***Trigger Warning: Mental health disorders ADD, OCD, Depression.***
This morning began so calm, I felt as if I was in someone else’s body. I felt the morning sun hitting my face as it peeked through my broken blinds. I could hear the birds singing outside of my window, people rolling their trash bins, and dogs barking at who knows what. I sensed my whole body feeling so warm and tingly as it was slowly waking up. I then felt jolted back to reality with a rush of thoughts, and I felt frantic as I searched for my glasses and then my phone.
“Get up! Don’t be lazy today! Message everyone back ASAP! Check your email! What if you are missing something important! What hairstyle are you going to wear today?! Hellooo...” Notifications were popping up on my screen and I felt myself tense up as I tried to follow them. I saw a good morning text from my partner, a text from my boss about a meeting, a depressing news article title from Twitter.
When I unlocked my phone and hopped on my socials, all I could see were pictures of girls with pale skin, long, shiny hair, and dazzling white teeth. These images feel burned into my brain, I can’t stop comparing myself to them.
When I finally was able to get out of bed, I felt so heavy. I felt like I was dragging not only myself, but two 50-lb weights attached to my feet when I went to work today. I feel so lonely at work. After being isolated at work for criticizing the racist behavior of a manager, I just keep feeling my sanity slip away. Something has to change.”
This was what a typical journal entry looked like for me just 3 years ago. I'm a Jamaican-American recent graduate and I live with OCD, Major Depressive Disorder, and ADD. I’ve always struggled with my mental health but a breaking point came when I had to transition out of my academic life where I had a loving network of friends and I was in a community that supported the whole me to the “real world.” I learned quickly as a black, queer woman in STEM in the workforce that most people would rather me stay invisible. I felt myself getting smaller day by day.
For years, I used to not be able to fathom that I was suffering from my mental illness. I used to think I had to be perfect. My brain was having such a hard time accepting what I was dealing with. And, though I had no idea where to start, I knew I just had to ask for help until I found someone who listened. And from there, the healing began.
After several years of healing, I have finally fully accepted my diagnoses and myself. I began to understand how much more likely it is for African-Americans to experience a mental disorder compared to Caucasians. I saw that a diagnosis doesn’t define me, and that I’m allowed to express the full range of my emotions, and that I deserve true happiness.
And in addition to that, I realized how much I was not taught in regards to maintaining my mental health. When I was a child and I was physically sick, I was still forced to continue with my regular activities, so I just assumed the same thing should happen when I was feeling mentally down. This mentality is far from okay. Poor mental health impacted every area of my life, including my physical health.
Through all of my years of healing and learning how to live with mental illness, I’ve developed my own black girl mental health toolkit. I went through my childhood things and found my old journals. I read them and laughed and cried. I started doing the things that used to make me happy. This included things like walking through local trails, sitting out in the sun, going for long runs, journaling, and meditating (as well as therapy, doctor visits, and medication).
For black women especially, I feel that knowing the tools available and where to ask for help are so important for maintaining good mental health. More often than not, black women are more likely to tackle mental health problems such as anxiety and depression on their own compared to white men and women and right now we are facing the biggest mental health crisis.
When I finally started doing journaling and other self care behaviors as a part of my regular daily routine (like brushing your teeth), I learned it not only feels good but it IS good for my body. As someone who also deals with chronic physical illnesses as well, I’ve seen those symptoms plateau, or decrease as well. And even if it was just caused by me just being mentally well enough to take my medication every day at the same time or when I needed it, it was still a win for me.
It all has not been a walk in the park. There were scary and uncertain times. At one point I felt that me going to get help would somehow make me worse. But, I have only gotten better and stronger. I can finally look at my life from a perspective of love and live it on my own terms.