Resisting With Anxiety
When I first started admitting to myself that the recurring episodes of sadness, panic attacks, and despair were not just bad days, it felt scary. You see, admitting it made it real and then telling others felt risky. Now that I am fully embracing all parts of me and part of a community that talks openly about it -- it feels ‘normal’. It is no longer a feeling but a truth. I have anxiety (the proper diagnosis I have been given is panic disorder). My family is all about the “de eso no se habla” and “you can’t trust everyone, so be careful who you tell your personal things to.” While, I understand that not everyone is rooting for you and ‘mal de ojo’ definitely exist, we are ALL fighting inner battles. I wonder what our world would look like if we shared with each other our truths and they were received with compassion, kindness, support, resources, and love. Even the truths that can feel challenging. Like admitting “I have a mental illness.”
I have openly shared my experience with anxiety and panic attacks with many different people these past couple of years. In the beginning I was having a hard time explicitly naming it. Now I think it is so necessary to talk about mental health if you are in a position to do so and able. Last Spring, I was invited to participate in a YouTube series, titled I Am Not Crazy, produced by the blogger Yetti from YettiSays, who is a fierce advocate for Mental Health Awareness, to share my story and experience living with anxiety. From time to time, I will engage in Twitter chats with people of color about battling mental illness, the stigmas within Black & Brown communities, the triggers, and self - care for mental health.
Studies show that nearly 1 in 5 U.S. Americans suffers from mental illness each year. There are more than 200 classified forms of mental illness. People’s symptoms vary, fall under a large spectrum, and can be triggered by a myriad of things. A dynamic that mental health professionals are not naming enough is how our identities greatly affect our mental health. I am choosing to focus on racial identity because it has been eye-opening to learn the ways in which historical and systemic oppression are connected to mental illnesses in people of color. People of color often face micro and/or macro aggressions and other behaviors that we internalize and I believe can also be a cause of the mild to severe disturbances in thought and/or behavior that lead to mental illness. This article by Lindsay Holmes shows the staggering statistics for racial and ethnic groups living with mental illness. While mental health is receiving more media coverage and well known figures are sharing their stories, people of color are not being included in the narrative. Mental health advocates like Yetti, Lissa Marie, Dior Vargas, Davia Roberts have created their own platforms that spread mental health awareness, reduce mental health stigma, and center people of color living with a mental illness.
There is still an ongoing stigma around mental illness in communities of color and our families. It has also become more clear for me that mental illness is generational and runs rampant in many families. When someone is diagnosed with an illness such as heart disease or diabetes it is easy for folks to make the connection to “so and so” in the family that has that same illness. Yet, when it comes to mental illness this is not often the case. Within my own family, mental health is not spoken about. I do wonder if there is a history of mental illnesses in my family. If there was/is, I wonder if they noticed their symptoms, if they tried to ignore the feelings and thoughts, if they received nurturing when they needed it, if they held themselves through a breakdown. Even when families of color start seeking counseling, considerable barriers exist to access the proper health care. When I decided to seek counseling it took months before I could even get an appointment for an evaluation because I have Medicaid.
I sought out counseling because the organizing work I was doing had me feeling heavy. In the organizing and activist spaces I am a part of I have met countless folks of color struggling with anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses. Last year, around this time we heard the news of Black Lives Matter activist MarShawn McCarrel suicide at age 23. Friends and family members of McCarrel shared that his activism was taking a toll on him and that he was battling depression. Advocating for justice and liberation can bring feelings of despair and each time you hear the news of another POC dying at the hands of state-sanctioned violence you feel it deeply. When I first started intentionally organizing I was in the trenches without assessing my own capabilities and doing the internal work. Resistance work takes an intense amount of energy and we should be prioritizing our emotional and mental health as often as not. Personally, I was showing up to events thinking I was ‘ready’ to facilitate and not fully there because I had been neglecting the preparation my mind, body, and spirit needed long before the day of the event or action. I am still a work in progress and now I have the awareness to choose to ground myself in various ways before going into any space that may or may not trigger my anxiety. Everyone’s process will look different or similar. For me, it is important to integrate into my life what works for me to take better care of me. Some of the choices I make and tools I use for my mental health are:
Therapy | I first met with a therapist when I was about 14 and have seen one on and off since. Now that I have Medicaid I had to wait a while to get an appointment with one, which gave me a panic attack, but eventually I found one.
Meditation | I use the headspace app to help me do mind exercises. I do these when I am not feeling stressed or anxious so that when those feelings show up I can handle them better.
Ashwagandha | It is referred to as an indian ginseng that helps combat internal stress, boost the immune system, and improve the memory amongst other benefits. I take it as a daily supplement in capsule form but it can be ingested as a tea or powder.
Herbs & Plants | While living a friend who had years of organizing experience and extensive knowledge about plants, herbal medicine and spiritual herbalism I was able to try different herbs that were good for depression, anxiety, stress and grief. These include Damiana, Lavender, Oatstraw, Chamomile, St-John’s Wort, and Valerian.
Whole Foods | Not the supermarket. Eating whole foods, green foods, grounding foods high in vitamins and minerals gives me more energy and make me feel rooted. I am more active when I eat whole foods which leads me to…
Body Movement | Moving my body via dancing, exercising, or stretching takes my mind to another place, allows me to be present in that moment, and gives me a boost (endorphins) to conquer other things in that day.
Writing | I journal a lot. I use to observe my mami write in her journal when I was younger and have written in them since. I write thoughts that are in mind, letters to people, poems, intentions, prayers, recipes, etc. I just write it out.
Spirituality & Praying | I believe in a higher power! I talk to God every day to offer my gratitude on the days I feel joy and to ask him for strength on the days I feel uncertain. I am blessed to be guided by a God, Goddesses, my ancestors and spirits.
Being Present | Staying in the now as much as I can. Focusing on the past and the future is a trigger for me and so being present to the day and moment I am in is helpful.
Holding Compassion | Dealing with any illness is hard! Having compassion for myself is something recent I am doing. I try to treat myself like a plant or a baby. Being gentle and kind with myself. Hydrating and nourishing myself. Getting some sun, doing as much or little as I can. Doing what feels good, what invites joy.
While my mental illness does not define me, it is a part of me. It influences how I eat, react, and what I create. My months of being in bed depressed and coping with my anxiety led to the idea for my business. Mental illness is real AND I am choosing to use it to create something I and my community can benefit from -- awareness, support, and compassion.
This essay is part of the the #52Essays2017 writing challenge I am participating in (along with 600+ people) created by the writer Vanessa Mártir as well as my #Breakthrough26 challenge where I do shit that scares me. Woosah!