“Your heartache is someone else’s hope. If you make it through, somebody else is going to make it through. Tell your story” — Kim McManus
For as long as I can remember I have been labeled as easily overwhelmed, “sad,” angry and my personal favorite dramatic! I never really understood why, I never talked about how I felt with anyone; it was only God and I that knew my truth. I kept it to myself. I bottled it up, pushed it deep inside, apologized for every time I lashed out, always making a promise to do better and just like that a vicious cycle had started. It wasn’t until after my mom passed away, the umphteenth suicide attempt, and break down that my brain relinquished power to my inner-self and recognized that I needed help and at this point there was no amount of praying, crying, denying or covering up that was going to change the fact that I needed help; a help that I couldn’t give to myself by myself.
I remember the first time I heard the words Adjustment Disorder, Generalized Anxiety, Major Depression. At the time there were just blurred words echoing in my head. I could feel my stomach sinking as it was recommended that I take medication to stabilize my mood. My lack of willingness to accept the truth would lead me back to that vicious cycle with a new addition to the cycle; inconsistency. I went to therapist after therapist hoping the diagnosis would change, never really being honest with them or myself and only doing half of the work. I was still lashing out, I was still breaking down, I was still pretending to have it all together when I was falling apart. I hid behind my relationships throwing myself into being the perfect girlfriend, the bestest friend, an attentive sister, all mask for my real pain and then it happened Ms. Anti-Child Bearing was having a Princess!
Most do not know that I went through my entire pregnancy grieving the lost of a destroyed relationship and the murder of my best friend. I’m grateful for those who were there but support was scarce if not almost non-existence. I was going out of my way to keep people in the know about my pregnancy but very few were actually checking on me throughout my pregnancy. I was alone, scared and pregnant, the worst combination for a new mother. As if the pressure wasn’t already thick to be this great mom to this miniature life form that depended on me for everything, now I was being told that my previous diagnoses made me more likely to experience PTSD after the baby was born. I knew for the sake of my daughter that I had to try harder and be better if not for me at least for her.
I was just beginning to settle into my new role of being a mother and provider when it started; these intrusive thoughts that I wasn’t good enough and she’d be better off without me. I reflect on the night that I was sitting at the edge of my bed completely exhausted, it was the third night in a row that my daughter appeared to be cluster feeding, only sleeping for 2 or 3 hours. She was screaming and crying but all I could do was stare at her. I wasn’t moving, I wasn’t running through my checklist of what could be wrong, I was just sitting there completely unresponsive staring at my daughter as if I didn’t recognize her. I didn’t even realize that my daughter’s GG had walked in. I was completely out of it and being the great supporter she is, I remember her scooping the baby out of my arms and telling me to go to sleep. No judgement, no criticism for not being attentive, just a mom who could empathize with what another mother was going through.
I continued with my cycle of denial convinced that if I prayed harder, surrounded myself with good church folk that I’d be okay. Instead of running towards the church, I found myself running away from the church, purposely isolating myself and overthinking my significance in other people’s lives. I had gut turning anxiety, unexplainable anger. If I wasn’t smiling then I was screaming, if I wasn’t screaming I was crying. There was no medium, no in between, just the extreme of one or two emotions and then the unspeakable happened, I had one of these moments that I couldn’t hide from; I had no choice but to accept my reality. I was sitting in a hospital bed contemplating checking myself into the hospital for the weekend. The suicidal thoughts were getting louder, I was embarrassed and ashamed of myself. My daughter had witnessed one too many times a side of myself I was struggling to keep hidden. It was sitting on that hospital bed that I decided to stop hiding behind masks and to stop pretending everything was okay. It was sitting on that hospital bed, that I was finally ready to accept that yes I struggle with my mental health but having a mental health diagnosis does not have to define me. When the doctor returned, you would have thought I had word vomit as recounted everything that I felt was weighing me down.
I took charge of my mental health at that moment. I made a conscious decision that my wellness and happiness wasn’t linked to a romantic relationship, my significance in someone’s life, a job or having a bunch of money in the bank. My wellness and happiness started first with Me and though I aspire to be a perfect mom to my daughter, I understand that I can’t be nothing to and for her if I’m nothing to myself.I learned to find the coping skills that worked for me such as yoga, positive affirmations, prayer, identifying and recognizing what triggers me and making a choice to respond differently to those triggers but most importantly I learned the importance of self care and always being in tuned with myself. I’ve taken my inner self off mute and began listening to her more attentively. I stopped living for everyone else, my daughter included and started living for Jerré.
I won’t lie and say I don’t have bad days, the intrusive thoughts are still there, the anxiety and depression are still there and I still struggle with adjusting to life stressors but I can say that I’m better at managing the symptoms. I’m better at knowing when to say I need help and actually reaching out for help. I’ve freed myself of the stigma, the stereotypes, the judgment and ridicule. I’m no longer ashamed to admit that I struggle with my mental health and I stopped allowing people to shame me into feeling differently. I’m unapologetically Jerré and I owe her absolutely everything because only I know how long it took to find her! My journey is far from over but I’m happy to still be on this journey of self-discovery, healing and finding inner peace.
As a Mother, A Founder, a sister, a friend, an advocate of mental health and one that personally struggles with mental health, you are not alone. Together we can stomp out stigma towards mental health. More than ever we need each other. Share your story, free yourself and more importantly seek out the help you deserve.