Photo: InTouch Weekly
I juggled with the idea of writing about Kanye West. Not because of the sensationalism surrounding his story, but because of the painful connection I have to a story like this. Mental health awareness is far more than a popular hashtag. It’s deeper than a month of observance. It’s more powerful than a movement. For those battling with the disorder on a daily basis or for those who haven’t figured out how to define and confront the emotional rollercoaster they’re riding, mental health awareness is a life or death situation.
According to the National Association for Mental Illness (NAMI), nearly 44 million adults suffer from mental illness, whether it’s something more socially acceptable such as stress and anxiety or more complex such as manic depression or schizophrenia. Sometimes these illnesses aren’t properly diagnosed because many adults are afraid to discuss their symptoms or deal with the aftermath. This could even be the case with Kanye West.
Why is it easier to wrap our heads around physical health illnesses than mental health illnesses? One isn’t greater or more detrimental than the other. Although the conversations about cancer, HIV/AIDS and the countless other diseases are difficult, they’re still being openly discussed. However, many can’t seem to utter the phrase mental health without feeling the effects of the stigma or becoming worried about labelled as “crazy.”
What do you do when you’re crying out for help but your cries go unnoticed? What do you do when you live in fear of being stigmatized? How do you live with your grief, depression, anxiety or severe mood swings, when those closest to you are telling you to “get over it,” “pray about it” or otherwise dismiss the emotional turmoil you’re experiencing? What can we learn from Kanye West’s experience?
First, it's IMPERATIVE that you surround yourself with decent, authentic and well-meaning people who will notice your erratic behavior and tell you about it. Surround yourself with the folks who won't mock you, ridicule you or otherwise continue to let you pursue a breakdown because they are either embarrassed, ashamed or benefiting from your mental despair. Whoever pushed Kanye to seek help did not care about the publicity, the concert ticket refunds or his “brand.” They cared about the man and his impending meltdown.
Secondly, give yourself credit for addressing your emotional disturbances. It takes A LOT of bravery to commit yourself to an institution or allow someone to urge you to go and seek help. The fear, confusion, pain and desperation is enough to make people go into hiding or worse, contemplate suicide. So when you DON'T run and you DO admit that you need help, that can be the beginning of a cold, lonely and dark road where normalcy evades you. However, this road can lead to recovery. It might not be easy, and at times you might travel the path to healing alone, but taking those steps can save your life and enhance the quality of your life. Kanye’s story of admittance to the hospital might be more publicized than his recovery process. However, he has to remember that he’s not doing this for anyone else but himself. You have to remember this as well. During healing and recovery is your time to be selfish.
Finally, don’t become discouraged by people who don’t understand the complexity of your illness. Mental health isn’t something that can be compartmentalized, easily diagnosed or suppressed. In fact, it can take years before the onset of the illness surfaces. It can be triggered by an event that happened a long time ago or something that happened just a few moments ago. You can go long periods without feeling the effects of your illness and then they can suddenly appear and disrupt your lifestyle for any period of time. Mental health is a mountain that must be conquered by smaller, yet intentional steps. And sometimes, people might not understand your trek, therefore, they’ll discourage you or isolate you. Kanye might lose some friends and become the butt of a few jokes, but he’ll also figure out who his real friends are.
Kanye West has made a name for himself from his brilliance and blatant personality. However, at the core of Kanye is the story of a black man who dodged death, only to have it steal his everything (his mother), in the midst of a career within an industry which capitalizes on the pain of its artists. Kanye battles being a genius and normal guy who hasn't dealt with his grief, yet pushes to make himself known as an asset to multiple industries that might not fully understand (or care about) his story.
I've been in Kanye's shoes (the cheaper version), where mental breakdowns cause you to discredit yourself, question everyone and wish that the world could stop spinning and recover the sense of comfort and normalcy that you've been robbed of.
Do your part to understand mental health and to accept anyone who is battling mental health disturbances. They're not "crazy." They're not seeking attention. They're hurting. I’m one of those people. And chances are, someone you know is dealing with it too. Some people will tuck it away, hoping others won’t discover and judge their secret. And some will wear it openly, hoping that the right people find them and help them to heal and create a new normal.
