Behind the Mask-The Face of Mental Health Part 5

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: Goddess/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 grew up in a small predominately white town in Indiana. I was the only child at home, my siblings were a lot older. My dad was a very abusive alcoholic and when I was 13/14 my mother and I relocated to Montgomery, AL. There was a bit of a culture shock- my cousin and I were the only blacks in our school in Indiana, to now in Montgomery where blacks were the majority.

I was excited about living somewhere new, but I wasn’t accepted in my new environment. I was often teased about “sounding white”. I had a hard time finding myself, but I came to the conclusion that I may as well be myself if they (my peers) weren’t going to like me anyway.

My family wasn’t religious and never went to church. Church, for me, was a way to expound on my musical skills. I played the piano and sang, so I became a church musician and then a music minister. I never wholeheartedly agreed with religion, but I tried. I thought it was something I needed and on the surface, church/the bible seemed to have the answers. Over time, I became more discontent so I quit the church after 5 years and never returned.

These are some of the experiences that helped me to realize that everything I was looking for and needed was already within. I just needed to listen. My life became a lot less turbulent once I started connecting, spiritually, in a more natural and authentic way. Doing so put a lot of things in perspective as to what’s important, and what was not. I now respect and value myself a lot more and in turn, it’s helped me to do the same for others.

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

-The first time I saw a therapist was when I was about 8. It was forced by my parents. I wasn’t able to cope with my home life of my dad being an abusive drunk, so that’s what my parent’s thought to do.

I decided to seek a psychiatrist voluntarily in college, and then again after my mothers death in 2016. The process was a source of irritation when I was younger, but relieving after I became an adult.
What do/did you look for when seeking a therapist? Does gender matter? Race? Why or why not?
-I look for black women. I feel that being both a minority and a woman, there are challenges that my therapist/psychiatrist will be able to navigate. Also, I feel most comfortable around black women and being able to work with them in this way is inspiring to me as a younger black woman.

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

-In college, my goal was anger management. I wasn’t as successful as I thought I should have been, but with the tools I was given, I have been successful over the years. I had a lot of pride and ego back then. Having an unchecked ego slowed my progress.
My most recent encounter with therapy was for grief counseling. I was not successful for the first six months. I refused to take my medication as prescribed and I was not being truthful in my therapy sessions. I pretended I would be ok. I thought that by being on medication, I was deemed to be “crazy”. Then I had a mental break and ended up in a psych ward for almost two weeks. That was my reality check. That’s when I decided to follow my doctor’s plan. I still struggle from time to time, but now I am able to cope and heal.
What makes a session successful?
-Honesty, transparency and wanting success for yourself.
Have you told anyone that you’re in therapy? Why or why not? If you did tell them what was their reaction?
-At first I was embarrassed, especially after the hospital stay. Now I am more apt to speak up. It’s something we should talk about and take seriously. The stigma needs to be abolished and the only way to achieve that is for people to share their experiences. People are often shocked to hear my story.
What is your relationship like with yourself? What is the driving force of those thoughts?

-I have a great relationship with myself. I’ve learned to be kind and forgiving. Forgiveness is something I struggle with, so that took a lot of effort for me. I do a lot for my personal growth, do nice things for myself and others, and take care of myself physically. The driving force to those thoughts are, I’m worth it. If I don’t see myself as valuable, no one else will because my actions towards myself and others will reflect that negatively.

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

-My support system is my immediate family. My husband is my biggest supporter and I am his. A support system is loving above anything. They also know when to show that tough love to get you in gear. They are the ones that know you so well, they know exactly what you need and do not hesitate to give it to you.

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

-My mother, my husband, Oprah, and Dan LOL to name a few. They all have one thing in common. Resiliency. They’ve all experienced personal tragedy and were able to bear life’s storms and make positive change in the world.

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 a lot to me. One thing that comes to mind is knowing and respecting yourself and being the best version of yourself. Strong black women are always seekers of knowledge. Their very presence commands the attention to all in the room, it’s embedded in their energy. They are the healers of the land.

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

-Giving more people the opportunity to share their personal experiences is a great way. Also, discussing and changing things on a state and federal level to ensure people have access to mental health care- not just access, but it has to be affordable. The more people talk about it, the more it will become the norm.

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