According to research, more than 1 in 5 women in the US have experienced a mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety, in the past year. Additionally, though women experience depression at rates twice that of men, Black women are only about half as likely to seek care for their mental health. One way I have decided to address these gaps is by acknowledging and sharing my realizations about my mental health so that we can continue normalizing these conversations.
Though it may come as a surprise, I am one of the 20% of women who experienced depression and anxiety. While COVID lockdowns became the catalyst that prompted me to get outside support, it was not the first time I had dealt with mental health concerns. However, like many Black women, I internalized my struggle with mental health as evidence of my failure. I told myself I wasn't being "tough enough" and needed to "just figure it out." I didn't want people to know that I wasn't actually this "Strong, Black woman" that they all assumed me to be. I smiled when I should have cried, swallowed the words that needed to be said, and separated myself from others because I didn't want them to see me during my "weak" moments.
My anxiety and depression looked like constant worrying, lack of sleep, mood changes, procrastination of tasks, overthinking, and self-critical thoughts. I was yelling, crying more than usual, and even angrily broke my phone. While on the outside, I looked like a high-functioning person. On the inside, I felt exhausted, not seen, emotionally drained, and guilty for feeling this way. I knew something had to give.
One day while crying with my psychiatrist about my perceived failure, she said something that stuck with me. She reminded me that prolonged stress harms the brain. It changes the brain's structure and can lead to impaired memory, fewer brain cells, and reduced impulse control. Hearing that information helped to remind me that as much as I hate to admit it, sometimes, I am human. And as a human, my mental health needed to be prioritized to ensure that I could be my best self.
Here are a couple of realizations I've made about addressing my mental health. While these strategies worked for me, they may not work for you or your context. Figure out what works for you. You're worth the time and investment.
Realization 1) Importance of getting professional support.
Professional therapists, psychologists, and counselors are there for a reason! Use them. There are too many resources to not get professional support if you need it. Too many of us are getting our advice from people who haven't dealt with their issues. How can they provide rational, empathetic, and helpful advice to you when they clearly haven't been able to take their own advice?! Stop it. Get an outside perspective from someone with the tools and skills to tell you what you need to hear.
During the pandemic, I had a therapist and a psychiatrist. There were some weeks when I talked to them on the same day. But that's what I needed to get through an incredibly stressful and overwhelming period.
Realization 2) Importance of getting out in nature.
I am not the type to hike, camp, or mountain climb in nature. However, I did realize how much getting out of the four walls of my house helped me to feel better mentally. That looked like starting a garden in my background, fruit picking with the kids, or taking my dog for walks. Those activities reduced my anxiety and slowed my brain enough to give me a break from my constant overthinking. I would turn on a podcast, listen to music, or just take in the sounds of the neighborhood. When I would do this, I found myself seeing connections between the health of my garden and my own mental health. When I was consistently watering my garden, weeding, and fertilizing when necessary, I harvested more fruit, vegetable, and herbs than I could use. On the other hand, when I got distracted, forgot to water, and ignored my garden, I got insect infestations, dried roots, and no harvest.
Realization 3) Take a break when you need it.
It is hard being a mom and wife. You are ALWAYS on. My family constantly needs me for something. And even when they don't actively need me, I anticipate that they will need something or catch up on the other million things that haven't been done around the house. It can become overwhelming. I was running on fumes and could not fully be there for anyone, including myself.
I needed the occasional night away from the family to maintain my sanity. Hubby and I will talk and decide on the day that works best, and I will book a hotel room for myself while he takes the kids. During that time, I can spend time alone reconnecting with myself, journaling, reflecting on my goals, and not thinking about my family's needs. Initially, I felt guilty about leaving for the night. And then, I realized that I returned home feeling more centered, rested, and positive. As a result, I have more bandwidth to be a better mom and wife because I took a small amount of time for myself.
In many homes, mothers are the emotional backbone of the family. When a mom feels overwhelmed, anxious, or sad, the entire household experiences the fallout. Find the best ways to prioritize addressing your mental health so that you can take better care of yourself and others.