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From the makers of the #AmySchumerGottaGoParty and the creative forces with hits like #ConfuseWhitePeopleParty, they're back with another one. Welcome to the #KanyeisOverParty.
Before I introduce this latest Twitter drag session, let's take a look at the back story.
Last week, Kanye West went on a political rant during a San Jose show proclaiming his support for president-elect Donald Trump, although admitting he had not voted in the election.
Kanyeisms have become increasingly uncomfortable in recent years, therefore his rant on Thursday night was a moderate surprise. These days, you never know what will come out of Yeezy's mouth. All was quiet on Friday, then Saturday arrived with no warning to unsuspecting fans of what was to come at his Sacramento show. Kid Cudi paired with Yeezy on stage, this after a recent rehab visit for depression.
The two performed "Waves".
Kanye and kid cudi pic.twitter.com/vfs5uQ0GsN— Jon hall (@Jonhallthegreat) November 20, 2016
The return of Cudi would be quickly overshadowed. Kanye appeared on the stage well over an hour late, performing only two songs building up to an unexpected tirade including sentiments toward former best pals Beyonce and Jay-Z.
"Obama couldn’t make America great because he couldn’t be him to be who he was. Black men have been slaves. Obama wasn’t allowed to do this [screams] and still win," Kanye proclaimed.
Then came his hurt feelings over an issue with Bey (which probably isn't an issue to Bey). "Beyoncé, I was hurt because I heard that you said you wouldn’t perform unless you won Video of the Year over me and over “Hotline Bling.” In my opinion—now, don’t go trying to diss Beyoncé. She is great. Taylor Swift is great. We are all great people. We are all equal."
"I’ve been sitting here to give y’all my truth even at the risk of my own life. Even at the risk of my own success, my own career. I’ve been sitting here to give y’all the truth," Yeezy said. "Jay Z, call me, bruh. You still ain’t calling me. Jay Z, call me. Aye, bruh, I know you got killers. Please don’t send them at my head. Just call me. Talk to me like a man. I’m not trying to be the man. I just am a man, the same as anybody here."
This is the second time this year Kanye used the stage to air out his broken relationship with his former business partner and labelmate. And he continued to pile on for about 15 minutes. “Get ready to have a field day, press, because the show’s over,” Kanye said immediately dropping the mic.
After Yeezy stormed off stage, no one really knew what to make of it. Fans departed the venue chanting profanities at the rapper after paying upwards of $250 for the short-lived show.
The next night, Kanye's performance at the Los Angeles Forum was canceled a few hours before showtime.
Tonight's show has been cancelled. Refunds at point of purchase.
— The Forum (@theforum) November 21, 2016
Phone and Internet purchases have been automatically refunded. https://t.co/eeNN7hjDVC
— Ticketmaster (@Ticketmaster) November 21, 2016
The fate of remaining date in the Saint Pablo tour remains in limbo with reports of the plug being pulled on the upcoming 22 shows concluding at the Barclays Center on New Year's Eve.
Just got word from a source that @kanyewest informed his crew that remaining dates of U.S. #SaintPabloTour are nixed.— Gerrick D. Kennedy (@GerrickKennedy) November 21, 2016
Here we are and thus the #KanyeisOverParty was born.
Upset fans made opening arguments.
I'm done with Kanye..It has nothing to do with bey and jay or Trump.. How you do 2 or 3 songs at a concert?! #Refund #KanyeIsOverParty
— The Poet. (@TyeDashawn) November 20, 2016
Let's be honest... I really hope Kanye deals with his mental health issues & finds his inner peace! #KanyeIsOverParty— Kodi Gaddis (@KodiGaddis) November 20, 2016
The red carpet was lit, with guests dressed to impressed.
Arriving to the party like.... #KanyeIsOverParty pic.twitter.com/sQLbetpXVU— Common White Girl (@girlhoodposts) November 20, 2016
Uncle Snoop showed up and brought the recreation.
Snoop Dogg's reaction to Kanye's rant is hysterical.#KanyeIsOverParty pic.twitter.com/psVeLZFR2Y
— *don* (@popnonius) November 20, 2016
Security had a strict no Taylor Swift policy.
