How being strong, black, and proud is not a treatment for mental illness.
I am a sufferer of depression, anxiety, and compulsive eating. (Update: PTSD and recurrent depression.) I have no shame in admitting that to anyone anymore because I know that I am not alone. I also want you and all the members of the black community and other people of color to know something very important. I want you all to know that you are still beautiful, strong, resilient and that you are not alone, or will you ever be. Yet, there is something else I want you all to know.
The Misconception about Mental Illness Within Us.
I want you to know that being black doesn’t make us immune to mental illness. It’s not just a “white girl problem”. It’s not just a problem for those who can afford treatment. It’s not just something imagined. It’s not an excuse. It’s not a symptom that lasts a day or two. It’s more than sadness. It’s not being a spoiled brat. It’s way bigger than being strong, black, and proud may cover.
It’s great to be strong, black, and proud! So, don’t lose that. However, being strong, black, and proud is not a treatment for mental illness. I can understand how we have come to those conclusions that we don’t get depressed or need treatment. Those are the same conclusions that shame and inhibit getting help.
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We see that the only ones were seen or mentioned to be depressed in movies, TV, and other media; usually, they are the white teens/women who feel unappreciated or actually have been wronged by someone, but she has everything we could ever need and want. We think she is just privileged and ungrateful and doesn’t know what it means to suffer and be oppressed. So, she pops expensive pills/ cuts her body/ snorts drugs, goes to a rehab in paradise, and “all is well” when she gets home.
I know that’s not the case in real life. Even the white and affluential community deal with drugs, rape, incest, abuse, traumas, and internalized oppression just like we do. Some of them have proved that no amount of money and white skin can take away the pain and the urge to harm oneself, commit suicide, or homicide.
We aren’t portrayed and treated the same inside our own community. The generations before us were not ones to talk openly about their past and what hurts them now. They think everything negative and traumatic was to be a shameful secret because talking about it could “cause problems”, embarrassment, and/or show moments of weakness and vulnerability.
Some thought that problems could just be prayed away. As a woman of faith, I know that if you are going to pray about it, you need to have faith about it and that faith is what will propel you forward into action toward health and healing.
Another thing is that most of our parents and grandparents were struggling hard to make a good life for us. They didn’t take time to work on healing themselves. They thought that suffering through was being strong. They would work through heartache, headache, and everything else.
They passed that belief down to many of us, not knowing that holding it all in can weaken our mind, body, and spirit; weakening us from the inside out. Trapped emotions will cause sicknesses and diseases within our bodies. I believe this is what many people of our generation are beginning to learn.
My Personal Journey.
Mental illness has been in my family for generations and most likely in your family as well. I have not had the opportunity to meet my grandparents but their problems with mental illness and self-medication affected my life and the lives of their remaining descendants. According to my mother, her parents had issues with mental illness and abusing alcohol. Her mother drank and would get angry and her father would drink away paychecks. Therefore, exasperating their struggle to keep food on the table, to keep a warm house, and clothes on their backs.
My mother had problems with depression and anxiety since her childhood. According to her, she has been hospitalized as a child because for periods of time she would stop speaking and would avoid eating. She had troubles during her past and had troubles accepting her past.
This made it difficult for her to move on. Junk food, alcohol, heroin, and prescription painkillers were her sources of destructive comfort and relief. However, those things caused so many problems for her. Therefore, her problems became problems for me and my older sister as well.
There are things my older sister (older by 15 years) has seen that she may or may not ever tell me, but I can see where my mom’s past greatly affected her life just as much as it affected mine.
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I have seen my mother and some of her eight brothers and sisters go through mental breakdowns, schizophrenia, hallucinations, dementia, drug addiction/ withdrawal, psychosis, and some problems I don’t know how to name as a non-professional. This would happen so often, that the phrase “going into the hospital” has a heavier meaning in my family and it might for you as well. If not, “going into the hospital” meant going into a rehab, possibly at a hospital, for treatment for depression and/or detox.
To be honest, just typing the phrase “going into the hospital” caused me to break down into a heavy cry. A cry that caused me to inhale and exhale from the bottom of my lungs. To let out a cry I’ve never heard myself cry before. I felt like I released tears that should have been shed by my mom and my grandmother. I guess it’s because maybe I did.
Holding it all in is a learned habit passed down from generation to generation. Which is why I do my best to make sure my son can come to me and tell me he’s hurt. I allow him to cry when he is truly hurt, sad, mad, happy, excited, etc. because he is at the age when he still doesn’t know how to fully express his feelings.
I have had problems with anxiety since I was about six years old. Depression showed itself around the age of 10. I was officially diagnosed when I was 16 years old when I kept getting unexplained headaches and the X-rays and MRIs showed no physical causes for my headaches.
Anti-depressants were prescribed to me and helped very little, but I was on them for seven years. Within those seven years, I had switched anti-depression medication about five times. I had visits with psychiatrists and therapists. Some were helpful and some were not but that’s when I learned that I may have been relying too heavily on them to heal me. They possess no such ability.
I have reduced my symptoms and controlled my issues with compulsive eating. I did this by continuing to do counseling and even sought faith-based counseling, avoided anti-depressants (this may not be for you), saw a nutritionist, reduced/ quit eating certain foods, and I constantly preach the truth to myself about being loved and being valued.
My symptoms are not as bad as they used to be. My headaches are so rare and I don’t miss being medicated. However, I wasn’t able to reduce and control my issues without looking into my current self, my past, and into the past of my mother and her parents.
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There is Hope and Healing.
As I have mentioned before, I suffer from mental illnesses and I want no one to feel alone with this. Others who have opened up and shared their struggles have inspired me to open up more to accepting help and being a help. I believe that we are all here for each other and no one is unto themselves. I truly want to help my other sisters and brothers.
Our women and men need to know that it is okay to admit pain, to cry, to get help, to avoid hurting ourselves, to avoid hurting others, to avoid other destructive behaviors. One way or another hurt is going to come out. Whether they mean to or not, hurt people will hurt others and themselves. We need to know that no matter what, we have value. We are of high value. Not higher value than anyone else but as high value as everyone else. We (women and men) are deserving of love and to love, of respect and to respect, of care and to care.
It’s great to be strong, black, and proud but that truly starts from the inside out.