Growing up, mental health was not something that was talked about in my family. We would say that anxiety was a myth, depression was a myth and praying was the answer to all the problems. I would never bring up depression or my mental health because I felt like all I had to do was go to school and get good grades. So when I couldn’t eat or sleep from anxiety, I didn’t know how to articulate how I felt.
Growing up in my African household, we wouldn’t bring up feelings of discomfort or depression because the answer was always the same: pray about it. Pray the depression away. This was the mindset I was conditioned to believe when it came to my mental health issues. I was always told to be strong and to never show weakness even when you are experiencing hardships.
My first panic attack was in college. I was a freshman getting ready for finals week, and I was part of a program that was designed to help students during the transition from high school to college. This program cared more about passing grades and external factors than the pressure and stress that would come with the transition and changing expectations. I tried to talk to my mentor about what I was feeling during this time, but those feelings were brushed over many times, and I again felt the outside pressure to ignore and compartmentalize my feelings while focusing on my academic performance.
After several nights of studying for my math final, I broke down crying on my dorm room floor. The stress and anxiety had culminated to a point that I didn’t understand what I was feeling or why I felt it. I felt like I could not continue, and that I was a disappointment to the program. Even worse, allowing myself to grieve and give in to my negative feelings made me feel like I was a disappointment to my family. This was a moment that I would never forget and I would need to learn from.
My anxiety attacks would come soon after and my depression would also get worse. I was scared to open up and talk to my friends and family about what was happening to me. It was scary to show weakness because, as an African, I should never be weak.
A friend once told me, you are never weak when you seek help. This was the push that I needed to talk to my school therapist. I talked about my childhood trauma of losing my mom at a young age. We talked about moving from a different country and how not having family close anymore would affect me. We talked about a lot of different issues that I was scared to open up about, but I knew that it was a safe place to be vulnerable.
Seeking help for my mental health has helped me so much that I now talk about it openly on my different platforms. I remind POC to seek help when they need it, and I talk about mental health awareness and resources. I know this to be true: we can’t be scared to talk about our mental health because of the way we grew up. Speak up about the issues you are facing and find strength in vulnerability.