Just because the #KanyeIsOverParty is lit, don't mean Taylor Swift fans are invited. Your fav is the head snakepic.twitter.com/BgpdGbL122
— OG (@tattedpoc) November 20, 2016
The Beyhive showed up for revenge.
Kanye: I voted for Trump
Kanye: Stop talking about racism its not
Kanye: *shades Beyoncé*
— Common White Girl (@girlhoodposts) November 20, 2016
*Kanye supports Trump* Me: 😴😴😴😴*Kanye talks about Beyoncé* Me: #KanyeIsOverParty pic.twitter.com/ZGvy0p0ud7— Beyoncé (@ReaIBeyonce) November 20, 2016
If you just arrived at the party Sunday, you're extremely tardy.
I been at this party since:
He married KK
He made runaway slave clothes
He did NOT vote
I kept the food hot for y'all tho #KanyeIsOverParty
— April_In_July (@Never_Doubt_707) November 20, 2016
As for the Carters, will they respond? Highly unlikely.
Kanye: BEYONCÉ I'M HURT. JAY-Z CALL ME. TALK TO ME LIKE A MAN.
Bey and Jay: pic.twitter.com/zFpHEemhS9
— Mecca_May. (@MeccanismsOfMe) November 20, 2016
Take a look at Kanye's full rant.
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There is a growing need for police officers to be trained on how to interact with those suffering from a mental illness. Most recently, we have seen officers mishandle a situation involving an elderly woman and a mother, both suffering from mental illnesses. Instead of providing help, officers shot and killed them both. These scenarios sounds very familiar to the story of Alfred Olango. In September, his sister called officers from the El Cajon Police Department to help her brother. Olango ,who suffered a from mental illness, was killed after pointing a vape pen towards officers.
This tragedy left yet another community heartbroken over the continuos narrative of unarmed black person being killed. To help change this narrative and provide support, Alfred Olango's father launched a police reform program. Richard Olango launched the Alfred Olango Unity and Justice Foundation in honor of his son. The foundation promises to focus on improving police training by focusing on areas such as psychology, human behavior, criminal justice and discipline.
“These are the foundation of police training,” he said. “If you don’t pass these, you go back to police college.” Olango wants to prevent officers from using their gun first. “Police are supposed to use a gun as a last resort. From the time police arrived to the time my son was dead was one minute and 29 seconds."
Hopefully this foundation brings awareness to how officers should be trained in sensitive scenarios like the one in which their son was tragically killed. Alfred Olango's mother, like many, wants her son to be the last to suffer at the hands of police violence. “I don’t want any mother to go through what I am going through.”
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On Tuesday, October 18th, officers from the NYPD were sent to respond to a neighbor's 911 complaint at the home of 66-year-old Deborah Danner. Officers had been called to her residence before, one call resulting in Danner, who officials say has schizophrenia, having to be removed from the building.
Officers, including NYPD Sgt. Hugh Barry, entered the apartment and allegedly saw Danner with scissors in her hand. Police say they gave her verbal commands to put down the scissors. When she put them down, officers say she then picked up a baseball bat and began charging toward Barry. Assistant Chief Larry Nikunen says the eight-year veteran then shot her twice in the torso. Danner was taken to the hospital, but it was too late. Sergeant Barry had a stun gun on his person when responding to the call but did not deploy it.
The NYPD is conducting an investigation, which includes determining why Barry's stun gun was not used instead of his service revolver. State Senator Ruben Diaz released a statement that has us all asking the same question, why did a 66-year-old woman with multiple police officers in a room have to die like this?
My statement on tonight's fatal #NYPD shooting in The #Bronx #BLM #blacklivesmatter https://t.co/8HxPyUFne6 pic.twitter.com/F0gk4yaL25
— Ruben Diaz Jr. (@rubendiazjr) October 19, 2016
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When I told my mother I wanted to quit my job on Capitol Hill to write full time, she was apprehensive. I’d been at my job for three years and I loved my boss, the people I worked with, and the work that I did. I even saw a clear path for upward mobility in my career there, and had devised a plan for it the moment I walked through the heavy wooden doors of the Rayburn Office Building. But then I began writing again, and my first love quickly turned from a pastime to a side hustle. Then it started to consume my daily life, forcing me to ask myself some hard questions. In the months before I left I'd sit at my desk contending with the thought that perhaps the job was more of a marker for where I thought I should be rather than my true purpose. Finally I got to a place where I came in and did my work, but otherwise felt like dead weight. And that's when I decided to go.
