My Mental Health Journey
Within many communities, seeking professional help to overcome emotional or mental health battles is discouraged. Many ethnic minorities shy away from therapy as to not “shame the family” by talking about problems outside of the home. In the predominately African-American community I grew up in, talking to God about my problems and “praying on it” was recommended as the best solution to overcome anything (even though faith without works is dead, right?). While there are positive aspects to having a spiritual connection with a higher power, the concept of “praying on it” led me to internalize any negative feelings. Being raised with that mindset taught me that I did not have enough power to overcome hardships in on my own.
For some of us, just recalling details of a traumatic incident is enough to incite fear and scare us away from seeking therapy. Others may feel that the negative feelings we experience don’t warrant enough trauma to justify seeking therapy. What I’ve realized is that no matter how big or small your emotional obstacles seem, and no matter what anyone else has to say, you have the right to seek healing.
I first became aware of my anxiety disorder about 5 years ago. I was in the midst of my first yoga teacher training and was learning about a yoga concept called Pranayama. Pranayama is the formal practice of controlling our breath. The ability to use pranayama as a tool to help us mentally focus, physiologically relax, and mindfully release tension is a powerful one. Being apart of this yoga training invited me to be more aware of my breath, and specifically to become aware of moments when I found myself holding it.
That day I became aware of my anxiety, I was stuck in traffic on the 405 freeway. I know…being stuck on this freeway is stressful for a lot of people, but not usually bad enough to incite a panic attack. For me, on that day, it did. As I sat helpless in my car, mentally playing out a scene in which I would not make it to work on time and leave everyone suffering in my absence, I noticed that I was holding my breath. I felt a lump so large in my throat I could barely swallow. As my palms tightened on the steering wheel, my left knee started bouncing nervously and tears poured uncontrollably from my eyes. I already let my employer know that I was running late and was reassured that someone was there to cover for me. Still, that reassurance was not enough to calm the panic attack that was steadily reaching its peak. As if someone grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me to wake up, I realized that there was no way I could pull my car to the side of the road in all the traffic…I realized that I needed to pull myself together. So I took a deep inhale, counting to five as my chest expanded. I held my breath for five counts. Then I exhaled, counting to five as my chest lowered and rib cage pulled in. Just as I learned in yoga. I did this for at least 10 rounds until I was able to steady my breathing, and thus steady my body and mental state.
I was in control. Or so I thought…
In the years since that moment passed, I’ve experienced several more panic attacks and chronic anxiety that has prevented me from living my best life in many moments. However, it wasn’t until recently that I decided to seek professional help to overcome it. A few weeks ago I found myself facing an unexpected opportunity to advance my career. I thought, “this could be the big moment I’ve been waiting for!” Knowing how fleeting those moments are, I poured every bit of my heart and soul preparing for my moment to shine. That moment came, and honey I SHINED! Then came the waiting game of constant email refreshing to hear feedback, and for the first time in my life I realized that my anxiety was not only triggered by the bad stuff, but also the really exciting stuff. I realized that when it comes to uncontrollable outcomes, my anxiety does not choose favorites. As I sat on the couch facing my wonderful boyfriend, crying my eyes out in frustration, he looked over at me with genuine eyes and said, “I think you need to talk to someone.” I found his gaze and responded, “I think I do.”
Fast forward a few weeks after seeking professional help, I informed my therapist that I wanted to move our weekly sessions to occasional check ins. She agreed. She was blown away by the progress I’d made in such a short amount of time and commended me for “doing the work” outside of our sessions, which is the most crucial thing to do in therapy. Then she finished our last session with these words of advice to me in managing my anxiety:
When you face an unexpected scenario, instead of triggering your anxiety by thinking about everything that could go wrong, make a list of what could go right.
Over the past 5 years I’ve been developing my #MentalHealthToolBox that consists of tools like: pranayama, sitting in the sun, listening to guided meditations, exercising, daily devotionals, cooking, journaling, and intentionally scheduling dates with friends whose energies feed my soul in the best ways. Turns out, the last missing tool was for someone to grab me by the shoulders, turn my face into the light, and guide me to consider every amazing thing that could go right.
Thank you for sharing in this mental health journey with me!
In order to overcome the stigma associated with it, let’s continue to normalize the conversation surrounding mental health and seeking professional assistance. Share this post with a friend or family member who is struggling with something and needs to know they have support. Mental health and emotional healing is a human right that everyone should experience!