it does to a man’s ego, a man’s expectations, when a woman declines to have sex w/him. When women come forward w/their stories, they are immediately questioned for truthfulness. They’ll have their past sexual history blasted, as if that has anything to do w/the non-consensual sex in question.

These very problematic behaviors present in our American society are normalized. 1 in 6 women and 1 in 10 men have been a victim of attempted or completed rape.

Counseling a survivor of sexual assault will be difficult for me; it just makes me so angry. This person will most likely feel like they do not own their own body. This person will feel distrustful of people. This person may become depressed. This person may try to cope with their SA w/drugs or other unhealthy mechanisms. This person may feel dirty, shamed, guilty. They may feel at fault. They may develop PTSD, reliving their pain over and over again. I’m to combat these feelings in my client, when I would want to strangle their perpetrator, myself? I’m to inspire the client when my heart is breaking for them?

This is the one thing I’m worried about in my future career. I feel things so deeply and am an empathetic person, I cry almost immediately when others are in pain. How do I deal w/patients professionally, showing that humanistic side, but not TOO much?

But anyway, I’d need to guide a survivor to have hope and optimism about the future, about healing, and about recovery. This could be the hardest thing to do for a person whose spirit is broken. I’d have to familiarize myself w/techniques that have proven beneficial for sexual assault survivors.

How to Help?

I understand how fortunate I am to have been born in the right body. That is, I feel like the gender ascribed to me at birth based on my biological sex is accurate. There are so many people in the world who struggle w/their assigned gender and I cannot imagine what it is like to have that inner turmoil. Some people fight against it, and continue to live their lives based on what’s expected of them. Others live in their truth and change their outward appearance to reflect what they feel inside.

I empathize w/transgender people but I would be nervous to serve as a therapist for one. How could I effectively counsel a transgender person? I feel like I’d be stepping on eggshells, afraid of using the wrong pronoun, afraid of saying the wrong thing.

I understand that my gender identity matching my biological gender is a privilege in itself. I would have to constantly be aware of this and my language (you don’t even realize that gender roles and ideas of how society should work is deeply ingrained you). I would also have to recognize that this potential trans client most likely had distrustful or unfortunate experiences w/past mental health professionals. So they will likely bring that distrust and baggage to the table. I would really have to tread these waters gently at first.

I needn’t feel sorry for a trans person; I’d like to empower them to live their best lives in spite of what others may think. That would be my main goal besides helping w/other disclosed problems. I know that I would need some type of training so I could feel competent helping individuals in this area.

Halloween Thoughts

I realize I like to compartmentalize my life’s history. I have such a complex story and compartmentalizing helps me put things into perspective and place events accurately. It usually goes: Birth-6 years old, 6-9 yo, 9-17 yo, 17-22 yo, and 22-now. I look at the thoughts I had, the way I did things, and how it all changes continuously throughout these stages. Holiday celebrations are a good example.

I initially lived w/my grandparents, and since I was born, Halloween was a cause for celebration in our household. I’d go to Halloween parties w/my older brother and eat all the candy my stomach could take. My first costume memory is of a lion, which had a furry hood and the cutest furry paws.

I moved in w/my mom and stepdad at the age of 6, and they were Muslim, so Halloween celebrations were non-existent. During these years, I’d go visit an aunt and she was a religious Christian, so Halloween was non-existent to her family as well. Instead we’d go to ‘Hallelujah Night.’ My cousins and I were bummed about not being able to collect candy, and my aunt said it was because Halloween was a pagan holiday. My 8-year-old brain could not comprehend exactly what that meant. Consequently, my siblings, cousins, and I rationalized Halloween as being a satanic holiday.

When I moved back w/my grandparents at the age of 9, I resumed celebrating Halloween. My first year back, I wore a butterfly costume and felt a little guilty celebrating the holiday again. But hey, what kid is gonna turn down candy?!

College placed Halloween in a new light, b/c women started incorporating sexiness into their Halloween costumes, and I eagerly joined in at the age of 17. It became a notorious celebration including libations and full weekend partying. I’ve dressed up for the holiday and have gone to Halloween parties consistently since adulthood. I do generally enjoy the month of October and the festivities surrounding it.

