Categories
Mental Health

The Stigma

I had someone tell me today that I needed to stop using my anxiety as an excuse and that I needed to “grow out of it”.

The person that said this is someone I care deeply about and whom I know cares deeply about me. However, the way they see the world is entirely different from me. They are very logical and practical. X+Y=Z. Period. Everything is black and white. And emotions and feelings belong nowhere near the decision-making process.

I, on the other hand, am as emotional as they come. I am both an empath and a highly sensitive person (HSP) meaning that I am very sensitive to the environment around me, the emotions of others, their moods, sights, sounds, smells and also that I absorb the energy of those around me and make it mine (which I have to fight hard to control). So when I make decisions I rely on feeling and intuition, thinking about how my decisions and my words will impact others, how it will make them feel. And I deal with anxiety on top of all of that.

So you can imagine how I must have felt hearing that comment. Offended, hurt, livid. Just to name a few.

One of the things that annoys me most about our society is the stigma placed on mental illness and how it is treated so differently from physical illness. For instance, you wouldn’t tell someone with Type I diabetes that they needed to “grow out of it” would you? Type I diabetes is a physical illness that is usually diagnosed early in life and for which there is no cure. People with this illness take medication daily and make lifestyle adjustments like healthy eating and exercising to maintain control over their illness. If they don’t follow the necessary maintenance steps, the disease gets out of control and takes over and they end up in the hospital or worse. God forbid that this person loses a limb due to their disease and has to go through physical therapy to learn how to function again.

But nowhere in this scenario does someone tell them to “suck it up” or “get over it”.

Now think of a mental illness like anxiety in those same terms. It is something that can be diagnosed at any age but once it is diagnosed, it becomes a part of that person’s daily life. Some people take medication for it and/or make lifestyle adjustments like self-care and avoiding trigger situations. If they don’t perform these maintenance steps, the anxiety gets out of control and takes over and they end up in the hospital or worse. Following hospitalization, individuals usually require some intense therapy to learn how to function in society again.

Speaking from experience, a year agoI wasn’t following the steps necessary to maintain control over my anxiety and depression and I landed in the hospital. After spending 3 days in an inpatient behavioral health unit, I was stable enough to go home. But I had to spend 6 weeks in intensive outpatient therapy (IOP) to learn how to function again. IOP was like physical therapy for my mind.

But I didn’t just want to function. I wanted to THRIVE. So following completion of IOP, I continued to see a therapist twice a week for months. I put in some hard work. I faced hard truths about myself. I changed thinking patterns. I cried many tears. But most importantly, I FOUGHT.

Everytime it got hard and I wanted to quit, I FOUGHT. Everytime I felt like I took two steps backwards, I FOUGHT. Everytime I felt discouraged, I FOUGHT. I fought like hell to become the woman I am today. I fought hard to get to a healthy place and maintain it.

So you’re damn right I take offense to someone belittling my hard work and reducing it to a phase that I just need to “grow out of”. As would someone who lost a limb to diabetes and put in the work to learn how to walk again.

So the next time you encounter someone with a mental illness and you aren’t sure what to say, remember this:

If you wouldn’t say it to someone with diabetes, a broken leg, or any other chronic physical disease or ailment, don’t say it to someone with a mental illness.

Breaking the stigma that society has placed on mental illness is very important to me. May is Mental Health month and to kick it off, I am participating in the St. Louis chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ annual walk on May 5. I would love your support in any way.

If you would like to participate in the walk with me, donate to my fundraising campaign, or just send kind words and prayers, your support is appreciated.

Categories
Dating Mental Health Uncategorized

Finding Peace and Freedom in Solitude

Before my current relationship started, I had been single for 8 months, living on my own for 2 months and until this year, I had NEVER lived alone. Technically, I had an apartment of my own until June of last year but the amount of time I spent there was limited. I didn’t know what it meant to be alone and actually enjoy it. I equated being alone with loneliness and sadness. In my mind, being left alone meant no one cared about me enough to want to spend time with me. Everyone had better things to do than to hang out with me. My brain told me I was useless and unworthy of anyone’s time or effort. Never mind the fact that I had a family who loved me and a boyfriend at the time. If left alone for any length of time, my mind began to sing the same old song that no one loved me. I was a FAILURE.

Being alone actually contributed to my mental breakdown last summer that landed me in the hospital. After a fight with my boyfriend, I spent an entire weekend locked in my apartment, alone and crying. That Monday morning, I called my mom inconsolable and suicidal. I can’t say that having someone around would have prevented my breakdown completely but being left alone for 3 days certainly didn’t help.

After my hospital stay, I moved back in with my mom, where I was seldom left alone for longer than a few hours for the next month. My mom checked on me when she was at work and got my brother and nephews to stay with me when she went on a cruise for a week. Alone time was my enemy and my idle mind was the devil’s playground.

However, through hard work with my therapist, I began to identify the thinking patterns that led to my fear of being alone and combat them. I began to find things to occupy my time when I was alone to keep my mind from wandering. I started changing the way that I thought about the word “alone”, the way I defined it.

I replaced alone, sadness, and loneliness with solitude, peace, and freedom.

My boyfriend (we’ll call him Bae ;-)) and I have been dating for exactly 39 days (but who’s counting right?) and we have seen each other 27 of those days and spoken via phone or video chat all but 2 of those days. The only times we didn’t speak and/or see each other have been when I was on a boat in the middle of the ocean. (Yeah, I know the old folks warn against spending so much time with a person, especially a new relationship, because it is so easy to get caught up in it and lose sight of yourself in the process but us young folks don’t listen anyway right?)

