The Impact of Micro-Aggressions on my Mental Health Journey
By Montéz Louria
There I was, pouring out the traumas of youth to this little old buttoned nose woman with a haircut like Halle Berry in Boomerang. A blue-eyed, petite, white woman staring deeply in the abyss of my fro, at the time. She was a therapist I found through the Black Mental Health Alliance (BMHA).
As I was mid sentence, almost on the verge of tears, she said, “... Now is that all your real hair?”
My mouth froze in the shape of an O. I looked at her, directly in her beady blue eyes. She stared deeply into my brown eyes with a tight smile, rocking on her hands that were tucked under her legs.
In this moment, she felt an impish delight from posing that question to me, during our session that I was paying for. I was in awe and unaware of how to respond. The dryness in my throat from the soon coming tears disappeared. It fizzled into a deep anger that then morphed into hurt.
I swallowed hard.
“ Yes,” I said, looking around for a visual escape.
She responded, “Oh. On your ID, it looks shorter. I guess it wasn’t plucked out and fixed then.”
She stared at my hair as if she was waiting for me to “come clean.”
She leaned forward, to the edge of the chair like a dog salivating for a steak.
I respond again, “ Yes, this is my hair.” A silence fell between us.
“Well. Okay. That’s a lot of hair” she said.
The rest of the session turned into an interrogation about Black hair. My session in which I was baring my soul had turned into an interrogation about whether or not the hair was coming out of my follicles.
I left the carpeted basement, so defeated I walked past the same fat tabby that would greet me after therapy. The fall chill slapped me in the face. The biting wind causing tears to fall down my face. I told myself it was the cold causing my eyes to water. I breathed deeply as I slowly walked to the light rail stop. I just wanted to go home and shrivel in my bed.
It was my third year of college and my third therapist. My first was at an organization specifically for sex related trauma survivors. The second, a temporary intern of some sort at a community health center. She told me she was leaving for a permanent position in DC.
I was desperately seeking something. I was seeking a part of myself. Something like plaster to fill a hole that had been chipping away for almost 20 years.I still had a shame in the back of my mind about going to a stranger talking about all the things that went wrong in my life and leaving it there. Afraid of my therapist running into a family member or an abuser. Or my grandmother finding out I was seeing a therapist. I was ashamed of admitting I was depressed and suffering from PTSD. I felt there was a scarlet ‘D’ embroidered on my forehead. I walked around mad, sad, sluggish, and unwilling for many years. I wanted therapy but I also wanted to back away from it. I was starting to get weary. So worn down exposing my trauma to these different people, just to be pushed into the water like a baby sea turtle. In the great ocean, learning to swim, and learning to survive.
I was drowning. There I was again, baring my soul to another face. Another body. Another therapist. And none of it mattered. None of it was sinking in.
After leaving her office, I evaded her and therapy for months. At one point, I said it was a work schedule that I couldn’t change. Then I said, I was “okay. I don’t need therapy anymore.” I tried to attend more events on campus that ran late into the night. I evaded her calls and ultimately stopped therapy. I was floating through the rest of college. I watched the words of lectures drift around my head and drunken nights became my alternative remedy for the past. Time did not exist and at one point, neither did the problems. I went back to an old coping strategy, learned at a young age. Evade. Deny. Keep pushing on.
Growing up Black, these are learned behaviours, especially as a person who identifies as a woman.
I was so annoyed by that gremlin like white woman for asking me a racist question while I was performing my own (emotional) open heart surgery, so much so that it made me detest the idea of returning to therapy. The fact that I found her on the BMHA website infuriated me. Having gone through therapy already, I was tired of the ordeal.
People don’t realise the impact of words and racism and carelessness, especially in mental health or medicine. Racism is so deeply embedded into American society that she thought it was okay to ask me such a question during our time together. This wasn’t the first time she said something that made me look for a camera as if I was a character on The Office. The intense staring and constant questions about Blackness wore me down. I couldn’t take it, so I quit therapy.
Therapists and medical professionals are responsible for the environment set for patients. They are responsible for the prolonged mental despair or improvement of their conditions. Making assumptions about Black women’s hair or bodies is the worst thing you could do.
Eventually, after another traumatic event, too much fun with alcohol, a free bumpy roads, I found my way back to therapy with a steady therapist who I am even seeing to this day.
And no, they haven’t asked any questions about my hair.