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Mental Health Mondays

Meet Michaelangelo

Morgan Daniels

The Finish Line: Chance the Rapper, Power to the People, and Power of the People

What brings you joy?

God, Hip-Hop, Friends, Pokemon, and Security.

Michaelangelo's Mental Health Story:

We all have a story. With unforgettable characters, mind blowing plot twists, and unfathomable resolutions truly and masterfully orchestrated by God.

This is mine.

I have watched the specter of depression, like an insatiable beast, eat away and destroy the lives of many I have cared about, myself included. It makes individuals feel worthless, not cared for, hopeless, and not wanting to be on this planet anymore because of all the pressure and anguish. I’ve seen it, experienced it.

In the Black community in particular, the coping methodologies of the past are becoming outdated. We can't just “pray it away”, “stay strong”, “just get over it” and dismiss it by simply blaming it on the devil. We all we got. It's time for us as the new generation to usher in new stratagems of vulnerability, open conversations, lack of judgement, and pure, familial love with each and every individual we know that is going through it not just for ourselves, but the future generations that depend on our survival and to fulfill the dreams of our ancestors. I write this as the introduction to my story to not be preachy, just aphorisms gained through what I call: “The Finish Line: Chance the Rapper, Power to the People, and Power of the People.”

When my parents divorced back in 2009, I moved into unfavorable housing conditions with mice, little to no food on a weekly basis, and sleeping in a laundry room for a majority of my high school career. Graduating Salutatorian of my high school and gaining a scholarship to go to college, I found a way out of my situation down South.

Unfortunately, depression still followed me, and no matter how much I achieved, the awards I had won, the exotic places I had traveled, the people I had impacted, the good grades I had still found a way to plague me. So much to the point where I was hospitalized two times for suicidal thoughts, all my scholarships were lost, and my school threatened to kick me out if I had one more “mishap”. My mental illness made me lose a lot of friends and people I cared about. Furthermore, when I didn't graduate with my incoming class, it destroyed me, making me feel like a failure. At this point I didn't know what to do.

But then salvation came in the form of everything and everyone I had invested in. Power to the people, Power of the People.

See, with my depression, as a Black man, I felt showing signs of it would make me weak. Not only did I struggle day to day with it, but I harnessed a perpetual sort of energy within me to be a blessing to other people exhibiting joy and motivation to all those I met. More than all my accomplishments, I became known on campus as the guy with a lot of energy, happiness and ability to brighten someone elses day. I felt like it was duty no matter what else I did, to give others joy even if I or them were not feeling so hot. Everyone fights a different battle every single day both externally and internally, some are just more vocal about it than others. I realized in my actions that we all we got, and we gotta start acting like such on a daily basis to protect each other's peace and joy. I found joy in being one to others. I had people coming to me saying I helped make their day, that I helped them stop contemplating suicide and negative thoughts for those down days. It gave me power and purpose knowing that the feelings were reciprocal and I could make a difference.

Thus, whenever I was homeless, couldn't afford a bite to eat, was down in the dumps, and couldn't live day to day, I had joy influx from the community I had invested so much in. Without barely mentioning my problems they all jumped in to help me whenever I needed. That's love. That's the major reason what has made me so powerful in all that I do.

With this power of the people, I was able to finish, as an exchange student, my last few classes in my hometown and transfer my credits to my home institution down South. What motivated me this entire last semester was a song by Chance the Rapper and T-Pain. The hook went:

“All my days, I prayed and prayed, I’d see the Finish Line,
Oh, I'mma finish mine.”

These simple words helped me persevere, knowing all my efforts and sacrifices of my friends were not in vain. I would make it. The power of the people helped me survive. The beloved community being candid about their pain and helping me with mine made me shine and make it to the Finish Line. As I make it to the end of my collegiate career, I can't help but smile bright at the joy of God's blessings and lessons.

I dedicate this piece to Da’Shaun, Rodney, Kaya, Clarissa, Kevin, and Morgan. Their bravery and triumph over the specter of depression on a frequent basis gave me the courage to topple mine every single day.

I am joyful.

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."