The burdens of being a public figure some days are heavy. In addition to being a full-time journalist, I’m also an avid LGBTQ activist, with a Twitter account that pulls in nearly 40 million impressions a month. My words have been shared through countless articles with millions of readers clicking like, sharing, and occasionally leaving some horrible comments. Those who don’t leave comments opt for sending me direct messages full of hate, bringing up my HIV status to attack, something that used to bother the less-confident me. I go to battle every day with the likes of white supremacy and masculinity to end up at home most nights, alone with just a glass of water, Law & Order re-runs, and my thoughts.
I’m thinking it may be time to invest in going to therapy again.
On the real, mental health is a topic that is still seen as a taboo in Black communities. I don’t invest in it the way I should, and I tend to bottle-up emotions or allow them to manifest in toxic ways that can be detrimental to myself and others. Lately I’ve thought about this subject much more as my platform and visibility continues to grow, making my words subject to more critique from the masses. But I also thought about what life was like before all the retweets and likes, when I worked a normal 9–5, and stayed off social media for the most part. Even then, I still had moments where I couldn’t process situations on my own and could have used therapy.
I remember when I first moved from Richmond, Virginia, in 2013 because I had had enough of my life feeling like it was in a rut. I did some soul searching and found a new job at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. I loved my job, or so I thought I did for about two years when I ended up realizing that I still was not happy. I first decided to go to a support group in 2014. There I met other young Black gay people living with HIV, and started taking the steps to regain my happiness and most importantly my mental health. I did another career move at that time and decided to go into HIV work. I loved helping people. That one-on-one contact got me back in the trenches where I belonged. It was at that time I started to write more and my audience began to grow.
That is when I first sought out therapy, since there was a counselor who worked for our organization. It was refreshing to know that I could discuss some of the most confidential things and problems without fear of the information getting out. I could unpack trauma, and talk about it openly. The ability to have resources and options for how I could process and grow truly made me a new person. I really enjoyed that I didn’t always have to process out things alone with myself, and it helped me break past the barriers that the Black community often places on taking care of mental health, or going to therapy.
Everyone goes through things in life and we honestly aren’t built to simply just handle them on our own. Talking with friends, family, or other people you may know is a great option, but sometimes it’s not enough. Sometimes you need a third party who doesn’t know you or your story to sit there with you and help you process the emotions you have long kept in. Some of the things I battle with are heavy, yet some things that many would take as simple cause me the angst during my day.
I get pill-fatigued often from taking my daily prescribed medicine. The actual action of taking the pill daily has become boring to me. Despite me knowing what I need to take it for and why it is important that I take it at the same time every day, I just don’t feel like it sometimes. Talking about it with friends and family it’s like “take the damn pill,” which is correct but not problem-solving. Being able to talk with someone who can break down what is causing the fatigue, and ways to get past it, is sometimes necessary. The ability to see a therapist and process out the biggest of issues, to the littlest of problems I deal with is important, and I wish more tried it to learn about themselves and how to work on themselves.
Since moving to NYC in August, I haven’t had much time for anything but working and building. I think that is the excuse many of us use when we are trying to avoid something that we know we need, but are too afraid to go all in on. Now that things are moving for me with my writing and activism, I think I need to give therapy another shot. I don’t have to take on all the burdens of the world, but the ones that I do can easily be fleshed out.
George M. Johnson is a journalist and activist. He has written for Entertainment Tonight, Ebony, TheGrio, TeenVogue, NBC News, and several other major publications. He writes the Our Story, Our Time column for A&U. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram @iamgmjohnson.