Sometimes it hurts. Deeply. I'm not referring to your everyday, run-of-the-mill disappointment, I'm talking about that heart wrenching, sick-to-your-stomach, earth-shattering kind of distress that makes it hard to swallow and difficult to breath. The kind of loss that makes you question everything you thought you were sure of. The kind that forever alters the way you look at things. Whether it's the death of a loved one, the loss of a relationship or an unexpected crisis, no one is immune to tragedy. Pain, loss and rejection are an inescapable part of the human experience. The upside is that it is entirely possible to convert that negative energy into positive fuel to propel you further than you would have gone without it. With a bit of faith, time and strategic management, you can flip that situation in your favor.
Here are 13 steps to turn your tragedy into triumph:
1. Avoid what's avoidable.
Some adversity is inevitable, but a lot of it is entirely possible to avoid. Life will come with it's own bag of tricks, so there is no need to go chasing the drama. If something is wrong for you, there are usually signs. Trust your gut. Be honest with yourself in every decision you make. No matter how fun or harmless it may seem, that uneasy, not-quite-right feeling is a clear indication to walk away.
2. Let it burn.
It hurts. You're going to be angry, sad – even depressed. You're human. Let yourself feel it. Don't rush yourself through the grief. It's a process.
3. Accept it.
It happened. You didn't want it to happen. You did all you could to prevent it from happening, but despite your best efforts, here you are. It's done and there's nothing you can do to change that.
4. Watch your vices.
When you're in pain, you just want instant relief. The tempting thing to do is to medicate, intoxicate and numb it as quickly as possible. Everyone has their quick fixes, those knee-jerk, maybe not-so-healthy tendencies that distract us from our problems. What's yours? Is it shopping, smoking, gossip, sex? Vices provide a temporary high but in the end they're not a solution to your problem, they're just another problem.
5. Do your work.
Grief is a painful process and overcoming it requires hard work, time and faith, but it's worth the investment. Journal, pray or seek counseling. Do whatever you have to do to work through it. This is the first step in transforming your pain into power.
6. Access the damage.
Alright, time to pull up your sleeves and asses the damage. This is the part where you start to think about the loss in practical terms. What is the impact? What's changed? What needs to be restructured in order to move forward?
7. Root out the lesson.
What can you learn from all this? Are there any proactive measures you can take to prevent this from happening again? If you are faced with this situation a second time, how will you respond? Don't leave here without gaining some wisdom and insight.
8. Take responsibility.
Time to get real honest with yourself. What part, if any, did you play in creating situation? Deflecting blame will only rob you of this golden opportunity to evolve. You don't have to waste time beating yourself and feeling guilty over it, but accepting responsibility for your actions puts you in control and allows you to face and correct yourself so you're not repeating the same destructive patterns over and over again.
9. Get centered.
Time to retreat within and shut out all the noise around you. Pray, meditate, seek answers, ask for wisdom, forgive or reconnect. Do whatever you need to do to get in a solid mental space.
10. What might happen next?
Now, with a clear head, try to think through what might happen next. Calamity doesn't always come at you all at once. Sometimes it happens in phases. If you break up with your partner, for instance, dissolving the relationship is just the first of many issues you'll need to face, especially if kids are involved. How are we going to manage custody? What about finances? Who's going to live where? There's a lot to consider. Create a checklist and before you make a move, think about how each decision effects the next.
11. Determine your desired outcome.
Are you going to be a victim or a survivor? You get to choose. Whatever you're going through is only temporary. Life will go on, and the work you put in right now will determine how this plays into the big picture. Think about how you want your life to look a year from now. Five years? Long term?
12. Make a plan.
Once you determine your end game, it's time to sit down and create a plan to get you from here to there. Whether it's a spreadsheet, a vision board or a journal, set a strategy for how you're going to move forward. Give yourself goals and deadlines. Start taking action.
13. Use it.
You made it! As a result of your experience you are now more cultivated, more interesting, more mature than you were before. How are you going to use it? Are you going to hoard that hard earned wisdom or will you share it with others who are struggling to get through what you've already overcome? Why not pay it forward?
These steps are not necessarily sequential but if you apply them at your own pace and keep moving forward, you will get through this. Keep the lessons, use the pain, put forth some effort, and you're sure to emerge on the other side .
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The transition into adulthood isn’t an easy one. Navigating relationships, managing workplace politics, hitting those milestones on schedule— don’t be fooled, no one knows what they’re doing. There will be all kinds of fumbles, blunders and awkward missteps along the way. If you’re constantly wondering to yourself, “Am I doing this right?” Welcome. This is just the place for you....
When it comes to black women and mental health, acknowledgment is key. However, given the severe history of our race and gender in the United States, conquering the stigmas can become burdensome at best. One thing is for certain: Black women are sublime creatures of God. We are fully capable of doing it all at no less than 100 percent. That said, even the superhero must count on their sidekick for support.
Statistics shouldn’t lie, although they tend to have a crafty way of masking the entire truth.
Long after the days of slavery, the black American narrative continues to lack accurate representation, from textbooks to mass media. Reality TV producers thrive on exploiting black women and our ‘drama’ for the sake of entertainment. As a result, we choose to follow suit and turn a blind eye to our issues, too. Rather than acknowledging and addressing them, we live Hollywood’s portrayals—only to be led down a shameful path of self-inflicted psychological wounds that are taught never need healing. A health care system designed to discourage certain marginalized groups from seeking the care they deserve certainly poses a roadblock. However, there are other ways of finding support and encouragement in our own needs.
We can change the narrative.
Today is a better day than ever to start an open conversation about mental health and self-care. Social media is a powerful tool for sharing. With it, we can tell our true, unique perspectives as a community and as individuals. Considering socio-economic issues, constant oppression and injustice, a number of psychosocial factors make us far more susceptible to mental suffering and we must remain aware and informed.
Having a mental illness or challenge should no longer be another silent killer of our community.