My choice to leave was made even harder by the fact that I knew my feelings could be tricky sometimes. When I was 15, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and being impulsive is one of its most definitive traits. The diagnosis had come at a time when I was performing locally as a hip-hop artist, totally ignoring my mental health and getting into a lot of trouble. I had a baby at 21 years old and dropped out of college. I married his father, but we separated soon after. I still wrote music and worked odd jobs, but I felt like nothing had turned out the way I’d planned and it was truly depressing. So I withdrew from my family and friends and stopped making any big plans. In fact, there were some points during that time when I battled bouts of indecisiveness so crippling that I felt my best recourse was to stand still. Luckily, even though my husband and I were living separately at the time, his parents offered to help with my son and encouraged me to go back to school and finish my undergraduate career.
So I did just that.
It was the first goal I’d stuck with and accomplished in a long time. Though issues that stemmed from my disorder threatened to derail the last two years of my studies, I worked hard and graduated with an English degree. Right before I graduated, one of my professors encouraged me to apply for a congressional internship, and a few months later I was an official part of a congresswoman’s staff. It was only part-time, but it was salaried, and I didn't mind either way because I was happy to get my foot in the door.
Then I did everything I could to kick butt in that office. In such a small press shop, there was a lot of work to do with her social media, but I did it. Our office won two awards for social media engagement while I was there, and the changes I suggested for her website are still in place today. Another bonus was that the women I worked with were strong, capable, and drama-free. I learned so much from that office about writing and editing that after awhile I decided to start writing again. I had written for my college paper and won awards for some of my short stories, so I thought it'd be a good hobby for me. So I dove back into my old blog and got a few articles published, but tried to quell any desire to write full-time.
My reason for this was simple — despite reading stories about other women who’d managed to launch successful writing careers while holding down a day job, I told myself that I wasn’t like them. Having bipolar disorder had kept me on an emotional balance beam for most of my life, and I wasn’t ready to fall off of it again. Those thoughts were inwardly devastating for me, but I accepted them as my truth for a long time. Even after I took advantage of the great healthcare I got through my job and went to talk therapy, I was hesitant to make any drastic changes in my life. Surprisingly, what snapped me out of that mode was the realization that I was inadvertently doing something extremely selfish and potentially sabotaging my own growth.
Really, sitting at that desk even though I’d lost all passion for the job months before was one of the most selfish things I've ever done. I watched desperate interns who would’ve given their left kidney to work in that office bust their butts the way I did when I first came to work, and I knew they were doing it because it was their dream to be there. It just wasn’t my dream anymore.
I knew it had gotten bad when I began to view staying at my job the same way I view holding onto someone with whom I have no real plans on staying with long-term. Once I stopped being invested in the work I was doing, I knew that it wasn't right for me stay in that position. So, I stopped being a placeholder in that office and made room for the next person who’d give it their all.
I left on good terms, too. One of my favorite coworkers made cake, I received Hallmark cards scribbled with warm goodbyes and a kind send-off that makes me smile whenever I think back on it. But now I’m settling into my new reality, and I feel complete. I kept a side-gig putting together proposals for a government contracting firm, and I'm able to do that from home. The income from that enabled me to start my own company, and ultimately, my goal is to work solely for myself and travel the world. Even my personal relationships are better since I stuck with my counseling.
Although I don’t know what my life’s going to look like a year from now, I can at least say that this fresh start — and every fresh start I’ve ever given myself — has brought me nothing but growth. I’ve even learned that stumbling along the way is not necessarily a result of my disorder, but it is a result of me being human. Today I see that I was never meant to be a placeholder in anything I do, and I really don't think that should be anyone's goal. There's always someone who's hungry enough to fill your shoes, so slay or get out of the way.
