I am a believer in the idea we all have some level of anxiety. We all deal with our issues differently but anxiousness, I believe, is universal. Although, how anxiety affects a person's life and emotions is unique. Understanding an individual’s reaction to anxiety is hard because it’s different and unpredictable. Because of that, for an individual, anxiety is even harder to explain. Some do an excellent job riding around the city with their woes. I, like a lot of folks I know, do a decent impersonation of someone who can handle life’s struggles. We call it, “fake it until you make it.” Sad part is, some of us fakers don’t make it. Those who deal with a heavier weight of anxiety have a much harder time faking it. I mean, I talk about the things which trouble me but it doesn’t stop the anxiety attacks. It doesn’t always stop my mind from wandering.
Black people and people of color who have a great deal of anxiety suffer more because you know, “anxiety is for white people”. We become accustomed to the silence and practicing self-diagnosing which leads to self-medicating because hell no to therapy. It’s hard to seek help for something when everyone around denies that it could even exist for you. Similar to the idea Black and Brown skinned people don’t get sunburned. We do! The Sun can burn your black ass too. Put on sunscreen and protective layers. That was my little service announcement. I digress.
*Let me also lend this disclaimer: I am in no way suggesting that anxiety is less difficult for white people. I’m simply attempting to state, for Black People and other POC, traditionally our communities do not recognize mental health issues. It’s hard to get help for an issue you aren't allowed to recognize. It is often something more acceptable among white communities. Therefore receiving the attention, recognition, and assistance it deserves is harder in communities of color.
Mental health was not something my christian black home concerned themselves with, even after my many panic attacks. It wasn’t just my black home who did recognize I needed counseling. It was my black skin in a white school, with a white teacher, who thought I was hyperventilating, telling her I couldn’t breathe because I wanted to get out of turning in the homework. Mind you I was in the middle of a panic attack while turning in my homework. Literally, I was handing it to her. It took classmates to point out I just turned it in and assisted me out of class because I felt I was dying.
Truth: Anxiety ain’t shit and it has horrible timing.
I was in love with church. I’m not sure if I was in love God, but it was a “thing” growing up in my small city to be active in church. That was me. I sang in the choir, I ushered, I took part in praise dances, and many youth activities. This particular Sunday was like any other Sunday but I was different. I was sixteen. I had recently came out as “liking girls” to my parents. Truth be told, it did go well. I was sitting in the third or fourth pew from the back of the church. My best friend was sitting next to me like usual and our down to earth Sunday school teacher was close. My mother was sitting in her normal spot close to the front. I remember it was close to the end of service. I don’t remember what the sermon was about. I don’t even think I was paying attention. There were a lot of thoughts racing around my mind. Irrational yet rational fears of being ostracized by friends, family members, and church members ran wild like a fire. The thought of losing people I love because I’m attracted to women nestled itself on my mind like a rodent spawning offspring of thoughts and infesting my body. It was feeling like people would look at me like a pedophile or somehow the gay spirit was inside of me and no one wants that around their kids. I was just scared. An overwhelming weight landed on my chest and I couldn’t breathe. By the time I began to have a full developed panic attack, we were standing and the pastor was calling people to the altar. I did not want that. I didn’t want people praying a prayer I wasn’t praying. I didn’t want anyone to confuse my anxiety with worship. It would have made me more anxious to feel as if I were faking it with God. Luckily enough my best friend and Sunday school teacher took my hyperventilating ass into the foyer. Now, I thank God for them.
I was embarrassed. Soon after I calmed down and more people had filtered into the foyer to see what was wrong, that’s when I heard “ain’t nothing wrong with her, she’s just running from the Holy Ghost.”
The Holy Ghost. Maybe that’s it. Maybe I’m running from the Holy Ghost when I have a panic attack crossing railroad tracks. Maybe I was running from the Holy Ghost after a family member said they wouldn’t accept me being gay, confirming fears of my partner not invited to family function. Maybe it was the Holy Ghost that had my crying into my pillow that night. Maybe I'm running from the Holy Ghost when I get physically sick and nauseous every morning I get up to get dressed to go to a job I hate. Maybe I’m running from the Holy Ghost when there is no reason to have a panic attack at all but my mind says “NOW! Become overwhelmed for no reason, right now!” When I’m not thinking about anything and it just hits me. Truth be told, I don’t believe I’m running from anything. I don’t see how a person could equated the Holy Ghost to fill like a panic attack. There’s a difference when I feel God around me and when it’s anxiousness.
It’s become tradition for me to pray or meditate away my irrational fears. Although, I manage with the help of conscious friends and my willingness to be open. I still envy those who get help. Especially, those people of color who know what’s going on in their minds and call it by its name. When my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, we prayed many prayers she would make it through but she also went to the doctor. Why isn’t it the same for mental health? Shouldn’t I take myself to a doctor or professional to help with my mind? Why does going to the therapist feel almost like a luxury?
I think going to the therapist should be like going to get a check up: check your eyes, your teeth, your body, oh and your mind.
Honestly: How’s your mental state?