Let us be empowered by our conditional traumas, not discouraged. Remember how necessary it is to routinely check in with your own mind and acknowledge what feels right and what doesn’t. You are allowed to be afraid and uncomfortable while doing so, but you don't have to live in those feelings forever. Just like everyone else, you deserve to be freed of your mental suffering.
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It's no secret that I, like many other black millennials, struggle with mental health. I have dealt with anxiety and depression for years. It never (drastically) affected my school work, however it really affected me when I started my career. I had a job I didn't enjoy, under a manager I didn't enjoy, in a place I didn't enjoy. At my lowest, I thought some of the worst things that I don't dare repeat or write out. Thankfully, I was able to get help and get well. I did so by following some of the steps outlined below.
Check your benefits
Depending on your job, you might be able to request an accommodation for your condition. If your health is preventing you from working at full capacity, then you should reach out to HR to explore this option. For example, if you suffer from ADD and have trouble working for long periods of time, you might be eligible for an accommodation that would allow you to take more frequent breaks every couple of hours. In my experience, your employer will require a letter from a physician explaining your condition and the accommodations requested. Keep in mind that the federal government considers mental health to be a disability. Legally, your employer is not able to discriminate against you for disclosing your mental health status or the need for an accommodation. Do not be afraid to contact HR to request modifications to your job duties and work environment.
Get some help
It's extremely difficult to tackle mental health disorders without professional help. This can be from a licensed therapist and/or a psychiatrist. Look for a therapist who practices Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, not just venting sessions. Likewise, you should explore finding a good psychiatrist to follow your treatment.
A good psychiatrist will not only find the right medication, but also have therapy sessions and diagnose other underlying conditions that you might not know about.
Personally, I struggled until I found both a therapist and psychiatrist. I see my psychiatrist weekly and my therapist bi-weekly (it was weekly at one point.) It was really important for me to find a therapist who could relate to me. My first therapist once questioned my thoughts about the lack of diversity and advancement for black people in the workplace. I knew then that I needed to see someone who could understand the nuances of black womanhood, in and out of corporate America. Yet I ruled off therapy anyway. I figured I didn't need it if that was what it was going to be like. It was not until my depression and anxiety got really bad a few months later that I decided to take action. Thankfully, I found a great therapist at a practice tailored toward people like me.
There are a lot of therapists who focus on underrepresented groups such as people of color, LGBTQIA, etc. If you claim one or more of those identities, I suggest you find a specialized therapist like I did.
It made my experience and treatment process so much more effective. When it came to choosing a psychiatrist, I went with a recommendation a friend had given me. My psychiatrist was excellent at diagnosing and treating my disorders; he gave me the correct medicine with the right dosage and I had very minimal side effects. Ask people you trust for recommendations on therapists and psychiatrists. You can also ask your primary care doctor for a psychiatrist recommendation.
Practice self-care daily
Practicing self-care on a daily basis is something that my therapist taught me. No, you don't have to get a fancy massage or treat yourself to a steak dinner every night. Who has the money for that anyway? You can incorporate small things that you look forward to into your daily routine. For example, taking 30 minutes of your day to read your favorite book of poems or unplugging every night at a certain time. The point of self-care is to look forward to something delightful, not for it to feel like a chore. You can check out more ideas about practicing self-care here.
Try alternative methods
Disclaimer: trying alternative methods is not meant to replace any of the above, it is simply meant to supplement. Got that? Supplement, not replace. Now that we got that out of the way, there are a plethora of alternative therapeutic actions that you can take to supplement (in case you missed it) your mental health routines. This includes but is not limited to: yoga, exercise, exploring creativity (art, music, dance, etc.), and floating. You've probably heard of all of those except maybe floating. It's when you lay in a big bathtub or tank full of warm water and salt. For an hour. With nothing but your thoughts. It allows for a lot of introspection and meditation like you've never experienced before. There is no feeling like the high that you feel after completing a float session. I first tried floating at Bloom Wellness in Ann Arbor, MI. It's a truly magical experience and I recommend that everyone try it.
If you go to therapy, you will probably be able to identify the cause of your disorder(s). It could be a relationship, family, job, financial situation, etc. You will either have to find coping mechanisms or remove the trigger from your life. If it's your job, we've already discussed pursuing an accommodation. What if that doesn't work? What do you do then? In my situation, my job was making me stressed and unhappy. I did all of the above and I was still unhappy. I felt better emotionally and mentally, but I still could not even pretend to like my job. So I decided to leave.
It was not an easy decision. I still have doubts. However, I decided that I value my mental health and happiness over a job, person or situation. That sounds a bit idealistic, but it's my truth. This decision isn't one that everyone will be able to make. I do not expect a person with expenses and children to just quit their job. Nonetheless, I do encourage people to prioritize their happiness and mental health. You don't necessarily need to stop working the moment you start feeling anxious or depressed or experience mania at work, but you can begin to look for other positions inside and outside of your company that will be less triggering for you. Your happiness matters. Your mental health matters. You matter.
I hope this helps provide some advice about dealing with mental health at work. Please comment and share about your experience with mental health disorders and coping with them in the workplace.
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Confession: I am a recovered beauty product junkie. Like most women, I’ve plucked, arched, waxed, bleached, painted, lightened, cut, shaved and whitened all in the name of beauty. Sounds normal, right? Stop me if you’ve heard this story before.
Hidden in my apartment was a department store display’s worth of hair, makeup and bath products that I bought and accumulated over the years. I had beauty products on the counter, makeup in boxes, makeup on my desk, makeup on my dresser, makeup in my closet, makeup and perfumes hidden under my bed, bath products in special pretty boxes both big and small, makeup in drawers, makeup in my purse and even a small bag of makeup hidden under my car seat for those days when I thought I need that little extra "umph." Working at a high-end department store only served to fuel my addiction.
