For years, I struggled with the notion that I was less than because of my mental health diagnosis. I felt that I would never find true love; I would never accomplish my goals and that I would never be able to love myself because of my mental health challenges. I saw them as significant flaws that were holding me back from everything I ever wanted. After a few years of living in disarray and not working towards my potential, I began soul searching. In that, I found that none of the above was true. I realized that it all started with me. Here are four ways you can love yourself as a black woman with mental health challenges:
1. Look Up.
While attempting to get to the root of my feelings of inadequacy, I found my faith again. I returned to small concepts that I learned as a child in church. During this time, I was dealing with a great deal of anxiety, so I wrote scriptures on sticky notes and stuck them to my mirror. While putting on my makeup every day, I would read them. Sometimes I would read them aloud and sometimes silently. Those scriptures helped me to see that for everything I was feeling; God was my remedy. I had to remember that I am wonderfully made for a purpose and that my diagnosis is not a mistake or a flaw that makes me incomplete, but a piece of who I am that makes me unique and more qualified for my journey. It’s been about two years, and those same scriptures are still there. You can do the same with quotes that affirm or lift you.
2. Put Yourself First.
In dealing with my mental health diagnosis sometimes I’m not as social as other times. Phone calls and text messages have gone unanswered, I’ve been absent from family events. I’ve even put my college degree on hold to get myself back into a positive headspace. It isn’t always easy, but looking back it’s been worth it. What can you contribute to the ones you love most with your head in the sand? What good is a college degree if you can’t get up in the morning and use it at your job? In putting myself first, I’ve found that the people and things that I put on hold were always there when I emerged a better, healthier person. Of course, there has to be an understanding, and they have to be aware of your issues for this to work out, but the people who truly love you will always understand. If things have gotten out of control for you or you’re busy and not productive. Take a step back, tell some people no, focus on you and see how things change.
3. Ask For Help.
I fought before asking for help for the longest time. I grew up in a single-parent, only child household where my mother was superwoman. She handled her job, her child, her family obligations and went to church every Sunday. She was more than competent in every regard. I watched her build a great life for us, and as I began to battle with mental health, I felt as though I should have been able to handle it all, as she did. My sophomore year in college, I broke down and asked for help. I began seeing therapists. It was a hard decision, but one of the best decisions I ever made. The same is true for me asking my family for support. It’s still tough, but I push through. Recently, I called my cousin to chat with her; I told her I was experiencing some anxiety. She talked me through the issues that were concerning me, made me laugh as always and told me that she loved me. Maybe you need a therapist, or perhaps you need just a listening ear. Don’t try to carry it all alone. Ask for help!
4. Protect Your Peace.
As women of color, we often have to fight the stigma within our communities surrounding mental health challenges. There have been times in my mental health journey that people that I trusted have given me advice based solely on their opinion or lack of knowledge. It can leave you feeling even more inadequate and questioning what you know to be true for yourself. For instance, a loved one once told me that they didn’t believe that I was bipolar. Because I am a very strong person who understands what I’ve gone through, I let the comment go, but for someone who struggles with coming to terms with their diagnosis or challenges, this could’ve opened a whole can of worms. You will cross paths with people who don’t think that mental health diagnoses are real or don’t believe in treating mental health diagnoses with medication, but I am here to tell you that you have to protect your peace by doing what’s best for you. Also, you have to limit your interactions with people like this. Protecting your peace also involves changing how you deal with people or situations that interfere with your harmony and happiness. Lately, I’ve found myself ending negative conversations. If I’m talking to someone and they are negative, I stop the conversation or shift to a positive topic. This is not selfish; it’s self-care. I’ve worked extremely hard to get to a positive space in my life, and you have too. Protect your peace!