mentalhealthawareness

stand by me. ft. T-Kea and Liz

As someone who is living with a severe mental illness, I have had to make those closest to me are aware of what that looks like for me in order to receive the support I need during my recovery. I am lucky enough to have a supportive husband who has been my rock during my recovery and a few friends who have offered their support in numerous ways.

T-Kea of Fireflies Unite Podcast, a mental health awareness podcast that is "Normalizing The Mental Health Conversation In Communities of Color", shared a story on her IG story about one of her close friends, Liz, who has been integral during her recovery. I was so moved by their story that I had to reach out and ask them to do a piece for the theme this month. It is the last day of Mental Health Awareness Month but the conversation doesn't stop here. It's important to ask how you can be of support to a friend battling a mental illness. It means a lot. Check out their story.

Their Story:

I can remember the day like it was yesterday. I sent a text message to my friend and said, “It would be better if I wasn’t here.” Translation, I want to die! But at that moment my friend, Liz, did not know that I took a countless number of pills and drank a bottle of wine. I was hoping that I would not wake up. Before I knew it, two policemen were breaking into my window and asking me questions. They asked me a few questions that I cannot recall, but I remember them asking if I wanted to hurt myself. I responded and said I don’t know, even though I knew I wanted to. As a result, they stated that I did not look well and was a threat to myself. They gave me two options, I could wait for the ambulance to arrive to be transported to the hospital or they would handcuff me and taken by force. I agreed to get dressed and go with the paramedics. By the time I arrived at the hospital, I was told to remove my clothing, turn in my phone, and evaluated by the psychiatrist. They told me that I could not go back home and I would be admitted to the hospital for suicide prevention.

I often think about that day and believe that if it was not for Liz making the decision of calling the police, I would not be alive today. Initially, I did not realize that Liz called the police until a week later when I was at her house sharing my experience and she looked me in my eyes and told me it was her.

Over the last three years, Liz and I have become extremely close. She is a big sister, at times a mother figure, and an amazing friend. I know that pivotal day was scary, stressful, confusing, and frustrating for her. She’s expressed how it was a lot for her to process and decide what to do. Liz said it was not an easy choice to make. Through this journey, I know that it takes a special person to do all the things she has done. Liz and her husband opened their home to me so that I could focus on my recovery and I am beyond grateful. Liz has said that she couldn’t support me if her husband didn’t support her. There are truly no words that can express my gratitude and love for them.

Shortly after moving in, Liz took the initiative to come to therapy with me and it has made our relationship stronger. We’ve gained a better understanding of one another. Through therapy, we were provided a safe space to express our concerns, thoughts, and feelings. Liz learned about my triggers and we learned ways to better communicate with each other. For Liz, she was able to share her challenges regarding our living arrangements, as it isn’t easy to adjust to each other’s lifestyles. You see Liz has a family, a husband, and 3 beautiful girls, and I’m single. Therefore, we needed to be able to discuss expectations, set boundaries, and rules.  More importantly, with the help of my therapist, Liz continues to help me develop an exit plan for my transition. She desires to see me healthy when I leave her home. She supports my dreams, is patient, and loving.

In writing this piece, Liz and I thought of a few tips to help caregivers who support those living with mental illness. These tips can also encourage a stronger relationship with each other.

Educate yourself on your loved one’s mental illness.

It is imperative that you educate yourself! Do not make assumptions and develop conclusions about a person’s mental illness based on any stigmas. Learn how their mental illness impacts them as it shows up differently for each person. Learn signs of an episode and crisis so that you can best assist them.

Learn their triggers.

Understanding a person’s triggers is one of the most important things you can do. Triggers can reignite memories of trauma and cause flashbacks to that traumatic moment. These memories and flashbacks can negatively impact a person's mood, render a person unable to interact appropriately with the environment around them, or cause them to relapse into harmful habits, according to the America Psychiatric Association.

If you are living with someone with a mental illness, identifying your expectations or “pet peeves” and being able to convey them to your loved one will aid in managing your relationship and living arrangements to avoid bitterness or negative energy.  

Communication is imperative.

