Friday, November 16, 2012

Getting Some Lovin' During the Blues:
Mental Health, Depression and Sexual Wellness


Last weekend I had the honor of speaking about mental health and sexual wellness at the SHERO conference in West Oakland. It was a very intimate setting, where black women were able to talk about sex openly. SHERO founder Nichole Little saw an ad in Oakland magazine about my show Mental Health and Wellness Radio  and asked me to speak.

There's no secret I love writing about sex and erotica. And I've always been fascinated with the mind and emotions. I even wanted to be a psychologist when I was younger. But there's another reason why mental health is important to me.

For the last 16+ years, I've been living with depression. I say LIVING because even during periods of the blues, I still have a quality life.  I work, write, create, read, win awards, go to good schools, love, laugh, travel, party, socialize, give, help others etc. I do all of this while LIVING with depression.  For a long time I carried shame about my diagnosis. But it wasn’t until my recent job that I learned to not be ashamed. Depression is not my fault. It wasn't a choice. Just like cancer, diabetes, lupus and any other health problem is not anyone's choice.

SHERO founder Nichole Little and
Cocoa Fly at the 2012 Art & Soul Festival

I was ashamed because I thought people would judge me or think less of me if they knew. I was ashamed because I bought into that, "Strong Black Woman" doctrine that's killing a lot of sistas because we're not making our health and happiness a priority. I was ashamed because I heard depression was for white women, and so I questioned my own blackness. I was ashamed because in church I heard, "Don't go to no psychologist for your problems, just give it to Jesus!" So when I asked Jesus to take away the sadness, and it was still there, I began to lose faith. But I never heard the pastor tell the parishioners diagnosed with diabetes, "Don't go to no doctor. Put down that insulin and take your illness to Jesus!" 


I shared this with the women at the SHERO conference. I could hardly get my story out because they were firing off questions. I figure their reaction is because people don't talk about mental health. One in four Americans has a mental health challenge, yet we don't talk about mental health.


With a lot of counseling, meditation and prayer I got the help I needed. And working for an organization that empowers people with mental health challenges, empowered me. The good thing about depression is that it makes you really in tuned to your feelings and body. Eating healthy is good for my mental wellness. So are exercising, reading, writing in my journal, prayer, meditation, watching Coming to America…I can go on. I'm also self-aware of signs that I may be slipping into the "abyss, " which is what I call my depression: irritability, sadness, loss of appetite, etc.

Sex plays a role in mental wellness. A low libido for me is a sign that I may be getting the blues. But a little bump and grind boosts the mood.  In the must-read Men's Health article, "Understand What Sex Does to Your Brain," neuroscientist Dr. Daniel Amen wrote that orgasms are like antidepressants:

"Orgasms cause intense activity in the deep emotional parts of the brain, which then settle down when the sex is over. Antidepressants calm the same part of the brain. This calming effect may be why people who regularly have sex experience less depression."

And sex releases those feel-good brain hormones like oxytocin and endorphins. I read in another article that even small intimate actions like holding a lover's hand or hugging your partner can improve your mood.  


Photo by sWrightOsment

Foot massages are good too. Rubbing the right spot, can hit just that right spot in the brain.
According to Dr. Amen of Men's Health, "The foot-sensation area of the brain is next door to the clitoral (and penile) region, which may be a big reason that women are so focused on shoes—yours and hers." 

Sex is always better when you feel good about yourself.  If you're depressed and not feeling sexy, you won't be in the mood to do it. Or you won't enjoy it. So it's important to be in good mental shape for pleasure. Remember, the largest sex organ in your body is the brain.

I concluded that talk with an activity where the women wrote down and stated their own personal rights and sexual rights to a happy life. That was really fun.

I share my story because a lot of people, especially minorities, are suffering with a mental health challenge alone and don't get help.  I think therapy is more accepted in the white community. But not so much in the African American community and other communities of color.  I'm not a therapist or a counselor. But I hope if you're reading this and you think you have a mental health challenge, get some help. You're not a freak or weirdo. You're not weak. And you can still have a good life with a mental health issue. I see it at work everyday. I see it in myself everyday.

To end on a sexy note, I saw this Nightline story about women and orgasms. There are 80 regions of the brain. When a woman has an orgasm, all 80 regions of the brain all hit their maximum activity.
"Orgasm is one of the most all-encompassing phenomena in the brain. The only other thing that is known to produce such widespread [brain] activity is epilepsy," said sex scientist Barry Komisaruk.
All the more reason to work on releasing that Oxytocin. 



4 comments:

  1. I love this post and yes mental health talk has become taboo in the African American community.

    "I was ashamed because I bought into that, "Strong Black Woman" doctrine that's killing a lot of sistas because we're not making our health and happiness a priority." I had a hard time coming to terms with my own bouts with depression and adding my faith to the boiling pot did not help the situation either.

    But I am definitely more aware of it now and more open to discussing mental health and also bringing awareness.

    ReplyDelete
  2. @Rhachelle

    That's GREAT that you're more open to addressing mental health. And for a lot of people who have mental health problems their faith helps them maintain their wellness. The church may say pray to Jesus to heal your troubles. Well, Jesus gave me great therapists, group counselors and meditation workshops to help with my depression.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder four years ago. Before then, my life was an emotional rollercoaster in the hyper coaster sense. It is a really bad thing to know that something's not quite right but you're unable to say for sure what it is. All I knew is that my emotions were extreme and it was exhausting.

    When I was diagnosed and properly medicated, everything changed. EVERYTHING. For someone whose former default setting was bedlam, it is miiiiiighty nice to be calm. I now understand how and why I respond to certain events and know my triggers, and as GI Joe said, knowing is half the battle.

    I'm not ashamed, not embarrassed, and not worried about being judged. What bothered me the most about my condition is that my mother knew something wasn't right, and she addressed it the best way she knew how. I now know that there were plenty of times when she felt like she was living with a stranger and that makes me sad. But I am so glad I had the wherewithal to ask for help, and that's what we as Black folk have to understand...asking for help doesn't make you weak, it gives you strength. I found a doctor who helped me get it together and my life is one thousand percent better.

    And as far as my faith was concerned, God gave me insight and wisdom over my own life and the intelligence to know that there were things I could do to help myself. Anyone who tells me that I should throw my pills away and trust God to heal me doesn't know God and for damn sure don't know me.

    Mental illness and disorders aren't just relegated to white folks, the wealthy and the elite. It's a human condition. Black people can't afford NOT to talk about it; keeping silent doesn't mean it will go away. Just the opposite.

    ReplyDelete
  4. @Amaya

    Thank you for sharing your story! Thank you for that personal comment. I am so happy that you found the help you needed. I am so happy that you're not ashamed of your condition and you feel like life is more balanced.
    You said something really key and that is knowing is half the battle. You know your triggers. So you're mindful of the things in your life that don't make you well. And I hope you also are aware of the things that make you feel good when you're not well. For people with mental health challenges, once we know our triggers, what makes us well, what meds work or don't work, etc. that is life changing because it shows you have taken control of your health.

    I appreciate you and Rhachelle for sharing your stories.

    ReplyDelete

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