My Story

On the outside I was moving and grooving, I had everything together…everyone told me I had everything together…but on the inside I was crumbling.

I remember the winter of 2014, it was my final year of college and I had received my offer to work for oneof the largest financial institutions in the country.  My final year should have been a cake-walk since I no longer had to worry about employment and classes should have been lighter. Ironically, it was the exact opposite. I was working a part time job, leading two student orgs, serving as a campus resident assistant, and taking 19 credits as a business honors student because I switched between programs in college. My ‘situationship’ or complicated relationship was in shambles and I felt like my family could not even remotely understand what I was going through because “everything was good” and I should continue to “work hard.” What was more nerve wracking was how I saw life after college. The pressure would be on to be successful, to get a masters, get married, and continue to “have everything together.” On the outside I was moving and grooving, I had everything together…everyone told me I had everything together…but on the inside I was crumbling.

What pushed me.

During spring break, after one of the worst fights with the boy I naively thought I was going to be with long-term, I hit my breaking point. I walked naturally to the student counseling services, calmly provided my information to the receptionist, smiled as they asked me introductory questions, and then broke down as the therapist started probing. Like tears I had never cried before. I was more surprised that I was crying and sharing so much with this woman I had never met before than anything else. She was petite with gentle mannerisms and even gentler eyes. She had just finished her master’s program and I was one of her newer clients. During our time, she asked me questions about my childhood, my friends, my family, my relationships with others, and my relationship with myself. Questions I had never before asked myself, she asked and probed. I was almost terrified that this stranger knew things about me that I had never revealed to anyone and even more terrified if anyone should find out what I was telling her. Alas, despite my anxiety around our meetings, through our eight weeks together, I found a strange sense of peace and calm.

Through my time with her, I realized for myself that I did not have to bottle up my emotions, I did not have to hold anything back, and she was the ear and understanding I was looking for – for so long. It was like I had developed, in a strange way, a friend. From our sessions, I learned how to constructively share my emotions and not hold back, I learned how to ask myself questions when I was feeling a certain type of way, I also learned that sometimes it is okay to just feel overwhelmed but the best thing to do sometimes is go through it and push through it. What I loved about her time was how vulnerable she was also willing to be with me and share her experiences. When graduation came around, I felt lighter, happier, and more confident in how I managed my feelings.


Sometimes, life gets overwhelming.

As a black female, you take on the “super woman” syndrome, you want to do it all, handle it all because you are “strong” and you have all the world to prove. At the time, I was the president of the economics society and one of few black women in the economics department, I felt like I had a lot to prove, not only to myself but also to my mostly male peers. Even four years later, I still want to take it all on, but going through therapy helped me to realize that my worth was not to be determined by others but by myself.

As an immigrant, who came from a third world country, it is deeply ingrained that you are always to be grateful about where you are in America because life back home would look 10 times different. The concept of mental health and going to therapy used to carry such a stigma that you were considered odd if you brought it up. Due to a series of tragically unfortunate events that have taken the lives of beautiful young souls in the African community, the times have forced us to have mental health conversations with one another in ways we have not done before. Every time I meet with my family, they ask how I am doing — and if there is anything they can do to support me — to make sure I am okay since I live alone, working in a high stress job. They connect with me by being more open and vulnerable about their own experiences. I have felt such a positive difference these last four years. My time in therapy helped me rethink my family dynamics and I’m now willing to share more with them.

Being a black female and immigrant, I often see our own people and culture stigmatize mental health – and we don’t seek help when needed — because we’re supposed to be “strong,” “grateful,” and “can handle what life throws at us.” I will always be grateful I went to a therapist because I found an ear and a voice. Every now and then, I hit some ups and downs, but at least I know when things go down, there is someone I can always reach out to.

Nwaka Isamah