Being able to communicate openly, honestly, and in a non-judgmental environment is essential. Both parties must be comfortable with sharing their likes, dislikes, concerns, and achievements. Your caregiver may appear to be strong, confident, and have it together, but don’t assume that’s true. Your loved one may have good days and bad days. We’re all human. We all have our strengths, faults, and baggage. Help each other unpack!

Don’t be afraid to ask questions! For caregivers that are choosing to support their loved one, asking questions about their triggers, needs, thoughts, and feelings will help you have a better understanding of what they are going through or how they process things.

Don’t be afraid to say you don’t understand! What they may be going through, their symptoms, or how they are impacted by their illness can be confusing for others. You don’t necessarily have to understand. The important thing is that you listen, accept them, and respect their situation just as you would expect them to do for you.

Don’t be afraid to express your needs! As a caregiver, you are still an individual going through your journey of life. You can have your own ups and downs. Don’t discredit or lose focus of your voyage. Sharing yourself is essential for your own balance and for your loved one to understand your position.  

Having a better understanding and mutual respect will allow you to better care for your loved one and have a stronger relationship.

Take initiative.

Often for those individuals that are undiagnosed or newly diagnosed, they are going through a learning process themselves. They may not know what they need or what to disclose and reveal or may still be struggling with opening up and asking for help. Don’t wait for he/she to ask for help or say what they need.

When your loved one is in an episode, they are often confused and cannot think clearly. It may require you to make decisions for them using your best judgment. Go the extra mile and attend a therapy session, pick up his/her medication, invite them to eat, a movie, or for a walk, show up at their house unannounced if you’ve noticed that they’ve been distant. It could be the very thing that saves their life!

Remember, taking initiative is not one-sided. It is just as important for the individual living with a mental illness to be proactive with their caregiver. The desire to build a healthy and cohesive relationship should be valuable to each party.

Make sure you take care of yourself.

Being a caregiver for a loved one can be stressful. It is extremely important that you practice self-care and do not overextend yourself. Mental illness is not one size fits all nor does it only affect or impact those that are diagnosed.

Don’t be afraid to attend therapy for yourself, especially if you are supporting a loved one. The additional efforts can be rewarding but can be hard work to manage. Talking with a therapist can provide some extra support and assist you with navigating your role in your loved one’s life.

You’re friends/family first! Being sensitive towards your loved one’s illness is desired, but don’t be scared to be yourself. If you refrain from saying or doing things that come naturally this can cause unnecessary stress and pressure on yourself. While we expect people to exercise their filters with their words or restraint with their actions, we also believe that we are accepted and loved for who we are. There is a reason why your loved one is turning to you for support, so be yourself!

Your mental health is just as vital as your loved one living with a mental illness.

Come shine with me!

anxiety is... ft. Bennie Niles

This week I wanted to get a perspective from a man I admire. Bennie is a is a third-year PhD student at Northwestern University, where he is studying African American Studies. He created Just Tryna' Graduate to help Black students get to & through graduate school. You can find him on Linkedin and Twitter. Many times students whether in graduate school, high school, or even just students of life find themselves battling anxiety to be twice as good and have to work twice as hard -- especially if you are Black. His story and his desire to help the community cannot go unnoticed. 

Bennie's Story: 

In my experience, stress and grad school go hand in hand. There's always something new to read or write. There's always a conference to apply to, or a grant to apply for. And that's not even accounting for the stress that comes with having to navigate academia's bureaucracy and/or different relationships with professors.

A few months ago, I was pretty stressed about an impending deadline. But for some reason (read: my anxiety), I couldn't even bring myself to start the assignment. And even though I still had time before it was due, days even, I just knew that my professor had sent me an email asking for the assignment (again, anxiety). I started getting pains in my chest, and I began to feel overwhelmed. So much so that I had to take a nap.

When I woke up, I was a lil groggy, but I felt better. I actually forgot all about the deadline...until I didn't. Because, you see, that's how this anxiety thing works. You're good...until you're not. Suddenly, the sharp pains returned, and I found myself grabbing at my chest all over again. I figured that in order to feel better I just needed to check my email and deal with the consequences, whatever they may be. But no email. Was I stressing for nothing? I needed affirmation, someone to let me know that I wasn't crazy. So I tweeted about the experience.