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I'm no historian. But I connect beyond a doubt with the artist spirit. The artist spirit is the one that rose despite the darkness of its environment. Or the crushing pressure that life puts on us. The artist spirit manages to take all the spicy seasonings of pain and create beauty. I didn’t work in a brothel to survive. I wasn’t antagonized by racism my whole natural life. I wasn’t plagued with drug addiction, like Billie. But I’ll tell you where I think Billie and I intersect: I found my soul voice in pain. The source of my “pain story” might differ from Billie’s, but we have that song in common, where singing unleashed our mourning and made our pain into power – I think we both know this feeling.
My own pain grew out of a horrid relationship which included unthinkable physical and mental abuse. Oh, my blessing is also my curse. I want to heal every pain in the world and be a force of support for those in need. This humanitarian gift becomes a liability if it's the motivation behind an intimate relationship. In my case, I loved a person in a great state of pain who was incapable of loving themself, who was full of anger, and who then turned this hatred into violence against me. Being in a relationship with someone who had psychotic tendencies made it impossible to be healthy.
I also simultaneously mourned for the drug addiction of a close family member — it broke my heart everyday. I also struggled to raise myself out of my economic poverty and found myself temporarily homeless. I once had a nervous breakdown from all the stress, and physically melted to the floor into a puddle of hysterical laughter — It seemed the tears no longer came and my body didn’t know what was left to do, then a chord snapped, I fell and an impossible laughter belted through me.
Some of this hurtful history is a blur, some of it I remember crystal clear. I DO know that through it all I sang. I sang and I sang. It wasn’t the shows that made me a soul-singer, it was the fact that I discovered singing soothed my own soul. I started humming instead of weeping. My voice was my own soul crying out into the world.
From that point forward, my voice always had an urgency inside of it and a connectedness to pain. It also has an empathy for other people’s pain. My voice has hurt and disappointment and anger inside of it. And it combined with the sweetest tones and melodies to reflect the irony of being alive: We survived. We made it to that microphone. We lived to tell about it “tonight." The microphone was our time to speak our power.
I do not sound like Billie Holiday. My writing is not in the genre of Jazz. But my spirit and Billie’s spirit, we meet. Billie left us too soon. The trials of life drowned her. I hope that my own voice carries the torch. In addition to the pain, I sing of great hope. I sing to the Billies that are to come; You ARE somebody. Your story is amazing and worthy to be told. You are not alone. You are loved. Don’t give up. There is light after the dark – I’ve seen it.
Photography by Diana Ragland.
Makeup, Hair and Shoot Production by Heidi Giselle.
From the author, about this photoshoot:
October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. I am a survivor of a violent relationship. Since leaving behind my painful past, I’ve gone on to be an advocate for social change and human rights, using my voice and songs as a service to others. I’m currently on the executive board of CONNECTnyc.org, a nonprofit that provides resources and counseling for families overcoming domestic violence. This year I released “Dance Revolution,” a single produced byDJ Spinna, in support of the One Billion Rising campaign to end gender-based violence.
Maya Azucena, a multi-award winning recording artist and magnetically inspirational woman, is known for making music that uplifts the soul. Maya’s work has been featured in O Magazine, Washington Post, Billboard and countless other publications. She’s starred in MTV's Madeand earned a Grammy Award -certificate for contributing her 4-octave range and soul-stylingsto a song with Stephen Marley. Within the last year, she’s toured to Haiti, South Africa, India and Russia. She also joined the Essence Fest lineup in New Orleans with Oprah Winfrey, Maxwell & Beyonce. Inspired Artist Movement's "2016 Inspiring Artist of the Year," Maya considers herself an "advocate for art as power" and uses her songs to empower those in need. www.MayaAzucena.com
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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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It’s National Suicide Prevention Week, yet there seems to be a stifling silence dwelling within the black community. We aren’t talking about Kalief Browder. About MarShawn McCarrel. About ourselves and our near-death battles we absolutely fight but almost never talk about.
In an effort to try and defy my suspicion that we yet again had fallen silent around this topic, I started searching “suicide” across popular black media outlets and publications. To no avail, I instead found recaps of street style at Made in America, Yeezy, Yeezy, Yeezy, think-pieces on Lena Dunham wildin’ and election antics. The closest thing I could find was Ebony’s interview with Darryl McDaniels this past August, which is apparently Black Mental Health Awareness Month.
