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July was National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. September marked another month of chaos in the U.S. Although it’s not a topic that’s been at the forefront of discussions, considering everything happening in our world, it’s an issue that is arguably more significant now more than ever. Every year millions of people of color face the challenges that come with living with mental illness, and sadly in 2020 we still do not have consistent and equal access to adequate healthcare resources that would alleviate the consequences that arise out of these disparities.

These inequalities have become even clearer through the COVID-19 pandemic. As many of us now know, people of color are more severely impacted and more likely to die from COVID-19 than any other group. We’re more likely to have comorbidities and less likely to have access to healthy and affordable resources in our neighborhoods to improve our lifestyles.

First introduced in 2008, by the U.S. House of Representatives, Minority Mental Health Awareness Month was created by best-selling author and educator Bebe Moore Campbell. Campbell, who passed away in 2006 after suddenly losing her battle with brain cancer, was an avid champion of mental health awareness, often including mental health themes in her books, such as 72 Hour Hold and Sometimes My Mommy Gets Angry, which tells the challenges a young Black girl faces growing up with a mother who is mentally ill. Campbell went on to become a founding member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Urban Los Angeles, where she fought against the stigmas connected to mental illness and sought to educate and connect people of color with resources.

In 2020, collectively our mental health has suffered this year more so than that of the past. We’ve been forced into routine isolation while fearing the consequences of enemies both seen (police brutality, 45, racism, bigotry) and unseen (COVID-19). It's been a particularly difficult time for folks who already struggle with anxiety and depression. For some of us it’s been a debilitating nightmare. For others, it’s been fatal.

Upon hearing of the suicide of journalist and screenwriter Jas Fly last month I was completely devastated. Jas was a big name for me while I completed my writing, literature and publishing degree at Emerson College. My classes and assignments had an abundance of white writers and predominately white publications we focused on, so I clung to Black women writers and journalists as my beacons of hope and examples of what could be. Upon looking into her social media, the clues are there. She was open about her anxiety and how the pandemic worsened her battle with depression. Jas’ loss is an example of why we absolutely must prioritize our mental health during this pandemic.

And then we have Kanye West and his recent “bid” for presidency, which was later said to be a public symptom in an ongoing cycle of the highs and lows of his bi-polar disorder. Sources close to Ye’ have said he is in the middle of a manic episode and acting unpredictably. As of writing this, Kanye filed to be included on the Presidential ballot in Oklahoma, when just 24 hours earlier he stated he was dropping out of the race completely. Suffice it to say, mental illness is far more common than not.

So what can we do to care for ourselves in these times of social isolation, headlines riddled with death and constant images of dismal scenarios in the news? Here a few simple ways to up your self-care this month (and every month) as we continue through the year from hell:

1. It's OK to do less when you’re coping with more.

These are no ordinary times. As someone who is working full-time from home with a toddler who literally took his first steps (and became a tiny, newly mobile ninja) as the pandemic began, please take it from me when I say I know the struggles of trying to keep up with everything and how impossible it seems every day. Every day has a marathon or a game of “do everything you can to avoid getting fired.”

There are (many) moments I want to scream. There have been moments when I’ve stopped to cry. And one tactic I’ve had to use to combat feeling overwhelmed is turning off my phone and other electronics and taking a few minutes to an hour to just be present. So many of us are feeling this pressure to keep up with everything and move forward as if the world were normal, but the reality is, it’s not.

There’s nothing normal about what we’re dealing with right now, and it’s OK to acknowledge that and give ourselves an extra dose of self-care however often we need it. Being present could be painting your nails, listening to music, taking a walk or, hell, just sitting in stillness and meditating. It can be whatever you need. Just make sure it’s a priority like everything else.

2. Call up your therapist.

I love my therapist and she knows this. I tell her I love her. I tell her how much she’s helped me in the past but especially now when things are so out of order. Some weeks our scheduled sessions are the one discussion I look forward to because I know I’ll have an unbiased and reliable source who will guide me to the best practices I can take to get through whatever I’m feeling.

Throughout this pandemic my depression has been triggered more times than I care to say. I’ve had to cry. I’ve panicked. I’ve stayed in bed. My therapist helped me take the guilt out of that and has offered alternative (healthier) coping mechanisms.

And oh, did I mention I had the ‘rona? Yup. That wasn’t fun. And you couldn’t convince me I wasn’t on death’s doorstep. I texted my therapist as much as I needed to until I got through it. I needed that kind of support. And if you need that kind of support please, seek it. There’s no shame in that.

3. Let go of what you can’t control.

All of us want this pandemic to end. All of us miss normal life. All of us miss catching flights (not feelings) and Sunday brunch. And while all of us are in the same boat, none of us are immune. So what can we do? We can focus on the actions we can take to get through it, for however long it lasts.

Things like wearing a mask when we’re outside, sanitizing and washing our hands often, working out and eating healthy to boost our immune systems. These are things we can do to protect our bodies from COVID-19. Aside from that, we can protect our souls by feeding it the things we love. What are you passionate about? Dance? Literature? Photography? This time at home can be your prison or a palace of your own design. We can get creative and fill our days with the things that bring us joy.

For me, with the little “free time” I have between being a mother, a partner and taking care of my home, I write, listen to podcasts, cook and binge-watch trash TV. These things take my mind off of the things I cannot control and remind me that while there is an abundance of terrible things present that can ruin my mental health, ultimately I am the most equipped person to save myself. And I must commit to that every day.

My well-being is worth the fight. Yours is too.