It’s Mental Health Awareness Month, and I couldn’t think of a better time to give my brain a hug than right now. As we all know, mental health, mental illness, and wellness as a whole does not look the same for everyone. Depression and anxiety aren’t the only mental illnesses that exist, and we have a long way to go with rising above the stereotypes and stigmas related to mental health.
As you know, for the last few posts, I’ve been very candid about my health and wellness, especially my postpartum experience. Each day is a new challenge and my issues didn’t start when I had Savannah, but it took Savannah entering the world to make me realize how important it is to take care of myself. So, let’s get into five mistakes I made during my mental health journey. I’ll be getting into some trauma, so this is my trigger warning.
1. PRAY IT AWAY?
I grew up Southern Baptist. Sheltered. Overwhelmed and overprotected. I was a quiet, shy, and extremely observant child. Always hearing about the rapture, hell, fire, and brimstone and endless punishments related to sin made me a severely anxious child. I’d wake up in cold sweats from nightmares of being banished to hell as a seven-year-old, so I think it’s safe to say religion played a crucial role in my anxiety. As it is for most black kids, mental health was not a conversation that was had at home. If you were sad, get over it. Angry, get over it. Tired, do the dishes and get over it. We were trained to suppress our emotions, and maybe it was a generational thing, but being told you’re not sad, you need to pray didn’t always make me feel better. It’s not like I didn’t try it. I grew up in church and even with all that I’d never felt emptier and more incomplete. I’d learned in my transition to adulthood that I had to define the terms of my spirituality and relationship with God. Constantly hearing,”you need to go to church” made it seem like those close were invalidating my feelings and making it look like my problems only exist because I’m not attending a service every Sunday. I will not sit here and discredit what God has done for me, however, I realized it’s just a piece of the puzzle in getting better and not the solution.
2. Keep it to Yourself
Also known as repression, which is one of my favorite unhealthy coping mechanisms right up there with alcohol, retail therapy, and sex. I’d come to the conclusion that it was easier to compartmentalize my problems because being vulnerable was not in the cards for me. Pushing the bad stuff away until I eventually snapped seemed like it was the best idea. Repression has been one of the hardest things I’m learning to stop doing. I feel like I’m kind of getting there. I grew up isolating myself and avoiding anything that made me uncomfortable because dealing with it meant I couldn’t use it as an excuse for a bad mood or behavior. I’d like to think it’s related to grief. Once my grandmother passed I closed off and it’s been like that ever since. Years later all my maternal grandparents died and I just drowned in loss. I’m learning to trust my support system and make an effort to lean on them when I need it. You have friends and loved ones for a reason, let them be your safe space, you can end up worse off keeping things to yourself.
3. Consistency or Lack Thereof
Starting therapy took some time. I felt embarrassed, ashamed even to make an appointment. Like, was I even saying anything worth listening to? I started building relationships with different therapists, stopping sessions, and then starting up with a new therapist and repeating the same cycle. I wouldn’t recommend doctor hopping unless you don’t feel comfortable with your therapist. However, for me, each therapist felt like home, and I shared as much as I could with them to feel better, but once I felt like I was “happy”, I stopped going. Then I would spiral again and look for someone new. 0/10 don’t recommend it. Stay consistent and even if you’re having a happy streak, keep going. I’m currently seeing a new therapist after cancelling and rescheduling like five times. We had a great session, and she is not buying any of my bullshit, soooo, I’ll keep you up on that.
4. It’s Not That Deep
I learned in therapy that I downplay traumatic events. I also have a dark sense of humor and things that aren’t funny, are very funny because I have no other way to process traumatic things than with humor. I’d had an epiphany after I had Savannah that I’ve experienced some pretty effed up things, especially during my pregnancy and delivery. I remember going in for my 6-week check-up at my GYN, and she walked in, looked me in my eye and said, “I’m sorry”. I’d had no idea what she was apologizing for. I looked at her, “it’s okay”. She explained that it was okay to be upset that my delivery didn’t go as planned. From getting admitted overnight, getting induced early, the painful failed induction, taking the epidural and then my biggest fear which was the c-section. I was terrified of childbirth and then my worst fears came to life. I was laying on the table in the OR, which was freezing. I was violently shivering, ready to just hop off the table and run away, but my legs were numb from the epidural. I was beyond afraid. Even with Savannah’s dad there, talking the whole time so that I would stop asking questions about the process, deep down I was praying I didn’t die on the table. It was nothing like I’d experienced ever and I should have been pissed off. That was a terrifying experience. I’m still healing, still numb at the incision site, still sore, and it’s okay to be mad about it. Traumatic events should be acknowledged, accepted, and then you heal. It’s okay to still be healing.
5. Fight the Feeling
In my younger days I took pride in avoiding my feelings. Masking it with an “I’m fine” or “I’m tired,” which I still do sometimes, but now I take time to assess my feelings, why I feel that way, and how to work through it. If I give those excuses now, I just don’t feel like talking. But, running around carelessly hurting others, hurting myself or just pretending like I’m not hurting when I am does so much more damage than processing those feelings in the moment. Don’t fight the feeling, feel it. I read something that said Beyonce will give herself 24 hours to feel crappy about herself, sulk, etc, and then once those 24 hours are up, she’s back to being the Queen of Everything. Let’s all live by that.
I’ve taken a lot of time investing in my health. I deserve to be happy, and so do you. It’s a weird time, and whether you’re stuck home or on the frontlines as an essential worker, take care of yourself the best way you can. Take this month to truly take care of yourself. I cannot express the importance of being your best self. Keep going.