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Mental Health Mondays

Meet Barbara

Morgan Daniels

What brings you joy?

It brings me joy to be in a healthy mental state and to have the energy to face each day. For so long, this was foreign to me. When I'm healthy and well rested, I'm able to better help others as well. In addition, I have a dog that brings me great joy. He has really helped and showed me unconditional love over the past two years.

Barbara's Mental Health Story:

Growing up in poverty, traumatic experiences as a child at the hands of my father, witnessing domestic violence in my home growing up, and being sexually assaulted as a teenager; all lead to me being clinically depressed and in a constant state of anxiety. From early childhood depression and anxiety significantly interfered with my quality of life. I was very withdrawn and isolated. I didn't have many friends, barely talked to my family, and thoughts of suicide were the norm. My confidence and self-esteem was very low.

Over the years, I reached out for help via talking to counselors at my colleges here and there, but never had consistent professional mental health help. Two years ago, I was forced to a place of healing. I'm in my early thirties, so this is something that I was battling for a while. I sought therapy and confronted a lot of issues from my past. I overcame the culture of silence around talking about mental health and seeking professional help in the black community. I'm now in recovery and help others battling mental illness to break the silence and get the help that they need.

I created an initiative around breaking the silence of talking about mental illness in the black community and seeking professional mental health help. I designed a five t-shirt series known as the "Unleash T-shirt Series" where individuals and/or loved ones affected by mental illness are encouraged to live their life on purpose by unleashing their unlimited potential.

Meet Keara

Morgan Daniels

Photo by Keara

Photo by Keara

What brings you joy?

Things that bring me joy include anything dealing with art whether it be painting or attending an art gallery to look at other artist's artwork. I also enjoy traveling and beach vacations, along with gym workouts.

Keara's Mental Health Story:

My name is Keara Douglas, and I suffer from depression and a common sleeping disorder referred to as insomnia.

My depression often came out as either rage or me lashing out at others in anger. This went on for years before I was told and explained what it really was. Most of the time friendships would end because of how I would react to certain situations or things very irrationally, but I just always assumed "that was life" and that "people come and go" not really taking into account of my actions and how I was affecting others. I was first diagnosed with depression, along with insomnia, in the year of 2014 when I went to the doctor simply because I just could not sleep. There are times right now where I may take a nap for 20-30 minutes during a random time of the day and won't sleep again for another two or three days. Now when I say "sleep", I mean to where I'm actually dreaming and asleep for more than an hour. Just imagine only getting at least 25 minutes of sleep for days at hand, and then going to work and school everyday and just being down right angry. Not only from dealing with past trauma and incidents that have occurred throughout your life, but also just being mad due to lack of sleep all together. It drove me into an isolated state mentally. I had no problem being around people physically, but my mind was hardly ever there.

In the year of 2014, what really triggered my depression and what made me really go downhill emotionally was a head on car accident on I-85 between Charlotte, NC and Atlanta, GA in which a lady was traveling on the wrong side of the interstate and ended up hitting me. I was traveling in the southbound lane to go back to work the next morning after a great night out on the town of Charlotte with family, but there was a lady driving north in the south bound lane. I thank God I was able to walk away all together and I am still here, but I ended up with a concussion, a contusion and now a curved spinal chord. I spent no time in the hospital which is a blessing as well due to the severity of the accident, but I did end up in physical therapy for at least 5-6 months. With both drivers including myself, not hitting any brakes on impact, the force from the impact ended up curving my spine like the letter "S". This lead to my left arm being out of place and muscles just all messed up all throughout my arm, so I really had to regain strength in it and complete therapy to push spinal disks back into place so I could walk straight again and just to sit up straight again.

I took this very hard but I always covered it up with jokes and laughs and smiles so I wouldn’t have to explain to anyone what I was feeling at the time. My insomnia got really bad because of the nightmares I would have about the accident and my fear of what could have happened. My friends didn’t understand what was going on because I just felt like they had their own lives and I didn’t want to become a burden on them with my problems. Crying became a daily activity. Either I would cry all night or I would get up in the mornings crying after laying in my bed the entire night not being able to sleep. The accident left me without a job because they wanted and needed me to come back to work as soon as possible and would not work with me and my injuries. I guess they just thought I was making it up or something, I’m not really sure but even after turning in doctor’s notes and the accident report, they continued to pressure me to come back to work before my body was healed properly. I guess they didn’t understand that at the time I couldn’t pick up anything heavy so not only was I unable to really do anything physically, I wouldn’t have been in the right state of mind mentally and emotionally as well. At the time I was in college and had to leave because of the emotional toll it took on me. I could never focus on my work at all, I really couldn’t focus on anything. My small business began to go downhill because I just could not focus on my work and I didn't know how to explain that to my clients. Some stuck around through those bad times and waited for me to get things together mentally and emotionally, in which I owe them the world, and others never even asked me, “what’s wrong Keara?”. This led to me isolating myself and just wanting to be by myself and that's a disaster waiting to happen when you are suffering from depression.

