Open Letter: My Anxiety, Depression, PTSD & OCD

This is a very serious post. I never imagined that I would be sitting here writing this today but here I am, sharing my story.

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I only decided that I was ready to share this story after I read these quotes within an article:

In many ways, I do think that there is a greater stigma among African American culture than among white cultures. I live in southern California, and many white people will freely reference “seeing a therapist” in normal conversation. Black people don’t do that. Seeing a therapist is generally seen as a sign of weakness or a lack of faith. There is still an active mythos of “the strong black woman,” who is supposed to be strong and present and capable for everyone in her family – and neglects her own needs. In the midst of a depressive episode, I had a friend say to me, “We are the descendants of those who survived the Middle Passage and slavery. Whatever you’re going through cannot be that bad.” I was so hurt and angry by that statement. No, depression isn’t human trafficking, genocide or slavery, but it is real death-threatening pain to me. And of course, there are those who did not survive those travesties. But that comment just made me feel small and selfish and far worse than before. It made me wish I had never said anything at all.

I am just now learning that vulnerability is strength. I am learning to speak and write boldly about the reality of living with a depressive condition. Even when it’s hard and I don’t have it all figured out and it’s actively kicking my butt. It’s the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done. It feels like running naked across the front lawn.

But I also feel a lot of affirmation when people respond — especially other black women — and let me know that their processes and challenges are made lighter by hearing their experience reflected from a pulpit, leadership, the classroom, or wherever I am. That confirms what I’ve felt is a calling from God. It encourages me, and helps my health.

I want to share my mental illness story and share coping mechanisms with you all.

As of today, I’m 19, Black (and proud) and I am living with mental illnesses. Immediately upon hearing that, general ignorance and perpetuation of the mental illness stigma would make any person believe I belong in a straight jacket inside of a mental ward. Obviously, that’s not the case. I noticed something wasn’t quite right with “me” when I was 11-12 years old (2009). My grandmother had passed away in February and as my 12th birthday approached (In April), I was too engulfed with grief to actually celebrate. I remember everyone being extremely concerned because for as long as they could remember, I regarded my birthday as THE most important holiday. My family and friends celebrated with me and reassured me that my grandma loved me and would be so proud of the beautiful young lady I was growing into. I smiled and nodded while wondering why she was gone if she loved me so much. Initially, it seemed like grief and nothing more. At the time, I was in the 6th grade attending a public middle school which had also proved to be yet another very significant stressor.

During this time, I was also involved with an “older guy”. He was 14-15 years old and as a young, naive and slightly unassuming pre-teen, I had become emotionally invested in him. He attended a different school than I did and he had a girlfriend that he proudly flaunted. Eventually I got in trouble for the relationship and I became so fed up with his betrayal and broken promises that I became malicious. His happiness was contigent upon mine. If I was miserable, he would be miserable as well. At the time, screenshots weren’t popping, so I “copied and pasted” the messages between him & I and sent them to his girlfriend. She was crushed, they broke up and I was still miserable.

This grief eventually turned into anger and bad behavior. I was filled with so much rage and I had severe violent tendencies. I was moved to a different middle school in 7th grade and immediately upon arrival, I lashed out at the new students, teachers and faculty. I was hell to say the least.

I didn’t start to realize that I may be suffering from depression until 10th or 11th grade. Looking back now, I can say that I have displayed many of the symptoms associated with these mental states for many years. I remember vividly in 2nd grade becoming so irate in the middle of one class, that I got up and slapped another student with a book. I shake my head now but even then, I had an unexplainable amount of rage. I was always defensive and easily aggravated but I never knew why.

As I grew older, I began battling with body image/self-esteem, my Blackness, my growing womanhood and friends.

It wasn’t until April of 2015 when I was formally diagnosed with depression , anxiety, PTSD and a mild form of OCD. After meeting with a psychologist following a core-shaking post-relationship experience, I was told that the incident had resulted in PTSD. After the incident, I lost more than 30 lbs in just a few weeks and completely detached myself from family and friends. I was done with everything. After detailing several incidents of my life to my psychologist I suddenly felt better- not good, but better. The insomnia, the nail-biting, the anger, the resentment, the isolation and overall pain finally had a name. In this case, several names.

