Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Even Strong Women Have Depression


This content is also posted on RhachelleNicol.com.

I remember my early battles with depression began around 14 years old. The years of enduring bullying for being smart, nerdy and having darker skin started to get to me. And I fell into a deep, deep sadness. People told me to “cheer up,” ignore those hating on you and be strong. I mentally beat myself up for not being strong enough. I was a talented, young black woman from East Oakland with a very bright future. But I thought depression was hindering me from becoming the strong black woman that is expected of women in my community.


When depression hit me hard in college, I still saw myself as weak. Which in turn made me feel less authentic as a black woman. The family issues I tried to brush under my mental rug were weighing me down. The stress from academics and attending one of the least diverse schools in the University of California system didn’t help either. I was hard on myself for being tearful and feeling hurt when relatives or friends intentionally tried to hurt me. I was supposed to have the “forget you” attitude, and feelings of steel when people attacked.  I was supposed to just let it go and cheer up. But depression takes more than just cheering up. And while I struggled to get out of that abyss for a number of years, I kept putting myself down for actually having feelings. Sounds silly doesn’t it?  Somehow I forgot I was human.


We’ve equated being a strong woman as not breaking when life hurls its worst at you. That ideology keeps some of us from getting counseling. That ideology keeps us from feeling our feelings, and in turn we suppress our pain with drugs, alcohol, food or bad relationships.  I remember taking a mindfulness class in the psychiatry department at Kaiser and the instructor told us when we have a feeling, just feel it. It may be tough, but it will pass. However she mentioned the key is to be mindful of how we react to our feelings. For instance, if you’re angry and hurt because of a failed relationship, let those feelings run through your body. Recognize those feelings, have compassion for yourself.  But don’t go out and do a Jazmine Sullivan on his car.

Luckily I had great therapists who helped me to be less critical. Through a lot of self-reflection, reading books by people like Iyanla Vanzant, watching  Oprah shows on spirituality, mindfulness, prayer, journaling and talking to others, I learned to have compassion for myself.  Then I saw the strong woman in me.

I realized it takes a strong woman to ask for help. It takes a strong woman to feel her feelings, even when it hurts like hell. It takes a strong woman to accept she has a mental health challenge and to love herself. It takes a strong woman to excel in higher education and her media career while living with a mental health challenge.  It takes a strong woman to take care of both her physical and mental health.

 I’ve worked in mental health advocacy for a few years now. I’m blessed to host a radio podcast called “Mental Health and Wellness Radio.” I’ve interviewed people living with bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety and schizophrenia. They are some of the strongest people I’ve ever met.  They’ve been through a lot, but they still keep LIVING and THRIVING. Sharing their personal stories and message of hope for others facing mental health challenges makes them strong. And my advocacy work helped erase the shame I had about my depression.  My work and the show allowed  me to see I’m not alone in my struggles and triumphs with mental health challenges.

I know society has its expectations of what it takes to be a strong woman, or in my case, a strong black woman.  But those expectations weren’t good for my wellness. I hope if you are struggling with any mental health challenge, that you get help. Or even if you’re depression stems from a bad event in your life (i.e. a death, an injury, financial problems, torn relationship), I hope you talk to someone. One in four Americans have a mental health challenge. So trust when I say you’re not alone. And trust when I say there’s probably someone in your life with a mental health problem. You may not even know it.

 Getting help doesn’t make you weak. It help makes you feel better. Getting help makes you stronger.



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