Before long, I was the official makeup artist for all my friends, family members and co-workers. Occasionally, I’d get a paid gig doing makeup too. To my surprise, I learned that my husband and I were expecting a baby. Life couldn't get any better, or so I thought at the time. I was blissfully in love, living a life filled with makeup, yoga, girlfriends and on the verge of starting my own family.
One evening after dinner, I was stricken by a jolting pain in my lower abdomen. I passed it off as cramps and slept it off. As the days went on, the pain became more and more unbearable. I scheduled an appointment to see my obstetrician. After my ultrasound appointment, my physician sent me across town to see a specialist. That’s when I was informed that I had an ovarian tumor four times the size of my ovary. I left the appointment numb, sat in my car and cried.
The ovarian tumor kept growing and it was absorbing the nutrients from my growing fetus. With the huge probability of the tumor rupturing at any given time, I was put on bedrest for the remainder of my pregnancy and I was barely showing. In fact, my doctor said that if I didn’t stop my 7 days-a-week workout regimen, the tumor could rupture and kill me in the process.
Monthly appointments turned into weekly appointments. Nothing seemed important anymore, not even makeup. I hid in my apartment, avoiding calls from the outside world. I was not sure how to process what was going on, let alone how to explain to my friends or family what I was going through. I didn’t want to hear any negative comments or have a pity party. I just wanted to get back to my normal life as soon as possible.
My mom passed away when I was 15 years old from a car accident. If there was a time when I needed her the most, it was then. Just to hear her voice or give me that look of assurance that everything was going to be okay. Oddly enough, as I sat in our apartment alone, I could hear her voice tell me, like many times before, not to give up. I realized I was allowing this tumor to suck the life out of me and my unborn child. I made a decision to stay positive, to fight, and more importantly, to learn as much as I could about what was going on with my body. I became obsessed with ensuring my survival.
I asked questions at every doctor’s appointment. I asked so many questions, my physicians became annoyed. When someone wasn’t able to answer my questions, I found a physician that could.
The more I learned about my health and my pregnancy, the more my hunger for knowledge increased. One afternoon, I stumbled upon a research study explaining the impact ingredients have on our overall health. I discovered the link between food, beauty products, toxic preservatives and the affects certain chemicals have on the endocrine system, the reproductive system and on unborn fetuses. I began to change how I ate and what I used on my skin and in my hair.
Years earlier while in college, I would craft and experiment with natural butters, oils and conditioners in my apartment. I made my own hair care products and thought since I couldn’t find what I was looking for, then I would just make my own natural, luxurious, chemical-free bath and skincare products to use. Years later, I found solace and peace in learning about formulations, plant oils, local sourcing and creating healthy options that were safe enough for me to use while I was pregnant and later on, on my baby.
In retrospect, becoming pregnant actually saved my life. While bearing my child, life began to have a new meaning. While my pregnancy was difficult and trying, I learned about self-love and the true meaning of self-care. I also learned about the willpower I had to overcome obstacles and to truly love all of me, both good and bad. Balancing life and death at my fingertips, I made the choice to enjoy life each day, because tomorrow, after all, isn’t guaranteed.
During my c-section, the tumor was removed and I gave birth to a healthy baby girl. Four years later, I own and run an amazing skincare business where I get to make natural and organic products that don't contain the toxic stuff that harms us all. I can truly say that I am no longer a beauty product junkie, but instead I use makeup and skincare to educate individuals about the effect ingredients in skincare have on our overall health. I have a huge passion for helping others learn about wellness, self-acceptance and staying informed when it comes to their health. By sharing my story, I hope to inspire and encourage individuals to stay strong when faced with challenges.
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A self proclaimed recovered beauty product junkie, Barbara Jacques is the Founder, Creative Director and Chief Formulator at Jacq's Organics, an all-natural plant-based skin and body product line based in South Florida. She speaks and writes about natural skincare. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and check...
After conquering a mountainous achievement such as graduating from college, you’d think one would be on the highest of highs. And with a heart full of confidence and anxious hands, you’d think one would be ready to work in the real world, and be able to seize their career in its purest form. But it doesn’t work like that. Those dreams can be crushed easily by a two-line rejection email or by no response at all. Why won’t anyone hire me? you think. And then you begin second-guessing your skills, experience and ultimately, your worth.
Depression does not have a blunt personality.
Instead, she’s more the gradual kind. She slowly settles into your life like weight gain or hair growth. You don’t notice her progressive intrusion until she slaps you hard in the face. And then you have to acknowledge her. I realized that I was dealing with postgraduate depression six months after graduating. Although I was employed at the time, my job had nothing to do with my degree and it was one of the lowest entry-level positions within the company. So there I was, working a repetitive nine-to-five desk job, gaining absolutely no experience in my field. And to add to the stress of not working in my dream career, I essentially had no close friends who had moved back home like me. It felt like everything that I had worked for and all the wonderful friendships that I had made within the past four years were removed from under me. My degree no longer stood as a symbol of achievement to me, but rather a mockery.
Why not apply for another job? you’re probably asking. Well, of course I did that. But most of my energy was exerted toward my job at the time because that was my main responsibility. And as for pursuing my dream, it had to wait until after 5 p.m. on the weekdays or be scheduled for the weekend. I was literally penciling in my dreams and it made me very irritable.
Fast-forward to seven months later and I finally gathered up the courage and savings to quit my job.
It was mainly because I was tired of working there, but also because I was presented with two writing opportunities, that would’ve been a pay decrease- but at least I would be doing what I love. But within the first two weeks after my last day of work, one of the opportunities was taken away from me. I was offered a remote writing position, but the company had to reverse their offer because of their tight budget. Basically, they couldn’t afford to pay me. So there I was, essentially unemployed. The next few weeks tested my faith and mental strength.
