In honour of Mental Health Awareness Week 2017 (8th – 14th May), I’d like to discuss two of the most common mental health issues around. Anxiety and Depression. Everyone has mental health but sometimes life’s pressures and stresses over an extended period of time can make it so our mental health begins to suffer and we find ourselves experiencing anxiety and/or depression. I myself have experienced both and at present am still experiencing one.
One day a few years ago, I came to the realisation that something about me was not okay. I was a broken woman and yet I didn’t know why. So I called a close friend on the way home from work and told him the way I had been feeling and that I thought I might need help. He empathically replied ‘there’s no shame in going to get help’ and that’s when the penny dropped. I found myself shortly after sitting in my doctors office crying my eyes out explaining how I’d lost all lease of life. I told her that I struggled to do the most basic things in life. . . Get out of bed, clean my room, feed myself. That I would go to work and randomly find myself crying at my desk, often going into my bag placed under the table to cry so nobody would notice and come back up as if nothing happened. I’d go into the toilet at work and bawl my eyes out on my knees begging God to take whatever this was away from me. When I wasn’t struggling at work, I’d literally lock myself in my room and my only escape was sleep. Ignore any communication with friends and family because I couldn’t muster up the courage to talk or tell anyone how I felt out of fear of being judged or further misunderstood. As I helplessly sat there staring at my doctor to relieve me of this pain, she began to discuss how they could help and causally threw the word ‘depression’ about. I looked at her like ‘Depression? Me? I can’t be suffering from that because I’m a strong black woman.’ This is what I’d been told all my life, little did I realise that’s exactly what I had and it was time to face the music.
I began attending group therapy sessions on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (which I highly recommend). On the nerve-racking day of my first session, I pictured walking into a room of people who were noticeably mentally unwell but to my surprise, I walked into a room full of people from different walks of life. They were old, young, black, white, male, female and everything in between. And that was the very first moment I felt that I was not alone. And that this experience was not in fact alien. And that most importantly, this can be fixed. So I attended over four weeks and saw a change in myself every week until the end. Before I knew it, I was back to work and thriving.
A year later, my then manager began to make my life hell. She pulled out all the stops to ensure my life was made as uncomfortable as possible, and as the months went by and the torment continued I found myself feeling extremely tense when at work, so much so that my back and shoulder muscles would ache for each 8-hour day. I began to subconsciously lower my seat at my desk each day so not to be seen by her, I’d skip lunch spending it at my desk online so I never stood a chance of being back late and having to further deal with her wrath. I dreaded the thought of going to work each night and would think about it all weekend. But the straw that broke the camels back was the sharp pains in the left side of my chest that were happening all too frequently. And I then knew something wasn’t right so sought after help from my GP. . . Again. But this time the symptoms were so different to my experience with depression, that they told me I was suffering with anxiety. With more time taken away from work to recoup, I eventually went back feeling ready to take on anything that was gonna come my way. Fast forward a year and a half later to today and my anxiety still rears it’s ugly head more than ever. I personally believe it wasn’t dealt with properly back then (I had no therapy or counselling that time around, just a short time away from work) and with the continued stresses of life and pressure applied on myself by myself to always do better, I find myself still staring this in the face day by day. So I write this at a time where I am slowly learning to heal from the bullying and antagonising of my past and though I am no longer having to deal with the causes of my anxiety, the emotional scars are still very present and I’m working hard at them daily to get back to feeling like myself once more.
What I’ve learnt through my experience over the past few years is that as magical as I was constantly told I was by social media and as much as it was pumped into me that I was a strong black woman who should just persevere through the bullshxt each time I mentioned quitting my job to do what I love, I realised that actually there is no shame in saying ‘enough is enough’ or ‘I need help’. If not for my friend who ensured me that it was okay for me to speak out, I may have suffered in silence for an unnecessary amount of time leading to further problems. Instead that support helped me to help myself and although I’m still currently fighting anxiety’s battle, I am day by day finding myself doing more than I’ve done before by practicing gratitude for my blessings both present and future, meditating, practicing mindfulness (if you don’t know what this is, I highly suggest you research it) getting back into fitness, reading, writing, being in love and doing whatever in this world makes me happy. With a stigma still very much attached to being black and experiencing mental health problems, many of us suffer in silence and now is the time to change that. The key is to listen to your voice within. Recognise when something is not right. Be kind to yourself. Practice self-love. Nurture yourself without overindulging. Give love. Get love. Eat well. Exercise to boost your mood. Put a routine in place. So to my young black sisters reading this, if ever you feel like life is throwing you major curve balls and you find it hard to cope, seek help and speak to those who love you. We never really lose our magic after all, because being a black girl alone is all it takes for us to be magical forever.