These past few months have legitimately felt like living through an episode of Black Mirror. The violence, negligence + lack of empathy we’ve witnessed from elected officials all the way to local leaders like public educators has been heartbreaking. Every time I read a post about how people “don’t see color” my heart sinks a little deeper into my stomach. If only it were that easy.
But this is not an essay about the inequities of education in the United States or the systematic oppression of marginalized folks that major religions continue to play into. This is a moment of honesty about how I, Nia, have been faring through this pandemic. It’s been hard to write anything cohesive because my brain has felt like the pages of my journal, margin to margin covered in jumbled notes and sketches in a very overwhelming kind of way.
I’ve been struggling. The political unrest combined with personal battles has caused some serious mental health flare-ups. This always looks different for me but some common symptoms include racing thoughts, difficulty focusing, intense sadness, a lot of crying, constant worrying, memory issues, and mood swings. The good news is that these flare-ups don’t consume me the way they used to. While yes, the sadness always comes in like an avalanche, I know where to find shelter and I’m able to pull up and out quicker than I used to. I’m grateful for that.
I’m grateful for a lot of things these days. I’m grateful that I have shed the shame that stopped me from naming my depression, anxiety + CPTSD. Two years into steady counseling, I asked my therapist for an official diagnosis. That’s how hard it is for me to believe myself sometimes. The symptoms were all there. So was the trauma and rationales, but I wanted a clinical diagnosis. I wanted a piece of paper that confirmed what was happening. My therapist was hesitant because she didn’t want me to be consumed by the labels, but putting a name to what happens in my brain and body when I am retriggered has been one of the most freeing experiences of my lifetime.
I experienced serious trauma in my childhood and adolescence. A lot of us have. The ways that I learned to get love and have my needs met are sometimes toxic and mal-adaptive. But awareness is the first step before any real change can happen. I am constantly doing the work of moving from shaming myself for my learned responses to empowering myself to release them.
For a long time, I was scared to talk about my mental health out loud. I was terrified that people would judge me for it, that future employers might happen across my writing and think to themselves, we can’t work with this woman if she’s not well in this way. I now understand that my ability to walk in truth is one of my biggest strengths and a major indicator of my courageous spirit.
Recently, my therapist told me that 95% of the human population will experience issues of mental health at some point in their life. Most people never get the help they need because mental health is still very stigmatized in our communities. My prayer is that by being transparent about my chronic illness, more people will consider getting the professional help they need. My prayer is that we can normalize therapy the way we do doctor’s and dentist’s appointments. It’s easy to ignore mental health because it’s not as visible as a physical illness, but it is just as important.
The latest leg of my healing journey has brought me to a place where I am trying to identify the triggers that cause these mental health flare-ups. I am praying that God give me the wisdom and discernment to see the root of some of the more surface-level arguments or bad days that I have. Here’s a list of triggers I’ve been using as a reference:
- interpersonal conflict
- sexual situations or stimuli
- angry people
- intoxicated people
- perceived narcissism
- seemingly arbitrary criticism or accusations
- perceived abandonment
- feeling ignored or dismissed
- interactions with an authority figure
- people with physical or psychological characteristics that are in some way similar to the client’s past perpetrator(s)
- boundary violations
- unwanted physical touch
- the sound of crying
(These were all taken from Keck School of Medicine of USC. Chapter 11: Trigger Identification and Intervention.)
I’m still too raw to delve into the triggers I identified this weekend, but I’m proud of myself for continuing to do this work. I’m proud of myself for staying alive in a word that is set on destroying people that look like me. I’m proud to be breaking the silence around mental health stigmas because this is how we disrupt generational cycles of trauma.
Dear God, Thank you for the work that you are doing in me and through me. Thank you for the family and friends you have placed in my life to love me. I pray that you continue to strengthen me to have difficult conversations with myself and with others. I pray that you continue to heal me so that I can walk in the purpose you have outlined for me. I pray that I can give, receive, and be love and light in this dark world. In Jesus’ name, I pray, amen.