empowering · Mental Health Monday · transparency

Behind the Mask-The Face of Mental Health Part II


My work in advocating for a space for mental health will never end. This series is so dear to my heart, because they are real stories from real women who walk among you. They could be your sister, wife, mother..their voices matter. Even if they are sometimes silenced by other forums. Here at HER..their voices are sacred. Each woman was asked the same series of questions to give this piece some continuity. I asked that they remain anonymous so they could answer truthfully.

The details maybe triggering for some to read, so read with caution, but also read with open minds and eyes.


Gender Identity: Female

Racial Identity: African American

Explain a bit of your background your family dynamics and school environments (elementary, jr. high and high school) and any religious experience you may have had. How did these experiences shape your view of self?

I grew up in a two parent household with one sister. We were a military family who moved around a lot. My parents argued but no more than I assume any other couple did. I never witnessed any physical violence. I can’t recall any of my friends parents being married while we were growing up and it’s something I prided myself on. I went to three different elementary schools, three different jr. high schools and only one high school. Moving around so much kept me from really getting close to too many people while growing up. I don’t consider myself a religious person. I believe in something bigger than myself, but organized religion never really spoke to me. I just try to treat others well and hope I get treated well in return. I’ve tried going to different churches but never felt comfortable. I envy those people who find a sense of peace in prayer and worship.

When and why did you first think about seeking mental health services? What was that process like for you?

I first had concerns about my mental health after high school in 2005. I felt a lingering sadness that I couldn’t put my finger on. I expressed that to my parents and was told that I was just going through a phase. Throughout my first year in college those feelings just got worse. I couldn’t focus in class and eventually stopped going. I dropped out of college and started working two jobs to keep my mind off of my growing depression. In 2008, I tried to kill myself and my family finally took my issues seriously. After two nights in the hospital and a mandatory 72 hour stay in a mental hospital I went to live with my grandmother while seeing my first therapist.

What do/did you look for when seeking a therapist? Does gender matter? Race? Why or why not?

With my first therapist, I only requested that she be a younger woman. Race didn’t matter to me at the time, but as I’ve gotten older I can see how having more in common could make me feel more at ease. Gender mattered more to me (at the time) because I felt that more of my issues dealt with my feelings as a woman in general, than as a black woman.

What are some of your therapeutic goals? Have you been able to successfully obtain those, why or why not?

My original goals were to have the desire to get out of bed every day, to get off of my medicines for depression and anxiety; which I did. My current goals are to work on my defensiveness and how to more eloquently and efficiently express my thoughts and feelings. I also want to continue to work on my depression because it never really goes away.

What makes a session successful?

I can tell a session has been successful when I feel physically lighter. Carrying around emotional stress can physically weigh on you.

Have you told anyone that you’re in therapy? Why or why not? If you did tell them what was their reaction?

I have never hidden that i go to therapy. I am very open about it because it is my truth and i hope that by sharing it will combat the stigma in the black community. I can’t recall having any negative reaction. Everyone has been supportive.

What is your relationship like with yourself? What is the driving force of those thoughts?

I have a sometimes complicated relationship with myself. I love myself but I am also very hard on myself. I probably stand in my own way more than I would care to admit. My childhood probably is where those feelings stem from. My parents always had high expectations for us and i always felt that i fell short.

Do you have a support system? What does support look like to you?

I do have a support system. Support to me is letting me more at my own pace but always letting me know that i need to do what is right for me, not what others think i should do.

Who are some of your idols and why do you admire them?

I don’t have any idols but I do admire anyone who can admit their flaws and work to be a better person.

What does it mean to you to be a strong, black woman? Has this hindered you from seeking treatment?

Being a strong, black woman means always doing more. We give our all to everyone else but who is filling us back up? The mothers of not only our families but our friends. Being strong has somehow become a burden that only the black woman can carry and its exhausting. At times it has hindered me from going back to treatment but I know that I can’t be strong by myself.

What are some ways you think we can change the conversation around mental health?

I think the conversations need to keep being held, even when it makes people uncomfortable. I think we need to teach our children that it’s ok to cry and acknowledge their feelings, especially our sons. I think that as a community, black people need to stop saying the answer is to just go to church or pray about it because some problems need more that one solution. Mental illness isn’t a “white” problem. It affects people of all ages, races, socioeconomic backgrounds, etc. Ignoring it won’t make it go away, it just makes it worse.

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