I began to heavily search for writing and marketing positions within my hometown and outside of it. Most of the positions I was well qualified for, and with each cover letter and resume I sent off, I had a surge of confidence. Within a two-week span I sent out more than 15 applications, half of which sent a general response of "We’ll contact you if we see a match." The other half, I heard nothing from. So I sent follow-up emails to these potential employers I hadn’t heard from, and I still never got a response. Meanwhile, the other writing opportunity remained and I accepted, which made me feel extremely happy and useful.
But then two months later, life got real.
I was working on my first round of stories for the publication, but like most freelance gigs, you don’t get paid until after your story is published. I was able to continue paying my bills with my savings, but with nothing to replenish it with, my funds became very strained. At this time I felt like I was in a fight that I was just then realizing I had lost.
Then in December, my grandmother passed away from cancer. And I couldn’t pay to travel to her funeral. This felt like another blow to my stomach. I felt defeated. And I knew that my emotional wellness was slowly sinking.
My ah-ha moment was when I heard a pastor on the radio say, “You don’t have to be strong.”
And that wrecked my mind. And I started releasing my anxiety by writing about it and by taking mental breaks where I would only allow myself to focus on irrelevant subjects, i.e., watching television, exercising and hanging out with friends.
This is also around the time when I began to see the value in gratitude. I started to realize that depression and gratitude can't coexist together; they can only grow exclusively. If one is growing, the other is starving. Gratitude causes you to be more positive and not dwell on the negative. It makes you focus on what you do have instead of the lack thereof. Therefore, it has the power to help cancel out sadness you're feeling.
I’m happy to say that I am no longer overwhelmed by my postgraduate depression, but rather still coping with it. It still creeps up on me sometimes, but I’m able to use my gratitude as a weapon of choice. And by doing this I am learning that just because I am coping with depression, doesn't mean that I can't be happy at the same time. On the contrary, my happiness propels me to cope with my depression.
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Many of us wake up early, get the kids ready for school, then head to work where we spend eight hours being the lesser paid (but equally intelligent) wing woman to a coworker (who is likely white, male or both). During lunch, the bestie calls to catch up on life and vent. After work, we come home to wait hand and foot on bae while making sure the kids are finishing their homework. While preparing dinner, we throw in that last load of laundry. By the time dinner is ready, it’s too late to go to the gym, so we feed ourselves with a laxative tea and sleep with a waist-cincher. After all, we’ve got to keep it right and tight for the viewing pleasure of others.
As black women, we do it all.
We are loving daughters, nurturing mothers, supportive partners, successful businesswomen, determined students and innovative entrepreneurs. But once we get home and the cape comes off, what happens to the burdens that are left for us to bear? Who is there to pick up our pieces when the madness of the world leaves us depleted of energy and hope? Finally, why are we afraid to admit when something just doesn’t feel right?
The stigma of a black woman being typecast as a certain character doesn’t have to be accurate. The truth is, many of the circumstances that cause us to neglect our mental health are because of systems put in place that never intended to assist us in the first place. Although addressing the stereotypes alone certainly will not cure any conditions, it's a necessary first step in figuring out the "why."
The stereotypes behind the stigma
Dating back to U.S. slavery, each plantation had Mammy: The black woman convinced that everyone else’s well-being mattered more than hers. The matriarch who suppresses her dreams to assist in fulfilling those of others around her, Mammy thrives on being the most obedient yet solid rock of a servant as possible. When it comes down to it, she’s clutch and people praise her for it. Behind closed doors however, her spirit is as equally worn out as her hands and feet. A tired life of failing to practice self-care causes her to become numb to her own desires.
Another popular stereotype within the black community is the Jezebel: Someone with an unhealthy appetite for lust and sex. As a child, perhaps, she was badly mistreated and abandoned by the paternal figure in her life. Because of this, she builds a mental wall as protection from any future chance of heartbreak. This complex leads her down an exhausting life path of finding love in all the wrong places. She has adapted to enduring mental — and sometimes physical — abuse from her partners. Over time, her sense of self-worth and purpose completely exit her soul.
Then there’s the modern day Sapphire: A black woman who wears a chip on her shoulder. She has a tendency of spewing hatred and bitterness, especially in relationships. She enjoys using aggression to bully and emasculate. She is deemed the ‘angry black woman’ to society. At home, she hates the person she has become, although she feels she has no control of her emotions.
While Hollywood chooses to tell one side of the story of the black woman, it rarely considers the state of her mental health.
Anxiety, mood, psychotic, eating, impulse control, personality, obsessive-compulsive and post-traumatic stress disorders impact millions of women in the black community. Scientific data wants us to believe that the mental health conversation is an all-encompassing umbrella that shouldn’t be race-specific due to a lack in evidence, when in fact, race might actually be the biggest factor. According to Mental Health America, 6.8 million African Americans have been diagnosed with a mental illness, and the number among black women in the U.S. is probably much greater than reported. The social stigma surrounding our community might turn some away from seeking the proper help. We are so used to displaying unwavering strength to the public that we only further separate ourselves from the idea of wholeness we strive to maintain.
Since childhood, we learn to consistently internalize certain feelings for the sake of those around us. We grew up watching the maternal figures in our family braving any and every potentially meltdown-worthy situation, from finances to illnesses. The cycle has continued and needs to stop. We don’t have to be defined by the stereotypes; it's possible to break through to the other side and achieve total peace of mind. By first acknowledging the stereotypes behind the stigma, we can begin an open dialogue. And from that point, we can choose to overcome our fears of weakness or vulnerability.
Yes, we are black women and we can do it all. But we shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help when we need it.
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Nicolette “Nic” Graves is a food technologist, nutrition consultant and health education specialist with a background in micronutrient deficiency, agricultural development and food security. Her mission is to help fill the disparity gap by helping communities overcome the obstacles of a healthy diet by refining habits and revamping plates, one indulgence at a time. Through her health and wellness platform, niktrition.com, which is dedicated to empowering women through their pursuit of health by defying the status quo, you can get nutrition coaching and several on-demand programs created to help you nourish yourself, get FLEEKy and snatched while thriving on delicious eats and self-love. Read our interview with Blavity Creative Society member Nicolette below:
Blavity: Tell us more about why you started Niktrition.
