Updated: Sep 5, 2021
On this day in 2020, our collective lives changed. We all know the story of our shared trauma: a series of Black Lives lost, COVID19 moving from obscurity to tangible reality, a global shut down, and rising deaths. Then there's the stuff we dealt with in silence; our individual and unique experiences of May 25, 2020 and the days beyond.
In 2020, I along with my partner and mother contracted and beat COVID19. We listened to the nonstop sirens of ambulances, firetrucks, and police cars for months. In the throughs of my anxiety, I abandoned my plans to wean Emiliano in March and instead breastfed 6 times a day from June 18, 2018 until November 2020. On average, I slept 4 hours a day. I was suffering from serious sleep deprivation.
Add to the mix I working a full-time job at Silberman School of Social Work where we lost 4 staff members in one year forcing a team of five to shoulder 1,200 students. This is while I ran a business that was seeing the windfall of a tragedy. I was consumed by guilt and overwhelmed by loss coupled with massive growing pains.
Consider that my colleague and friend, the most optimistic and positive human I have ever met, was one day extremely tired (weren't we all). The next, battling leukemia. In November 2020, she, along with her family, powerfully chose a better existence. I was swallowed up by grief and fear. The question of mortality plagued me. The one hour I gained from not nursing, vanished into thin air as I sat up at night wondering if a deadly disease was hiding in my own body.
This is the overview; to get in the weeds would be all-consuming. And, probably triggering.
There was a point where I was not well. I sent a tearful message to my text group "chosen
family" sharing my struggle to stop breastfeeding just so I could sleep. They lovingly insisted on setting boundaries with Emiliano and reclaiming my body. I told my mom that I was struggling. She responded with "I noticed that you aren't eating regularly. You have to eat. Drink water and prioritize rest." I called my Dad - shameful about all the mistakes I was making with the business and cried about how tired I was. He said "you own the business, the business doesn't own you. You make the rules. Make rules that suit you." Ryan cooked all my favorite foods to help soothe my sadness. Occasionally, I asked him to hold me tight for long stretches of time. I learned on Grey's Anatomy that doing so activates the parasympathetic nervous system which quells anxiety. It's my go-to, in-the-moment solution.
20 years of being in therapy, a BSW, and MSW prepared me to notice when I am in danger, extend myself grace, and to act upon it. For me, the first step was to name it to the people I loved the most. The second step was to allow myself to receive their care. The third, to seek professional help. The fourth and ongoing step was to continuously pay close attention to my body and respond with the care it needed. I deserve to be healthy.
However, that isn't the reality for most folx. Some folx feel shame about "not being strong enough to manage all the balls in the air." This is especially true of womxn and even more pervasive for Black womxn. Others, do not understand what is happening. For too many of us, mental health looks one way and that's a clear disconnect from reality. This is how we lose.
Community, there are some types of mental illnesses that are plain to the eye. There are others, that so many of us deal with, which aren't. Some of us move through long periods of sadness and lethargy in silence, with shame, and in total ignorance. This isn't normal and talking to Jesus isn't enough. Period.
Like any other part of our body, our mind, spirit, and soul need care. Unfortunately, we live in a society where despite 17.3 million adult Americans having experienced one major depressive episode, there is still a dangerous silence and shame around mental health. I just don't get it. What semblance of togetherness are we all holding onto and to what end? How does this serve us?
Last week, I wrote: For me, as an Afro-Latinx womxn, mother of a Black son, and partner of Black man, etc., every month is Mental Health Month. I'm lucky to exist in a radical, liberatory social work world, where talking about our mental health is part of almost all conversations. However, as a nation, society, and in some cultures, folx simply have not made a sufficient amount of space to really talk about mental health without shame, blame, or minimalizing.
We need to talk about depression, sadness, and hopelessness.
We need to "Check-In" with and on one another, and we need to stop using ultra-positive rhetoric such as "you got this" as a response to someone hurting.
While it's meant to be supportive, the impact can be silencing.
I choose our events with clear intention and purpose. At this moment, my desire is to normalize mental health the same way we very casually talk about getting our nails done, retail and wine therapy, or even smoking a spliff. I want to talk about mental health in the context of systemic racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, classism, and every other ism that is acting upon us daily. It's not an individual thing - let's stop that foolishness too.
I want us to get real with ourselves and the ones we love. I want to talk about mental health in real terms and not euphemisms. I want to know how you are. Please join Michelle Williams and a host of celebrities as they go deep about her bout of depression and her subsequent journey toward wellness. No one is exempt or immune to mental illness. Bookish Fam, we all deserve happiness and peace. We first have to talk about it.
Buy your ticket today. A ticket includes a book and access to your chosen event with Michelle Williams and a conversation partner.