Behind the Mask: The Face of Mental Health Part I


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.

Age: 31

Gender Identity: female

Racial Identity: black
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 have two older sisters and a baby brother. My biological father was not in my life although he lived literally 5 minutes away within the same neighborhood. My step-father (who I always called him by his name) was in my life soon after I was born and he is my only reference to what a “father” is. My mother was and still is what some would call a “bossy” in your face type of way about her. Although my step-father was very much a man, it was my mother who “wore the pants in the family.”

-From pre-k through college, I’ve always been a focused learner. I love absorbing knowledge. From an early age, I noticed that being smart and a good kid came with its own perks. A’s on report cards meant money and receiving awards from school shown teachers that I was a leader. I believe that is where my school personality dwelled. I was the geeky quiet kid. I knew I was different and I never tried to fit in. I stayed to myself but I let others in. I wasn’t popular but I knew everyone.

-I don’t have much of a “religious” background. I do believe that there is a Creator. I hope to gain more insight to Kemetism to hone in on knowledge of self and the practices of our ancestors.

-My view of self is that I am a person that is an introvert at heart but am able to be in a crowd if necessary. I have a personable attitude that makes others comfortable as well. I was at some point in life a yes person and I would attribute that to my mom. I always wanted to make people happy and have them not be disappointed in me.

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

In my first and only relationship to the father of my children, through a 7 year duration, I was mentally and physically abused. It got so bad sometimes that I attempted suicide on a number of occasions because it felt as if I could not escape it. My life was fantastic on paper. I was in a relationship with a highly, highly educated black man (3 separate master’s degrees and pursuing a phd), living in a beautiful two story home, a home and car in Africa, 2 luxury cars/motorcycle/F150 truck, house parties every month were we would feed up to 50-60 people, vacationing all over the place, shopping sprees etc. But what a lot of people did not know was I was constantly being tormented and called names on a daily basis and beaten black and blue. But never on the face. He would always leave marks where it could be covered up.

-So as you can imagine, I was basically living two lives. Having to put on a face for friends and families was draining. When I started working for (redacted), through my insurance I was able to use EAP and had 5 “free” mental health sessions. A coworker told me about her experiences and she said that it worked for her. I wasn’t able to speak to my family about what was going on because they are the type to pull up and show out and I didn’t want any more violence and I couldn’t speak with friends because I felt that they wouldn’t believe me. So I thought going to a therapist would help.

-My first session, I told my then boyfriend that I was going shopping. During my session I COMEPLETELY broke down and spilled everything that was going on. My therapist then helped me to come up with a plan to leave with the children. I felt almost free after that first session because I wasn’t holding so much in and I now had a plan to get me and my children out. So each time I went to her, we would make another action step. Before my last session with my therapist, I believe it was Easter night 2017, my then boyfriend punched me out with my son in my arms and stated to me that he understands how that school teacher was shot by her boyfriend (not sure if you remember that happening in the news). The following day, I took me and my children and we basically escaped.

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

I was able to find my therapist and psychiatrist through my last employer (redacted). I was at that point going to school for MBC AND starting classes for my MBA. I was also dealing with a custody battle with my then ex and running on zero sleep because I am now a single parent with a 5yr old and a 4yr old. I was actively (and still is) being stalked (my ex has those master’s degrees in cyber security and management….. just my luck lol) who would randomly pop up on me. One day at work it just felt like everything was closing in on me and I had a bit of a panic attack and my first call was to our EAP who helped me find my mental health providers. I took a solid two months off through FMLA to get well. I was diagnosed with PTSD, MD, night terrors, and extreme social anxiety. I am on a prescribed regimen to help stabilize my mood and to help me sleep.

-I am doing a hell of a lot better. I am getting back to who I was little by little. Due to my social anxiety, I work for (redacted) at home as a chat advisor so that helps to not have to be around people. If it was not for my mental health advisors, I’m pretty sure I would not be where I am at now. The past 4 months I’ve just seen progressions in my attitudes for the better and I’m not holding my feelings back. I understand that when I am feeling down that it is the illness and that it is ok to not always feel “great”

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

Therapeutic goals and have I achieved them…. lol no where near it. My biggest goal is to get to a point where I don’t have to look over my shoulder and truly live with not a worry in my head. But I will say that it is attainable but I just need more work. Another goal is to be able to go in public places that has crowds. Because of the news, I have even more of a fear of being in public due to all the craziness that’s going on.
What makes a session successful?

Being able to purge out all feelings with hope of being a better mother to my lil family and a better person for myself. Being able to place and label emotions for what they are.

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

My sister who is my best friend knows that I go to therapy and that I have a psychiatrist as well. I’ve also posted a few times through FB that I do struggle at times with mental health. I don’t really care what they have to say about it or care for a reaction.
What is your relationship like with yourself? What is the driving force of those thoughts?

My relationship with myself is kind of a struggle. I enjoy myself at times. I think I’m witty and funny and a cool cat. But like everyone, I do have an inner saboteur that likes to feed off my happiness at times. I know I can be better at everything but I do tend to laze around. I don’t have that go getter attitude I had when I was growing up. I procrastinate with everything. I am also at a stage in my life when I’m trying to erase all of what my ex instilled into me when he would berate me for everything I do…. So really its like a seesaw in my head… good thoughts/bad thoughts… back and forth.
Do you have a support system? What does support look like to you?

My sister and my mental health providers are my support team. Being able to speak my truth and not be judge for it is but understood what support looks like in my eyes. My kids are also my support system. They make me feel wanted and loved and always make me smile.
Who are some of your idols and why do you admire them?

Prince. Prince is and always be my spirit being. I still to this day have not listened to a Prince song since his passing and can not bear to see a picture of him. He was the embodiment of strange in the best possible way of not caring what others think. His music was/is masterpieces that takes you to another level. His swag, sassiness, sexiness, strangeness… he was/is forever the absolute best of all worlds for me.
What does it mean to you to be a strong, black woman? Has this hindered you from seeking treatment?

Being able to be your own boss, taking care of yourself and your family, being mentally stable and capable of love and being loved, not being ruled over by others. I don’t believed it hindered. At that time, I was at my lowest, I didn’t identify with anything. With my experiences in the present I believe that a strong Black woman is even stronger for being vulnerable and courageous to seek help if needed.
What are some ways you think we can change the conversation around mental health?

The stigma that if you pray long and hard enough that everything will work out. While there is some truth to speaking into existence, being able to release emotions to a third party judge free zone is equally important. I just want people to know that it is ok and it doesn’t take away from God or Jesus or anything like that….

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