There was a time when I thought people who had anxiety attacks were crazy...then I started having them. Today was my day off. I had lofty plans of how productive I was going to be, but after showering and getting ready I couldn’t make it out the door. While looking in the mirror attempting to make myself presentable, my neck was itching uncontrollably. After about five minutes of intermittent scratching I let out a squeal of frustration and began hitting the wall to relieve some stress. Next thing I knew tears were running down my cheeks and I was struggling to get adequate air through my lungs. I attempted to pull it together multiple times, thinking about all of the things I needed to do: take grandma to the nursing home to see grandpa, cook, clean, taxes (I actually wrote this in April - bear with me), write, workout; this never-ending to do list amplifying the anxiety rather than helping me move forward with the rest of my day. So I did what any self-sufficient 28 year old would do…I called my mom.
She attempted to talk me off the ledge as my crying turned from audible sobs to silent tears. The only thing I could get out was, “Grandma…will you take her?” After getting off the phone I stayed there on the floor of my room, crying some more while my Spotify playlist, which had been playing while I was getting ready, echoed in the background. After I calmed down I thought of all the things I needed to do, crawled in bed, turned on a comedy on Netflix, and fell asleep. On this day, I gave myself a pass and said, self-care for me looks like staying in bed and binging sitcoms. On this day, self-care means allowing myself to feel down and not pressuring myself to be the next Issa Rae. On this day, self-care means resting and knowing that tomorrow will be a better day.
Now there’s a million triggers that could've caused this anxiety attack, but just know that on this day, the fact that my skin had been breaking out for over a week, the fact that I’ve been going through this since the end of 2014, on top of everything else that’s going on in my life and in this world, I was done. My brain could not fathom why I was still going through this, how I was ever going to stick to the diet my body apparently needs to be healthy, how I’m ever going to stop using medication, and how I’m ever going to stop itching.
As always, I’m not sharing this for anyone to feel bad for me. I’m sharing this because after talking to a few friends I realized that anxiety/panic attacks and depression are common among my generation, especially among young black adults. Unfortunately, it’s not always something we talk about openly in the black community. In the age of social media we see people post their highlight reels on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, compare our lives to theirs, and don’t realize that a lot of our friends and peers are dealing with the same mental health struggles. I am still learning what I need to be healthy and happy, but I want to share my experience to let whoever needs to know that you are not alone and you are not crazy!
I’ve talked about this before, but I used to judge myself for having feelings, saying, “Lauren, why are you crying? Why do you feel this way? Stop!” It’s okay to have emotions! It’s okay to feel down sometimes. Acknowledge those feelings then figure out how you’re going to move forward.
I had to admit to myself that I haven’t updated my blog since November because I’ve been feeling like a failure. I’ve been struggling with my health and discipline, I still don’t have six-pack abs, and I still have eczema. Who am I to encourage other people to live healthy lifestyles when I still haven’t figured out what I need to be the best version of myself? Instead of sharing what I’ve been going through, I’ve been avoiding my blog altogether. Once I got honest with myself, I remembered why I started this blog in the first place.
I’m not on here to be the vision of perfect health. I’m here to be real about my journey and mental state, because NOBODY is perfect and we’re all going through something. I can’t wait until I “have my life together,” because the process is more important than the destination and honestly, there is no final destination. We are constantly evolving, growing and bettering ourselves. I hope to never be stagnant in my growth as a human being.
So, all of this to say, I promise to be better about sharing my progress, even when it’s hard and I don’t have much to share. I will be doing a Dr. Aron Method update soon and sharing how my diet has changed. But in the meantime, let’s talk a little more about mental health.
I am no doctor or expert! If you are dealing with anxiety/panic attacks or depression I urge you to seek a medical professional or therapy. What I can tell you is what has helped in my personal experience.
1. Have a support system!
It took me quite some time to reach out to someone when I first starting having anxiety attacks and feeling depressed. I fought against the idea that I needed help, because I knew that my family had a history of depression. I didn’t want to have to take medication or see a “shrink.” I was stuck on the stigmas of mental health rather than taking care of myself, which was actually a huge disservice, because I had close family members who could help me from their own experience. Instead, I was embarrassed about how I felt. When I finally reached out, a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. Whether it’s your family or a close friend, find someone you can trust to talk to during the hard times, and if you don’t feel like talking, maybe you just need someone to sit there with you in silence. Either way, make sure that you surround yourself with people that love and support you and can be a listening ear and voice of reason when needed.
