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A Perspective on Black Mental Health and Wellness

High-Functioning Depression, Anxiety and Life Dissatisfaction:

7 Things I Wish I'd Known Sooner

Black Health and Wellness

The theme for Black History Month 2022 is Black Health & Wellness. As a Certified Health & Wellness Coach and Black woman, I’d be remiss not to address these two areas in which I take up space. My goal in writing this is to go a little deeper into the wellness conversation and lean into what I’ve learned in my work and studies about Mental Health and Well-being.


This Black History Month arrived in the shadow of the sudden and shocking death of a Cheslie Kryst, former Miss USA, Extra TV news correspondent, Attorney, MBA, and all-around multi-hyphenated phenom. Cheslie was one of the four reigning American queens in the historic year of 2019, when Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, Miss Universe, and Miss America were all Black women for the first time. She tragically took her own life jumping off the 29th floor of her luxury Manhattan apartment building; sending shock waves through the international media and pageant communities. She was only 30-years old.


“How could someone so accomplished, so beautiful, and so adored take her own life?” Some semblance of this question is what many of us have asked ourselves.

 

Suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States

  • Suicide is a major public health concern. In 2019, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death overall in the United States, claiming the lives of over 47,500 people. (1)

  • Suicide is complicated and tragic, but it is often preventable. Knowing the warning signs for suicide and how to get help can help save lives.

  • Suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 44. (2)

  • Among Black populations, suicide rates peak during adolescence and young adulthood, then decline. This is a different pattern than is seen in the overall U.S. population, where suicide rates peak in midlife. (3)

 

The story of Cheslie’s death has single-handedly shifted the paradigm on what we think depression, suicide, and mental health crisis look like. Suddenly we realized– you can have all the things most people desire: beauty, wealth, accomplishments, success, physical fitness, fame, and still struggle with life dissatisfaction. Cheslie’s death was a tragic and desperate attempt to finally find peace, as her final IG post mentioned just hours before her death.


An essay she wrote for Allure magazine presents an eerie look into her discomfort about turning 30 and the pressure she put on herself to achieve.


“Each time I say, “I’m turning 30,” I cringe a little.” “Society has never been kind to women growing older, with occasional exceptions for some of the rich and a few of the famous.” “Why earn more achievements just to collect another win? Why pursue another plaque or medal or line item on my résumé if it’s for vanity’s sake, rather than out of passion? Why work so hard to capture the dreams I’ve been taught by society to want when I continue to find only emptiness?” - Cheslie Kryst, A Pageant Queen Reflects on Turning 30, Allure

I wish she knew it was all okay. It was okay to feel restless, dissatisfied, insecure, and never enough. It is all a part of the human experience. I wish she knew you can have an emotional rough patch for a couple of months or even a couple of years before a cascade of fulfillment, life satisfaction, and self-realization that would ultimately make the entire journey, even the darkest parts, more rewarding.


Professionally, my clients are mostly Black women executives and entrepreneurs and Women of Color from various backgrounds (Asian, Middle Eastern, Latina.) I work in corporations doing corporate training and with solopreneurs/business owners doing group coaching classes. Mainly, I help women in business eliminate inner obstacles so they can be clear, confident, and free to create the life and career of their dreams. All this boils down to stress and anxiety management so we can get clear and focused on peace, purpose, and what brings joy. High-performing executives, business people, entrepreneurs, and accomplished thought leaders may carry an inner heaviness that sometimes no one even knows about.


Then, Turning 30 Enters the Chat. On top of the pressure to succeed at life, there’s added pressure being a woman in your thirties to find love (if you haven’t already), get married, become a parent, then be a perfect parent, continue to excel in successful careers, own profitable businesses, become homeowners, become wealthy and have intelligent and interesting things to say when asked to speak. All while gaining clout, traveling the world, taking perfect pictures, sharing it all in flawless IG stories or 160 characters or less. These pressures create exhaustion, unhappiness, overwhelm, anxiety, and depression.


