Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.
I wanted to start a blog, not because I think I’ll make money from it, not for fame, fortune, success, (those things would be nice), but because I wanted to get my thoughts out into the world. I have so many ideas, thoughts, and concepts that roll around in my head, that I thought it would be nice to share them. No matter how large or small the audience. The goal initially was to write at least two “blogs” a
week. It’s been three weeks. And I’ve fallen about four blogs short of that goal. It’s not for lack of want or trying. I’ve opened my Macbook many times to start writing. I carry a keyboard with my iPad, just in case inspiration hits me, and my iPhone is ALWAYS in my hands. So what is it? What has stopped me from putting “pen to paper” figuratively speaking?
I’ve been seeing a therapist for almost four years now. What started as an attempt to fix the problems that were prevalent in my marriage, lead to a deeper dive into my psyche, and most importantly, the state of my mental health. I and my husband (who is an avid talker) have been going for almost two years before the dive began. For those of you who have been to therapy, you know that a session typically lasts for 45 to 50 minutes. My husband would typically talk for 42.5 of them. And because I didn’t want to be there, open up, or speak to some strangers about problems I was sure I only needed a higher power to fix, I let him. It was one day, I’m sure the therapists got sick of me not talking, and pointedly looked at me and suggested that I come alone. My husband, (who was talking), paused introspectively I’d like to believe and agreed. But I resisted. I’m fine, I insisted to the therapist, and my husband. No way I’m talking to this crazy person, who doesn't’ know me about my problems. Umm, I’m about to be 32 years old, I’m a fully functioning, productive member of society, I’m not crazy. I’m only doing this because my husband wanted to. WE have problems, not ME. All of these thoughts ran through my head, and I declined. We continued to go for another month or so when a conversation with my mother caused me to rethink my stance, and I caved.
“When you are full of pride on the inside, it makes you stiff, stubborn, and creates strife with others.”
-John C. Maxwell
Stubborn. Yup, that’s me. I initially decided to go on my own because my mother suggested it, but my pride and stubbornness kept me from seeing any benefit. At first. What I did find, was that it was much harder to hide and avoid when you’re the only person in the room. A few awkward minutes of silence, and glares later, I’m talking.
And after a few sessions, it’s determined I have PTSD. No kidding. My response, when given this diagnosis. PTSD? B*#$ I’ve never been to war. Now, I have to say, I appreciate my therapist for the REAL person she is. Even she could not help rolling her eyes and sighing in exasperation. Not only that, she thought it necessary to advise me that PTSD stood for Post-traumatic stress disorder, (duh). Symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks, (yup), nightmares, (nope), and severe anxiety. Ummmmm. That’s not me. Remember when you disclosed in one of our sessions, that you can’t sleep at night because your mind won’t turn off? How you worry about every little thing? Even the inconsequential ones? How about that tightness in your chest, that spreads to your head, arms and entire upper body? You think that’s normal? Well, chick, I’ve been dealing with it for like 20 plus years, I’m used to it and fully functioning, what do you think?
The tightness, the constant worrying, the not sleeping at night, my mind constantly racing, and thinking that every single person on this planet has ill intentions and is out to get me, is not normal. You should not live your life this way, and if you are, you might want to talk about it. Now I won’t get into what caused me to have PTSD, that’s not what this post is about. But the PTSD, more specifically the severe anxiety, is what has prevented me from posting anything in the last three weeks. What am I anxious about? Anyone reading this probably doesn’t know me personally and isn’t out to get me (hopefully). It’s the excessive worry, apprehension, fear, nervousness, these normal feelings that have become excessive, all-consuming, and interfere at times with my daily life, that’s what keeps me from posting. I get overwhelmed, don’t want to do anything, and I usually spend my time playing NBA 2k. Not out of enjoyment, but because it’s a dumb thing that keeps my mind occupied, but doesn’t overwhelm me.
So why am I saying all this? Mental health is important. It can make even the regular, fully functioning, productive, working, quasi-normal member of society, become a puddle of inactive, ineffective, NBA 2k playing in the same underwear for two days straight (don’t judge me), self-loathing, self-deprecating, “whoa is me” mess. Before it became a “thing” or a “fad” or whatever pseudonym you’d like to use for something becoming extremely popular, there was a stigma attached to mental health. Especially in my community, the African American one.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness states that approximately 30 percent of African American adults receive mental treatment each year, compared to the U.S. average of 43 percent. NAMI list a few reasons why:
Distrust and misdiagnosis: Distrust, that’s me for sure, see above for symptoms of PTSD. African Americans historically have been and continue to be negatively affected by prejudice and discrimination in the health care system. Misdiagnosis, inadequate treatment and lack of cultural competence by health professionals cause distrust. And ultimately can cause many African Americans to not seek treatment, or to keep it up.
Faith and Spiritual Community: I don’t think this reasoning should just be limited to African American culture, while family, community and spiritual beliefs are a BIG part of our community, ours is not the only community that relies on and believes in a higher power. NAMI does purport that research suggests that many African Americans rely on faith, family and social communities, for emotional support rather than turning to health care professionals, even though they more than likely need the treatment. Yeah, when my therapist suggested I might need anti-anxiety medicine, my exact response was: “I don’t need pills, I got Jesus B#$%.” I didn’t say I wasn’t part of that group.
NAMI provides other social, socioeconomic disparities, lack of information, or bias, that I don’t believe are specific to the African American culture. You can read more of those reasons, and more on the subject here. (https://www.nami.org/find-support/diverse-communities/african-americans).
No, I didn’t intend on this being a diatribe, or maybe more so a monologue on the African American experience (or perhaps lack thereof) with mental health. Mental health doesn’t discriminate, has no biases, doesn’t care what your gender is, who your parents are, who you work for, or what your background is. Quite frankly, it can and does affect anyone. I simply want to say that I am one. My mental illness, my severe anxiety, my PTSD, can be crippling. There are times when I feel like I can’t move. Times, when I can’t stop myself from worrying, no matter how much alcohol I consume, how much 2K I play, or how many pieces of chocolate or Chipotle I consume. How am I dealing with it? The first thing I’ve done is acknowledge it’s there. Avoid, Avoid, Avoid. My therapist spent a good year chanting that to me. It’s what I do. I avoid problems, feelings, emotions, conflicts, anything that causes me to feel. Unfortunately for the past almost three decades, that internalizing and compartmentalization has caused me panic attacks, severe migraines, and small bouts of depression.
The second thing I’ve done? Accepted the help. Instead of trying to hide my real self, present the “best version of myself,” the fully functioning member of society who doesn’t need therapy, I’ve allowed myself to accept it. I’m not perfect. I always say I don't purport to be. Well, the “perfect person” if such a person exists, doesn’t need help. Adrienne, you do. So take it. I’m not saying that help is medication, tho it has helped me, it can be just talking to someone. It starts with acceptance and a conversation. Sometimes, that may be all you need.
Third thing? I’ve started to love myself. Cliche, I know. But it’s REAL. You need to love yourself. Mental health is a solo thing. It’s about self. Self-acceptance and self-love is something I’ve struggled with all my life. Still do. Only now, I’m willing to acknowledge it, deal with it, instead of running the other way.
Am I “cured?” HELLL No. Will I ever be? Is there even such a thing? We are all a work in progress. I’m not finished until I’m dead. Ask me if I feel better about myself than I did three years ago. Yup.
Until Next time.