Mental Health Doesn’t Mean Crazy

                                                                   LB’s Thoughts

Life has knocked me down repeatedly and I’ve always managed to get back up somehow. I can recall the first time I felt helpless. As a small child, I remember feeling like the ground had opened beneath my feet and I began to fall with no end in sight. I lost all sense of security and safety when my family had to leave my childhood home in a rush. All of my toys, clothes, pictures, and keepsakes were thrown into boxes and bags. This chaotic episode became the norm, and I didn’t find solid ground until years later. This was one of the earliest events in my life that severely impacted my mental health.

In order to create temporary security, I developed defense mechanisms at a young age to protect myself from experiencing that “falling” feeling. It was my own way of activating fight or flight tactics. I now know that it is okay to seek help to develop healthy tools to manage my mental health. I’ve outgrown my defense mechanisms because I’ve found healthy alternatives. Admitedly, I sometimes revert back to them, but I’m a work in progress. In the same way I can’t exercise once and expect a lifetime of good health, I have to stay on top of my mental health daily. I only keep honest people around me that love me for who I am, no exceptions. I walk daily, try to eat right, and continually push myself to grow. I’m excited to work on myself. I can’t be any good to others if I’m no good to myself. A wise woman told me to “Getcha mind right”. I’m taking her advice, and I no longer feel bad for taking care of myself first and foremost.

What is mental health? The Department of Health and Human Service stated mental health ” includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being.” ( para 1.,n.d.).

                                                                      References

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). What is mental health? Retrieved from https://www.mentalhealth.gov/basics/what-is-mental-health/index.html

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                                                                      PA’s Thoughts

It was Friday, May 9, 2008. My desk phone rang, and a familiar voice greeted me on the other end, “They found George in his apartment, he’s dead”. I felt overwhelming fear, confusion, concern, and anger. Then I experienced a brief moment of clarity. “He killed himself, I’m sure of it”, I said in a voice barely above a whisper. He had always tried to mask his mental illness. Always the life of the party, he was the person everyone loved to see. He secretly lived a life of turmoil, was verbally and emotionally abusive, and buried debilitating childhood secrets that only he and God knew.                             

8 years later, I have much more understanding for an act that seemed unfathomable only a short time ago. With mounting daily stresses, increasing financial responsibilities and what seems like a decreasing number of hours in the day, life seems to be constantly overwhelming. These days, I find myself questioning my own mental health more and more and am adamant about taking time away to regain clarity and focus. Within the past few years, I have solicited the expertise of a mental health professional in order to help me prioritize and to put life back into perspective. I wish that George would have sought help rather than the alternative, but the reality is that no one is exempt from these thoughts or feelings. 1 in 5 adults in America experience a mental illness (www.nami.org). With the multifaceted lives that many live, remaining in good mental health is essential for continued progression. My mental health is paramount, and I am committed to maintaining it at all costs.

                                                                          References

National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2010, June 28). Billy graham’s 35,000 souls: One in five will experience mental illness. Retrieved from http://www.nami.org/Press-Media/Press-Releases/2002/Billy-Graham-s-35,000-Souls-One-in-Five-Will-Expe 

Today’s Thoughts on Body Image

PA’s reflects on body image…My 4-year-old recently looked at his little chocolate hand and said, “I want to be white.” Flabbergasted, I replied, “What do you mean?  Has someone commented about your skin?”  He explained that as a ‘project’ his teacher had all of his classmates place their hands in a circle so that they could learn to appreciate their differences. My immediate thought was, ‘What the hell?’  It’s February and this is the best you could do for a Black History Month project? Especially since there are only four black children in the entire school and 50% of them are mine? This is where it begins. It is in these moments that children are made to feel ashamed of their God-given physical characteristics and the effects could potentially last a lifetime. I spent the remainder of the evening explaining differences amongst people and because God made us all, you should always treat people with respect and kindness.