Additionally, watching these pretty perfect seeming lives of others on social media creates dissatisfaction through comparison culture that emerges when we are bombarded with wonderful success stories, photos, and videos of people we know or used to know seemingly excelling at life. This obsession with perfection, attainment, and perceived success is robbing us of joy, peace, and satisfaction.


What I’ve found when working with successful but “stuck” professionals, high-functioning depressives, overwhelmed executives, and creatives with anxiety is that, when they do confide in those close to them, family and friends often don’t believe their unhappiness or internal struggle. After all, they have it all– the fab job/career, the house, the car, the degrees, the magazine features, the picture-perfect, “enviable life.” Responses to their struggles often sound like:


"Girl, Please!”

“Why would YOU be depressed?"

"You sound ungrateful."

"You're fine! Nothing is wrong with you. You just need to relax."


Or worse, they’re dismissed for talking “crazy” with comments like, “You sound crazy right now.” SMH.


When those struggling do open up, they’re often forced back into pretending and trying to cope on their own. Some high functioning depressives can be just ONE personal life challenge or internal struggle away from total hopelessness… We often don't even know until it's too late. If someone opens up to you, listen, support, encourage, and gently suggest pro help. Click here for what to say if you suspect someone is depressed or may hurt themselves.


The progression from low grade depression, depression to suicidal could take years and be punctuated by a lot of highs, wins, gains and celebrations. The good stuff gets posted on social media. While the abysmal lows stay shrouded, uncovered, and largely unknown.


The difference between someone thinking about suicide and doing it, is a matter of a really terrifying litany of premeditated suicidal thoughts and the uninterrupted, unfortunate opportunity to act on them. The depressive seclusion adds to the likelihood of succeeding at acting out the horrific ideation. WE NEED TO HELP EACH OTHER TO PREVENT SUICIDE.


If you are feeling the weight of depression, overwhelm or anxiety know that sometimes the people closest to you are not always going to be the right individuals to go to for support. Be thoughtful as you select the person you want to talk to about your inner life struggles. Keep in mind that your current support system may not be the right people to talk to for certain sorts of experiences, traumas, mental health issues, or complicated struggles. They may mean well but don’t have the tools to understand or support you. In that case, you may decide to reach out to a professional, who is qualified, unbiased, and can be an outsider observing with no invested ties to (or judgments on) your situation.


Where can busy, overwhelmed professionals get help?


If you need a therapist, schedule an appointment with CLG True Solutions, Cynthia Guy is a gifted Therapist who specializes in helping women find their voice. And she’s affordable for those without insurance.


For Career Development Coaching, reach out to Irina Pichura.


For the support of a Life Coach, I am here to help you to build your life + career from the soul up and 10X Your confidence to so you can be bold, attain career/ business goals, start to create freedom with time & money, and a juicy lifestyle you enjoy.

"We must also be willing to seek the help of licensed professionals who will assist us, through talk therapy and/or medication, on our journey towards wellness. There is nothing weak or defeatist about seeking help. It doesn’t mean we’ve given up or that we lack faith. It simply honors the truth that we are at our best when we are in community with others." - Candice Marie Benbow
 

Do you need to talk to a 24-hour Crisis Center?


You may also reach out to National Mental Health America:(https://mhanational.org/get-involved/contact-us)


If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call 911, go to the nearest emergency room, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to reach a 24-hour crisis center or text MHA to 741741 at the Crisis Text Line.


You can also call 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs” to 66746 at the SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline. Trained crisis workers will listen to you and direct you to the resources you need.

 

This Black History Month, in honor of Cheslie Kryst, in honor of holding ourselves to a higher standard, let’s really lean into our ability to make space for mental health support and overcoming challenges, together. Below I have a list of the 7 things I wish I knew sooner about Mental Health & Wellness. Please feel free to share this blog with your loved ones and colleagues who may find it useful.


