Seven months into my time in El Paso, I woke up and had a breakdown.

A lot was going on: I had moved across the country in January 2021 for my first job out of college, I lived in a city I’d never visited, I wanted to excel in a job that hadn’t existed for over 30 years and I was alone. I was exhausted, burned out and filled with anxiety.

Until then, I would tell family and friends that I existed in a state of “grayness.” My life wasn’t black or white, it was a combination of the two and I was transitioning, hopefully, to a new color. But as I paced around my living room, crying and trying to remember breathing techniques I’d seen on wellness apps, I knew I needed help.

Asking for help has never been easy for me and I’ve heard similar sentiments from Black friends and strangers.

Black people are often described by our non-Black peers as “strong” or “resilient” when injustices occur within our community and we appear to publicly persevere, like when another Black person is killed by law enforcement. Simply existing in this nation is a daily battle.

It’s tiring to live up to the expectations of this nation but also your own when you’re just hoping to survive. I understand why people describe me or other Black people as “strong,” because we are, but it’s not something I always want to be. I too want to be vulnerable and treated with care.

I remembered the Black Journalists Therapy Relief Fund a friend told me about months earlier — about how I could request financial assistance to cover therapy sessions. I’d initially thought my issues weren’t worth the attention or help of a national fund. There were more deserving journalists who were experiencing way more hardships than some girl who was overwhelmed by a new life experience.

But the morning of my breakdown, I said “screw it” and decided to test my luck. Tears running down my face, I requested $500, trying to remain hopeful I would get it, knowing I otherwise couldn’t afford therapy.

Days later, I received notice that the fund needed to know the cost of therapy. I found Positive Innovations, a local Black-owned counseling office, and learned an hour-long session costs $200, meaning my original aid request would only cover two sessions.

“How about we send you $3,000?” the lady from the fund asked over the phone.

My mind immediately thought it was a scam and too good to be true.

To my surprise, it wasn’t and the money was sent. Since then I have therapy sessions every other week with a wonderful Black therapist.

El Paso Matters reporter Jewél Jackson, left, interviews graduates at the University of Texas at El Paso’s commencement ceremony on May 14, 2021. Jackson is the first El Paso journalist in more than two decades to focus on higher education. (Corrie Boudreaux)

This hasn’t been an easy time for anyone and recent studies suggest that Black people are especially struggling. Black therapists have noticed an increase in suicidal thoughts among their Black patients.

The last year taught me the importance of asking for help. Help can look like going to the gym or calling a friend. For me, I’ve been most successful through regular therapy.

Part of being able to ask for help means that you feel safe in doing so. But for Black people, we’ve been at the hands of both historical and modern day medical traumas and exploitation, which makes it even harder to not only find but trust the help you’re receiving. Not to mention the costs, which can be an added barrier.

I underestimated the impact talking to a Black therapist would have on me. I’ve been in and out of therapy for years, but never could find a Black therapist or one who was available for new appointments. (The lack of Black therapists is a separate conversation.) My previous therapists, who were white or Arab, couldn’t always relate to some of my experiences. While we don’t need to live similar lives, it is a tiresome burden to explain why you are fearful of driving as a Black woman to a white therapist.

I had an immediate connection to my current therapist that was largely based on similar cultural understandings. And while that’s not the only reason we have a connection, it has been a huge benefit in overcoming some of the personal battles that were a big reason for my earlier breakdown.

Therapy isn’t a fix-all solution but it does give you a new perspective and a new set of tools on how to do your own healing. As a 20-something young adult, I truly feel that I am better prepared in conquering any troubles that may come my way in the future. Therapy has guided me toward feeling more powerful in my existence.

I wanted to write about my experience with receiving help to normalize this discussion even more, especially for the Black community in which this topic is somewhat still taboo. I also want to recognize the progress that our community has made to increase mental health care, with resources like Therapy for Black Girls, Therapy for Black Men and Black Female Therapists.

I hope this piece can serve as a nudge for you to think about how you can better take care of yourself. That’s my wish for Black people not just this month but for every other day too: that we selfishly take better care of ourselves.

Cover photo: Higher education reporter Jewél Jackson stands at the top of a mountain overlooking El Paso. (Courtesy of Jewél Jackson)

Jewél Jackson covers higher education for El Paso Matters, through a partnership with Open Campus Media. She is a 2020 graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.