It's Ok Not to Be Okay
My Experience with Mental Health
My heart raced and my stomach turned as I faded in and out. I could've easily passed out...
I thought to myself. I have so much left to do.. so much left to accomplish and to go out like this wouldn't make sense."
I remember saying out loud "oh God not like this, not like this.." while pacing around my apartment. I'm more spiritual than religious but I knew who to call at that moment (Let the church say amen).
I felt as if there was no coming back, I was going to see Kobe, Malcolm X, and Tupac. I remember thinking to myself, "if you could just make it downstairs, you'll make it."
I would've never thought that one of my most serious life decisions would come down to deciding to walk downstairs and outside. I knew that my bro told me he would stop by and chill around this time, but I also knew that he usually walks since I live down the street from him.
Walking down that flight of stairs, felt as if I were hiking down Mt. Everest. I live by the notion that when you find yourself in a tough situation just focus on putting one foot in front of the other. I still don't know how I managed to make it down those stairs.
Now, I know this may sound story-bookish, but the moment I stepped out of my front door, he pulled up in a car. I said to myself holy (you know what), I just might make it. He began to get out of his car, but I hopped in and immediately said to him, "hey bro, I may not look it but I'm going through something right now. Can you take me to the hospital?"
When I arrived at St. Vincent's Hospital, the ladies took my vitals and asked what I felt. I told them and said, "hey ladies, I know I may seem cool, calm, and collected but I feel fireworks going off on the inside and I just might pass out." I ended up spending a few hours in the hospital before they let me go around midnight.
That night in the hospital completely changed my life forever, although I didn't know it at the time because I went back to "life as usual" for about 2 weeks until April 30th, 2020. This particular night, I decided to watch a movie called "The Revenant" starring Leonardo DiCaprio which I had seen a couple of times before. It has this one scene where he gets into a fight (if you can call it that) with a bear.
As I watched this intense scene, I had a weird feeling in my chest reminiscent of the lead-up to the panic that led me to the hospital on April 15th. Hell, you'd have thought I fought the bear myself. I remember getting out of bed and then I start to panic as I experience all the same feelings again.
My heart rate felt like it might break the record set just weeks earlier and this time I didn't have a friend on their way since it was after 1 am. So, I went across the hall and knocked on my neighbor's door, and well, he answered.
I told him as best I could that I may pass out and asked if he could take me to the hospital. This guy looked me right in my face and said, "hey bro I'm in the middle of finishing up this project for class that's due in an hour can we go after that?" I said to myself, "I'm not doing this panic thing right." Then he said, "can you call an ambulance?" I thought to myself, "bro.. you ARE THE AMBULANCE NOW GET IN THE DAMN CAR!" I just know he thought I was crazy because we had only met once before this night. Then I said to him, "hey look bro I know I don't look it but I'm going through it right now I need to go now.. like right now." Safe to say, he finally took me.
They ran all the same kinds of tests that they did the first time and didn't necessarily find anything wrong. However, when I left the hospital this time nothing was the same... I started to literally feel like a stranger in my own body and my mind. Hell, I moved into a new, nice, and spacious apartment two weeks later and I felt like a stranger in there too.
This may sound weird, but I didn't look at myself as a human before these experiences. Nothing slowed me down, but I had finally met my match. I encountered an uphill battle from there in terms of figuring out what went wrong and how to get back to my normal self if I ever would. I started to do research on panic "attacks," anxiety, and even depression because the anxiety caused me to feel depressed.
I found out that so many of the people that I know, love, and trust had dealt with these feelings their entire lives. Some of my friends sleep too much, some don't sleep enough and some are flaky at times. If you don't understand mental health, you make take any of these things personally.
You see as someone who really hasn't who hadn't dealt with anxiety or depression, these terms were more of ideas than anything. However, when I experienced them, I gained a whole new level of empathy. I even started to buy books about anxiety and depression for my friends.
I took two to two and a half months off from business, doing the absolute minimum for the first time in my life. During this time, I chose to schedule and go to appointments as fast as humanly possible given the pandemic. I even had to wear a heart monitor for a month.
I didn't call them panic "attacks." I chose to call them instead of panic situations because I decided to do the attacking and I encourage you to do the same as best you can. I did my best to approach it like a game or a match and looked at it like I finally found a worthy opponent. It was literally a TREACHEROUS battle every hour, minute, and second of every single solitary day.
I did an unruly amount of drinking just to cope, like at some point I didn't even have fun "turning up." I remember having to learn how to deal with anxiety. I had to relearn how to fall asleep because I feared I may not wake up. I had to learn how to lay on the couch and watch movies while not panicking over heart palpitations. I had to relearn to ride in cars, to deal with eating certain foods, to deal with the summer heat, and how to enjoy time alone. At a certain point, I just surrendered... and not in a sense of weakness but in a sense of strength, like whatever happens happens.