Here Are 7 Things I Wish I Known About Mental Health & Wellness Sooner


1. What depression and anxiety actually look, sound, and feel like.


Many of us do not know what the experience of depression is like. It's largely idiosyncratic (unique to each individual). But some signs to look for when you’re not feeling yourself:


  • A low mood or loss of interest in life or things you used to enjoy.

  • feeling sad, hopeless, or helpless

  • feeling guilty or worthless

  • anxiety

  • irritability or frustration

  • fatigue or low energy

  • restlessness

  • changes in appetite or weight

  • loss of interest in things once enjoyed, including hobbies and socializing

  • trouble concentrating or remembering

  • changes in sleep patterns

  • moving or talking more slowly than usual

  • loss of interest in living, thoughts of death or suicide, or attempting suicide

  • aches or pains that do not have an obvious physical cause

  • READ MORE

What Anxiety looks, feels, and sounds like…


Anxious” is one of the sneakiest ways of being because oftentimes we are unaware of how it manifests itself.


If you overthink, find yourself in a tizzy of frustration, irritation, or indecision, anxiety is often present. If your frustration threshold is super low, you are impatient, and find yourself about to spazz out on unsuspecting strangers, coworkers, and loved-ones, you may be experiencing anxiety.


Anxiety can come as a whirling array of worried thoughts, often worrying about the future or regretting the past. Or when making a decision, thinking about all the things that can go wrong if you make the wrong choice.


Here’s the anxiety litmus test I give my clients:

- Do you have brain fog and can’t focus?

- Are you agitated or irritable?

- Are you wound-up tightly, feeling tense or on edge?

- Are you feeling so overwhelmed that you’re exhausted by all you have to-do?

- Do you have muscle tension in the large muscles in your back?

- Are you having sleep issues falling or staying asleep?

- Have you ever had a panic attack?


If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be experiencing anxiety. Here’s what you can do to ease the nerves a bit: Practice Mindfulness.


2. Feeling down, sad, mad or indifferent sometimes is a regular normal part of life, so we all need healthy coping mechanisms to create balance and joy.


Sometimes I think we forget that it is okay to not be okay. It’s okay to show human, imperfect, and unhappy emotions. However, we have to be productive and curious with our feelings. I’ve found acceptance, curiosity, and humor to be helpful when experiencing “negative” or unproductive emotions. Try this the next time you’re upset or sad:


Step 1) Accept: I’m human and feeling a human emotion.

Step 2) Curiosity: Why am I feeling this way? Why am I triggered?

Step 3) Laugh: laugh at how imperfect and all over the place your emotions are. But at least

you’re authentic! :-)

Step 4) Take a step back. Do a 5-senses check-in and be mindful of the moment.


3. Spiritual Wellness is at the Center of Health & Wellness


While studying to become a certified coach I discovered this model of wellness, known as the Wheel of Wellness developed from counseling researchers Myers, Sweeney, and Witmer (2000) that displayed the center foundation of all health and wellness was spiritual wellness which resonated with me deeply as something I’d always believed, even though I'd never seen this diagram before. It makes so much sense, everything we do is built on our beliefs and what are beliefs but spiritual guideposts that we act on. Check it out below.

Wheel of Wellness
Wheel of Wellness: A holistic model for treatment planning. Journal of Counseling & Development

What I love about this graphic representation is that surrounding the “spirituality” center is the utterly important “life task of self-direction.” So at our wellness core is spirituality (beliefs, values, world view, the establishment of meaning and purpose in life). Then, our ability to self-direct the 12 outer aspects that create our identity and actions, which then go on to affect our friendships, love, work & leisure and ultimately impact our outward society, culture, and communities. This chart is brilliant and I consider it daily in my work. Let me know what you think of it. Tag @iamkrystalpaige on IG with your thoughts about this.


4. Build your Support Team: Seek out positive, dependable supporters and advisors


Most successful people have mentors, coaches, and trusted strategic advisors. (More about the importance of finding and seeking out a support team) As a health coach, one of the first things we are trained to share with clients is how to build your Health Team: Your Physician, Trainer, Health Coach, Familial Support, etc. Any successful endeavor has a team or various allies working to create success. Your life is no different so evaluate what you need to make you operate at your best and then identify the members of your success team.


