My late boyfriend’s mother called me one morning. I didn’t answer. I called her back about 45 minutes later on my way back home. She asked where I was and I told her I was just leaving my grief counseling session. She became so worried about me. She assured me that everything would be alright and I was going to make it through. She told me she would continue to pray for me and to just keep holding on.
I will admit that her generation probably felt the biggest brunt of that stigma with mental health, especially in the black community. I do believe that one of the reasons we embrace it more now is because it feels more relatable. Our mothers, fathers, siblings, and a bunch of friends and other family members are mental health practitioners now. It’s not just some random person listening to all your business. The therapists we get to see, ranging from grief counseling to substance abuse counseling, are people we can relate to.
However, there is still a stigma with it, and it’s a shame. It’s a shame because for some of us, the mental health journey started long before our adult-life stressors and our self-care regimens. Mine certainly did. A few months ago, I talked to my email community about the time I was admitted into the psychiatric ward of the hospital, but that was well into my 20’s. Let’s talk a little about where it all began.
I wrote a letter to my favorite magazine when I was in elementary school. The Highlights’ magazines had an advice column and I was in desperate need of some advice. I told them about my mother calling me stupid, dumb, and a few other colorfully derogatory names. I told them how it made me feel and that I didn’t know what to do. It took a few weeks but they wrote me back. The advice was theoretically sound but useless in my set of circumstances. Talking to my mother about my feelings was out of the question. I couldn’t imagine that she’d care. I imagined if she did care she probably wouldn’t have said those things in the first place. I decided that although the letter was garbage, I needed to be very careful about how I disposed of it. If anyone found the letter the backlash could be just as hurtful. Unfortunately, I found out the hard way that I was right.
I hated sleeping over at my aunt’s house. She would spend the entire weekend berating and belittling me. I never talked back or raised my voice. Most of the time I just wondered why I was there. If she hated me so much and I was so inferior, why have me over? The actions were wrong, but the intent behind them felt evil. It felt like…abuse.
After I swallowed a handful of pills from the bathroom medicine cabinet, an instant regret set in. I became terrified. I was terrified that I might die and all at the same time I was terrified that I might keep living. I burst into tears. I left the bathroom crying hysterically over this conundrum I’d just put myself in. In between labored gasps I was able to say what I’d just done to which the response was, “What you telling me for?”
After a few months of seeing a therapist to address my suicidal thoughts, my therapist had to move to Ohio. Her husband accepted a new job and she was leaving me with some referrals. I was hopeful that the next therapist would be as nice and helpful as she was. She gave the list to my dad at my last appointment. After pulling out of the parking lot my dad turned to me and said, “You’re fine now, right?”
Just a few months into my freshman year of high school I found myself lying to a very good friend of mine. In my mind I felt like I was doing the right thing. If I told her that the last time I slept over at her house her father molested me how would that change her life? Would she see him differently? Would she see me differently? Would it break up her family? By this point I had determined I was at fault anyway so why ruin anyone else’s life when it can all just go away? The disconnect created distance and…
…it just went away.
I feel like I never got to be a child, at least not the child I wanted to be. I often wonder what kind of child I would have been. What would I have done differently growing up? How different would my path be? What kind of person would I be now? Sometimes I get angry thinking about how normal my life could have been if my mental health had been more of a priority back then.
Although it may seem that the mental health journey starts with seeking help, it starts with those first words or encouragement, or otherwise. It starts with that loving hug, or otherwise.
When we neglect our physical health we find ourselves in the doctor’s office looking for a cure for our ailments. We take precautionary steps to keep ourselves healthy, but when there is an issue, we seek help. The same strategy should be used when it comes to our mental health. We should practice sound and effective self-care strategies regularly. When an issue arises, we seek help. What happens to quite a few is we still ignore issues. We ignore the hurt and illnesses that are associated with mental health and wonder why we aren’t getting better. We wonder why life feels so hard. We wonder why we are stuck.
Just like your physical health, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Self-care is essential. Detoxifying your life and space is important. Your mental health often dictates how you live. And please believe that poor maintenance of your mental health, can contribute to the reason you die.
Click here to check out this past Sunday’s podcast episode on Mental Health.
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After spending a year in grief counseling, I started to see that my life needed a major overhaul. Yes, my boyfriend died making me the single mom of our infant twins, but I was still grieving my loss of innocence from decades of abuse. I decided to turn my pain into a new purpose and to share this journey with others that may need some motivation.