Charlamagne Tha God on Kanye West, Racism, and How Therapy Saved His Life
I have had anxiety literally my whole life. When you’re young and running the streets, you think all of that paranoia and anxiousness comes with the territory. As you get older, when you’re damn near 40, and life is good and you still have those feelings…that’s when you know something is wrong.
When I have anxiety attacks, I always think I’m having a heart attack. One time, I had an anxiety attack after I got fired from radio, and I was living back home with my mom. I was 31 years old. I had a three-year-old daughter, a soon-to-be wife, and I was collecting unemployment checks. I was just dealing with a lot. I wasn’t too sure what the future held for me. That was really, really, really terrible anxiety.
The guy checked me out and was like, “Your heart is perfect. You’ve got an athlete’s heart. Do you have anxiety?” I was like, “I don’t think so. But damn, I’ve had this before. I’ve had that tightening in my chest, that heart beating real fast. I’ve had this before.” And he said, “You had an anxiety attack. You had a panic attack.” That was the first time that I was actually told I had an anxiety attack.
Seven, eight months ago, I started going to therapy. Every Friday at 3:00 p.m., I do an hour-long session. It’s 100 percent a life-changer. My therapist told me, “You don’t need medicine. All you need is somebody to talk to. You just need to do some relaxation exercises.”
There’s nothing like seeing your floor clear because you organized and cleared the space of all that clutter. That’s how I feel when I go to my therapist. It’s interesting how therapists will say, “Let’s unpack this.” That’s really how it feels! For me, it feels like I’m unpacking a bunch of the shit that I don’t need.
I go to therapy just to push those negative thoughts out of my mind. None of us can escape thinking negatively. Negative thoughts are going to pop up in your head. You’re going to have self-doubt sometimes, you’re going to be insecure sometimes. You’re going to worry about your kids, you’re going to worry about your wife, but it’s about pushing that shit out and not holding onto it. When you hold onto it, that’s when it grows.
Black men, we have so much trauma. We constantly deal with anxiety. If you grew up in the hood, you’re going to have some sort of trauma, PTSD. But nobody is trying to sit black men down and treat us. Immediately, therapists want to put us on medicine. They want to put us on Ritalin or some type of pill that’s going to suppress us or numb us.
I think black men especially should go to therapy and seek out mental help because we need it. Even if you don’t think you need it, we need it. I walked into Walgreens the other day and it’s by a school, so a lot of kids in there shoplift. I walk in and I felt eyes on me. I’m just going in to get some protein powder!
“We spend so much time on our bodies. We want that six-pack. But what about your mental health?”
I’ve been attacked twice out here in these streets. Guys tried to jump me in front of the radio station. I go across the street to the drug store from the radio station and guys tried to fight me in there. So, I’m always paranoid about stuff like that. Once, I pulled up to the light and all of a sudden I heard, ‘Boom, boom, boom’ like bass. This car had just sped up behind me. In my damn mind, literally in the span of three seconds, I was like, “Oh shit, is this guy following me!?’ As I get to the next light, the guy just speeds up on the side and just passes me. That’s all he was trying to do. But in my mind, even when he came up behind me and got on the side of me, I’m thinking, “Oh, he’s about to shoot!” I don’t even know why I thought that. I have no reason to think like that.
My whole life, people have said to me, “You can’t be a pussy, you can’t be soft.” I don’t care about anymore. I’m a grown-ass man. I don’t care about how people perceive me when it comes to masculinity. You know what’s masculine? Masculine is taking care of your mind, your body, and your soul. We spend so much time on our body. We want that six-pack. But what about your mental health? What about your mental well-being? I go to the gym three, four times a week. Why can’t I put that same effort and same energy into getting mentally strong?
“Therapy feels like I’m unpacking a bunch of the shit that I don’t need.”
Back in the day, I read that when Howard Stern started to go to therapy, he became a better interviewer. I’m becoming a better overall interviewer. I know a lot of people don’t like the so-called ‘change.’ Everybody wants me to go at artists and rip their heads off. But I think I do have a little bit more empathy these days. I know one of the main reasons that I have empathy is because of therapy. I think I’m an even better listener now — and I love having real genuine conversations with people. I think you have to give people the space to tell their story.
Kanye [West] said he had a vision when he was in the psychiatric ward that he wanted to sit down and talk to me. That was a year ago. Now, a year later, I’ve been going to therapy, I’ve been dealing with my own issues and now me and him got a chance to sit down and kick it with each other. Everything happens the way it’s supposed to happen. The universe never gets it wrong as long as you’re doing it right.
I always tell people: I’m not an expert at anything. All I’ve got are my experiences with anxiety and getting help, and I’m sharing those. I just really hope and pray that someone learns something from it.
This essay was based on an interview conducted by Mark Lelinwalla. It has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.
Share your own moment of #HowIGotHelp and let your voice inspire other men. For more information on how to get help for anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues, please check out our list of resources. If you would like to locate treatment services in your area, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Treatment Referral Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).