May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Countless people around the world are affected by mental illness and related issues. We all have a picture in our minds as to what mental illness looks like but often, it’s not at all who or what we imagine. In this post, I shine a light on what it is like to journey silently from a little black girl to a young woman in the shadows of mental illness.

When did you become aware that you were struggling mentally and emotionally, and what were the circumstances?

I was nine years old. My father was incarcerated and my grandfather, who I was very close to, was dying of heart failure. My family always struggled. All of that combined kept me in a state of anxiety. I would suddenly sweat, become dizzy, and have numbness in my extremities. Not knowing what this was or why it was happening, my mom took me to a neurologist. After running tests and finding no physical cause, they told her that it was mentally and emotionally related. I then began therapy where it was confirmed that I suffered from anxiety.

How did therapy go for you and were you prescribed medication?

I didn’t want to be in therapy at all. For the first three sessions, I refused to talk. I was more concerned about being ‘normal’ than about going through the necessary process of being helped, so I was very resistant. Eventually, I warmed up to being in therapy. My doctor wanted to put me on medication, but my mother would not allow it. I finally realized how much therapy was helping me, but had to stop because my mother’s insurance no longer covered it.

What did depression look like for you as a young girl?

I became depressed because I couldn’t seem to get a handle on my anxiety. I felt like I was the only girl going through it and because of that, I felt like there was no one I could talk to about it. This made me feel worse and even more alone.

How did anxiety and depression affect your performance as a student in school?

I was a good student, but my attendance was not good. My anxiety and depression affected my ability and willingness to be in school. There would be days when my mother would drive me to school only for us to get there and I would say, ‘I can’t [go in].’ She wouldn’t force me to go because, in her own way, she was trying to help me by not forcing me into situations that would make me anxious. My anxiety affected me academically and socially. In every way possible. It was an uphill battle.

What was your longest period of depression and what was that time like?

My longest and darkest period of depression was when I was 13 or 14 years old and it lasted for about six months. During that time, I was smoking weed heavily and, once, someone laced it with [Angel] ‘Dust.’ That triggered a reaction that resulted in me having a severe anxiety attack. I then spiraled into a deep depression. I self-isolated primarily because of my embarrassment. Sometimes I slept all day, but then I would not sleep at all for days at a time. I missed a lot of school. That is when I was at my lowest point. I was suicidal. I thank God I made it through because I know all of the ways that situation could have gone.

What brought you out of that dark period?

Literally God and my mother. She never gave up on me.

Have you since participated in therapy?

No, but I would like to. Very much so.

Do you still suffer from anxiety and depression? And if so, how have those conditions affected your parenting?

I will always suffer from both. As an adult, I am better able to cope with it and through it. My children are my motivation to get through because as a mother, you want to be okay for them. Years ago, I had an anxiety attack while my son was present. I could see on his face that he knew something was wrong. I try to stay in tune with whatever is going on with me mentally and emotionally for them. I am now more vocal about what I need. For example, when I need a minute, I tell my husband, ‘I need a minute.’ But it is still something I struggle with.

You are also an artist. You rap and write all of your own lyrics. How have your mental health conditions impacted your artistry?

I put all all of my feelings and experiences into my music. I treat it like a diary. And it is always my hope that it reaches someone who has gone through what I have and they are helped and comforted by it.

How do you care for yourself?

My self-care is rooted in meditation and quiet time. I do things that relax my mind like walking, reading, writing, listening to music, or simply sitting in silence. My thoughts are constantly in motion so it’s super important for me to unplug from the hustle and bustle of life to recharge.

What plans do you have for yourself in the upcoming years?

I would like to see where my music takes me. I would also like to own a business such as a Spoken-Word lounge, while possibly pursuing a career in education because I love kids.

What would you say to another young person who suffers from anxiety and/or depression?

I would tell them to know that it is not just them. When you are young, you tend to think you are the only one going through whatever it is you are going through. As hard as it may be, speak out. Tell someone because you are never as alone as you think or feel. It took me most of my life to be able to talk about this, and I am now 25 years old. You are the first person I have gone into this much detail about it with.

What advice would you give to people who have someone in their life who suffers from anxiety and/or depression?

Give honest support. Make them feel like they can come to you and talk about their feelings without judgment. In our community (the Black community), so much is about survival and strength. People don’t want to appear weak, so they don’t talk about their struggles. But I’ve come to learn that there is strength in vulnerability. Just being able to publicly share my story feels freeing.

Thank you for sharing so courageously Jewel.

If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety, depression, or another mental disorder or illness, resource information may be obtained from the National Institute of Mental Health (nimh.com) or at mentalhealth.gov.

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