Dr. Frances Cress Welsing Saved My Life

The psychiatrist, scholar and author–who died Jan. 2–was my therapist. She was also a warrior and conqueror for black people.

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ELVERT XAVIER BARNES PHOTOGRAPHY

I feel like I’ve lost my best friend of 10 years. A friend who knew everything about me, didn’t judge or indict me, just assisted me and helped me absolve my guilt.

Dr. Frances Cress Welsing was a statuesque, beautiful, striking woman, always so composed. Dignified. And ready to listen to whatever problems I presented to her—new or old.

My friend Yvonne broke the news of her death to me the morning of Jan. 2, and I was glad I didn’t learn of it via social media.

For at least the past two to three years, I have wondered what I would do if or when Dr. Welsing passed away. I would often think about bringing it up in one of our sessions, but it seemed gauche or rude to broach the topic of her mortality. Still, I couldn’t help wondering what would happen when she died. Who, if anyone, would ever be able to take her place?

This woman saved my life.

To the best of my recollection, the catalyst for my beginning therapy was rooted in relationship issues I was experiencing with a man, or men, I was seeing at the time.

But one day—I can’t remember exactly which session it was—things just started pouring out of me, exorcising themselves. Things from my childhood. Things that were tormenting me. Things that I wanted erased from my memory like in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

She helped me at a time when I was suffering from severe depression and, apparently, post-traumatic stress disorder. A time when I felt that it would have been easier to die. I remember going to her multiple days one week because I felt my mind was leaving me. On countless occasions, I just wanted an escape from my own mind. I welcomed sleep and loathed waking; it induced my frantic pacing around my own house in a literal panic.

Dr. Welsing engaged me in cognitive behavioral therapy. She unceasingly encouraged introspection and analysis of my own thoughts and actions to help me deal with the things that troubled me and by which I felt deeply afflicted and unsettled. She also promoted reflection on how white supremacist thinking affected the daily lives of people of color in general. I could tell that she wanted to foster a conversation between me and myself, really. When I didn’t have her to hold my hand, so to speak, during those one- to two-hour sessions, she wanted to ensure that I made it to and through the next day. She wanted me to be definitively clear that I was valuable, no matter what.

On Jan. 4 I phoned my uncle Moe, who had introduced me to Dr. Welsing through her writing—more specifically, her book, The Isis Papers. He knew why I was calling the minute he picked up, and we grieved in solidarity. When I finally felt lucid enough to call her answering service to inquire about a memorial service or funeral details, I had a breakdown over the phone, asking questions and providing my contact information between sobs.

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