Mental Health

Permission To Love and Care

As tomorrow is Christmas, I find myself really reflecting on this year. This year was one for the books. So much of this year was and became about me learning more about myself, who I was and what role I played in romantic and non-romantic relationships and how to take care of myself mentally and physically. Self care was really important this year, but this year really challenged my idea of what self care looked like for me and what I wanted and expected from it, but also how I expected to show up and love myself. Self love I realized was a difficult task to undertake when you’re use to putting others before yourself. It was difficult for me to become comfortable with it as well. Putting myself first this year was the hardest part, to realize and see I don’t have to carry everything on my shoulders and that I can give my shoulders a break and take the weight of the world off. I had to prioritize myself again and that was new to me.

“Prioritize” was the word for me last year and I really did prioritize myself. I took yoga for the first time because I wanted too. I went on more dates, dated more people who I was actually attracted too and not people I wanted to change, and took more risks. But 2018, I didn’t do that, I played it safe, I fell out of the habits I had built for myself that made me better, kept me sane, and bettered my overall health. I stopped doing yoga, I stopped writing or even taking a tablet with me if I had any ideas on the go. Hell, I didn’t even attempt to write down anything I was thinking about. I would have an idea for a piece to pitch and immediately cast it aside and let the thoughts of the day take over. When my therapist stopped practicing, I didn’t even attempt to look for another one. I couldn’t even be bothered to care for my mental health at the time. Work, friends, relationship, bills, everything else took over my thoughts and energy of doing anything else and I let it. I didn’t try or attempt to keep doing the things I was doing before to help myself. 

I started to feel more self doubt about everything I was doing, at work and in my writing to where I stopped writing all together. I didn’t feel like I was good enough and didn’t understand why I kept going. What's the point? I kept asking myself, I forgot the happiness and the reason why I begun writing. I forgot how yoga made me feel and how it made my body feel before I began doing it. I forgot how great and wonderful it is to have a therapist, someone to talk to outside of your friends and family and to have that consistency to depend on. I remember a friend of mine, he was a light in my life at the time, but he also like me was always trying to find ways to balance loving yourself while also loving others. He taught me the motto of loving myself and putting myself first. His voice rings through my ears as I constantly have to remind myself there is nothing wrong with putting yourself first. As a Black woman, as Black women, we are accustomed to playing the role and putting others first, forgetting who we are in the process. We are the wife, the mother, the friend, the partner, the employee, we are everything to everyone else, but how do we show up for ourselves? I feel we as Black women so rarely give ourselves permission to be ourselves and to love ourselves. To fulfill our goals, our dreams, and I want that to change. I want that to change for myself.

I’m still learning how to balance it all. I’m still trying to figure it out. I am still on the journey of putting myself first and making sure I show up for me. If there is a book to ease or crack this mystery of showing up, but also still loving yourself, I tell you I would have figured it out by now, but there is no book. I’m just trying to figure this out like all the Black women before me, day by day.

Let me know in the comments below how did you learn to love yourself, how did you learn to put yourself first and show up for yourself, and what are your methods towards self care. 

Mental Health and Hip-Hop

mental-illness-in-the-hip-hop-community
mental-illness-in-the-hip-hop-community

Photo Credit: Joel G. Mwakasege

In the first week of October, Kid Cudi released a statement informing not only his fans, but the general public that he was checking himself into a rehab after spending years battling with depression and anxiety. In April, in an interview with Billboard, Kid Cudi revealed his battle with depression and using drugs as a coping mechanism. During this interview, Kid Cudi also mentioned how his last album Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven would be his last album where he would be the “dark depressing” character that people knew regarding the artist and his work. That part of the interview stuck out to me because whenever my friends or people, in general, would discuss Kid Cudi to or with me, they would always make him out to be this dark and depressing character. As if, that is the only person he was or is.

The presence of mental health and mental illness has always been discussed and talked about in hip-hop. Hip-hop is an art, it is music, and for these artists, their music, this is how they discuss how they are battling with their mental health. Their music is the conversation of their daily struggles with their fans, with society, to educate and let people know what they are dealing with. I think the problem is, many consumers, CEO’s and owners of record labels rarely pay attention to the mental health of their artists or what their music is talking about or discussing. I think the lack of respect for hip-hop artists as true artists causes for many not to pay attention to their words, to their pain. Hip-hop artists become known for the popular persona, for the character that they have created through their music. It’s the person that’s always turnt, always sipping lean, taking a battle to the head, these are the people we dismiss as consumers and as friends.