These two tweets ended up getting over 600 likes. But what struck me most about these tweets was the widespread response. Grad students (mostly Black) from all over commented "Same." or "This is me!" Hell, even a few professors joined the conversation and said that they were dealing with similar issues. On one hand, I felt supported. I mean, it's always nice to know that you're not alone, especially when it's an issue like anxiety. But on the other hand, I was pissed off because why is it that so many Black grad students feel this way?

After pondering this question, and responding to others' reflections about my tweet, I actually remembered that this wasn't the first time that I dealt with anxiety. In fact, I've been grappling with it since I began my Ph.D. program. But it was during my second year, when I was working my Master's thesis, that I really learned what anxiety is, and how it felt in my body. Here's a snapshot:

Anxiety is...already knowing that you have to finish your Master's thesis by the end of your second year of grad school. So after your first year, you print out twelve different articles about your topic to read over the summer. But you never really read them because the mere idea of writing a Master's thesis is daunting. So you just carry the articles in your backpack all summer because you know that you're gonna read them...eventually. 

Anxiety is...starting to write your Master's thesis but then stopping repeatedly because you think that this one research paper is your entry into "the field." And you're stressed because: one, you still don't know what that "field" even looks like as a second year grad student; and two, the more you read, the more you realize that you still don't know enough about the topic to write the paper. But you keep attempting to write because you know that you have to write something before the year is over, so that you won't get kicked out of your doctoral program. But you're stressed because you keep reading and stopping, and writing and stopping because the idea of YOU writing a Master's thesis is daunting.

Anxiety is...stressing because, even though your deadline is slowly getting closer, you still don't have anything substantial written aside from your name, title, and that four-sentence epigraph that you typed up to help you meet the page count. Anxiety is...still working on the paper but purposely missing that deadline because, now, you no longer have to deal with the pressure of writing with a deadline hanging over your head. Anxiety is...eventually turning in the paper and (somehow) winning the "Best Paper Award," but feeling stressed because people are telling you to submit it for publication in an academic journal...which means that this was your entry into "the field," after all.

Anxiety is...feeling your voice quiver as you present your work to an academic audience, because you just know that, at some point, maybe when you're mid-sentence, someone is going to come and tell you that they made a mistake, that the award actually belonged to someone else, which would be embarrassing as hell but also soothing because you already knew that you really weren't supposed to win the award in the first place because: one, you still don't know what the "field" looks like; and two, you still don't believe you know enough about your topic. But with the award still in hand, you eventually finish your presentation, promptly return your seat, and subtly try to massage away those sharp pains in your chest. (Anxiety is...painful.)

It's unfortunate but, in my experience, grad students often discuss issues of mental health in hushed tones. There's a reason for that, though. As grad students, we already know that, some days, getting out of the bed and doing this "work" is tough. So we try to offer each other support as best as we can. But we also know that, sometimes, there's a cost to not looking like you're able to handle your workload (i.e., condescension, stigma, pushback, and diminished opportunities). And for these reasons, many of us attempt to be productive even in the midst of our suffering.

Even as I write this, I can already hear some of my professors in my ear. And yeah, I get it. The job market. Publications. Tenure-track. I get it. But professors/advisors/mentors, what kind of scholars are you producing when you demand that your grad students "do the work" at all costs? That they learn to choose between their self-care and their academic obligations? Before we can even think about professionalization and the road ahead, we need to have a very long and very candid conversation about what the academy does to graduate students! Because if this is any sign of what lies ahead, I'll be damned if I stay in academia after I get this degree.

For I am so much more than what I produce in a seminar or academic journal.

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Come shine with me!

life ft. India Ohree

To celebrate #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth I have partnered with a few people who I think have a great story. This week we are celebrating mothers. Mothers are super important and being a caregiver to them is a very rewarding job. This week Plant Based Wellness Consultant,  Birth and Postpartum Doula, and Freelance Writer, India Ohree, gives us a look into her life as not only a Doula but also as a mother of 3. Check out her website http://indiaohree.com/ and Instagram account to see what she has to offer. 