I thought back to when I was in second grade; my family had moved from a predominantly Black neighborhood to one that was the complete opposite. I was now one of the only brown faces in my school, and I felt like an anomaly. I recall trying to sit with my legs elevated off of my chair so that my thighs wouldn’t spread. After all, the white  girls had slender thighs that looked the same whether they were sitting or standing. I expressed my concerns to my mother, who quickly explained that God doesn’t make any mistakes and that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Her reasoning sounded like Charlie Brown cartoon to me, “Womp womp womp womp”. I just wanted to fit in, and to not feel like an outsider. As I grew older and my perception of beauty began to change, I learned to appreciate my curves, my color and my differences. I now want the same for my children. I want them to be confident, self-assured and comfortable in their own skin. I want them to know that they can accomplish anything. I want them to know that they are great and that the color of their skin is not a hindrance, but an asset. This conversation made me wonder about body image. Are decisions about how we treat one another honestly made based solely upon skin color? How much of a role does social media play in determining ‘what’s poppin’? According to the Office on Women’s Health, parents should “Restrict television viewing, and watch television with your child and discuss the media images you see (para 4, 2009). Also, “keep the communication lines with your child open” (Office on Women’s Health, para. 4, 2009). Implementing these small changes can make a world of difference and have the potential to impact a lifetime. Is there still an inferiority complex that exists amongst minorities? The thought of what our society places an emphasis on is exhausting, disgusting, and overwhelming. We have to teach our children to accept themselves exactly the way that God made them. Otherwise, our youth don’t stand a chance.

LB’s offers her thoughts… I danced around the Thanksgiving table like a devilish imp with loved ones in reckless abandon and jubilee. It’s finally Thanksgiving and I get to let loose and celebrate the wonderful year we’ve journeyed through. There is usually a basketball game blaring in the background, and a toast is made to each three point shot. Let’s not forget the plethora of spirits and the sweet taste of pigs in a blanket (topped with spicy mustard). I love sports, but when coupled with this time of year, it’s a true love affair. I LOVE this time of year because I get to slow down and enjoy a delicious meal with loved ones. For a moment on the calendar, I can finally breathe and relax. We are all giving thanks for the blessings we have received throughout the year, and cares are discarded, even if only for a few days……breathe, smell, taste, touch, laugh, love, enjoy, repeat….We pregame all day until it’s time to dine on succulent turkey, sage infused dressing, roasted potatoes, buttery rolls, and heavenly scented gravy. A few glasses of red wine accentuate the flavors, creating an intoxicating aroma that lulls me into a trance. Or am I really drunk? Okay, yes, more than likely. Should I go back seconds? Thirds? What does it matter? Who’s counting?—My damn scale that’s who. And I will have to account for all of those calories on my day of reckoning. At the first sign of warm weather, spring will rear its beautiful head, and I won’t be able to hide! I knew I had enjoyed falls’ bounty and winters’ good graces by wearing heavy sweaters, long sleeves, and bulky coats that hide the true damage I may have inflicted upon myself. I seriously wondered if I had gone too far. Now I had to start the torturous ritual of trying on spring clothes to see what no LONGER, fits. See there? I’m already setting myself up for disappointment, and this is a key factor in negative self-talk as it relates to my own body image.  Why do I constantly whip and punish myself for my weight? Why can’t I just enjoy the changing of the season? I am not alone, and this reaction is normal according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Many women in the United States feel pressured to measure up to a certain social and cultural ideal of beauty, which can lead to poor body image.” (Office on Women’s Health, 2009, para. 1).

With vacation season quickly approaching, I decided to make my physical and mental health a priority. I accept where I am physically, and am working to become healthy in every aspect of my life. I refuse to waste time complaining about stretch marks while standing on Cape Cod or Myrtle Beach. How can I appreciate the beauty and blessings of life, while thinking negatively about myself? I plan to only worry about what sunscreen I bought and to let elephant ears with powdered sugar be food for my soul!

References

Office on Women’s Health. (2009). About body image. Retrieved from http://www.womenshealth.gov/body-image/about-body-image/index.html

Office on Women’s Health. (2009). Body image and your kids. Retrieved from http://www.womenshealth.gov/body-image/kids/