Last week was National Mental Illness Awareness week. I sat down at my laptop multiple times in an attempt to write a post for this site on the importance educating ourselves about mental illnesses, recognizing the early the warning signs, fostering a community in which people feel welcome and comfortable in speaking about their experiences with mental illness, and ensuring treatment is available for those in need. I wanted to address the stigma mental illness still carries, particularly in the black community, and how our silence on issues of mental illness are crippling us.
That was the plan. I've written about these ideas quite often in the past year or more, always from a very personal place, having been diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorder in 2008. I share my story in hopes to normalize discussions of mental illness and erase the shame associated with depression.
There is no reason that anyone experiencing those long sleepless nights followed by short spurts of restless sleep, wasting away because they aren't eating but maybe one meal a day, convincing themselves are going to die because the clouds outside moved an inch to the left and covered up the sun, running away from the mirror afraid to face their own reflection, catching their reflection and not recognizing the person in it, lying in bed watching television they hate because it takes too much energy to reach for the remote and change the channel, justifying their own funk because showers are a chore, and wanting nothing else than for it all to end as soon as possible should feel alone. We should all feel like someone is there for us.
I felt something very familiar the last couple of weeks. It wasn't anywhere near the level of what I went through a few years ago, but it came trickling in all the same. The erratic sleep patterns. The unshakable feeling of loneliness. The overriding sense of sadness and despair. I wasn't taking care of myself and it was starting to show. I tried to write through it, but every time I sat down to give voice to those feelings, I slumped back into them. I needed saving.
When my therapist suggested medication to coincide with my hour-long talk sessions back in 2008, I opted out. It's not a decision that everyone can or should make. Mine was based on my own uneasy with pills and medication at the time, but had I gotten worse I definitely would have reconsidered. I chose to take a more holistic approach: altering my diet, practicing yoga and meditation, and writing daily in my journal. It took longer, but I learned how to manage my anxiety attacks. Months of sticking to this regimen and I felt, not as good as ever, but there was a marked improvement and I was eager to live a real life again.
The problem is, it's easy when you haven't had a panic attack in a while, or you haven't sat up all night watching television and contemplating suicide, to ignore the things that got you healthy in the first place. You start feeling "normal" and begin neglecting the hard work it took to get there. And when it starts to unravel you don't pay it any mind because "oh, it'll pass. I'm fine now. No need to worry." Slowly, you start creeping back into the shell of comfort that consist of your own self-loathing.
Today (October 10) is World Mental Health Day, and I'm going to spend it taking care of my own mental health. I'm going to exercise, I'm going to write in my journal, I'm going to meditate, I'm going to get adequate sleep, I'm going to eat right, and I'm going to laugh. I'm going to laugh a genuine laugh that isn't about hiding any pain. I'm going to go about doing the mundane, tedious, hard work that is taking care of one's self because if I don't I won't be here to help anyone else. I'll do it because no one else can do it for me. And I'll wake up the next day and do it all over again.
Because it's necessary.
Follow Mychal Denzel Smith on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@mychalsmith