 

India's Story: 

I am a Birth + Postpartum Doula, serving expectant parents by providing educational, emotional, and physical support. I help to create a space where people feel safe and are met with love, understanding, and gentle guidance. I meet parents where they are at emotionally, mentally, and energetically to ultimately achieve a positive labor/birth and postpartum experience. It is my responsibility to listen to and validate my clients. 

As a Birth Doula, I meet with my clients a few times throughout their pregnancy. We work together to create their birth plan so we can know what they want their laboring and birthing experience to be like, including what medical procedures they may or may not want. During the prenatal visits, I offer local resources and referrals to my clients that I feel will add to them having a positive and joyful prenatal and postpartum experience. During labor, Doulas sometimes have to guide clients through emotional blockages that may surface. It is our duty as birth workers to maintain a peaceful environment. Touch is an essential part of practicing as a Doula. We provide massage, as well as suggest positions to help ease discomfort and help naturally progress labor. I am with my clients from the start of active labor until 1-2 hours after their child(ren) enters the world.

After my client delivers, they enter into the postpartum period. Once they transition home, I visit them at their discretion to assist with light household duties, provide loving care for baby, and give the new parents a moment to rest. Nutrition is very important during this time as the body is healing and recovering from childbirth. As someone who is plant based and provides consulting services to those seeking to incorporate healthier dishes into their busy routine, I bring this knowledge with me into my doula practice. I assist my clients with meal preparation and ensure that they're eating foods that will provide nourishment and aid the production of breast milk, if they choose to breastfeed. This is a critical time to ensure that the new parents are receiving the care that they need. 

Many new parents express that the postpartum period can sometimes be an emotional roller coaster, filled with ups and downs. Many emotions are experienced; joy, fear, sadness, anxiety, even anger and doubt. These feelings are completely normal and you shouldn't feel ashamed about them. Beyond these emotions, some new parents also experience postpartum depression. Postpartum depression (PPD) is a form of severe depression after delivery that interferes with daily functioning. Some symptoms of postpartum depression include extreme sadness, emptiness, hopelessness,feeling irritated or angry often, being uninterested in your baby, feeling that life isn't worth living, and/or having thoughts of harming yourself/your baby. 

Postpartum depression is more common than one may think. As doulas are not medical professionals, I first recommend referring the client to their doctor to be screened and receive the professional care that they need. Additionally, there are a few tips I suggest to help the new parents find more peace throughout their day:

  • Taking short walks in nature to get fresh air and sun
  • Coordinating with their partner and/or doula to ensure that they can receive the adequate rest needed to care for themselves and baby
  • Consume whole foods
  • Breastfeeding, if possible, may reduce the risk of developing PPD
  • Schedule time for loved ones to come over and visit

As a mother of 3, I can completely relate to a lot of the things my clients go through because I've already had a lot of the experiences myself. I am able to speak from personal life experience when I guide new parents through this journey.  Doing birth work is very sacred and it truly is an honor to be present during these very special moments in parents' lives. The work is also very demanding, and the clients that we serve deserve a high level of care. We must give our all and our very best to the families we serve.

Sometimes life can become overwhelming in general. While being a mother and serving parents, it can bring about an added level of occasional stress. You have to be completely selfless in this line of work. When I receive a call from one of my clients informing me that they may be in labor, I have to immediately drop everything that I'm doing in that moment to be present and give them my love and care. I also need to very quickly secure child care for my children for the many hours that I'll be away. As a birth worker, you have to cultivate your village and ensure that you have a strong support system to help you stay centered and able to serve others. 

It's equally important to focus on yourself with that same level of energy so that you can be your best self and feel healthy, lively, and at peace.  I deal with anxiety at times, and I have to ensure that I am taking care of my mental health. I've tried therapy in the recent past, and I know that it's great for healing and working through inner issues; it just simply isn't affordable for me at this time. However, taking the time of day to focus on self care is incredibly therapeutic for me. I have to quiet my mind by practicing meditation, playing soothing sounds, burning incense, writing in my journal, and even drinking my favorite herbal tea helps tremendously. I do my very best to focus on the things that bring me joy, along with practicing my spiritual work. And sometimes, I honestly just need peace and quiet. In those moments, having a babysitter for even a few hours can help me recharge. While I have come to the realization that the purpose of my life is to serve and do the work that I'm passionate about, I've equally come to understand that none of it is possible unless I first honor myself.

