Mental Health Wellness March 30, 2018

1st Step to Self-Care? Tackling Mental Health

Mental Health, Therapy for Black Women, Black Therapists

Anxiety Disorder is something I’ve had for as long as I can remember…before I even knew what it was. There were mornings in middle and high school in which I’d wake up feeling heavy, nervous and afraid to even leave my bed. I’d cry to my mother and beg to stay home those days, to which I’d be met with annoyance and hurried along to get dressed. Looking back at these times, I’m not mad at her for still making me go in– how could she have known? A single black mother of two, struggling with her own deeply rooted feelings of depression and pressures from her work environment. How could it have crossed her mind that her oldest child was struggling with a mental health disorder–hell, I didn’t even know myself. 

It wasn’t until 22 that I was officially diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder. It was little over a year after I had moved to New York City to work for a prominent Public Relations Firm, and kickstart my career as a fashion publicist. The pressures of not only working long hours, with difficult bosses and extremely little pay — coupled with the fact that I am a black woman who back then was navigating corporate America for the first time, took a huge toll on my mental and emotional health. I just couldn’t shake the depressive moods, regardless of the fact that I had been promoted within months, had a loving boyfriend and exciting new social life in the city. I constantly found myself overcome with an incessant dark cloud, which eventually lead to me finally seeking out some help.

I mentioned the moods to my primary care doctor, who then referred me to a psychiatrist. And to clarify, a psychiatrist is not the same as psychologist. Psychiatrists prescribe medication for those with mental health disorders, but do not provide any or much counseling. Within the first 30-seconds of my appointment, before I could even get the words out about how I was feeling, I began to cry. A hard, heavy cry from the pits of my soul. Eventually, I was able to explain myself and by the end of our session the doctor told me that what I had wasn’t exactly depression, but instead Anxiety Disorder. This is what was fueling my depressed feelings. He immediately prescribed me medication and booked an appointment for me to come back in the following month, once the meds had kicked in.

The prescription he gave me was for Sertraline (the generic form of Zoloft), which is an SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor). An SSRI is different than meds like Xanax or Klonopin, it doesn’t immediately sedate you — it generally takes about 2 weeks to fully immerse itself into your bloodstream and then begin working. So after a few weeks, I began feeling the effects. In worrisome situations where my heart beat would normally speed up or my body would begin shaking and my underarms would begin to sweat, I actually felt calm. Without all of the physical effects of being stressed that would heighten my nerves, I could assess situations more clearly, causing me to feel less anxious or worried all the time. The fog had cleared, so I thought I was cured. 

I made the mistake of thinking that medication was the answer to all of my problems, and didn’t take the next step in my process of mental well-being to actually see a therapist. The thing about mental health disorders is that although medication can keep them at bay and level you out — they don’t always cure you. These types of disorders generally stem from some sort of trauma in one’s life, which I had a lot of growing up. There were still demons I needed to face, and without actually seeing a therapist consistently to address them — the medication could only do so much. Though the medication calmed me down, it didn’t erase certain thoughts or memories from my mind, and because of that when out with friends I drank more to heighten it’s effects. Around my friends, I tried to be the life of the party and their source of entertainment, but little did they know that I was essentially self-medicating by drinking so much while taking anti-depressants. 

I was fortunate enough to not hit rock bottom in terms of my career, but my inability to seek out more consistent help took a toll on my personal life for the next 4 years. I had hit rock bottom in the sense that my self esteem was at an all time low–but one day, I finally woke up. I decided that it was time I really took care of Aisha. And not by simply changing my hairstyle and taking long bubble baths — it was time for me to cleanse my soul. I started off small by journaling more consistently, praying a lot, writing and reading affirmations on a daily basis, saying no to people instead of bending over backwards constantly, shedding toxic friendships and nurturing those who truly cared for me.  I decided to stop taking medication and finally, went to see a therapist — and have been ever since. 

Now, this isn’t to say that medication is bad — but for me personally, being able to talk to someone consistently and practicing acts of self care has been much more effective.

Nothing beats being able to talk to someone for an hour straight about yourself, your issues, your concerns and goals. Someone who is there to truly listen without interjecting with their own drama or judgement. To say that my life and outlook on myself has taken a complete turn is an understatement. I definitely have my moments, but the effort I put towards bettering myself has made a world of difference — and I only hope for the same for other women of color.

I say this all to announce that I am now expanding the subject matter of to be about more than just beauty, but self-care as a whole — and that conversation doesn’t exist without including mental health.

Though more light is being shed on it, I feel mental health is still something that is glazed over in the minority communities. It’s still considered ominous. There is beauty in overcoming difficulty and I hope to be a catalyst of that journey for others who are struggling in silence. 

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