Denise Nichole

@denise-nichole | contributor
Denise Nichole Andrews is an advocate for mental illness awareness, education reform and marginalized populations. She explores the relationship between identity and society through writing, photography and music.
Denise Nichole

Healing and Processing Racial Trauma in the Black Community

Another life has been claimed. Another hashtag has surfaced. We’ve said the names of Sandra Bland and Philando Castile over and over, and now we are saying Terence Crutcher. Throughout the week the nation expressed confusion, fear, anger and outrage. Lines were drawn. Debates filled the comment sections and news feeds of media sites — but here we are again. In the same place of defeat and brokenness that has characterized this nation for too long. What permits this ideology? What justifies these crimes against black and brown identities? The system. These behaviors and practices are reinforced by society. We cannot rationalize the pain. We cannot make sense of injustice. And as my fellow Mighty warrior, Amanda Lynch suggested, we cannot undermine the effects of racial trauma. The result of injustice is ingrained in every facet of our lives. The result is harassment and bullying in schools. The result is violence and assault. The result is profiling and stereotyping. The result is punitive procedures and biases that work against black and brown youth. The result is loss. Loss of our lives, freedoms and safety. Loss of our families, homes and peace of mind. As a teen, I was heavily bullied. The taunts and threats followed me from the classroom to social media. There was no escape. I was ostracized because of my differences. My otherness made me a target. The isolation and withdrawal escalated into depression. Shaping my reality was no longer in my control. I was at the mercy of others. So many youth grow up feeling unsafe in their own neighborhoods, schools and communities. The anxiety can stem from environmental factors. They may be picked on by their peers or humiliated by teachers or campus police. Part of what contributes to that toxic climate is prejudice and discrimination. Headlines sensationalize the injustices that occur nationwide, but do little to address the aftermath. What about the populations of those who are left to grieve? What happens when it’s not easy to bounce back? Where are the resources for those who are economically disadvantaged? Accessibility to mental health care and education should not be a privilege. Discussions of mental health are still stigmatized in communities of color. That is why more support is needed to ensure that needs are met and that options are viable. We are reminded of our obstacles every day. We carry the weight and the burden. What about the hope? What about the possibility of change? What about our choices? Without education and resources the barriers between equity and opportunity will widen. Perceptions of mental health will continue to be rooted in negative and untrue misconceptions. Without accountability, division will prevail. If we leave it up to the lawmakers to make change, we will still be waiting. That is why change begins here and now. First, we must undo the damage. We cannot bring back the lives of those we lost, but can honor their memory. We can do more to support their families, to ensure that they are heard. We can do more to support each other, to alleviate the toll of racial trauma. Depression is often viewed as “white” or as a weakness or flaw, yet some overlook the issues that contribute to trauma, withdrawal and isolation. Data compiled by Monnica T Williams shows individuals who experience microaggressions (subtle acts of racism) and individuals who experience hate crimes are both prone to PTSD. Furthermore, almost one out of 10 black people are traumatized to some degree. This pattern reflects a history of suffering and oppression. A history we are forced to relive every day. Research also proves that racism is linked to depression and anxiety. People of color are vulnerable because of the psychological distress they experience throughout their lifetimes. That doesn’t mean we are flawed. That doesn’t mean we are weak. Rather, we are at a point of desperation. The news is proof of this. Our experiences and narratives all reflect a point of no return. Enough is enough. We all must exclaim: Stop killing us. Stop damaging us. Stop contributing to the cycle of unrest. Next, we must repair the heartache. Processing the trauma of my teenage years took a lifetime. I am still recovering. As a visible advocate for marginalized youth, I still face attacks. Only now, I am equipped with the resources I need to stand up against racial injustice and to stand up against depression. On the good days I remember to: Thank those around me. The love and support of those who stick by me is unreal. I am free to be myself in good company. I am not ashamed or anxious or afraid. I am prized. When I feel uplifted, I use that as an opportunity to uplift others, because I know that change is within reach. Live in the moment. When I am joyful, there is no reason to be apologetic. Depressed individuals can experience profound happiness. Even in the face of adversity. Those who have overcome racial trauma, violence and injustice do not have to explain their smiles, hopes and dreams. We deserve to be free, loud and bold without reservation. Express myself. Scream! Cry! Vent. Let out the frustration and rage in constructive, peaceful and beneficial ways for the community. Bottling it in only proved to be more problematic for me. I may have been trying to conceal my emotions and preserve my dignity, but it was at the expense of my health. Vocalizing my experiences and focusing on the experiences of others opened my eyes. It allowed me to have a voice and to give a voice to others. On the bad days I remember to: Unplug. Writing makes it hard to step away from Twitter and Facebook, but internalizing the brutal videos with every share and click is devastating. There is a time to rally but there is also a time to rest. Practice self-care. This is vital for everyday life, but when it is especially difficult to cope or I am insulted or verbally attacked, I make it a point to revitalize, reassess and recharge. It is not selfish. It is necessary. For other social justice warriors, students, leaders, game changers and allies: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. From a friend, parent, educator or professional. If you do not know where to go ask someone you trust. Surround yourself in communities that empower you. There may be times when you need to process your pain on your own terms and your own time, but involvement within campus clubs or causes can be a lifeline. Mute the hatred. Block out the negativity. You don’t need to torture yourself with graphic footage, naysayers and haters. If you begin to feel a decline in your mood, take time to focus on you. As a woman of color, I find myself on the front line. I rush to aid others and to advocate and educate the youth, but often forget about myself. Thankfully, the struggle is shared. In my ventures, I will be tested. But I will be in the midst of other activists and educators who bear the same cross. In these times, I am reminded of all that I have overcome and all that I will face. I know that social justice rests in our hands. I know we deserve peace. As a nation, I know we are capable of healing. Image credit: original photo by Denise Nichole Andrews  

