Several nights ago I had a dream in which one of my former professors from undergrad told me that she had started seeing my old therapist, L. When I interacted with this professor in real life several years ago, I could sense that she possessed unaddressed mental health issues. So when she told me in the dream about seeing my former therapist L, I felt happy for her, though a bit confused that we spoke about this topic while standing in one of the large, open bathrooms of my childhood home. The dream then shifted to me standing alone in an empty hallway with blue carpeting. A single showerhead jutted out of the wall, and I washed my blonde hair and saw it turn purple. As water continued to pour onto my scalp, purple hair dye ran through my fingers, the original black and the newer blonde strands nowhere in sight.
When I woke up, I knew right away that my former professor represented my mother. I remember growing up as a child and standing a few feet away from my mother, looking up at her her as she would either yell at me or my brother or as she would begin to clean our house obsessively. Sometimes I felt helpless, sometimes I felt curious. Around a decade and a half later, when I texted her about how seeking therapy may benefit her, she replied that only weak people pursue psychological help.
I am in the process of interviewing at different sites for the final year of my doctoral program, a year in which I will provide therapy full time. When interviewers ask me about what brought me into the field, I often reference my general desire to help others and my curiosity about people. I do not mention my mother, to avoid the stigma about mental health that pervades the field of psychology. On one hand, I totally get that some people enter the field thinking it will help them instead of actually addressing their own issues. Furthermore, just because someone has experienced mental health issues does not mean they would make an effective clinician. At the same time, I sense that the lack of openness about mental health within our profession does contribute to further stigmatization and reduced help-seeking and self-awareness.
At this point I have received both interview invitations and rejections. I feel excited about my potential sites as well as some slight sadness about letting go of some cities where I had once envisioned myself. Letting this sadness in helps me reflect on other areas of my life where I have felt distraught, mostly about lacking control: my mother and her mental illness, white supremacy and the idealization of mediocre white men within the queer male community, and the prevalence of amatonormativity in society.
Though, I feel proud of what I accomplished with what options I did have. Like even though I went to a random semi-liberal arts college for undergrad for the sake of instate tuition, I met my two best friends there and have put in a lot of effort to maintain our joyous and radical friendships. Though I am powerless to change my attraction to men, I have actively disinvested from amatonormativity, the male gaze (e.g., I literally don’t care about what any man thinks of me), and the wedding industrial complex. Even with the stigma about mental health and therapy I do my best to write with honesty about my own experiences, my low points and my growth and healing.
Growing up with my unstable mother and my oftentimes absent father, lacking control sucked, because it entailed receiving abuse and neglect. Today, I still believe that we should try to resist certain forces that may feel out of our control, like white supremacy and patriarchy. At the same time, I perhaps feel a little more comfortable sitting in moments of ambiguity, disorganization, and chaos. Even if my hair does turn purple due to forces outside of my control, I would do my best to rock it anyway.
Have you faced mental health stigma in your own life, and if so how have you coped with it? Have you had any interesting dreams as of late and if so how have you interpreted those dreams? General reactions to this post? I have two interviews this upcoming week and will hear back from the remainder of the sites I applied to, wish me luck! Until next post.