overdue (mental) health checkup

I think we all can agree it’s been a rough year and even rougher last couple months. At least for me, it has, as I’ve found myself more socially conscious and aware of what’s happening in our society and the awful foreshadowing of things hopefully not to come.

One new sensation I had the displeasure of experiencing this year, a few times now, is anxiety. I didn’t know what it was during my ordeal getting pulled over earlier this summer, or even when I was recounting the events while the worst had been happening elsewhere. But I was finally able to recognize it and label it during this most recent election.

I did find solace in knowing that I wasn’t alone feeling anxious, afraid and even angry about a Trump presidency. And it’s still frustrating that some people fail to understand why it makes me and a million others feel that way. But that particular issue isn’t what I want to talk about right now. But it is related.

From the election to current events, to the daily tasks I take on during my day to day, I’ve recently become aware that I haven’t been taking much stock in my mental health. While I’m not a doctor, I’ve done some research on high-functioning depression and anxiety, and it’s possible I may be suffering from it.

I’m not necessarily blaming it on the election, but I know it hasn’t helped. The constant news and media consumption was toxic on its own, but also knowing racism and bigotry had been raised a few notches had literally been making my stomach turn and giving me grief. But on a more personal scale, I don’t know how to say no to requests and demands of my time. In fact, I often volunteer to take on more work. I’ll throw myself into projects to avoid dealing with negative emotions like rejection, loneliness, sadness and not measuring up to my own standards. And I’ll stay up way too late working on these projects because I don’t know how to shut my brain off and I need to achieve my goals as quickly as possible. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” or the hustler’s creed, as I call it, isn’t necessarily the healthiest way to live.

This is a surefire way to a burnout, which I could easily say that’s what all of what I’ve been feeling had been. But it’s been more than that. I worry too much when I call or text someone and they don’t answer. I overthink things, often drawing to negative conclusions, even when I know they aren’t true. Some disappointments aren’t as easy to shake off and I’ll dwell on them much longer than I should. I’m all too familiar with compartmentalizing and probably have overstuffed filing cabinets of repressed emotions I haven’t dealt with properly. The things I love, I occasionally feel absolutely nothing for but will feign the desired emotion people might expect from me.

Of course, you’d never know this just looking at me. I’ve learned to hide behind a mask or a caricature of who I want people to see, and I feel guilty for doing so because I’m afraid people will pity me or treat me differently if they knew how I was really feeling.

But lately, I’ve been feeling like that facade is cracking. At least from the inside out. And it really took a text message from a friend to make me seriously look at how broken I really was. I’m sure we’ve all been “in a funk” once in a while, but I happened to mention this multiple times in a single week. This triggered a warning in my friend and they let me know it, for which I’m grateful.

Having people worry about me is the last thing that I want. But after thinking it over, I saw what was happening. I felt what was happening. From the constant aches in my back, heartburn, insomnia, and apathy. I was in denial that I even had a problem, let alone they were all connected. I struggled to admit that I’d been overworked, overwhelmed and overtired. I still struggle with admitting that I’m not always okay. I struggle with being okay to say “I’m not okay.” It makes me feel weak.

But I don’t feel like this every day. And now that I know what all of this and can put a name on it, I’m working on getting better. Talking with my loved ones has helped a great deal. I can’t thank those people enough. Scheduling my time, taking things off my plate, and actually enjoying the pleasures of life have since become my priority to maintaining better mental health. Literally unplugging from things like social media and television has helped me calm down and bring me back to myself. Writing this (which had been difficult), is also helpful. I had no intention of sharing my thoughts publically, but I know I can’t be the only one who feels or has felt this way and not known how to express themselves or what to do.

I don’t know how or when this happened, but I fell into some false societal belief that because I’m a Black man, I’m not supposed to show emotions like fear, anxiety or depression, let alone talk about it publically.  But I am and I do, and my emotions are valid. I’d always been sensitive and caring and that’s nothing to be ashamed about. I thank God for my support system. I often feel like I’m a rock for them, but in my darkest of times these last few weeks, they’ve been mountains for me. Because of them, their words and their prayers, I can continue to be strong.

I encourage others out there who may feel like me to reach out to at least one person, sooner than later. You can even reach out to me, I’ll listen. I don’t have it all together all the time, and it’s exhausting to pretend that I do. I don’t have all the answers, just what’s been working for me. But I’m coping a lot better and I’ve felt genuine peace since addressing and confronting these emotional roadblocks. As my sister regularly reminds me, just take it one day at a time. You are not alone and sometimes it’s okay to not be okay. But please practice self-care and pay attention to your mental health.

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December 2016
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