Women in Leadership

Mental Health and the Black Woman – Part 2

PLEASE NOTE: This post is solely based on personal experience and opinion, and is in no way intended to provide any diagnostic or treatment advice. If you feel as if you are experiencing personal difficulties, you are encouraged to seek advice and treatment from a licensed professional. 

I hope you’re ready for part two of what I think is one of the deepest pieces I have ever written. Mental Health and the Black woman.

The first part talks about the effects of mental illness in black women. To me, it’s that hidden piece within many of us that we kind of shrug off as being “a sad day” or “I am dealing with life’s ebb and flow.” The reality is, many black women are walking around with an undiagnosed or underdiagnosed illness. No more are the days of saying “she’s just crazy” or calling someone “cray cray.” The struggles of life can and will eventually take their toll. As promised, here is my personal story of how “life” took its toll on me, and nearly took me out of here.

I have worked with mentally ill and chemically dependent people for the last 15 years – on and off as a case manager and Community Psychiatric Supportive Treatment Specialist (CPST). I have so many stories to share of my work and how I have dealt with what I thought was the worst cases known to anyone in the field. One of the things I used to always tell myself at the end of a long day of helping those who couldn’t help themselves was “I could never be like that!!!” As my grandmother would always say, NEVER say NEVER!

I have been blessed to have a pretty good life so far… grew up in one of the most affluent and racially diverse suburbs in the nation at the time, had BOTH parents in my life and household (my parents were married for almost 40 years before my father died in 2011), lived in a beautiful home, never wanted or needed for anything, and had multitudes of opportunities that were not afforded to most of my family members and friends. I had everything to be happy about, right?

The answer to that is WRONG!

I was a person who was in a lot of pain. Someone who would feel so lonely in a room full of people. For the most part, I was very much an introvert – not by choice – but because not a lot of my peers wanted to be bothered with me. From kindergarten until the day I walked across the stage to get my High School Diploma, I was the victim of what is now called “bullying.” I was incessantly teased, made fun of, belittled, and told just how worthless I was by my fellow classmates and peers in school. I always felt… “different.” In church, where one would think you would be totally accepted into the family of God, I was an outcast. There were children at my church that got more attention, got called on to sing more solos in children’s choir, and selected to do “special projects” more than me. I always felt that my “monkey face” as I was called by many in school, had a lot to do with the feelings I had. These feeling went well into my adult life… even if there were 20 people in a room gathered around me, I felt so alone and desolate. One day, shortly before my prom, I looked in the mirror in the upstairs hallway in my childhood home. I began to see the “ugly” and “worthless” girl that people told me I was. I burst into tears and was about to break the mirror. My father walked up the stairs and saw his hysterical daughter. When I calmed down, I explained to him what I was feeling. Like any good father, he told me I was the most beautiful queen in the world, and had some colorful words about those who felt otherwise. He soothed my pain at that moment, but it would me many years later before I finally accepted myself for who God created me to be.

In college, I still felt like an outcast. I wanted so desperately to fit in and feel loved, I got involved with the bad crowd and developed some habits that I am not proud of today. Everything I had learned from my parents and in church went out the door when I got to the quad at school. My friends had boyfriends, so I would date and get involved with the wrong guys (only three) to feel like I belonged. When I finally grew up and had to do some “adulting” things like get a job, I still felt like a speck on a dirty wall. I became “friends” with people who were there when it was payday or everything was good. But when “life” happened to me, they were ghost – no where to be seen or found. In fact, several of them completely turned their backs on me, lied on me, and tried to make me look bad.

With everything I went through – being bullied by peers and even some of my family members, being told that I was worthless, and even making the mistakes I made, it took tragedy for me to have my rock bottom.

