Strong Black Women Break Too…The Mis-Education of Mental Health

“Mental illness leaves a huge legacy, not just for the person suffering it but for those around them.”

– Lysette Anthony

 

What an odd year 2017 has been so far, so many highs with travelling to countries I have always dreamt of. Yet they are insignificant compared with the lows. Plagued with death and mental illness of loved ones, and having to seriously question the health of my own mind.

December 2016 someone very close to me was diagnosed with psychosis. I witnessed her go through some episodes and it broke my heart to see someone I love become something so alien to me. I messaged her often to check to see if she was okay and she would call me at the most randomest moments of the day (and night). Sometimes she couldn’t distinguish my voice from the voices in her head. I always like to be helpful, so to feel useless and incapable of understanding what she was going through made it all the more earth shattering. I was living with the constant fear that she would kill herself and that took it’s toll on me. Thankfully she is getting the help that she needs through medication and counselling (as well as making positive changes to her life), and is doing very well at the moment taking one day at a time.

January 2017 I found out that a friend and former work colleague passed away leaving behind 3 children and a husband. She was a beautiful soul, and though it would be disingenuous for me to say that we were close, I very much adored her presence and admired her work ethic. I had the chance to go to the funeral, flirted with the idea, but in the end decided not to go. Why? Because I had work commitments, besides we weren’t really close so I didn’t want to impose on an intimate affair. That was a [half] lie! The truth was I was a coward; I couldn’t face seeing her children… her body being buried. Instead I went to work and then to a salsa club. I broke down crying, dried my eyes then went on to dance the night away like nothing happened.

May 2017 one of my very good friends lost her father. I went to visit her, though I didn’t actually know what to expect, or what was expected from me. We talked about anything and everything, including the death of her father. It was an oddly beautiful moment in our friendship. I realised just how much I love her, and thus I found myself internalising a lot of her grief and also fearing for her own mental state.

June 2017 the London Bridge Attacks took place, too close to home, to work, and pretty much my social life. I had to walk past that bridge everyday and anxiety would creep up on me. Again I was constantly bombarded with thoughts of mortality – my own, and that of others.  

I have always recognised that I was prone to experiencing some sort of mental unwellness (primarily depression) due to certain life experiences and naturally being quite a sensitive and ultra empathetic person. For the most part I have been very attentive to recognising any signs of unhealthy habits, thoughts and behaviours and aim to change accordingly. I literally approach my mental health the same way as I do my physical health. It has been a survival mechanism, because the alternative is not worth thinking about.

However I found with all the experiences mentioned above I was drowning in worry and fear of losing loved ones, and my own sanity. It was my work that was being affected the most. I lacked concentration, felt hopeless, completely disengaged from my colleagues, was voluntarily mute most of the time. I thought nothing was wrong because outside of work I was absolutely fine, happy most of the time. I have great friends and was involved in many passions that brought so much joy into my life. But every so often the faces and feelings of all that has gone on throughout the year would come and stop me in my tracks, and the feeling of drowning in sadness would overwhelm me.

I realised that it was a problem when my manager called me up on it. She said ‘have you thought of seeing your GP’ and my first thought was ‘this bish wants to lock me up in an asylum!’ Comical at first, but I think it only demonstrated my lack of willingness to face what potentially could be a serious issue. After all ‘this isn’t supposed to happen to people like me, if I’m going to break, let me do it discretely where no one can see‘ would be a common thought.

I have advocated so much about the importance of guarding ones mental health, and have often encouraged dialogue amongst my Black peers, who face additional stigma from a culture and religious perspective. Yet when it came to me, and those mentioned above, it had seemed as though all that talk I did was merely just that…talk! I felt like such a hypocrite! As if talking about mental health was only good, from a distance, when it didn’t actually affect me or anyone else I knew. I struggled so much to confide in someone and even felt so much shame. Shame for my friend with who was diagnosed with psychosis, shame for when she was on medication, because that was tangible proof that this was real. And I felt so ashamed for suffering from bouts of unhappiness, especially as many people assume I’m always happy.

I have had to re-educate myself on mental health, the different faces it takes on and the wider impact it has on the individual’s life. As well as the secondary impact it has on loved ones and those we interact with on a daily basis. I actually took part in a training course and it had opened my eyes and subsequently prompted me to work on my own issues.  It’s definitely an ongoing process…

MG

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