Nicolette Graves: Well, Niktrition is really just the brain child of my personal evolution.
I came pre-packaged with an infatuation with food. In fact, my nickname growing up was Gutsy Gloria (thanks, Dad) and obviously, the connotation of “gutsy" wasn’t something that sits well even at the age of 8 — even if I was good for putting away seconds and thirds. For the subsequent 12 years, I dieted. (Yes, at 8 I had my own form of diet food i.e.. butter pasta = gotta lay off that tomato sauce). I was “healthy” and read all the seminal works on being skinny at all costs and how to lose your enthusiasm for food in three days… it was le struggle. The craziest part was I was pre-med, I knew the science behind proper nutrition, but per usual I tried to outsmart the system by using trends instead. When it worked I was obsessed and when it didn’t... I was obsessed. Damned either way. It left me tired and in need for something more sustainable. So instead of trying to beat the system, I opted to work with it and haven’t looked back since. As time progressed, I began to realize the only way I could have ever allowed such treatment to my body despite knowing better was my mental state: The perception I had of what my body represents, my relationship with food and my own sense of self worth.
Essentially, Niktrition came out of this compilation of experiences, knowledge gained, questions asked, and a desire to optimize it all for better distribution. It’s really gone through several forms. From just learning the scientific foundation of proper nutrition, to understanding the implications of socioeconomic, geographic, cultural, ethnic and historical factors that play a role in our state of health. Once I got to graduate school and started doing my research on food access and development, everything became amassed and began to spiral into all these thoughts I was having, mixed with me always wanting to help, mixed with me feeling a type of way about the unequal focus on “fixing” foreign developing countries but nothing done for the developing communities right here at home. Plus, I was learning and learning a lot and wanted to keep learning, but knew I had a responsibility to the community.
So I had all this knowledge, all these facts, but facts are facts are facts — how do you apply them? How can you really help yourself if people are just throwing out facts and not showing you skills, tips and tricks that can aid you and your situation? More explicitly, how do we get underserved communities to apply the necessary health practices? When it comes to health, we each have a unique experience/struggle/circumstance which either supports or impedes our status.
B: Why, for you, is self-love intertwined with a healthy lifestyle/nutrition?
NG: Self-love is the foundation to living a fulfilled life overall. When you love yourself, you have accepted who you are for who you are. You are making a conscious effort to make your perception of yourself the definitive guide. This then molds self-esteem and body image, which then in a cyclic nature sets the tone for how you feel about yourself. When you have ownership over you, it’s a feeling that can’t be matched. Right now, the trends on the market aren’t embedded in self-love… it’s this "fix yourself because there is something inherently wrong with who you are right now" mentality. It’s "you cool and all, but you could be better if you did this." It’s "bash people for their preferences or side-eye her cause of her eating habits." It’s "make others feel self-conscious in order to lift ourselves up." In all honesty, I think it takes self-love for you to truly achieve, benefit and feel fulfilled by anything.
What you feed your mind determines your appetite. #StayWoke #ReadingIsFundamental
A photo posted by Nic, Nutritionist/MS 🍍🌿 (@niktrition) on Jun 30, 2016 at 3:27pm PDT
B: Talk about your passion for empowering women through your site and through one-on-one coaching.
NG: Despite having had the right to vote for some-odd 96 years, “equal rights” for women are still pending and women are still pining at the door to sit at the table. We are still seen and treated as objects, and the worst part is we internalize that sh-t. We internalize it and then shape our reality based on standards, rules, and other BS not even set by us. Empowering women, especially young black professionals who have their sh-t together from an achievement standpoint but struggle to tie together the other ends of their lives (such as their state of wellness) is the least I could do.
That incessant grind to the top is ambitious, applause-worthy and poppin'. But as I said, it’s incessant, and in order to shine your brightest, the vessel carrying you needs to have its machinery intact. Black women have been told for forever they can’t have it all. I think our generation is changing that and health shouldn’t be sacrificed or left to the wayside. Your well-being should be just as high a priority as your success, because it ultimately affects it. There are so many barriers standing in our way as far as external factors — health shouldn’t be one of them.
Feed your focus.
A photo posted by Nic, Nutritionist/MS 🍍🌿 (@niktrition) on May 3, 2016 at 4:31pm PDT
B: What are your thoughts on the relationship between mental wellness and nutrition?
NG: They go hand in hand. Literally, nutrition provides the building blocks your body needs to carry out basic functions, such as existing, while your mental determines everything else. In fact, recently there has been a surge in evidence illuminating the importance of nutrition as a factor in mental wellness from a physiological standpoint… literally nutrients and chemicals in our bodies interact to keep us running. Those same interactions can also determine how we feel, our behavior and our capacity to use our brain. Which is major if you think about the impact your mood, behavior and ability to analyze affect your ability to be a productive member of society.
B: There has been a recent wave of black women empowering themselves via healthy living, what are your thoughts on spreading the importance of wellness throughout our communities?
NG: Wellness has been a topic often forced to hang in the balance in the black community and that can be seen by simply flipping through the CDC’s statistics. The health disparity gap is disrespectful at the least. For a very long time, we didn’t have the resources — time, money, knowledge — to care. That landscape is changing. I could say my background in public health made me aware of the importance of community, but really, that’s common sense for us. What my educational background did allow was for me to have full on access to systematic reviews covering the disparity gap and its causes; the systemic issues that impale our ability to truly live well; the power of community education, especially for minority demographics; and the importance of cultural relativism.
That last one is a huge one. Cultural relativism. It’s something I struggled with on my own health journey, and it’s a complaint I hear time and time again… often in the form of “How can I eat better without eating grass” or “I like my food seasoned” and “do I have to drink green juice?” Let’s be real, nobody cares what Becky has to say about nutrition, she’s just not relatable. But when we found out Bey did the 22-day vegan, it started to look interesting. That’s just the way it is. Having people who can identify with our experiences enlightening us can only make us better as individuals and a community. It’s what has been missing.
