Mental Health In A Brown Girl’s World
My name is Patrice Magee. I am the Outreach Coordinator for NAMI Atlanta/Auburn. I am not only a mental health advocate, but a person that suffers from mental illness due to my diagnosis of with General Anxiety Disorder with panic attacks and Major Depressive Disorder.
Today, marks the last day of Black History Month and I thought, what better way to end it than to post NAMI Atlanta/Auburn’s FIRST blog post (of many to come)! So, you may be asking yourself, “How does mental health relate to Black history?” Well, because it has often been a “taboo” topic in our community. As a Black woman, I suffered in silence from my teenage years until the age of 32. I would have several days in a row, sometimes weeks, where I would cry uncontrollably and not know why. I would wake up feeling anxious and overwhelmed, which would trigger crying, which would trigger anger, which triggered thoughts of suicide. As I got older, it only got worse, but I stayed silent. Why? Because I felt like those were signs of weakness and I am supposed to be a “strong black woman.” I’m supposed to be strong like my mom, my grandmother, my aunts, and every other black woman I know. On top of that, I have a younger sister, so I felt like I was supposed to teach her how to be strong. For these reasons, I told myself something was wrong with me, but that I needed to just “buck up” and “be strong.” I also told myself that I had to get closer to God because, in the Black community, prayer and “staying in your Word” are the keys to happiness and if you aren’t happy then you aren’t praying enough or you don’t have a good relationship with God. Being a girl that grew up and church, I never wanted to appear like I didn’t love God enough, so I continued to hide it.
During college, it became harder to control and it showed itself through anger and failing classes. At one point, I found myself in the middle of the floor at the counselor’s office crying my eyes out and trying to figure out what to do with my life. I ended up switching from Computer Science to Fashion (big leap right? Lol). The anger though? It mainly showed itself at work. I had even gotten fired for a situation where I allowed my anger to get the best of me. Sadly, it would happen again as a 28 year old. I just couldn’t seem to get a hold of my emotions. I couldn’t seem to control my anger, my tears, my anxiety… but I kept doing the same things I always did because, again, I am supposed to be a “strong black woman.”
Then in 2017, everything changed. I met a guy at church that I thought would be my forever. Then, he cheated. I stayed. I felt lost and worthless, but couldn’t seem to let go of him. He told me to go to therapy to “help us.” I didn’t listen at first, but he told me that I had self-esteem issues and insecurities that had nothing to do with him cheating because he recognized them long before his cheating was revealed, so I would be helping myself, too. Of course, many might say this was manipulative, but he didn’t realize just how much he was actually helping me.
The day I finally decided to go to therapy, I was told there was no one that could see me until October… it was August! I felt stuck. I wanted to give up, but I gathered all my strength and called back and said I need to see someone IMMEDIATELY because I was sitting outside in my car when I was supposed to be in an executive level meeting for work. So, they said I could see a primary care doctor and she could possibly help me get in sooner. While at the doctor’s office, my anxiety was so high that my blood pressure shot up to the point where I was almost hospitalized. I was crying uncontrollably as I told her all the things that had been happening and all the struggles I have with constantly crying and feeling anxious and wanting harm myself. She told me that these were signs of having a depression and anxiety disorder and that I need to see a therapist, a psychiatrist, and go on medication. Because I had suicidal thoughts, I was able to see a therapist that day, but I was devastated by the diagnosis! I felt embarrassed. How was I going to tell my family? What would they think? Would they disown me? Would they tell me that I need to suck it up? Would they be embarrassed of me?
Well, I found the courage to tell my parents and the guy that was still my boyfriend at the time. They all accepted me! But it took me two weeks to tell my sister because it felt like I had failed her as the older sibling. The funny part though is that she’s a doctor, so most people would think she would be the person I would be least afraid to tell and when I talked to her, she told me that she was happy to see I had finally taken the step because she felt for a long time that I may need medication and therapy. I was relieved. I had let the stereotypes of the world, of my community, steer me in the wrong direction for so long! I suffered in silence for DECADES for fear of being shunned. Now, I felt free enough to share with a room full of people and I did! THAT was the real start to my mental health journey because I was no longer in hiding! I was free to me ALL of me!
Today, we see so many black celebrities speaking out about their struggle or advocacy for mental health. I see Black people like myself sharing their stories on social media. I am of one of those people that shares their journey on social media through my page “Discovering Pockets” because I know there are still people out there that look like me that are suffering in silence and I NEVER want anyone to feel the pain that I have felt when I tried to go on this journey alone.
Basically… Black people have come such a LONG way as a community when it comes to mental health and I hope we continue to grow, educate, and advocate!