Bae does a fast once a month only allows him to use his phone for emergencies for week and instead spend his free time with God, in prayer and studying God’s word. It worked out that his fast for March happened while I was on a 7 day cruise, so it didn’t much matter how much time he had available to talk to me. But when Bae told me on Sunday, that he was starting his next fast on Monday, I flipped (wrong reaction I know but stay with me). We had seen each other more than half the days and spoken almost everyday of our relationship. What do you mean you want to go 6 days without seeing or speaking to me?!? Reluctantly (and with an attitude), I agreed to give him his space to partake in what he felt called to do.

Today is day 3 of that fast and although I miss him like crazy, I have to say it has been so REFRESHING!! I forgot what it feels like to come home to my empty apartment with an entire evening stretched out in front of me filled with nothing but whatever I want to do. Whether that’s sleeping, taking a long, hot shower, reading, journaling, binge-watching Netflix, taking a walk, going out for a drink with friends. I forgot the feeling of peace and freedom that comes with seeking solitude and actually enjoying it. What I thought would be a week of being lonely, staring at the phone, and sulking has actually turned into a week of enjoying the silence, treating myself, and loving on my Jesus.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am still looking forward to Saturday when I will get to see Bae and enjoy his company again, but this week has turned out way differently than I planned it, in a good way.

I was reminded yesterday during my quiet time of journaling and reflection of the following bible verse:

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33

It was God’s gentle reminder that I have found peace in Him and that no matter the struggles that the world throws at me, I shall remain at peace. Y’all don’t know how hard I fought for this peace and I intend to hold on to it for a lifetime.

Thanks Bae for following the Lord’s call into this fast so that He could remind me how hard I worked for this peace and freedom. Now here’s to hoping Saturday comes quickly!

Categories
Mental Health Uncategorized

What Mental Illness Looks Like

Oh life…

Yesterday was one of those days where I wanted to go home, curl up in a ball, and cry. Or bury myself in the covers, never to resurface again. Or get drunk until I black out and forget everything. Or all of the above.

It was one of those days that started off bad and got progressively worse. It was one of those days where I sat at my desk trying not to cry because I was so frustrated with life. It was one of those days where I called my mom in the middle of the day for a pep talk because I was slowly falling apart.

It was one of those days where my mental illness reared its ugly head. It was one of those days where my usual bubbly demeanor breaks and the mental illness simmering under the surface peaks through.

I often hear people say that someone doesn’t “look like they have a mental illness”. My question is always, “well what does mental illness look like?”. Mental illness doesn’t look or sound like one particular person or thing. It’s not the person who “looks” crazy. It’s not the person walking down the street talking to themselves. Mental illness is not one particular race, ethnicity, socioeconomic class or gender.

Mental illness could look like the coworker you sit next to everyday who seems like she has it all together but cries herself to sleep every night. It could look like the corporate VP with the perfect family who finds it difficult to find energy to even get out of bed on the weekend because of his depression. It could look like the devout christian woman who goes to church every Sunday, prays, and reads her bible but still can’t calm her anxious thoughts.

This week, mental illness looked like me: a beautiful, educated, gifted young black woman from a stable childhood with a private school education and a great support system who got a little overwhelmed with life…but thankfully has the skills and support to overcome.

But due to the stigma of “what mental illness looks like” or “should look like”, some people don’t have access to the same resources or skills. This is why I am passionate about sharing my story so others can see what mental illness truly looks like and helping to break the stigma that keeps people from seeking help when they need it. I want everyone to understand mental illness and be able to recognize the signs so that anyone suffering from a mental illness can get the help they need.

If we all stop hiding and begin to share our stories of our struggles with mental health, together, we can #breakthestigma.

Categories
Mental Health Uncategorized

Open Letter to 2018

Dear 2018,

Let’s talk…

2017 started off great. I was in a relationship with someone who I thought really loved and understood me. I took several trips, including visiting New York City for the first time and going to my extended family reunion. I had a new position at work that I loved. And I had some many plans for more great things in 2017.

And then the bottom fell out. 

And I hit the lowest point I have ever been in my life. I spent 3 days in a mental hospital and then 6 weeks in intensive outpatient group therapy. In the midst of which, my boyfriend broke up with me, I lost my independence by having to move back in with my mom, and I had to take 6 weeks off of work. I then spent the next 6 months trying to get my life back together, get over my ex, regain my independence, and get back to a stable place mentally.

Which brings me to you, 2018. I don’t want to have a repeat of last year so let me tell you how this year is going to go. I’m putting you on notice that this year will be AMAZING.

This year I will be stronger

This year I will be unstoppable.

This year I will be FIERCE

This year, I will operate in my PURPOSE and I  will not let anyone or anything pull me away from it.

This year, I will not be afraid to say no to anything that does not serve me, grow me, or make me better. If the answer is not “hell yes”, the answer will be no. If it does not bring me joy, the answer is no. If it takes me away from fulfilling my purpose, the answer is “hell no”.

This year I choose to let go. I choose to let go of those who hurt me in the past. I choose to let go of negative thoughts. I choose to let go of things that have been said about me that weren’t true. I choose to let go of anger. I choose to let go of longing for things that I know will never happen.

This year, I will not let mental illness defeat me. I will recognize my triggers, I will seek help when necessary, and I will take time for self-care. I will speak out about mental health and use my story to help others.

This year I will embark on new adventures, create new memories, and be open to new experiences. I will take trips, try new things, and expand my horizons.

This year will be AMAZING. 

 

So here’s your notice 2018. I will not tolerate any of 2017’s shenanigans, ya hear?

So now that we have an understanding, LET’S DO THIS!

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What do you need to tell 2018 to prepare you for an amazing year? Drop me a comment here, or connect with me on Instagram or Facebook. I look forward to hearing your thoughts!