But what about September 5-11, 2016—National Suicide Prevention Week? What about the thousands of black Americans nationwide struggling daily with mental health issues? Why aren’t we talking about this?
I threw myself into a deep rabbit hole, rereading The New Yorker’s coverage of Kalief’s life behind bars at Rikers Island. It changed him, permanently. I learned Kalief attempted suicide roughly five times while at Rikers. After 10 months in prison, he tried to hang himself with his bedsheets. I read the sickening words of prison guards egging him on—“Go ahead and jump. You want to commit suicide, so go ahead." Less than two years after he was finally released, Kalief hanged himself for the last time.
I listened to his Bronx accent through my headphones. In the time that he’d been home, he’d earned his GED and a 3.5 GPA at Bronx Community College, yet I still heard the frustration, the pain, the anger in his voice. It made me wonder what MarShawn sounded like. What the cadence of his voice was when he wasn’t commanding the attention of hundreds of student protestors. There hasn’t been an article written about MarShawn since February. February, where narratives of black trauma fit painfully yet conveniently within Black History Month.
What deeply saddens and alarms me perhaps the most about all of this is that far too often, it is our silence that claims us. I am left to wonder that if at some point, Kalief and MarShawn stopped believing that their black lives mattered.
In middle school, I struggled with depression and considered suicide. I remember sitting in my mother’s bed, looking at my wrists, wondering if anybody would miss me if I were gone. The thought of disappearing made my heart race, perhaps a combination of anxiety and anticipated relief. An escape from the pain of my reality.
I hadn’t been talking about how my parent’s divorce made me feel. About the bullying and sexual harassment at school. About my grandfather’s suicide. I remained silent until one day I collapsed because I hadn’t been eating enough not to. After that, my mother intervened. She no longer believed that I was “fine” like I’d passively been saying as a cover-up for all the emotions I was deeply feeling and instead put me in counseling, where I finally broke my silence. Opening up—and my faith in God—saved me.
In the years since middle school, I’ve struggled with sporadic doubts of depression and the type of sorrow that sticks to your skin as if hashtags became summer’s humidity and from seeing black bodies drop to the ground day after day just as the leaves leap from trees in the fall.
How am I still alive? How can we stay alive?
1. Name it & claim it
We have to take ownership of our struggle. The first step to doing that is by naming it. Knowing your enemy helps you figure out how to defeat them. Own your depression. Own your anxiety. Own your eating disorder. Whatever it may be, name it, claim it and I challenge you to take it a step further—learn about it. In your research, you’ll discover that you’re not the only one dealing with these issues and you’ll learn stories of survival too. Just ask Fantasia, Keke Palmer, or Brandon Marshall.
If my mother hadn’t put me in therapy, I very may well have taken my own life by now. Therapy exists so that there is a defined, consistent space for us to be able to speak freely about our struggles to a person outside of our struggles. While confiding in close friends or family may seem like a “safer” option, we have to remember that treating our support system as therapists may eventually damage it. If you’re still a student, it’s likely that your college or university offers counseling sessions, sometimes free of charge. If you’ve graduated, call your healthcare provider to see which providers are within your network. If you’re prescribed medication to help with your mental illness, don’t be ashamed, but be careful of prescription drug addiction and abuse.
3. Write it down
Writing helps me to clear the cacophony often swirling in my head. When there are too many thoughts in my head, I find it hard to focus and instead become side-tracked by my sorrows. Writing them down, though it can be painful at times, ultimately helps me to work through and even let go of those negative emotions. Alex Elle’s #ANOTETOSELF: Meditation Journal comes highly recommended, or, for blank pages, check out these notebooks.
4. Pick up the phone
There are dozens of hotlines that allow you to call in anonymously and unload. Whether you’re dealing with the guilt of an abortion, struggling to leave an abusive relationship behind or feeling flat out worthless, there are numbers that you can call for help. Screenshot the numbers here.
5. Remember that you’re loved, valued & irreplaceable
If you can’t come up with a reason as to why your life is worth living, ask someone who loves you. Seriously—ask your mom, your cousin, auntie, best friend, special friend—somebody who loves you why they need you here. Don’t forget that. Remind yourself how you’ve already overcome. For encouragement you can see, click here.
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