It is my hope as black folks climb the mountaintops of greatness, that we can have the safe space to speak on the anxiety that accompanied our journey. One time a mental health professional told me everyone has some form of mental illness. At the time, the only response I could gather was “she’s lying,” and then life happened. I wish I could somehow in a non-creepy way message her and say, “you remember that time all those years ago you told me this? Sorry I was so dismissive, cause you might have had a point sis.” According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 40 million people have been diagnosed with anxiety. The current population is 321.4 million people—we’re missing some people.

I had my first panic attack in middle school, at the time, not knowing what was happening. The only thing I knew for certain was that my chest was tight and it felt as if the world was slowly closing in on me, as I struggled to have a complete breath. Teenage angst grew into a real adult condition. I’ve been dealing with anxiety for about 12 years now. Though it torments me at times, I’m not entirely sure how to function without it at this point.

I get anxious when I’m not anxious.

There exists this strange relationship with anxiety. On one hand, it is wise to see a psychologist or psychiatrist to receive help or medication. But that’s also an omission of truths most of us aren’t prepared to face. That’s fragile territory; acknowledge the anxiety, sure, but taking the plunge into “damn, maybe I need to see someone,” or “I can’t fix this by myself,” is actually terrifying. These self-stigmatized notions on mental health keep us from taking steps towards self-care. It becomes a tumultuous circle. As an advocate for mental health and self-care, I haven’t gotten there. Does this make me a hypocrite? Possibly. Will I gather the courage to take the proper steps? Absolutely, but not right now.

In the meantime, we strive harder, get more education, laugh, unplug, salute the sun, meditate, calming breathe, write, phone a friend, Netflix, turnup, procrastinate, completely ignore, maybe process—then move on. That’s good enough most days. We do not have the luxury or wasted time to be anything but “on.” We have mothers to make proud, communities to represent, families to support and societies to defy. What does self-care even look like for an individual in a world where fighting to matter on a basic level is tested daily? Strength is a double-edged sword; on one end there is abundant resilience amongst people of color, on the other exists silent suffering.

I have found embracing anxiety takes the burden of fear away. True progress isn’t a fallacy when one can find comfort and confidence in their imperfections, including their panic attacks and anxious moments. Still, I envy those people who can break the perpetuated “strength” façade of black folks everywhere, because that has to be us 24/7 for some reason, and just say, “Look, this is just where I’m at today. I’m not OK, but that’s OK,” and keep it moving. It’s not OK to be a proponent of perfect mental health; it’s OK not to be “OK.”