I ended up finishing physical therapy and regaining strength in my arm, so now I can pick heavy things up again and lift weights at the gym. The gym has become a stress reliever especially for helping me to sleep again. I’m beginning the steps towards finishing up my degree this year. I bought me a brand new car and got a new job. I still battle these bad feelings and lack of sleep today, but I channel things through painting now instead of crying and lashing out at others who just don’t understand what I’m going through mentally. I never took any type of antidepressants nor sleeping aids, as I just didn’t personally agree with it. I didn’t want to become dependent on it, I wanted to learn how to control myself and self-discipline for me, ways to naturally be happy again and I found that in creating artwork. This was a huge lesson for myself that true healing takes time. It also taught me that my mental health matters because before I was actually diagnosed, I had no idea I was becoming a problem for myself just based on how I was thinking and handling that one situation of my life out of at least five different situations from my past that had just piled on top of each other. I hope telling my story helps someone else who may have been through a traumatic accident that has changed their life. Things do get better but you must patient, have faith in God, and let time run its course.

Meet Alicia

Morgan Daniels

Photo by Alicia Williams

Photo by Alicia Williams

What brings you joy?

I am filled with joy striving towards a better me, and fulfilling my life's purpose. I strive daily to make a better life for myself, and my mother's legacy. I am joyous when I think about how far I've come and how proud my mother would be with my progress.

Alicia's Mental Health Story:

"My sophomore year of college I was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder, following multiple failed suicide attempts. I found out my mother was battling colon cancer, and it was starting to take a toll on our life and her strength. I was determined to leave the world before her because I couldn't imagine living life a day without her.

After diagnosis, my mother focused on getting me stable with therapy and medication, and I learned through countless hours of therapy that my life served a purpose and there was a reason God wasn't letting me off the hook that easily. I began to focus on journaling, and writing and continued to press on to high school graduation.

My mother passed away going into my second year of college, and I was faced with going down the path I was on before or staying healthy and being the best I could be in memory of my mother. I focused my efforts on staying healthy and happy, took multiple leaps of faith to travel the world and move out of my hometown and pursue entrepreneurship.

While I built a support system of friends, and my siblings, I have held on to the quote "If God brings you to it, He'll bring you through it." I'm a firm believer that whatever is presented in front of me, I can conquer above and beyond mediocrity and getting by."

Meet Fatou

Morgan Daniels

Photography by Fatou

Photography by Fatou

Fatou's Mental Health Story:

"I think at one point or another, everyone feels not okay. For a large component of my teenage years (transitioning into adulthood), not feeling okay was a constant feeling that followed me. Seemingly having it together + feeling like you’re dangerously close to falling apart at the seams is not a fun place to be at all.

Try as I might I couldn’t open myself up to expressing what I was feeling, not understanding that part of overcoming when you’re suffocating in darkness is by bringing the dark to light. What helped me tackle my “mental health” problems head on was taking the leap and standing on a island of vulnerability with people that could stand in the gap for me. Being able to find the courage to stand up and express:

“Hey. There are demons that I fight in private, things that make me feel like less of a person, things that keep me from moving forward” opened the door for me to understand and address the things that were manifesting internally. Understanding that these things in fact did not make me less of a person, that everyone had “stuff” irregardless of what was portrayed helped me feel less ashamed of not having it together and finding peace in chaos."

Meet Renée

Morgan Daniels

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What brings you joy?

The presence of God bring me the most joy. Slowing down, taking in my surroundings. Breathing fresh air. Bodies of water. Traveling. Cooking and enjoying good food. Getting lost in a book. Music. Running. Writing. Connecting with someone who just gets "it" and gets me.

Renée's Mental Health Story:

"I was on a winter retreat with two friends a few years ago and I just felt like something was wrong with me. The point of the retreat was to get quiet and spend alone time with God. We did the same thing the year before and it was great, but this particular year, I was having trouble. I kept trying to hear God and to be still before Him, but all I felt was anxiety, fear, and confusion. I was scared. I couldn't relax. My friend recommended that I get counseling, and after that retreat I finally signed up. I knew that I had issues, but couldn't name them or face them. I also learned lots of self-destructive and medicating behaviors over the years.