Working, getting my life, and breathing the freshest air this concrete jungle has to offer. My new favorite space = The Oasis, an on-demand botanical sanctuary. @wohaneillay back at it again 📸.
A photo posted by Nic, Nutritionist/MS 🍍🌿 (@niktrition) on Apr 3, 2016 at 12:36pm PDT
B: What is your favorite part about the work you do?
NG: Seeing other women blow themselves away by being built up.
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Are you getting the Vitamin D you need? If you spend a lot of time inside or walking downtown where tall buildings block the sun, you might not be. Vitamin D is important for optimal health because it promotes immune system function and the development of strong bones and teeth by regulating calcium and phosphorous absorption. It's nicknamed the sunshine vitamin because it's naturally produced by our skin from exposure to sunlight.
Unfortunately, many people don't get adequate amounts of this vital vitamin, often because of environmental and lifestyle factors like those mentioned earlier. Sound like you? No worries. Today I'm sharing easy ways to get the Vitamin D your body needs:
Tip #1: Get some sun
Vitamin D, aka the sunshine vitamin, is naturally made by your skin from exposure to sunlight. That's great news! So get out and let the sun shine on you – literally. Sunlight is an awesome natural way to boost your vitamin D levels.
Tip #2: Fill up on fatty fish
Fatty fish like wild caught salmon, macrel and cod are bursting with vitamin D. The cool thing about fish is that it’s super simple to prepare. A sprig of fresh herbs, a squeeze of lemon juice, some olive oil and VOILA! — a healthy and delicious dose of Vitamin D.
Tip #3: Crack open the eggs
Score another point for eggs! Just remember that the vitamin D is found in the yolk so eat the WHOLE EGG. How do you want it — scrambled, sunny-side up, poached or hard boiled? Either way, egg yolks are a yummy source of Vitamin D.
Tip #4: Eat Shitake mushrooms
Shitake mushrooms can be purchased fresh or dried. The key to cooking the dried variety is to soak them in a bowl of boiling water for 20 minutes. After that, they can be sliced and diced to go in a stir-fry, casserole, sauce, etc. Fresh or dried? Take your pick.
Tip #5: Take a quality supplement
A nutritional supplement is another easy source of vitamin D. The key to safe supplementation is selecting a quality product made by a reputable company. It's recommended that adults up to age 70 get a minimum of 600 IU of Vitamin D each day. For those over 70 years old, the recommendation is 800 IU of Vitamin D daily.
Getting the Vitamin D your body needs is easier than you might have thought. Get out, enjoy the sun, have a nice meal and pay attention to your body. You'll thank yourself later!
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Transitioning to college can be as scary as it is exciting. Living away from home, prioritizing responsibilities and parting with lifelong norms can all be pretty stressful. According to a survey of more than 93,000 students at 108 colleges by the American College Health Association, more than half experienced overwhelming anxiety, while 85.6 percent of students felt overwhelmed by all they had to do.
The pressure is real, and self-care should be prioritized right up there with academics and social life. To help cope with the transition, here are 13 helpful back-to-school pointers, resources and tips to manage self-care:
1. Be honest with yourself
Feeling overwhelmed is nothing to be ashamed of, and you're definitely not alone. There are tons of resources and professionals available to support you. Take full advantage.
2. Find your student wellness center
Locate your campus wellness center and keep that phone number on deck in case of emergencies. This is a great resource for physical health, coaching and overall wellness support.
3. Drink plenty of water
Dehydration can negatively impact your mood and your health. Be sure to mind your water intake.
We're all addicted to our mobile devices but the constant scrolling and stimuli can have a negative effect. Heavy cell phone use has been linked to depression and sleep deprivation. Take a moment to unplug from time to time.
5. Locate your counseling and psych services
Many colleges offer free counseling services or group sessions. Don't hesitate to tap these resources.
6. Get Sleep
Get plenty of rest! Caffeine can be your best friend and your worst enemy during those late night cram sessions, but try not to make a habit of artificial stimulants as they can throw off your sleep pattern.
Whether you choose to go to your campus fitness center, jog outside or hit a few yoga poses from the comfort of your room, get in plenty of physical activity. Aside from warding off the dreaded freshman fifteen, the mental effects of exercise are real. The endorphins, adrenaline and dopamine released when engaged in physical activity all work together to help you feel good.
8. Go outside
Don't underestimate the power of nature to combat stress. When you're feeling overwhelmed, get outside, walk around campus and take in some fresh air.
Nothing provides a guaranteed pick-me-up like helping others. Get involved in community service. Organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters and The Boys and Girls Club are always looking for mentors.
10. Get centered
Whether it's prayer, meditation or praise and worship, your spiritual practice is a powerful tool in maintaining a healthy balance. If you're missing your home church, the HaloLoop app allows you to livestream and participate virtually in your hometown service.
Relationship issues, that class you might not pass, financial woes...don't keep it bottled in. Take a few minutes and write in a journal to prevent the buildup of stress and anxiety.
12. Kick back
Schedule downtime to kick it with friends, clown around or just Netflix and chill. Always make time to recharge.
Take a look at what you've already accomplished. You're doing it. You are adulting successfully! Just keep giving it 100 percent.
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The common misconception is that STDs can only be attributed to reckless party behavior and one-night stands with incredibly attractive strangers. The stigma of being labeled sexually promiscuous is almost always the reason people are reluctant to visit their college campus health center. But that's only one side of the truth. STDs can cause a rift in monogamous relationships too. And it's not just a matter of someone cheating. Because STD symptoms sometimes lie dormant, a person can contract a disease in a previous relationship, and long after calling it quits, carry that disease into a new relationship.
