In the past week and a half, I have had three anxiety attacks. These attacks consisted of shortness of breath, blurred vision, hand tremors, and the complete lack of ability to function. It was so bad, I missed an entire day of class—which is not a good thing when you’re in your first semester of graduate school. I wish I could say that this was my first bout of anxiety, the massive cloud hanging over me. This dark cloud didn’t just bring anxiety; it brought the reign of depression. This “one-two punch” to my mental health has even landed me a short stint in a county psych ward due to suicidal thoughts.
I left my doctor’s appointment this week where I was tested for Generalized Anxiety Disorder and prescribed antidepressants when I realized the answer to the question: What is the biggest lie I have been told about my black womanhood? The biggest lie—even though it was subconscious— was black women are strong, and any emotional distress is viewed as a weakness and a mutation of your black womanhood.
As I am writing these words and discussing my personal battles, I am almost embarrassed; however, my truth is that this is a real issue and does not make me less of a black woman—or less of a person in general. Walking in this truth openly is a struggle, sometimes I almost feel like I am wearing a Scarlet Letter or some symbol that denotes my mutation. I am fearful that my professors will view me as incapable of being in graduate school and my classmates will judge me or make fun of me. Or when I talk to my father, he will blame me for my anxiety and say it is my fault. All of these thoughts that are racing through my head 24/7, and it makes it even harder to function daily.
But also, as I am writing these words I am slowly being freed. Freed from the notion that I am imperfect and broken. Actually, I am more whole than I have ever been. I look back over my life and could list the things I have already accomplished even while dealing with anxiety. And I realize I am not any less of a strong woman. I have interned on Capitol Hill, I have interned in law offices, and even landed a research position at University of Iowa—where I currently am pursuing my MPH in Health Policy. I did all of these things, on my own. Does this not show you that I am strong? Strength is carrying on and pushing through issues like depression and anxiety to achieve your goals, as well as seeking help when needed.
My truth is I struggle with mental health issues and I am a black woman. I have not lost my black card. I do not have something wrong with me that makes me less human. My truth is that somedays are harder than others to wake up and get out of bed, but my truth is also I push myself to do it. I do it for me, to prove myself right. I do it for the little girls who look up to me. I do it for my family, to make them proud. And I do it for my late mother, so she knows I am strong just like her.
The fact of the matter, mental health has had this stigma wrapped around it for far too long, especially in the black community and it is time for it to stop. I hope by me telling my very own truth someone somewhere can live in theirs.