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Come shine with me!

deactivate.

 

It’s Mental Health Awareness Month and I have deactivated my twitter account. Let me explain how it got to this point. Social media is a big influence on our lives. It is can really infiltrate your mind and spirit. I love social media and have dedicated my own academic research to it. I love to study how people use it and how it impacts the minds of those who look like me but I never realized how much it impacted my life until my therapist said something.

We all know by now that what we ingest becomes a part of us. We are not removed from absorbing the energies of others – good or bad. Everyone is inherently good and inherently bad. That’s just the reality of it all.  This applies to our social media accounts too.

For the last 3 weeks or so I have been finding myself using Twitter less and less. I have always found myself feeling anxious when certain topics are brought up. I have also felt anger, sadness, and even jealousy in the past. On the flipside, I love networking and talking to people online who have the same interests as me. What has pulled me away from Twitter is the noise. The opinions, commentary, and bickering that comes with having many different types of people on one platform and I am not equipped to handle that – at least not right now.

My friend Ashley had some posts on her IG story where she talked about curating your timeline to align with who you are at that moment. It resonated with me because I have found myself attempting to silence the noise of a timeline I created based on past interests and ties to people I’ve met.  At first, I was muting, blocking, and unfollowing people but then that became overwhelming. My therapist has worked very hard with me to stop oversharing online and to also not use social media as a diary. LIFE CHANGING, okay?! Learning to disconnect and keep my personal business – personal, has been helpful – especially when I am dealing with my own mental health. The good days can turn into bad days if I see something that is triggering or if someone is just being negative online. The way we speak about protecting our energy is so beautiful and I think that it applies to your mind and also your social media accounts.

It’s sometimes frustrating to constantly have to filter my social media accounts to make sure it aligns but the work has to be done. In order to grow and continue on my own journey, I have to be realistic about my attachment to social media and the relationship I have with it. There is NOTHING wrong with using social media but I do believe, for myself, it can be a battle of the noise vs. my own inner thoughts and ideas. I have to work on separating the two.

When manic or depressive, social media usually doesn’t help. That is when I over share the most and that is when I can put myself in situations I don’t want to be in. When I am feeling low I don’t want to see certain things but I have always had trouble REALLY disconnecting without finding myself back online.  I also have this fear that if I disconnect from Twitter that my blog will go unnoticed or I will not get some of the opportunities I have gotten in the past. My blog has it’s own Twitter but it doesn’t have as big of a following as I do on my personal account. But really, why do I care? SEE, this is why I need to take a break. I need to find out why these things matter in this way. I know what is for me is for me but I still attach that success to my online presence.

It is a big part of our lives and my life but in order to heal, I have to really set some boundaries for my damn self. So, as a Black woman who battles with her own mental health, I have found that disconnecting has helped me work on my own shit. I love the support I get online but I also don’t like the feeling of needing validation from others in order to feel good about myself. This may not be you but it has been a trend in my life at times.  For now, I am deactivating my account, in 3 weeks I may reactivate it, or I may wait the full 30 days and allow my account to be irretrievable forever.  I don’t know.

My mental health is more important to me than being on certain websites that can stunt my own growth. It is okay to say “this is becoming too much” and dip. There is nothing wrong with doing that. There is also nothing wrong with going away and coming back. Your mental health is important and in order to really grow you have to be realistic with yourself about your weaknesses and lack of self-control when it comes to certain websites that may be filling you with a lot of negativity. The noise can really alter how you grow. It can really test you and your foundation. The noise can make you revert.  In order to preserve myself, I have to remove myself from things that can make me revert or at least try my hardest to do so.

 

 

The shit just isn’t fun anymore and I am mentally exhausted. How do you disconnect when it all becomes too much? Do you disconnect at all? Comment below with your thoughts!

 

Come shine with me!