Jordan Simpson (Twitter handle: @a_JBsoprano) discussed how hip-hop has always talked about mental health and mental illness in hip-hop, but how people commonly overlook these artists’ words. Check out a few of the quotes Jordan Simpson provided on his Twitter timeline below:

In the examples listed above from Jordon Simpson’s timeline, you are able to read and see lyrics from prominent artists whose songs and lyrics we have listened to time and time again, yet these are lyrics that are overlooked. These are lyrics that are glossed over and unseen by many. There was an article that came out when Kid Cudi announced checking himself into rehab where the headline said, “Why don’t hip-hop artists discuss mental illness more” or something similar to that. It is extremely infuriating when writers at prominent publications write headlines similar to this because this is coming from the perspective of someone who is not in tune nor listens to hip-hop. There is clear evidence that hip-hop artists are discussing and talking about mental health and mental illness, but the people who write articles such as these are choosing not to listen.

I’m glad that more and more people are discussing mental health and mental illness on a national platform, but also that there is more of a conversation regarding men of color and their mental health. From here this creates a bigger discussion that will allow for people to be educated on mental health and provide resources to others.

You can also read my post Mental Health in The Black Community.

Self Care as an Activist

As an activist or “social justice warrior” which is what activist are now commonly referred to on social media, is a person who campaigns for some kind of change. For example, participating in a march or protest, you’re an activist. I am an activist. I know this, as a matter of fact I named my blog The Awkward Activist for this exact purpose. Each activist has a certain social issue they focus on when campaigning for change, for example, I focus on race, gender, and sexuality. But when blogging and talking about these issues, especially when talking about issues you personally identify with, it becomes emotionally and mentally draining. Reading every new headline or news report from a news outlet or tweets from my fellow followers on Twitter alerting me to another police brutality case, homophobic or transphobic rants from politicians, an increase in sexual assault on college campuses, or the influx of violence against the trans community can sometimes be too much to take or handle. Each day is another punch in the stomach for every new headline that comes across my mobile screen as most news nowadays is bad news. We are in the digital era where we can see and read every story, good and bad. And while many will say that it is an activist own fault that they have gotten themselves into this situation, the reason activists do the work they do is simple, it is because they care. I care about writing, educating people, and protesting these issues because I want the issues that I am writing and passionate about to get better or disappear all together (I don't see that happening anytime soon though).

But when you’re an activist everyone’s struggles are more important than your own, but who is there for you when you’re struggling?

As an activist one of the most important things is practicing self-care as this constant absorbing of information, especially bad news from police brutality to rape culture can lead to an activist not only becoming burn out, but also, depressed. Burn out is a state of emotional and often physical exhaustion (newtactics). It is not a matter of spending too much time on a task or issues, but rather that an activist feels as though they have invested a significant amount of time and emotion into a task regarding a certain issue, but no results have stemmed from that task. They feel they have nothing to show for all of the work they have put in. Activist burn out is real and caring for yourself as an activist is not selfish, but is self-preserving as you can not help or serve others if you yourself are also struggling mentally and emotionally.

What is self-care exactly and how does one go about practicing self care, especially as an activist? Self-care includes any intentional actions you take to care for your physical, mental, and emotional health. Self-care is unique to each individual person as that person has to find what works best for them, but self-care is extremely beneficial to activists. As activists our activism is our self-care; discussing and talking about the issues we feel most strongly about helps us care for ourselves as we are then not keeping these emotions in, but we also find support systems and networks through our activism. We find people who we can not only discuss these issues with on an almost daily basis, but also people who we can discuss how these issues are affecting our emotions and feelings.

Activists also need to remember that our feelings are valid. Good, bad, or in between all the feelings we feel are valid and real. Meaning just because you feel angry or sad about something does not mean those feelings are irrelevant just because a person may advocate for the issue that they are emotionally reacting to. Their emotions are still valid.

A few self-care tips is first figuring out and doing what makes you happy. If that is painting or drawing, working out, taking a walk around the neighborhood, or even just pampering yourself by doing your nails or soaking in a bathtub with a bath bomb in it, it is all self-care. Self-care should and needs to work best for each individual person, there is no linear or general way of self-care so do not feel pressured to do what may work for someone else. As an activist, but also a regular person who experiences and is affected by life happening on a daily basis I encourage everyone to start practicing self-care in their daily routine.