Two months passed and I finally got some news after all of the health visits. it came down to my thyroid. So, they prescribed me medicine and I took that for two months all the while telling my friends that I would become a better and stronger version of myself at some point ditching the medicine (not at all knocking medicine!). I didn't know for sure that that would present itself as the outcome, however, I said it anyway and ultimately spoken into existence.
So…how did this happen? Well, I'm glad you asked... I expected this though because when you neglect to change the universe will put you in an extremely uncomfortable situation, so you have no choice but to change. I'll put it to you like this, you keep doing one hundred in a forty, you're bound to crash... you feel me?
I'd dealt with a lot in my personal life and as an entrepreneur these five or six years. I always took on the mindset that I should internalize it and "just handle it." Things never got to me because I had built up my mindset for almost 10 years. The same way a bodybuilder sculpts and shapes their temple, thus I did with my mind. I made a commitment to do so by reading listening to audiobooks, associating with positive people, etc. Once I figured out the power of our minds.
I say that to say I had overcome a ton of ridiculous obstacles (homeless, jail, business pressure, etc.) thinking that day just made me stronger. However, I didn't realize that the effects of these situations had begun to add up over time. I started to do things to numb or distract myself from the pain. People usually come to me for advice so I can help them through their problems.
I began to use the same process I used with others on myself. This involved acknowledging that there is a problem, asking questions to find the root cause or causes of the problem, verbalizing it to someone, so that it no longer had control or dictated my thoughts, actions, or feelings, then making a commitment to overcome this obstacle because it's selfish not to because our stories are testimonies to others.
Now at some point, I realized that I needed to start opening up to other people in order to get these feelings off my chest. I have some amazing friends and I'm grateful for them. However, when I finally started to open up to them about what was going on with me, I got responses that were totally different from what I expected.
I remember calling my friends and explaining to them what I was dealing with and that I might actually need help. You see through the process of self-awareness I analyzed where these feelings were coming from and why I was feeling this the way. I knew I was doing things that were destructive to my well-being and a lot of it had come through the journey that took place with business.
Naturally, your business is your baby, your creation and you love it. However, I recognized that to an incredibly tough road in terms of my entrepreneurial journey. Now when I would tell my friends this they would say "oh no there's no way it's your business," or "you're the strong friend, you'll be good" and I was just like alright I finally started opening up to people and now it's not even working.
I even looked into getting a therapist, but never got one. So, I continued this destructive lifestyle that didn't serve me until something drastic had to happen…
Society plays an interesting role in shaping us from an early age. I think we've all heard of the notion that babies are born with two fears: the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. All other fears, we learn. From birth, we get shaped by the views, opinions, beliefs and fears of friends, family, the media, etc... Most people never truly know themselves below the surface...
You have to get to know yourself like you get to know other people that you meet. Think about it, how often do you really get time to spend with yourself and consciously focus on getting to know you?
And when it comes to Black people, we have so many emotions; anger, frustration, sadness, and more however we need to let it out in constructive ways. I mean imagine seeing people who look like you murdered while taking a jog, at a traffic stop, going to the store, and other regular everyday things. That plagues our minds because it could be us, a family member, or a friend. It makes it even worse to see the people responsible walk away scot-free.
The fathers of psychology didn't create the industry as we know it to serve and help Black people. So, how can we trust that their findings were formed on a basis conducive to the mental health of black people?
Now more than ever we need mental health professionals that look like us. Along with them, we need professionals from other races who care about Black people and have worked tirelessly to understand our mindsets, our culture, our struggles and our potential.
Other cultures, praise people who open up about how they feel, but in our culture often times we look at opening up and expressing oneself as a weakness.
My friend Steffani put it perfectly, "we can look fine on the outside, have a really great life, be excel in many parts of our lives, but still be struck with anxiety, depression, etc. Anxiety and depression can rob you of thoughts and emotions. They can make you question your worth and existence. They cause you to waste hours and days, only causing you to look back at all you could have accomplished instead. They paralyze your body and let time pass you by while your thoughts never stop. They terrify you of leaving the house, in fear that everyone will somehow know the internal battle you're facing. and judge you for being so weak. They make you look at everyone else and wonder why they don't have to suffer this battle, but you do. They convince you that asking for help is hindering your burdens on someone. They make you constantly worry that bad things will happen and then visualize exactly how they will happen."
And if you've never had a mental health battle, please have empathy and understanding to others that do because some of those battles are tougher than you can imagine.
Whether you are Black or any other race I ask that you stop claiming these things don't say, "my anxiety" or "my depression." Words are powerful and these labels, too general. I considered it a win in my case getting back comfortable with being alone, for others the win represents getting comfortable with being around others. If a person does not work to understand your mental health battle you should distance yourself from them period.
And to anxiety ... I needed you to strengthen the level of trust and love I had with my friends and family, I needed you to give me a deeper level of empathy with others who struggle with mental health, I needed you to remind me to appreciate the simple peace I have within and I thank you because you challenged me in ways I never thought possible and gave me the strength I needed to carry the weight of the world…
And to all my mental health warriors, you are strong and you are not alone even when you feel alone.