Denise Nichole

Common Phrases That Minimize Those With Depression

Opening up about depression can be a complicated process. At times there will be genuine support, encouragement and consideration. When the compassion is heartfelt and meaningful it can be a boost of confidence. The assurance is always appreciated, but what about when the people in our circles fail us? How can we face these hurtful assumptions with bravery and determination? First, we must recognize these phrases hold no power over our pain or struggles. By understanding the ignorance of these comments we can equip ourselves with the ability to persevere. “ Somebody else has it worse than you.” Your feelings are valid. Our journeys are not a competition. Everybody has a personal struggle, but not everybody will understand yours. Don’t let them invalidate your battle with depression because they don’t understand. Remember there are those who do. Somebody out there cares. Somebody out there appreciates you and your courage. “Get over it.” Insensitivity is a common factor among these phrases. Though depression exists at different levels, for many it is not something to just “get over.” It takes time, reflection and healing. It’s an effort that can be lifelong. You may still be struggling, but at the end of the day, you continue to move forward. “It’s not that serious.” Depression may stem from a variety of factors. Some of these factors are unseen, which may cause some to question you. It may be unknown to them, but it is significant to you. They may try to minimize you, but you are bigger than that. You don’t need to prove anything to them whatsoever. Your experience matters. “You don’t look depressed.” When a certain look, attitude or background is assumed, those who do not fit the image of depression are often forgotten. Depression is not a look. Depression is not trendy or stylish. Depression affects people of all ages, backgrounds, cultures, races and ethnicities. There isn’t any one way to look when you have depression. “All you want is attention.” When you speak up about your depression, you may be dismissed as an attention seeker. This is simply not the case. Rejection can result in a hurtful cycle. Attacks are not productive. Labeling those who are depressed is also damaging. But you know the truth. You simply want answers. You want to find solutions. You want to feel like yourself again but may even struggle to know what that means. You may want to just function without overthinking and criticizing yourself all the time. You want to find acceptance. You want to be received and loved. Remember what you truly want at the end of the day, and don’t let anybody derail you or decide what you ultimately deserve. “What will other people say?” Though we are beginning to break down the stigmas of depression and other mental disorders and illnesses, there is still more to do. When others belittle your experience with depression, they are focusing too much on the prejudices and judgments that marginalize us to begin with. It’s not about what people say, especially if they don’t understand. It’s about what we do to support each other. It’s about making sure we have access to the treatments of our choosing. “Stop being lazy, and do something about it.” Depression can take on an immobilizing state that leaves many feeling as though they don’t have any options. You may even withdraw altogether. Friends are not always mindful of the language that they use. Words like “lazy,” “crazy” “and “dramatic” can distance those who are depressed. Many often see the symptoms of depression, but don’t fully grasp where it comes from. What may appear to be laziness might actually be fatigue, sleepiness or restlessness. Those who are depressed may not know help is out there. I certainly did not, but finding somebody trustworthy can make all the difference. Speak up. Don’t let others define you. If your group of friends is toxic or negative, reach out to other people. “Quit being so selfish.” On the other hand, people may assume you’re being self-centered. Part of my healing requires me to practice self-care, especially when days are stressful. We are all trying to