Self Care As An Activist Image

Mental Illness In The Black Community

I was 23 before I started going to a counselor for my actions and symptoms that were very similar to the same symptoms of depression. I was depressed most days of the week which caused me to not eat for most days of the week. I lost weight and was awake for more than 12 hours of the day with 4 -5 hours of sleep thrown in here and there. My partner at the time also dealt with issues with mental health and rarely focused on me. I spent most of my time trying to make sure he was doing okay, emotionally and mentally. To make sure he didn’t slip into the mindset where he may have felt as though his life had no more meaning and tried to end it. When I wasn’t doing that I was studying. I was in the library for 7-10 hours at a time and even once I left the library I would go straight back to my dorm room to study until I had to go to class again or I would head straight to class to learn new information. This was my life the last year and a half I was in college. I was always alone and even when I wasn’t alone, may be hanging out with friends I wasn’t mentally there. I always tried to find a way to be alone in my dorm room so that spent more time studying as I could then have an excuse to tell my friends as to why I didn’t show up to have lunch or an event. I felt empty and numb most of the time wondering why I even woke up most mornings. I didn’t tell anyone about these feelings, not my mom or my sister and I felt like if I did they would ask me why I felt this way when my life was so good. When I had more opportunities than most young adults my age get, why would or how could I be depressed?

Mental health or mental illness is rarely discussed within the black community. In the black community, mental illness is thought of as a “white person’s disease” it is nothing that affects black people. But mental illness is not dependent upon race or gender. Mental health is extremely important for any and everyone, no matter their race may experience or deal with mental health issues. Without mental health, we can not be healthy. Everyone experiences emotional ups and downs, including black people.

“According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African-Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population.” (African American Mental Health. National Alliance on Mental Illness). The statistic is true, although black people are more likely to deal with psychological distress versus their white counterparts, black people are less likely to seek help when dealing with mental health issues. The stigma surrounding mental illness in the black community is heavy as black people feel as though choosing to seek professional help, such as a therapist is a sign of weakness. The topic of mental health is largely absent from discourse in the black community. It is not a topic that is talked about amongst friends or family given the stigma associated with mental illness in the black community. In fact, some family members may even ridicule or make fun of the individual dealing with the mental illness. As a result, individuals in the black community choose to suffer in silence rather than telling anyone what they may be dealing with.

One of the reasons psychologists say black people suffer more from mental illness versus their white counterparts is because of the “psycho-social reason, including socio-economic status, poverty, and crime in African-American communities.” (Nia Hamm. Black Folks and Mental Health: Why Do We Suffer in Silence? Ebony). Black people tend to feel as though their suffering is a normal and expected outcome given our history from slavery to present. But also dealing with the fact that in a country that is predominantly white, we are the outsider. As an outsider, we are more prone to discrimination and actions from the majority that may also contribute to mental illness developing at an accelerated rate.

But how do we as black people change the conversation of mental health in the black community? Well, that’s not going to be easy, but the first step is getting the conversation going. I have already seen young black millennials take the lead and start discussing the topic of mental health on a public platform. At the beginning of May, The Fader published an article on Victor Pope Jr, a comedian, and social media star, where The Fader interviewed Victor Pope Jr to discuss his YouTube video where he openly talks about living with Bipolar Disorder. You can find the link to the article here.  Also, providing the resources to black people in the black community of more affordable options that will help their mental health. Recently, more people are using virtual therapy such as talkspace, where a person is able to text or skype their therapist. This would allow for black people to not have to go into an office or force them to let family members or friends know where they are going, but also make therapy more accessible.

There is still a long way to go before black people may become comfortable and more open and accepting of the thought of mental illness as well as talking about it in comfortable spaces such as, barbershops, family functions, and events, but I think once black people are more educated on mental illness as well as therapy it will be easier for it to be talked about in the black community.

But just a reminder to everyone if it has never been said to you before:

It is okay if you are sad if you get depressed if you get anxious or have anxiety if you just can’t seem to find a reason to get out of bed on some mornings because of how you are feeling. Your emotions are valid and you are valid.

Mental Illness in BC Pic