I am a sports fanatic. I crave going to sporting events and cheering on my teams (Green Bay Packers, Baylor Bears, Memphis Grizzlies, Tampa Bay Rays) because that’s one of the things that I love. Naturally, one would think that I was involved in sports when I was younger, and you would be correct! 3 sport athlete (golf, basketball, track and field) from 6th-12th grade. Oh and I was a choir kid in high school and did competitions and recitals on the monthly as well as was on student council in some capacity just about each year in high school. I was a busy kid to say the least. Our family Chevy Suburban (affectionately named Big Bertha) knew me and my hometown well.
I wasn’t your stereotypical black girl growing up. Go figure!
Filling my time with extracurriculars and academics was exhausting. I was burnt out before I even knew what that phrase meant. But I wanted to keep going to prove that I can hang with the best of them and so that people would be proud of me. Anything other than perfection was a failure so I kept going. But I was still empty to no end. It wasn’t until one day in 9th grade where I was sitting in the high school guidance counselor’s office finally letting all my emotions out that I uttered a phrase that would change my life:
“I’ve been depressed.”
I didn’t understand the magnitude of those words that day. However, I continued to believe after that day was that I had to have everything together all the time. As a black teenager, I was standing on my ancestors who were strong-willed because they had to be. I couldn’t show any weakness because people would think I couldn’t handle anything—that I wasn’t capable of acceptance if I messed up.
This mentality naturally carried over to college because of course you want to fit in right? You want to be this “person” to people you’ve never met so that they would accept you. But what I wasn’t expecting was for the people around me to truly get beyond the surface level questions of “How are you?” or “How are things going?” and actually want to know my heart, asking challenging questions and wanting to go deeper to know the actual me. It was revolutionary to me at the time. And that might sound dramatic to you, but for a girl struggling with perfection and scared of transparency, it was mind blowing.
My mental health journey collides with my faith journey at every level. I started to develop a relationship with Jesus when I got to college and actually desired spending quiet time with Jesus and going to church rather than doing this because I had to (and you can ask my parents—there were times where I REALLY didn’t want to go to Sunday service). And the more I immersed myself in the Word of God and prayer and a community chasing after that very same thing, the more I understood that perfection is never attainable and that I can truly come as I am all the time. How freeing is that? That no matter where we’re at mentally, emotionally, or spiritually, God desires us.
Now—I forget this truth from time to time. I’m human and life can be a nutcase often times that we can find ourselves in a valley with what seems like no way out. But that doesn’t keep it from being true. Jesus never said that following him would be smooth sailing, and it isn’t. But that’s ok.
Case in point—my junior year in college was stressful, anxiety-filled, and many other descriptors that I was at my end. And I was losing hope and sight of Jesus in the midst of the darkness to where I wanted to give my life up permanently. But Jesus met me where I was at that day, and that set off a chain of events that ultimately led me to counseling for the first time. To say I was scared to unravel the things I wanted to keep hidden is an understatement. And to add to that stress of talking to a mental health professional I didn’t even know, I was scared of showing my weakness as a black woman.
Growing up, being black meant not showing any cracks in your armor. It meant when you’re hurting, you shove it down and move along without even addressing the issue. So for me to wave my white flag and say “Something is wrong, I need help,” it was a big deal. In fact, according to the American Psychiatric Association, only 1 in 3 African Americans who need help actually get it. And a lot of that revolves around the stigma about mental health.
Going to counseling brought about a lot of anxiety, anger, crying, tiredness, but ultimately relief and freedom. I started to recognize my tendencies when my depression and anxiety begin to get the best of me. I began to acknowledge that I was feeling how I felt and was more open about my struggles to people that I trusted rather than push them deeper until I exploded. It’s not perfect by any means. Some days are easier than others. And sometimes it takes my friends knocking some sense back into me, pointing me back to Jesus when things are tough and I don’t see the light. Find friends like that—people who know Jesus and really know you and your heart and aren’t afraid to sit with you in the mess. Jesus has felt our every emotion while he walked this earth but was without sin. And that gives me hope that he will always meet me where I’m at. Why wouldn’t I hold firm to him in everything I do?
“God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”Hebrews 6:18-20
I do my best to live by the following phrase: “It’s ok to not be ok.” And if I don’t get it right all the time, that’s ok. I acknowledge that I might not be ok, but I partner with Jesus to work my way out of it. There is no way I would be planted where I am without the strength of the Lord and the community around me.
So I say this to anyone (especially my BIPOC brothers and sisters): take your mental health seriously. Don’t let anyone discredit anything you’ve been through that has caused you trauma. You matter and your mental health matters. I didn’t take it seriously at first and it nearly costed me my life. May you learn from what I’ve gone through so that you find yourself in a better position.
Receiving help isn’t a sign of weakness. In fact, it is one of the greatest strengths you can have.