For some reason, I thought that me becoming a Christian would automatically solve my mental health issues, and that if it didn't, there was something wrong with me. I was told by someone in my church's leadership that "depression doesn't exist for Christians." There were so many things going on in my heart and head and I didn't know where to turn for the answers. Anytime I was able to open up, I felt more shame. Counseling helped me pull back the layers and allowed me to be myself and heal, without shame and without the pressure I put on myself to appear to be the perfect Christian. I was able to deal with my childhood sexual abuse, rape, family of origin issues, and my ongoing struggles with anxiety and depression. I finally allowed myself to feel. I finally allowed myself to be imperfect. I finally let God into these wounds. I finally asked Him hard questions. I finally learned the art of being still. It was difficult.

I went through a serious dark season of depression and couldn't get out of bed on some days. There were days where I asked God to just end my life. But I made it. Through God's grace and the support of my therapist, I healed (and am still healing). I learned that grieving and healing are absolutely necessary and I didn't have to apologize for it. There is space to be a Christian and to wrestle with feelings of all kind. I learned that there is so much freedom in choosing joy and that with thanksgiving comes deliverance. I learned that it takes time and that some days are harder than others. I learned that God walks with me in the deepest of valleys and his love for me is deeply healing. I've learned to choose joy and to show grace to myself and others.

I still have lots of healing to do, but I am more at peace now that I have been in my entire life. I'm getting ready to go on that same winter retreat, and I no longer feel that same fear and condemnation; in fact, I look forward with excitement and am expecting an amazing time in the presence of my Heavenly Father."

Meet Ashanti

Morgan Daniels

What brings you JOY?

Helping others brings me joy. I also enjoy my family and time with my friends. Joy is something I work at everyday, and I'm constantly finding ways to joyfully grow through life.

Ashanti's Mental Health Story:

"I have dealt with depression since I was a young child. It wasn't until I got to college and went into a severe depressive state that I actually recognized myself as someone who dealt with a mental illness. My depression got so bad during my junior in college that I couldn't function in normal environments. I didn't leave my room, not just because I was depressed and didn't have the energy, but because I couldn't have a normal conversation with anyone without crying or breaking down.

This was probably one of the lowest points in my life, but it was also a point where I was ready to accept healing into my life. I began to see a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with severe depression and an anxiety disorder. She begged me to take medicine for the illness, as she was very worried for me. I had read about the medicines and decided that I didn't want dependency on drugs to be my story. I researched natural ways to cure depression, and truly got back to my roots. I began to do things that brought me joy regularly, and I learned ways to self-heal and find my own peace. I still struggle some days, as we all do, but 2 years later, I have finally reached a pinnacle of happiness with my life.

I hope my story shows anyone dealing with depression that you can and will make it through. Love and light, Ashanti"

Meet Corey

Morgan Daniels

IMG_8789.JPG

What brings you JOY?

Music

Corey's Mental Health Story:

"I have this issue where I would rather work excessively than express how I'm feeling. I've always felt that if I shared what was truly going on in my head then people would use that as a way of counting me out or creating reasons as to why I should not be working. With that, I keep my emotions to myself and continue pushing until I get the job done. I've found that this has done nothing but cause me depression, anxiety, and battles with self-confidence.

As a kid, I felt like I had to be overtly strong in regards to work ethic because I didn't play sports like every other kid. I always felt like proving myself to others was more important than anything. Today, I understand that everyone won't understand you, accept you, or love you for what you have to offer. People will judge every piece of you as a means of finding a flaw and making themselves feel better. So today, I work hard, I give my all to whatever I'm doing, and most importantly I've found the joy I needed to keep myself going.

Today, I have more peace than I thought I could ever find and I'm grateful to God for it. All of that to say, depression is a real thing and if you aren't mentally healthy, you're hurting the world more than you're healing it."

Meet Kaya

Morgan Daniels

What brings you joy?

What brings me joy is knowing I'm on the path to becoming a better me. I have joy because I am able to change my life and the lives of others.

Kaya's Mental Health Story:

"Depression is something I’ve known about my whole life. I saw my mother struggle with it as a single parent, and I watched my older sister struggle with it in her teens. I honestly grew up accepting that being depressed is normal, and that when times got hard you were allowed to shut yourself away, turn off all the lights, and fall into this dark emotional hole.

Since that was my childhood, I was probably one of the last people to realize the severity of my depression once I got to Spelman College. By the end of my senior year, I had been committed to a mental hospital twice, attempted suicide, been through several therapists/psychiatrists, experienced alcoholism, developed social anxiety, and lost so many friends… all while carrying so many campus titles/positions. I can’t lie, it was an extremely dark period in my life but I made it through by support.