In 2011, my father, who was my hero and biggest supporter, died suddenly. There was nor preparation. No final goodbye. Just a phone call from the nursing facility he was receiving rehab at telling me “he took a turn for the worse.” To this day, I cannot drive by that facility because of the pain of losing daddy, and still not knowing WHAT HAPPENED TO HIM! What do you do when the bottom is snatched from you like that? How do you go on when life went from being color to now grey? No one ever could prepare me on how to handle the grief of losing a parent, especially my father. I did the worst thing anyone could do – postpone my grieving process. Instead of going through the five stages of grief, I threw myself into any and every project I could. I worked extra shifts. I ran for and held several leadership positions within an organization I am a member of – and it was detrimental – for me, and those I served. Because of my pain, I did not effectively serve in the manner they deserved from their leader. At the end of my term in leadership in 2013, “I lost my basket” as they say down south about those who have breakdowns. In July, 2013, I was so low. I abruptly quit my job the month before, was living my my mother’s basement because I had given up my home and lost all of my belongings, and was just hopeless. On a Sunday morning, I decided that I did not want to live anymore. The pain of not having my father in my life was so deep, and all of the pain I had endured in life had been “swept under the rug” for so long, that I could not deal with life as it was for me. I remember getting dressed, getting into my car, and intending on driving to the lake and driving my car (with me in it) into Lake Erie (one of my father’s favorite places). I remember thinking that me, and everyone, would be better without me. While I was driving, I remember asking God to stop me if He had a purpose for me being here on Earth. I blacked out. The next thing I remember was being on the floor at a church that a good friend of mine attends – sobbing and her telling those around me “she’s been saved for a long time.” A few weeks ago, I came across the church program for that service – the sermon was called “DE-MASK-US” and it was based on Acts 9 and the Damascus Road – when “Saul” converted and became “Paul.” I truly believe on that day, I experienced my own Damascus Road experience, because I too was converted from the old me and given a new life.

After that Sunday morning, I made it up in my mind that I would not allow the world to take me out. I immediately went to grief counseling and therapy. I was diagnosed with moderate clinical depression. Depression is definitely one of those illnesses that can debilitate a person. You have feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and eventually you lose interest in daily activities. I would stay in my mother’s basement for days, would not shower or bathe, lashed out and posted insane, angry posts on social media (please avoid Facebook when you are going through something – you cannot take back a post once it’s out there), and I let every area of my life go. I was also very angry at God during this time – I felt that He had abandoned me, and I was angry that my father had died. Through all of that, God kept giving me this gentle reminder from John 14:1-3

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

God was giving me comfort by reiterating that He was with me. He also gave me a gentle reminder that heaven is my home… I’m just passing through here. This scripture gave me the strength needed to being to overcome the dark cloud that plagued me.

Here are some of the things I did in order to begin the process of healing and overcoming my bout with mental illness:

  1. FORGIVE yourself for everything you have done wrong, or did not do. A lot of what we are feeling is guilt from one or more situations in our lives that we have not dealt with properly. It is okay to admit that you made mistakes – just don’t stay parked on the mistakes mad
  2. Forgive those who have wronged you. This was one area that I struggled with – still struggle with. I am like Madea when it comes to people doing wrong… I want them “get got” immediately. However, having this kind of attitude is like playing the role of “god” and it’s wrong. When we don’t forgive someone, it’s like drinking poison and expecting the one that harmed you to die from the affects. Forgive those who wrong you. It doesn’t give them a pass for what they did – but it gives you the peace you need and deserve
  3.  Ask God for forgiveness. God is a loving and caring God. He is waiting for us to say “I messed up – I am sorry.” God is gracious and is willing to give us multiple chances to get right
  4. SEEK PROFESSIONAL ATTENTION IMMEDIATELY!!! I cannot emphasize this enough! It is not possible to receive the proper diagnosis, interventions and treatment necessary in order to ensure you begin your journey of healing and becoming whole. Ask questions. Do not be afraid to share openly with a professional what and how you are feeling. The more you share, the more help you will receive.
  5. It is okay! Find a support group to help you with whatever trauma or situation you are dealing with. I had a support group at church that handled grief and loss of a loved one. I also looked at and joined additional support groups that helped with other issues I was dealing with (overeater’s anonymous for my emotional eating habits for one). You do not have to go through this journey alone.
  6. Change your circle. Sometimes, being around depressed and negative people can have a negative impact on your mood. It’s okay to tell people “goodbye” in order for you to have a better life and positive outlook. Remember, you are the top five people you associate with.

I hope this blog series has helped someone deal with their issues, as well as helped someone going through. I can truly say that I am healthier, happier and see life in color again. I have learned from my mistakes, forgiven, and moved forward. Based on my past experience, I now know when symptoms may occur, and what to do to combat them. I am no longer afraid to seek help from professionals, and I am committed to keeping God first in all things. Prayer is the key, but faith without works is dead. Here’s to helping our community of women begin the process of healing and helping us all become whole.

Namaste!

Deonna

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