My Writing Journey: Part 2- Unlikely Inspiration
Updated: Mar 11
In the first part of My Writing Journey, I explored the origins of my interest in stories and writing. Those early experiences along with a lifelong enjoyment of reading, while ultimately influential, were not enough to push me to write for a public audience. For that to happen, I would first have to go through some tough professional experiences.
For me, becoming a therapist wasn’t a calling or something I knew I would do from a young age. I majored in Psychology in undergrad because a high school teacher told me I would be good at it. I then stumbled into counseling because I could only bear enough additional schooling to get a Master’s degree, and my only knowledge of social workers at the time was that they took people’s kids away. I enjoyed my counseling program and looked forward to contributing positively to society, but I never could have anticipated what my career experiences ended up being post-graduation.
My first few years in the field included low pay, an emphasis on billable hours over quality care, and even a short stint of unemployment when a company I worked for shut down after I had only been there for four months. I don’t know about anybody else, but unemployment wasn’t something I ever imagined for myself, and being in that position was demoralizing to say the least. The roller coaster ride continued as I encountered more work-related stress while trying to wrap my mind around what was happening with my career. I enjoyed my work with clients, but the workplace environments themselves were wearing on me. Feeling like I was the only one struggling and that no one was talking about these issues is what first made me want to write something about them. I needed other people to know the truth about the mental health field. That my experience of being a therapist thus far didn’t match the image commonly portrayed to the public or even what I was led to expect based on my graduate training program. As I was becoming more disillusioned with the mental health field and beginning to think about whether it was the right path for me, the pandemic hit.
Without going into details, suffice it to say that the pandemic’s impact on my job at the time was swift and drastic. I was grateful to still be employed, but I knew I would have to move on to another job at some point to avoid an unmanageable level of stress. And then, George Floyd was murdered. Amid the resulting uprisings and renewed interest in combating systemic racism, I found myself encountering an influx of information relevant to the mental health field that I hadn’t seen much of before. I had previously kept up with books and resources related to Black mental health and other culturally relevant topics, but I was now learning about concepts like decolonizing therapy and liberation psychology on social media and elsewhere online. I was learning from the perspectives of psychiatric survivors and discovering how abolition applied to my profession. All of this helped me to realize I wasn’t alone. My experiences in the mental health field were not new and people had been talking about these problems, and developing solutions, for some time. I was on the right track.
Still, when I tried to write about my experiences, I’d often end up sitting in front of a blank screen, frustrated that I couldn’t come up with anything. Attempting to put my thoughts into a concise essay or article presented a problem. I was so fed up with my work experiences up to that point that anything I managed to type out just read like a series of complaints, a rage-filled exposé on my career.
In a case of serendipity, the very same week I left my high-stress job, an unexpected inspiration showed up on my TV to help shape my ideas into a more producible form. That inspiration was none other than: Batman.
Cartoon Network’s Toonami was airing The Dark Knight Returns parts 1 and 2, animated movies adapting Frank Miller’s take on a Bruce Wayne who has returned to being Batman ten years after he retired from the role. I was never a comic book reader, but through the superhero cartoons and movies I watched as a kid, I became a fan of how their stories were told. The Dark Knight Returns was a great example of how different creators could take a well-known character and tell a story from a point of view that hadn’t been explored before. Watching the movies also made me think about the strengths of an origin story. No matter how many times Batman’s story has been retold, the killing of his parents remains the anchor of his character development. Slight tweaks to this inciting incident have been used to show just how drastically his life would change under different circumstances.
These elements of comic book storytelling along with the psychological themes often explored through Batman sparked an idea in my mind. Rather than trying to retell my experiences in the mental health field, condensing them into personal essays or surrounding them with dry research citations, fiction started to seem like the better route. What if I created a character with a memorable origin story and through various adventures explored themes related to mental health? What if this character was a therapist? While the therapist-action/adventure idea didn’t quite stick, in my next blog post I’ll trace how it led to more brainstorming and trial and error until I eventually landed on the concept that would become Tales of a Black Therapist.