I think it is important for individuals to define what holidays mean to them. I believe that being able to have and practice family traditions is important. However, holding on to certain beliefs or practices for the sake of familiarity can hinder the ability to view things w/an open perspective. Sometimes, change is needed. This is the guidance I’d provide to a client in search of meaning in his or her holiday beliefs.

Reaction to Color of Fear

I thought the Color of Fear video was intense, timely, and relevant to the current times in America. This video was made in 1993, so imagine how frustrating it is to have the same issues w/racism and privilege 24 years later. One of the group members stated, “Racism is essentially a white problem.” I could not agree more w/this. Having an issue w/the way I was born (something I have no control over, mind you) sounds like a “you” problem. Dismantling the oppressive system- that onus is on white people. I am tired of trying to prove that I am worthy of the same media representation, compassion, benefit of doubt, and HUMANITY awarded to the ruling class.

It starts w/a conversation between white folks. The same group member in the Color of Fear video stated the following: “Speak to your people, your family members, your friends. It is your responsibility to intervene, educate, and be outraged about racism.” Without these conversations, people who have never had to think about race won’t understand or empathize w/the issues minorities face in a system that values them over everyone. Too often, white people ascribe to the idea that “we are all human.” While I agree and understand that the human species shares 99.9% of our DNA w/each other, that .01 percent shapes beliefs, thoughts, cultures and everything else in society. And as said in the video, “It gets tiring to not have that difference acknowledged.” 246 years of brutal chattel slavery, followed by 99 years of systemic, blatant oppression will not be undone easily. And even in 1964 when the Civil Rights Act was passed, it took years, if not decades, for those policies to be honored.

So yeah, Color of Fear just reiterated that we have a very long road ahead of us if we hope to operate in a just society. For clients expressing anxiety about this, I would guide them to see that focusing on what they control could help center them.

Hello Tequila!

Ever since I could remember, I was taught that Jesus Christ is the truth, the way, and the light. At age 10, I felt God’s love when I accepted Christ as my savior and into my heart. At that time, no love felt as pure as that of Jesus’s; I knew that even if I backslid, I would always be able to repent and return to him. I held onto this belief until 3 years ago. So for 13 years, I did not question the religion in which I practiced. But 3 years ago, Darren Wilson did not get indicted for the murder of Mike Brown. My prayers for justice did not work. It wasn’t the first time my prayers did not get answered but hundreds of thousands of prayers for justice went unanswered and this opened something in me. Jesus’s love did not feel so pure anymore.

I slowly stopped going to church and started looking at religion a little more closely. I knew slave masters used the holy doctrine to preach obedience and I also knew these same enslaved peoples interpreted the word their own way; these interpretations were often their saving grace and inspo to keep going. I didn’t know that ancient West African religious practices involved honoring spirits, ancestors, and the soul within. I stood in awe of the powerful Orishas. I learned about the spiritual rituals my ancestors practiced before colonization and slavery. A lot of these practices were stifled in the passage overseas.

Next, I questioned how one religion could possibly be true for all 7.2 billion people in the world. If one religion is the true religion, why are these religions split into denominations? Are all 1.8 billion Muslims to perish in the afterlife because they don’t accept Christ? What about people who are morally and genuinely good but don’t believe in the teachings of the Qur’an? Are they to spend an eternity in hell?

Finally, I started thinking about my navigation into womanhood and the fact that I like to do sinful things (hello Tequila!). I stopped feeling guilty about having premarital sex. Why should I ask forgiveness for something as humanly natural as intercourse? Why should I apologize for enjoying my life? What really got me is that dissension is listed as a sin. Yes, according to the holy bible, arguing or disagreeing w/someone is a sin.

These new revelations rocked my core and changed the way I viewed organized religion. When someone asks, I usually identify as agnostic, even though I do believe there is some type of higher power. I just don’t know what that higher power is and I’m okay w/not knowing. For potential clients who are asking the same questions, I’d encourage them to do their own research. Religious rules can be the source of many counseling issues. I think it would be helpful for doubtful clients to come to their own conclusions about the way they should live their lives.