The support of my family, and my Spelman sisters was so overwhelming, they showed me my life was important when I couldn’t see that. I had to be brave enough to say to everyone “I’m not okay”, and honestly that was the first step towards recovery. Depression will always be something I have to manage, but at least now I know that with my support system and God on my side, that it doesn’t have to be something I have to manage alone."

Kaya Rand is the founder of She Unplugged.

Meet Kiyla

Morgan Daniels

What brings you JOY?

When the blessings and grace that God pours into me overflows and pours into others.

Kiyla's Mental Health Story:

"A lot of people don't understand why Frank Ocean hasn't dropped his album. He's talented and we're in dire need of his gift. It wasn't until I cried one morning that I truly got it.

Just like Boys, I cry. I was your typical type-A kid the honor student, the editor-in-chief, director of this, coordinator of that, head of this organization, vice president, founder, drama club, belly dancing, cheerleading, student government, etc. I did it all and them some.

Within two weeks of walking onto my college campus, I had already gotten a reputation after printing out a two page resumé and running against three boys for class president, I was a force to be reckoned with. I had friends, I had positions, I was in college on a full-ride scholarship.

"There was no reason to ever be upset or stressed or anxious or depressed..." That's what I told myself each and every time I didn't feel quite my best. Even when the overwhelming stress lead to me becoming physically sick, I told myself that everything would be okay and this was all just a small thing. How could the "it Girl" have anxiety?

My parents told me to pray and learn to deal with the stress. After a while, they became frustrated and I became resentful. Why couldn't I be normal? I soon began to understand why this was a part of my story and why the Lord had given me this particular story. It was apart of my purpose, to share my story with the world, because it needed to be told. It wasn't until I completely broke the glass of the stigma that haunted me, that I began to heal.

That fateful morning I cried and cried until I felt as if I couldn't breathe and I still wondered, why was the world still requesting for me to be a superhero when I have to save myself?

The same reason why we constantly beg for Frank's album. Always remember, it's a bad religion, to sacrifice your joy for the satisfaction of others, Be a Pilot Jones and take control of your life over anything that plagues you. You deserve joy. Make them serve it to you.

Four hours after I wrote this, he finally dropped the album, I think it's time I begin to share my gift."

Meet Rosalyn

Morgan Daniels

Photo by Rosalyn Billingsley

Photo by Rosalyn Billingsley

What brings you JOY?

Love

Rosalyn's Mental Health Story:

"Having joy means everything in the world to me. Without joy life is dull: colorless, simplistic, boring. But I haven't always felt this way and I haven't always had joy. It wasn't until I realized that having joy is a decision, that I had it in my life everyday. I was tired of letting every circumstance, every heated conversation (why were there so many) sway my outlook on life. some days I was happy, some days I was sad, some days I was depressed and some days I was unstoppable. Can you imagine how draining that is for one's mental health? happiness can easily be snatched away but joy is as solid as a rock, if you make the decision. once I made the decision, I never looked back. every day isn't easy but it's something worth fighting for. I get JOY from spending time with God, being surrounded by creative people, and serving my purpose. On my off days I always remember how hard I fought to get my joy back. Sometimes it's okay not to be okay, but never give up the fight & never back track."

Meet Kailah

Morgan Daniels

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What brings you JOY?

Life. Being able to create and travel and enjoy my family and friends.

Kailah's Mental Health Story:

"At the age of 16, the emergency room became my second home. I was passing out every other day, losing my vision and my blood sugar dropped dangerously low at whim. Every week, I was seeing a new physician with no sign of a diagnosis. There were days when I literally couldn't walk from the immense pain ravaging through my body. It rocked me to my core and sent me into a deep depression. I was so tired of being in this body that my freshman year of college, I not only contemplated however, attempted suicide. I filled my tub with water. Took my bottle of prescription pain medication. Emptied them on my tongue. Sat in the tub and waited. I didn't take enough medicine. So, yeah, I failed my suicide attempt. lol

So, I took it as a message that I was still supposed to be here. I switched universities to one closer to home and nearer to my Primary Care Physician. From there, I started taking it day by day with prayer and patience. I learned to live with my illness and within a few months, I was vibrant and back to my old self. Fast forward, four years later. I'm a college graduate, living in New York with my fine ass boyfriend. We are traveling, loving life and in the midst of all of this turn-up- we're pregnant. Wtf. We weren't financially or mentally ready for a child so, we decide on an abortion. It was a difficult choice and to this day, we talk about "what-if".

