Here is the thing, I never wanted to be labelled as
someone who was anxious, depressed, or had Mental Health challenges.
Growing up as a minority who was overweight, geeky
looking with the smarts to match the look, the last thing I needed / wanted was
something that would label me and / or have me stick out even more.
Lucky for me than, that as a kid Mental Health and
all the things that come along with it were not as widely spoken about as they
are today and so it allowed me the space to hide in my own thoughts, worries
and things I was coping / dealing with. It all worked out well especially
because the culture I grew up in, while having every good intention, got me to
focus on being strong and holding it all together vs. being anything that
appeared week, e.g., crying.
But when you carry years of self-doubt, worry,
stress, anxiety and low feelings, it does all at some point compound and come
to the surface and you are left with no choice but to face it...
My first instance of having to really face it all
happened in University.
I was living in a toxic environment, dealing with
the stress / pressures of not letting my parents down, trying to understand all
the growing pains I was experiencing between boys, friends, body / personal
image, life, etc. I hit a couple of low points that included locking myself in
a bathroom while staring at a pill bottle wondering if I should / shouldn’t and
experiencing panic attacks which were unlike anything I had witnessed before. I
knew I needed to do something and being away at school meant that I could talk
to someone without anyone really knowing.
But after visiting the counselor on campus and
receiving my diagnosis and prescription for “happy pills”, I felt like I had
more to contemplate.
The statistics now on the impacts that
anti-depressants can have and the dependency they can create were not apparent
then, but I just couldn’t digest having to rely on something to make me feel
better and cope. I know that medication can do wonders for people, but for me
it just wasn’t something I could bring myself to do.
I began to isolate myself a bit more and really
create the space that I needed to work out whatever was going on in my mind.
For me that was spending numerous hours in a gym each day, taking dance classes
that forced me to look in a mirror and journaling.
I know now that while it helped me to get by in the
years to come, I was avoiding the thing I likely needed to do most – which was
to just allow myself the ability to slow down and really just talk about what
was going on in my head, heart, life, etc. with people around me that I really
But as the years went by, I used my mechanisms to
support the imposter syndrome that added to all the other things I was facing
as I entered the corporate and adult world. Which drove me to live a life of
constant extremes – long hours, followed by little sleep to just force myself
to get that gym space I desperately needed, erratic eating patterns, irregular
routines, the idea of keeping myself so busy I never really had to stop to have
a real in depth conversation and the list goes on.
I was in a spiral and while there were people like
my parents that could spot it, I just wouldn’t let myself slow down enough to
even acknowledge it. Well, that is until life happened to me...
As I hit my early 30’s personal tragedy struck in a
way that I never knew possible. And in the weeks and months that followed the
catastrophe that my life became left me with no other choice, but to do the
thing that left me feeling the most uncomfortable – slowing down enough to face
the years of everything that had come before, while allowing myself the
opportunity to open up to a subsect of people about what I was feeling,
experiencing, needing, etc., while admitting that I was and had always been in
a constant battle with my Mental Health.
The whole experience left me feeling so free and
light in a way that I can’t even begin to express. And irrespective of it being
one of the hardest times of my life, it was in hindsight the best thing that
could have ever happened to me.
In the years now that have followed it has taught
me so much about managing my Mental Health, which has also become quite the
topic across all aspects of our society today. The statistics that are out
there now are alarming and while on one end tie to the reason why the World
Health Organization has called Mental Health an epidemic, it also is the other
reason why it is now so much more okay to talk about all the things we could be
experiencing under the Mental Health banner.
The reality is we all are on a Mental Health
spectrum and have days which are good and days that are not so good, while some
of us deal with easily manageable Mental Health challenges, and others of us
need constant support and / or medication. At the end of the day, it doesn’t
matter where you fall on the spectrum, what matters is that you are open about
what you are feeling and in a way that is absolutely unapologetic.
I look back to the beginning of when I probably
first recognized where I sat on the spectrum and the fear I had about being
labelled as something “different” and think never did I ever imagine how proud
I would be to be able to openly admit the labels that come with my challenges.
Having any sort of a challenge, Mental Health or
other, doesn’t make you “different” in a way that comes with negative
connotations, it makes you uniquely authentic in a way that comes with beauty,
power and grace.
And, in a world where everyone seems to be wanting
to fit in and / or be that perfect mold, we need to recognize that our unique
differences make us who we are and who we are is meant to be bold and stand out
– no matter what those differences are.
So as I sign off this post, and we enter a week
where Mental Health will be talked about everywhere around the world, I
encourage you all to do the thing it took me years and years to do - take the
time to talk to each other about what you are feeling and thinking. While also
taking the time to stand in front of the mirror looking yourself in the eyes
and acknowledging that it is okay to be you, unique characteristics and all.
And in it all I hope you recognize one of the
things that matters most – you and will never be alone and have to suffer in
about all that you are, instead of what you are not.”