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Why I'm Speaking Out About My Mental Health Journey

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I’m just gonna jump in with this one.

I struggle with anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. I also have approval-seeking tendencies that leave me feeling upset, used, restless and irritated.

You’re not supposed to know this. You’re not supposed to know any of this. As a Black male, I was told to keep these details to myself. Then again, a lot of people don’t share things like this, regardless of their ethnic/racial background. We don’t want to appear broken, less than or be discriminated against. However, a lot of us feel like this, even when we don’t tell anyone.

We don’t want to be pushed out or left behind. We want to get the job we want, discover our calling in life, impress the date we met online, have the friends we desire, and be treated with dignity and respect. It’s risky to divulge the messy details about ourselves. We fear losing everything we’ve worked for. And in some cases, sharing our darker truths can cause us to lose family, friends and opportunities. The stigma is real.

So many people struggle in silence. Many don’t have the language for what they’re experiencing, and might not even seek help if they had the options.

Therefore, it’s necessary for me to share my story. Others are doing it here, and I’m glad to be at a place in my life where I can be open and honest. I hope to inspire someone else to seek the support they’ve been needing.

Today, I’m wanting to give insight into what my process has been like.

I recently started seeing a new counselor. He has a history of helping people recover from alcohol and drug addiction. He teaches at a university, identifies as a Black geek and has a ton of things in common with me. My therapist also checks his email and text messages during my session, to which he always regretfully apologizes. Don’t worry, I’m going to be saying something about this during my next visit. I secretly think he’s trying to help me work on my people pleasing issues.

At the end of the day, though, my therapist is amazing. He gets me. His practice is built on acceptance, and it feels authentic when he provides it.

My therapist often pushes back on me. He’s real with me and doesn’t sugarcoat anything. Last week, we talked about how approval doesn’t equate to effectiveness. Meaning: my impact can still matter even if no one says it does. I’m still processing this as it’s one of my major areas of growth. But, I’m glad to be working through it with someone who will hold me accountable.

The sessions have been good. They help me get outside of thoughts that tell me I’m unworthy. I get guidance with being less fearful. I receive tools to help me navigate a depression that tells me there’s no reason or meaning to any of this. Yeah, it gets real. I’ve had days where I haven’t wanted to leave my bed. I’ve had moments where I can’t even send an email, make dinner or start my car. I live with trauma and irrational thoughts. I battle them. I go into the dark places and face ugly things.

But, while my scars are unique, they’re not bad. I’m not alone. Therapy has taught me I’m strong and resilient. Talking about my struggles has shown me there are so many who struggle like I do, and even worse as well. It can be heavy to hear their stories, but I try to remember they are intelligent, zestful, worthy and powerful. While their pain is very real, it is not all of who they are. The same is true for me. I don’t begin or end at my illnesses. Neither do you.

I’ve been going to therapy since I was a sophomore in college, and I’m so thankful I made that first intake appointment. It took me a while to find a therapist I felt comfortable with, but once I did, things started to improve. I learned that doing the homework they assigned helped me in my healing. I learned healing is a non-linear and lifelong process. I learned I can feel safe in most places. I learned to breathe deeply.

There I things I do between sessions to stay mentally healthy in addition to journaling (infrequently), prayer and spending time with friends.

Going to the gym and attending my weekly hip-hop dance class help me to get out of my head and into my body. There’s all types of research around why we feel better when we move (which you can Google), but I’ll just say I feel darn good when I push myself while running, lifting or dancing. The challenging part is when the thoughts kick in: “You don’t have to workout today, take a break!” or “Why are you doing so much? Just sit down somewhere!”

Honestly, I’ve given into these thoughts plenty of times. I fail. You fail. It happens. But failure doesn’t make you a loser — it means you’re human.

Sometimes, I end up staying in bed and skipping the gym. Sometimes I’m up late eating pizza, fries, chips or anything else with carbs. Sometimes, I convince myself I’ll never lose weight, and working out is a complete waste of time. I can be really hard on myself and say really mean things to myself. My body will tense up and sleep is a challenge on those nights.

My mental wellness suffers in these moments. It’s all connected. Which is why — on my best days — I take a holistic approach. On my worst days, I just do nothing and feel like crap.

But, doing nothing isn’t always a bad thing. Stillness and mindfulness have been another part of my healing. I talked about being present in a recent weekly email and I’m thankful for the Headspace app. It’s guided meditation designed for the everyday person, and it’s been working for me.

I try to use it before bed each night, but that doesn’t always happen. Some days, I’ll go into our home office and I’ll sit at my desk, close my eyes, and get present with my thoughts. This used to be really difficult, but I’ve gotten much better at being non-judgmental toward my thoughts. Again, I’m not perfect at doing any of this. There are days when I throw all the positivity and healthy stuff out the window. I think it’s about drinking in those moments of hopefulness, and noticing we get to have them.

For me, that’s been the most impactful part of this entire mental health journey. There are many reasons why I have the symptoms and issues I do. Things weren’t always nurturing and loving growing up. I didn’t often have times where I felt I could just relax and be comfortable in my own skin. So, having peaceful moments these days has been a real blessing and delight. It’s up to me to notice the good in my life, the work I’ve done, and the obstacles to mental wellness I conquer.

I think it’s important to acknowledge the wins and loses. The good days and the bad days. The times you beat fear and the times fear wins. Whether you’re seeing a therapist, about to go on medication, you love someone with a mental illness, or you don’t know what’s going on with you, know there’s support out here.

Know I’m in this fight too, and I’m tripping over myself every day and trying to figure this life thing out. It’s not easy, but I’m not giving up.

And, I’m not going to stop telling my story until the stigma is gone.

Follow this journey on the author’s website.

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Getty Images photo via ermingut

Originally published: November 25, 2017
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