Now, I could work on managing and healing. While many of those that are close to me do not see the impact of my mental illness or let alone, care about it, I have made significant changes to help myself. Despite being told to “pray about it” and “get more rest”, I have now taken recovery into my own hands. This is something that I’m living with. Some days I’ll feel amazing. Other days I can’t get out of bed. Now, I can acknowledge it and make the necessary steps to move forward.

No one expects me to be living with these illnesses. I don’t fit the image of a “crazy person”. But people with anxiety, depression, PTSD and OCD are not crazy. We’re your friends, your family, your co-workers, and your acquaintances. We cry, we laugh and we hurt like everyone else.

While I do understand that many people  need medication, I don’t recommend it at all. Meditation over Medication.  I am against those types of “healing”. Finding a black therapist is crucial for many reasons. Mainly because you can discuss the real issues that effect black people i.e racism, colorism, white supremacy, a hostile work environment, sexual abuse etc.


 

I spent a lot of time compiling the following list of symptoms. I want you all to evaluate yourselves and note any inconsistencies. I will also place a check mark next to the symptoms I had/have. Remember: just because you may identify with many of the listed symptoms does not automatically mean you are living with that mental illness. It is important and crucial to seek help as soon as possible.

 

Symptoms of Depression 

  • A persistent sad, anxious or “empty” mood, or excessive crying ✓
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased appetite and weight gain ✓
  • Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders and chronic pain ✓
  • Irritability, restlessness ✓
  • Decreased energy, fatigue, feeling “slowed down” ✓
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness, hopelessness, pessimism ✓
  • Sleeping too much or too little, early-morning waking ✓
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities, including sex ✓
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions ✓
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts ✓

Symptoms of Anxiety 

  • Persistent fear, sometimes without any obvious cause, that is present everyday ✓
  • Inability to concentrate ✓
  • Muscle tension; muscle aches ✓
  • Diarrhea
  • Eating too little or too much ✓
  • Insomnia ✓
  • Irritability ✓
  • Loss of sex drive ✓

Anxiety/ Panic Attack Symptoms

  • “Racing” heart
  • Feeling weak, faint, or dizzy  ✓
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands and fingers
  • Sense of terror, or impending doom or death ✓
  • Feeling sweaty or having chills
  • Chest pains
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Feeling a loss of control ✓
  • Sudden overwhelming fear ✓
  • Palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sense of choking
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea ✓
  • Dizziness
  • A feeling of being detached from the world (de-realization) ✓
  • Fear of dying
  • Numbness or tingling in the limbs or entire body
  • Chills or hot flushes

Symptoms of PTSD

  • Reliving: People with PTSD repeatedly relive the ordeal through thoughts and memories of the trauma. These may include flashbacks, hallucinations, and nightmares. They also may feel great distress when certain things remind them of the trauma, such as the anniversary date of the event. ✓
  • Avoiding: The person may avoid people, places, thoughts, or situations that may remind him or her of the trauma. This can lead to feelings of detachment and isolation from family and friends, as well as a loss of interest in activities that the person once enjoyed. ✓
  • Increased arousal: These include excessive emotions; problems relating to others, including feeling or showing affection; difficulty falling or staying asleep; irritability; outbursts of anger; difficulty concentrating; and being “jumpy” or easily startled. The person may also suffer physical symptoms, such as increased blood pressure and heart rate, rapid breathing, muscle tension, nausea, and diarrhea. ✓

Symptoms of OCD

  • Fear of dirt or contamination by germs
  • Fear of causing harm to another ✓
  • Fear of making a mistake ✓
  • Fear of being embarrassed or behaving in a socially unacceptable manner ✓
  • Fear of thinking evil or sinful thoughts ✓
  • Need for order, symmetry, or exactness ✓
  • Excessive doubt and the need for constant reassurance ✓
  • Repeatedly bathing, showering, or washing hands
  • Refusing to shake hands or touch doorknobs
  • Repeatedly checking things, such as locks or stoves ✓
  • Constant counting, mentally or aloud, while performing routine tasks
  • Constantly arranging things in a certain way ✓
  • Eating foods in a specific order
  • Being stuck on words, images or thoughts, usually disturbing, that won’t go away and can interfere with sleep ✓
  • Repeating specific words, phrases, or prayers ✓
  • Needing to perform tasks a certain number of times ✓
  • Collecting or hoarding items with no apparent value ✓

Currently, my anxiety has been giving me a hard time but I’m coping and I’ll get through this.

Useful Links

Black & Depressed: Two African American Women Break The Silence 

Depression & African Americans

 

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