Long story short, two months after the abortion, I'm hospitalized and diagnosed with Lupus. My physician then follows to tell me that the drug that can counter the pain I have due to Lupus will not only make me lose my hair however, has the potential to make me infertile. Can you say, my entire world went into a haze. I had to choose between never having children..following a recent abortion and living with an unfathomable amount of pain almost everyday of my life. So yea, saying I went into a state of depression was an understatement. Surprisingly, here I am, 6 months later more at peace than I have ever been. Stronger than I've ever imagined. To have endured so much more than what I can even articulate in this excerpt and still be here- is just my testament to God's mercy. The book of Job is my faveeee book of the bible. Oh, and if you're wondering, I decided to forgo the medication and take a naturopathic route which has worked out in my favor.

After a bad break up in high school I experienced a bad period of depression and that was only the beginning. My freshmen year of college it only got worse due to bad relationships and lack of motivation to do well in school. If it wasn't for my decision to love myself I don't know if I would have made it out."

Meet Lilly

Morgan Daniels

Photo by Lilly Mittenthal

Photo by Lilly Mittenthal

"Since the day I could remember I had dealt with major mood swings and started to get pretty bad depression in high school. I spent most of my days stress eating, and sleeping because I just couldn't deal. I went to therapist after therapist and psychologist after psychologist looking for an exact diagnosis and the perfect medication. Suddenly it hit me, they may not have all been diagnosing me with one thing but they were giving me the tools to deal with the emotions I couldn't control. I stopped trying to figure out what was wrong with me and started to focus on my everyday journey. Keep your mind and heart open and it really does wonders!

Wrigley is an Emotional Support animal, a dog who is trained to basically be a therapy dog for you! I totally forgot to add that but he has helped me enjoy and live in the moment as well!"

Meet Michael

Morgan Daniels

“I just want to be happy.” It sounds so simple but this has been my plea to God for the past 16 years. I experienced several traumatic losses during my childhood, including my father, in addition to struggling with identity issues that were never properly dealt with. I shut off my emotions believing I had to be a “strong black man” and embarked down a self destructive path that led to more anguish, heartache, and pain. I filled the void that I felt deep within with extracurriculars and sports during high school, and in college, internships and leadership roles. Insecurities overwhelmed me and I found myself in toxic situationships with those that didn’t truly care about me. It took a nervous breakdown from working 40 hours a week, going to school full time, and dealing with a heartbreak like no other during my sophomore year of college to realize that I needed to do something different. Overworked and emotionally drained from loving someone that was incapable of reciprocating, I found myself physically and mentally unable to proceed like I previously had done. In July of 2015, I set out on a soul searching journey in order to live the life that God has destined for me and truly understand my purpose. It has been difficult and emotionally draining. However, I must put in the work if I want to see the results. Day by day. One step at a time. I owe it to myself. For every night I spent crying, for every blunt I rolled in my old apartment to cope, and for every day I stood on the train platform staring at the edge while the Red Line approached daring myself to end it all. I deserve a shot at happiness and I’m finally ready to give myself that gift.

Meet Gabrielle

Morgan Daniels

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My journey with mental health really began when my grandmother died in February 2015. Obviously mental health was something I knew about, but I don't think I gave mine much space before losing my grandmother. Her death just kind of unhinged my world and left this big hole. I left Cornell for two weeks because I just couldn't deal with classes, friends, and expectations. I went home for the funeral and then to CGIU in Miami before going back to school. While the time away was necessary, it also made adjusting back to life on the Hill harder. I ended up having to drop a class and withdrawing from another - things I, often a straight A student, was not used to or comfortable doing. But, my therapist, encouraged me to do so. The loss of my grandmother granted me the best gift I ever gave myself which was therapy sessions and just the ability to let go. Junior spring, the semester in which she passed, was my hardest at Cornell in more ways than one and I walked out of it with a 4.0 GPA. When the sun came out again, I learned that I was capable, that imposter syndrome had no place in my life, and that I needed to let go a little bit. I gave myself the space necessary to grieve my grandmother and the amazing force that she was in my life. In the process, I opened up the doors of growth and self-care. It mattered less to me what others thought of me and I wasn't afraid to say that I was getting counseling. I learned to be transparent about my struggles instead of bottling it all up. I learned that it's okay not to be perfect and I can drop a class or responsibility from time to time if my mental state warrants it. I learned who my real friends were and appreciate them for sticking by me during that time. I gave myself freedom to become the woman I wanted to be, a woman I knew my grandmother would be proud of.