balance the chaos of our lives, and in doing so we need to pay attention to what our bodies and minds need. You aren’t selfish for choosing to stay in and relax. You aren’t selfish for planning a getaway trip for one when the demands of the life become too much to handle. You aren’t selfish for reading your favorite book at night or enjoying a candlelit bath. You are worthy of all of these things. Your needs come first. Your desires and wants are most important. Many people don’t realize how draining and exhausting depression is. Some may see the external changes without understanding the internal causes. Others may see the internal changes without understanding the external causes. Many of us sacrifice for our families, friends and significant others without receiving any recognition in return. Getting to a place where we can be open and honest about our conditions is not easy. The negative and ignorant reactions can become discouraging. We don’t always put ourselves first, sometimes we put ourselves last, and that is not fair. If anybody attempts to twist these moments of reflection and healing against you, know they are wrong. You have been through so much, and you have overcome a lifetime of hurt and suffering. Not everybody gets it, and not everybody is going to, but when it comes down to it, isn’t it time to live for you? The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one phrase you wish people would stop saying about your (or a loved one’s) disability, disease or mental illness? Why? What should they say instead? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Denise Nichole

Growing Up With Depression Getting Bullied as a Minority

There are some days when you look over your shoulder, unsure of who may be following you. You walk through the halls, nervously, knowing that people you have never met are talking about you. You’re trying to get through each day, unnoticed, but it’s hard. It’s hard when you feel trapped inside your head — when your depression is almost invisible. When your anxiety interferes on a day-to-day basis and when others try to make you feel like you don’t belong. It’s hard when you feel alone. Sometimes it’s as if nobody understands. You look in the mirror, and you try to see what your mother sees. You try to believe her when she says you are beautiful. But at times the insults from the people at your school are all that you remember. When they make fun of your hair, you want to cut it off. You want to straighten the curls out. You want to look like everybody else. When they say your nose is too big, you want to change it. You want a different nose. You want to be like everybody else. When they taunt your skin color, you want to hide it. You want to erase it. You want to fit in with everybody else. When they put you down, you want to stay down. You want to give in to what everybody else is saying or thinking, but you won’t. You won’t. You will get back up again. You will shine. You will thrive in ways that you have never imagined possible. You will become stronger and wiser. You will defy all of the odds against you. You will love your curly hair. You will love your nose. You will love your brown skin. You will love it all. You will love yourself regardless of those who try to break you. They will not succeed, but you will. You will find a way to overcome the depression and anxiety. It won’t be easy and some days will be difficult, but you will know who you are. You will know that it doesn’t make you inferior. In fact, you are brave, courageous and bold. You aren’t like everybody else, and that’s OK. You are you, and that is more than enough. You will pass on all that you have learned to the girls of the world, who are struggling with their identities. Yes, pass on the message that your mother told you. Tell them they are beautiful. One day they will believe you. To see more from Denise, visit her website. The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to your teenaged self when you were struggling to accept your differences. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to community@themighty.com. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.