Regardless of how a disease is transmitted, the more important thing to keep in mind is that it's always preventable. And for that reason, you should never feel embarrassed visiting your campus health center. In fact, it's better to go in confident, ask questions and take the necessary precautions to maintain your health. Because ultimately your health is about your relationship with your body.
The number of reported cases of STDs and STIs in the U.S. is steadily rising, a report released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows. The report also states that the population most at risk for contracting STDs is between the ages of 15 and 24 years old. Furthermore, people within the ages of 15 and 24 account for half of the 20 million new sexually transmitted infections that occur in the United States each year. That's almost exclusively the college demographic.
Listen, no one is here to judge. We live in a day and age whereby people are more open and sexually fluid. We also have more access to information about healthcare and knowledge of preventative measures.
And although there is an undeniable skepticism — and to an extent distrust — among African Americans when it comes to trustworthiness of health practitioners due to cases like the Tuskegee experiment and it's lasting effects, we have to be sure to take care of ourselves. Because in doing so, we take care of each other.
So, don't be embarrassed about knowing what's out there, what you're at risk of catching, and communicating with your partner about ways to ensure you both are (and stay) free of or in control of STIs/STDs.
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I remember those evenings sitting on a stack of pillows while my mom combed through my hair with a wide-toothed comb. As I slowly inched my head in the direction of the television, she would take the comb and scratch vigorously at my scalp in the hopes of removing the layer of dandruff that had formed...again. I winced at the pain as the comb reached my crown, the part of my head that hurt the most whenever she scratched at it or tied the hair bows too tight. Once she was done scraping away the flakes she coated her finger with blue grease and rubbed it into my scalp. By then I had managed to inch my head far enough to where I was finally able to watch Rugrats, but my mom put her hands on either side of my face and whipped my head back around with me facing forward once again..
Then I heard the words pass between her lips, “tender-headed.”
She said them with a lot of frustration. I annoyed my hairdressers, too, because I wouldn't let them manhandle my head in order to achieve the style my mom wanted for me. Surprise, surprise, they also called me tender-headed.
There's this idea that us tender heads are faking the severity of our pain because people assume we don't want to get our hair done, or that we are the type who like to whine (which is ridiculous). Why would I fake something that seriously hurts? Luckily, I didn't have many scalp problems throughout my teenage years or my early college days because, for some reason, my then-relaxed and straightened hair had alleviated my issues.
But four years and two big chops later, I abandoned the curly crack and the alluring heat of the flat iron and went natural.
I thought I had it all figured out, but as my hair got longer, my scalp health seemed to worsen. All the coconut, shea and olive oils I piled onto my scalp did nothing to ease the recurring pain, and styling my own hair soon became a nightmare. The dandruff returned along with intense itching and pain so bad I couldn't so much as touch certain parts of my head. I had no idea what was going on, but I realized that I was tender-headed once more. I had a feeling that my tender head was a result of something more serious, something worthy of a visit to the doctor.
So I finally made an appointment with my local dermatologist because enough was enough.
I explained to her what was going on with my scalp, then nervously parted my hair for her. She chuckled and waived it off like it was the easiest diagnosis in the world. “Oh, that?” She smiled, “You just have seborrheic dermatitis.”
For those of you who don't know, seborrheic dermatitis is a condition that produces oily flakes and red patches, itching, burning and stinging despite having good hygiene. Though the cause is unknown, it's said to be related to a yeast that lies in the oil secretion of the skin, or an inflammatory response related to psoriasis. It's a lifelong condition that flares up and calms down, and can only be treated because there isn't a cure. Simply put, it explained a lot.
So all it took was a doctor consultation that lasted two minutes.
You best believe that once I left the dermatologist's office I raided my local Walgreens and bought all the weird-smelling dandruff shampoo I could carry. My already-too-long hair routine was going to go through a massive overhaul and I wasn’t too enthused about having to use medication for my scalp condition; but whatever would keep my head from hurting I vowed to suck up and do.
In the wake of the growing natural hair movement, I feel that we need to address all aspects of black hair health, including our scalps. The term “tender-headed” is very dismissive of underlying issues that might need to be addressed, such as eczema, psoriasis or even alopecia. It's a stigma that we need to re-evaluate in order to promote optimal hair health as well as our overall health. Those of us with sensitive scalps should be treated with care, not disdain, because we all want that slay-the-game goddess hair, too.
What are your opinions about the term and how it affects those with sensitive scalps? Were you tender-headed but later realized they had a scalp condition? Leave your comments below! Press that share button and tag a friend who needs to read this!
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Black culture is one of spirituality, fortitude and tenacity. For more than four centuries, black people in America have had to fight for the natural right to live. We're not a weak people. We raise our children with stone-like militarism: They’ll need it to survive in a country where they can be killed simply because they're black. We don’t have time to wade in pity. We fight on until we can fight no longer. It is this warrior mindset that has allowed us to survive. Yet, this mindset also prevents many of us from seeking mental health treatment when the night grows too dark. After all, warriors can defeat any obstacle, right? What is to be done, however, when the obstacle is within the very part of our being that allows us to fight, or even conceive survival — our mind?
So many of us lose ourselves in mental illness because we know how to fight but not how to heal.
In March 2016, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and depression. It stopped me cold. I was a confident and accomplished black millennial working in the nation’s fourth largest school system. Suddenly, I found myself in darkness. I was shocked, initially. Yet, when I looked at my life thus far, I realized that I’d always had a wound and that I'd learned to ignore it; to compensate for the injury. The diagnosis represented the fact that the wound had finally taken its toll.
It started when I was a child.
My mom and I would sit on the couch in the living room waiting for my father to get home from his late job. Aretha Franklin, Mariah Carey and Prince serenaded us from her stereo system. Even as a little boy, it was always the sad songs that I felt the most. I’d dance when Stevie Wonder’s joyful “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” came on, but it was his song “In the Sun,” where he lamented about being weary from the load and longing for a place in the sun, that held me captive. I’d clap to Tevin Campbell’s “Can We Talk” and bounce to Whitney Houston’s “I’m Your Baby Tonight,” but it was “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman that marked me. Even as a child, a deep pain lived in me.