2. Go to therapy.
There’s a huge stigma about mental health and talking to a therapist in the black community. Don’t feed into it like I did! Sometimes you need to talk to someone who’s not a close friend or relative to work through your stuff. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Taking care of your mental health is commendable and is nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of. I’ve worked with three different therapists since 2013. The first person was not a good fit, and that became very apparent after our first visit. I felt like she belittled everything I was stressing about, but not in a way to ease my discomfort. She basically made me feel stupid for everything I brought up during the first session. I found another woman who helped me focus on the positive progress I was making rather than all of the areas of my life that were lacking. After I moved to Seattle I started seeing my current therapist. For me it has been really helpful to talk to black women. Therapy can be expensive, but I urge you to research and find someone you can afford. I don’t go to therapy every week because, money, but I always feel a renewed sense of mental clarity after a session. There’s also this awesome database to help black women find black female therapists. Check it out: https://www.therapyforblackgirls.com
3. Do things that make you happy.
When I’m feeling down, I have a tendency to want to stay inside all day, possibly in the dark and possibly in bed. I basically don’t have the motivation to do anything, which actually just intensifies whatever feelings I’m having. Sometimes it’s important to rest and do nothing, like I did in April when I had that anxiety attack. Other times, I feel much better when I get up and out and do something. A walk outside to clear your mind and get some Vitamin D does wonders. Exercising is great because of endorphins! Or take yourself on date to the movies or a favorite restaurant or a cute little shopping excursion. Or maybe your therapy is scrap booking and writing songs. Whatever it is that makes you happy, do that, even when you don’t feel like it. You’d be amazed at how your mood changes when you’re active.
Writing helps me process my emotions and make sense of what’s happening in my brain and heart. Journaling was my therapy before I knew I needed therapy. I’m not nearly as consistent with my journaling as I used to be, but I always feel a sense of clarity and direction after I throw all my emotions onto the page. A lot of my journal entries end up being prayers as well. So I guess number four is a twofer. Journal AND pray. I usually have trouble praying when I’m in these moods, but writing helps me get to where I need to be.
Okay I lied. Number four wasn't a twofer. Prayer is too important so it needs it's own section. Like I just said, when I'm struggling I have trouble praying, which is actually when I need prayer the most. I always need prayer, but you know what I mean. When I'm down I feel disconnected from God and my purpose, and it makes it seem like my prayers are falling on deaf ears. I have to fight through those feelings in order to stay in prayer and hear from God. Journaling, listening to gospel or faith based music (whatever you want to call it), and listening to sermons online help me get there. This is another one that's easier said than done, because I usually don't have the motivation to seek God out like this when I'm mad at the world. It's important to remember that God is ALWAYS there, even when it doesn't feel like it. Prayer keeps me in relationship with God, gives me guidance, clarity, peace in the midst of the storm, and purpose. When I'm in constant prayer it's easier to understand that my feelings and circumstances are temporary and I have the power through God to change them.
Again, I am no expert and I’m not saying any of this will cure depression or anxiety/panic attacks. This is what has helped me during rough times, and I hope it can be a help to you as well. Self-care isn’t always what the magazines and social media make it look like. A bubble bath, massage and pedicure won’t solve your problems, though I could use all three of those right now. Sometimes self-care is crying it out and letting yourself be sad, but knowing that you don’t have to sit in those emotions forever. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed, tired, sad, even helpless, but process those emotions and figure out how you’re going to move forward. Easier said than done, I know, but it’s the reminder that I give myself when I’m struggling. Whatever I’m feeling in the moment is not forever. It may feel like the end of the world, but tomorrow is a new day and I have the power to attack it with a positive attitude and renewed sense of purpose. I hope this helps someone and encourages those who may need it to seek therapy. You have NOTHING to be ashamed of! And please know that I’m not trying to make light of depression or anxiety/panic attacks. It’s truly a battle to pull yourself out of those states, so if you’re not dealing with the things I’m talking about, I’m sure you have friends who are. Check on them! You never know what your loved ones are dealing with behind closed doors. Take care of your mental health friends! Learn what you need to be happy and healthy and go after it full-heartedly. Peace and love friends!
I'm Lauren, aka Just Du Pree, and I want to thank you for reading. This is a space where I share my very personal journey healing from topical steroid withdrawal, life lessons I've learned along the way and occasionally the thoughts of an awkward Black girl (no Issa Rae). I'm also a performer and filmmaker, so if you feel so inclined pop over here to see what goes on in my mind on the regular. If you like what you see you can stay up to date with my work here. Much love, friends!