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Reflections of a Black Woman With Anxiety and Depression

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Stigma, defined as “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality or person.”

Being a person of color, mental illness is seen as taboo. It’s just one of those topics that’s rarely discussed. The following expresses my opinions, accounts and perspectives about the stigma of mental illness within my community of color.

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Anxiety, depression and mental disorders in general weren’t talked about. The fear of speaking out was daunting, always afraid someone would call me the “c-word” — crazy, or some other undermining term.

I was born into a household where everything that was said in this house, stayed in this house, and I’m sorry, but I couldn’t operate that way. I’m the type of person who has to express feelings, even though it’s frowned upon.

Being black, you’re raised to emulate strength; to never (or rarely) talk about your emotions to someone outside the family — heck, the majority of the time, you kept those feelings so suppressed, it was like they didn’t even exist. This stigma is so deep rooted within our culture, it’s debilitating.

“The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all.”  — “Mulan”

In my childhood, I was deemed a “doormat” personality. Basically meaning, I was naive and allowed people to walk all over me. Growing up in the projects, “the hood,” whatever you want to call it, you learned struggle and sometimes, you had to live out some of life’s hardest lessons. Lots of people had mistaken my kindness as an advantageous ploy to get their needs and wants met.

I was abused when I was younger; from the ages of 8 to 16 (periodically). It was a combination of mental, emotional and physical abuse. From being called fat and being put in a bedroom in pajamas and no dinner, to being struck in the face left to defend myself.

During this period in time, I was paranoid. I always awaited nervously to  see what would happen next. It literally felt like I was on a roller coaster. There were good times and there were bad, but the bad seemed to outweigh the good. Life felt like I was in the ring, just waiting for the bell to ring to signal the match was finally over. Looking back now, I’m sure this would be one of the main catalysts for my now-diagnosed conditions.

All and all, the abuse overcame me. It made me create lies for my abuser. It made me mask my true feelings. It consumed me; feeling my body with angst and nervousness I believed I could never shake. Lots of emotions outpoured during this time, and I didn’t know how to comprehend what was happening.

Once the abuse ended, I began to feel different. Like, holy crap, I’m glad to alive. I regained a newfound appreciation for things. I walked through life with a smile on my face and a book in tow, despite the bizarre circumstances.

“I often miss the little girl whose dreams had no barriers, who believed that in a world where anything is possible, with a heart that was full and unbroken.” — Unknown

My childhood wouldn’t be considered normal to an outsider, but, it was my sense of normal. Yes, parts of it were miserable and unbearable at times, but, there were times I yearn to go back to.

As a young adult, I’ve reflected about the past and the only word that comes to mind is work. Being a person of color, you have to work twice as hard to be comparable to your peers. Your work has been absolutely stellar. It has to be authentic. Even when you feel like you’re three steps ahead, society and the stigma want to deter you five steps back.

Let’s go back to my junior year in college, 2012, the year I received the diagnoses of an anxiety disorder and depression. Throughout it all, I was trying to remedy myself to alleviate all of the pain I had repressed throughout my childhood years.

During this time, I felt like I was running out of options. I didn’t know where to turn. I was fearful to profess my thoughts to my family because I was anticipating their ridicule. Reluctantly, knowing it wasn’t good for me, I waited a few months to tell my friends and family.

Life continued to get worse before it got better.

The doctors and I struggled to find medication that would help me cope with my conditions. I was rejected from first post-grad job. I didn’t like what I was doing to myself; constantly questioning, “Is my purpose on this Earth to work? To not gain satisfaction from my life? To walk in the shadows of other’s accomplishments?”

Also during this time, I lost my grandmother and my mother. Before their passings, I told them and my brother about the conditions I was conquering daily; just knowing some form of stigma would surface. To my disbelief, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. It took them a little while to come around and ask questions, but, for the first time in awhile, I felt accepted and completely at terms with my disorders.

We all experience downfalls, but this current stint of adulthood has shown me it will take a lot of work to build up to the greatness I believe I can achieve.

Although my current life will involve anxiety/panic attacks, stress, depression and everything in between, I’ve promise myself I will use this as a fuel to endure the hurdles life presents. As a 25-year-old, I want to regain myself — not just exist and go through the motions. I want to empower others to do their best because there is truly strength in numbers. I want to be an advocate for people who are conquering mental illness daily. My life may not be normal — it’s the farthest from it. But, I’ve got to understand I have to work with what I have to help others realize they are stronger than their conditions!

From this, I want people to know the stigma will exist, but you will overcome it. For my community, please understand that mental illness is serious. Instead of ridiculing, we need to provide resources, open conversations and empower those conquering their diagnoses on a daily basis. Even though my life is slightly abnormal from the outside looking in, please know you can survive through the negativity and bizarre circumstances in your life. Negativity will come from all aspects of life, but you are stronger than your nay-sayers, even in times you feel like you aren’t. You are worthy. You are powerful. You are able to conquer. 

“Someday, everything will make perfect sense. So for now, laugh at the confusion, smile through the tears, and keep reminding yourself that everything happens for a reason.” — Unknown.

Originally published: September 23, 2016
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