This Black Girl's Recovery Guide to Mental Illness

"Now you know Black folk don't talk about mental health...that's for white folks."

 

The stigmatization of mental illness within the Black community is real. A lot of us carry trauma passed down from our foremothers and forefathers. We haven’t been able to fully heal from the ashes of slavery, Jim Crow and segregation because we are constantly in mourning from institutions declaring open season on Black bodies. The shit is rough.

When I was diagnosed with clinical depression I let out of a sigh of relief. I was comforted knowing that patterns of sadness, loss of focus, seclusion, thoughts of suicide, random crying spells, anxiety, and low will/energy to do even the simplest things, had a name. The thought honestly never occurred to me that it could be depression. I just assumed I was having a hard time, for whatever reason, and would eventually be ok. I just had to keep being strong. I remember telling myself that I’m stronger than this. Plus, I felt ridiculous because what did I have to be depressed about?

That is unfortunately a tune to the broken record of our relationship with mental illness. It’s the internalized oppression of stereotypes that paint Black women as strong, never-shed-a-tear-in-public, backbone of our families who still find a way to have a shoulder slapping laughing fit regardless of our situation. And that shit there is dangerous.

It causes us to be uncomfortable taking up space to talk about inner pain, leaving us to suffer in silence. We are embarrassed. We feel that it is a luxury to tend to ourselves and overall mental health...because well...we got more important things to do.

That’s starting to change.

I’m noticing a trend of brave and courageous Black women (in both my IRL + virtual friend circle) opting to speak out. From affirmations and narratives on Black Tumblr to How-Tos like the one below that Dejah Greene posted on her VSCO journal*, I am seeing a push for the normalization of mental illness + recovery within the Black community.

 

- Kierra Jenaé

*posted with permission


Some of us utilize different vices to overcome the feelings of loneliness and hopelessness that comes from depression. I'd like to share a few of mine and how some of them helped me and how some of them did not. I wanted to share this small project to show that recovery comes in many different forms and that you are not alone in your journey to recovery.

Over the last several years I have experimented with different ways to relieve the hopelessness and loneliness I feel most of the time. For the longest time I did not understand why I would feel so sad anxious for a period of days and on top of the world the next. It can be exhausting to deal with mood swings all of the time and I am still learning to deal with it in a healthier way.

I decided to create a small photo project that depicts some of the things that I have utilized over the years to help relieve the emotional pain. Some of the things I used gave me lasting positive results that I would recommend to others. And some of the things I used gave me negative results that I would not recommend to others because it can lead to unhealthy habits. I also chose to create this project because there is a huge stigma in the black community surrounding mental illness and a lot of times those who are suffering from depression are told to suck it up, man up, or pray about it.  

Stereotypes tell us that Black women aren't allowed to feel depressed, and that it's a sign of weakness. Stereotypes tell us that we are supposed to always be strong and hold everyone down. Having this mindset can really stress black women out and can do a lot of harm on their mental health. There are many black women who suffer from depression and anxiety but are discouraged from seeking help. I'm big on awareness and I just want those suffering out there to know that you are not alone, especially the black girls out there.

This project is for myself because I want to see how far I have come from when I first realized I was depressed in tenth grade. Now that I have a diagnosis for how I've been feeling, I want to continue to use healthier ways to feel better. I also want to try and help any other souls out there who have been hurting. I know the phrase "You are not alone" may seem cliche and redundant but it is the absolute truth. 

You may feel alone but you are not. there is someone out there worried about you and willing to listen. 

Even though I still have very bad days, I can honestly say I have felt better than i have in a long time. I have learned better ways to release the feelings of hopelessness and loneliness from my doctors, family and friends. We all go through trying time but we do not have to let those bad times control us. We do not have to give in to the bad thoughts. We are more than our bad thoughts and bad habits. 

- Dejah