I was a nerdy, skinny, non-athletic kid with big glasses and big ears who loved to read and play classical piano. I was taunted constantly in school for being a geek. Even my being was insulted. There is an ingrained colorism in some black Americans, and my deep brown skin and African features weren’t yet popular — this was before everyone was “woke.” On a personal level, my family had a number of issues, which I won’t share because they're not my story to tell. However, as a result, before I was old enough or strong enough for it, I was carrying the pain and the load of my family’s issues. And I was weary from it. By high school, things were even worse. If you combined Carlton Banks, Huey Freeman and Jaden Smith, you got me as a teenager. My eccentricity made me unpopular. I had very few friends, I skipped classes constantly, and I spent most of my time in the piano practice room or hooking up with random people just to feel loved.
I also started feeling sick constantly.
My heart would race, I was lightheaded and weak, constantly nauseous, and even fainted at times. Doctors ran tests and found nothing. Yet, my life was being impacted by the illness. I dropped out senior year and got my GED. Then I dropped out of life. I had scholarships to the best music conservatories in the country that were willing to accept me, even with a GED, but the constant physical illness and deep sadness robbed me of motivation. For two years, I didn’t leave the house. My family shopped for me and my life was lived on internet message boards and chat rooms, punctuated by sad indie films and sadder songs. My parents thought I was having a “nervous breakdown.” I overheard them one night, discussing my mental health and steps they needed to take in case things got worse. I remember lying in bed one day, looking out the window and telling God that I was ready to die. Death never came, and eventually I got tired of waiting for it.
Slowly, I rebuilt.
I pushed myself. Maybe I wasn’t fatally ill. I walked to the end of the block, then to the store down the block. I got on the train and the bus. I started going to the barber and wearing nice clothes again. People noticed I was “back,” and one of my mentor friends got me a job at a non-profit. For the next few years, I worked with wonderful like-minded people in the pursuit of providing great educational programming to elementary children. Off the strength of my experience, I got a job with the nation’s fourth largest school system, where I created social-emotional learning and restorative practices programs for students at a troubled community school. I knew how to teach kids to survive their pain because I had survived mine. The pastor at my church convinced me to enter the ministry, and I did it because I thought I could use the opportunity to help people.
Yet, it began to unravel.
Like a prophet, I could see the future, and there was always this uncertain fog ahead. The administration of the school I worked at began stacking duties on me that had nothing to do with the job I was hired for and giving me low pay. So I quit. I found myself surrounded by money-hungry con-artist preachers and hypocrites in the ministry, so I left before getting ordained. I was constantly unhappy. In addition, I started feeling sick again: Nauseous, lightheaded and weak. I was rushed to the hospital when I fainted at a supermarket. They took blood, did tests, and found nothing, so I ignored it. I kept pushing until one day, while driving on the highway, I found myself unable to breathe, sweating profusely, frightened beyond words and wanting to scream while driving on the inner lane of a four-lane interstate expressway. I wanted to jump out of the car while it was moving and hide. Even the streetlights scared me. Somehow, I made it home. I hid under the covers on my bed. I thought I was losing my mind.
My doctor suggested a diagnosis of anxiety: A mental disorder that is marked by an illogical and obsessive fear that triggers physical panic attacks. It typically develops as a result of extreme stress, and often runs in tandem with depression. I went to a psychiatrist, who agreed and prescribed me medication. I didn’t take it, though.
I was scared of the side effects. I was scared it would change me. Not only that, but mental health treatment is often seen as taboo in the black community. We fight. We survive. Being raised in a Christian family, I was taught that if it got too hard, you go to church. You sing, pray and dance in the Holy Ghost until you have the power to live again. I didn’t need medicine! I just had to keep on keeping on and beat it on my own. So the medication stayed on my shelf and nothing changed.
I quit life again. I figured I needed a break.
I stopped leaving the house to avoid the panic attacks. I had food delivered or sent my friends out for groceries and necessities. I woke up one day and realized I hadn’t left the house in two months. It was remarkably like that time almost a decade ago when I didn’t leave the house for two years. I thought I was dying from a mystery ailment then, but now I knew I had a mental illness. Yet, that made it worse. You see, dying was something I could handle, something I was familiar with. The idea of mental illness was an alien concept. We don’t talk about mental illnesses in the black community until it’s too late. We all know people who “went crazy” in our family, or that “strange” aunt or cousin who we’re told to make allowances for, but they get brushed away into the institution or family-member’s home that they occupy.
Eventually, I got tired of existing in stasis.
I knew I wasn’t suicidal and that I wanted to live. However, something had to be done to get out of fearful limbo. I accepted my mental illness. I accepted the blessing of the diagnosis. I finally knew what to call the fog I lived in. For years, I thought the sadness was because I was an artist, as so many of the great artists before me were sad too. I thought the physical symptoms were from a serious illness. I had to accept that the constant sadness wasn’t because I was an artist. It was depression. The physical symptoms weren’t because I was dying. It was Anxiety. There are many forms of mental illness, and some of them are subtle. We still live normally, but adjust to deal with them, contorting ourselves until we finally break down.
I broke, and now I’m repairing.
I’m seeing the psychiatrist and the psychologist and following their instructions. I’ve told my family and friends, who are helping me, calling me and checking on me.
And I’m writing this, in the hopes that someone else will see it. Maybe you’ll read it and recognize your own story. We black children grow up believing that we always have to fight and survive, and that’s true. Yet, we also need to accept our wounds and our weaknesses and heal instead of ignoring the pain until it crushes our mind and soul.
It’s ok to be broken, to accept your brokenness and to seek help.
There is help. There is hope. We’re in this together until we all live abundantly.
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