When evaluating your needs, keep it simple–What is your current source of stress? What will bring more joy into your life? For example, if your dirty house or apartment is a source of stress, it may be time to add a Housekeeper to your Success Team. If the stress is coming from having to do mundane or time-consuming tasks in your business, maybe it is time to add a virtual assistant or outsource the work to Fiverr. Then the VA and Fiverr person becomes a part of your success team.


Your Support Team May Look Like This:


Your Mentors, Best Friends, Parents, Spouse/Partner, Siblings, Friends, Career/Professional Coach, Life Coach, Therapist/Counselor, Physician, Nutritionist, Spiritual Advisor, Physical Trainer, Hairdresser, Chef, Housekeeper, Nanny/Babysitter, Health Coach, Mindset Coach, Astrologist/Numerologist, Accountant, Lawyer, Business Partners, Co-Workers.


Your Support Team will look very different from one person to another. And the support team can change depending on the season and needs in your life. For example, you may add a Doula and OB/GYN to your support team during pregnancy. The important thing is that you are supported and feel more confident with assistance, support, and clarity on your life and everything in it through the help of a strong support system.


5. Not to compare yourself to anyone else, or compete with anyone else.


Comparison is the thief of Joy. - Theodore Roosevelt.


We have all said or heard this but this is still easier said than done, but it can be done once we are intentional about stopping the comparison game in our minds. Here’s an article I share with clients on the topic.


Studies show that time on social media feeds increases depression and envy and decreases well-being. Instead of comparing yourself, focus on gratitude and contentment for your own current life and life circumstances. And remember your life may be enviable to someone else less fortunate than you. That is the paradoxical thing about it, there is always someone who wishes they had what you have. Why not stop the envy and jealousy cycle by showing gratitude and acceptance that we sometimes may see the grass as greener on the other side because we are wearing envy-colored glasses.


Plus, keep in mind that the person you envy may not have the sources of happiness, peace, or joy that you have. One of my clients shared with me her obsession over a friend she went to college with who seemed so much more successful than her– she was stylish, wealthy, well-traveled, and had a toned, sexy body she flaunted in posts. Still, when my client and this old friend of hers reconnected over lunch, my client was shocked when her successful, beautiful friend revealed that she really desired to start a family and would trade all her career success for a family of her own like my client has.


“I said ‘You want my kids? You can have them crazy kids! I’ll take first class trips around the world while you watch my kids, and let’s see how you feel after that!” My client laughed, retelling me the tale.


We may always want what someone else has, but never know what they're missing or have had to sacrifice. Be content with your life and let your motivation come intrinsically, from within.


6. Use your imagination to build your inner world: meditation, visualization, affirmations


I truly wish I knew the power of using my imagination and making time to build my inner world sooner. Most mornings I start my day with meditation, affirmations and visualization exercises. Many of the world's most successful leaders and business people do this because they understand that everything we do starts from a thought. If we are able to better understand and control our thoughts we have more power over our actions, which influence our life experiences.


You can join my meditation newsletter here.


7. Self-love is almost always the answer


Self-love is a state of appreciation for oneself that grows from actions that support our physical, psychological and spiritual growth. Self-love means having a high regard for your own well-being and happiness. Self-love means taking care of your own needs and not sacrificing your well-being to please others.


When I say self-love is almost always the answer, I mean that it is a way of life. For example, When you speak up at your next meeting and no one supports your idea, don’t criticize yourself and let your voice of negative self talk tell you how dumb you are for making the suggestion. The answer here is self love. Give yourself love and appreciation for having the courage and confidence to add value to the conversation with your idea. Furthermore, just because they weren’t openly receptive doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good idea. You have plenty of great ideas– because you’re smart and good at what you do. (See that? All that was self-love and appreciation.)


Self-love and appreciation may be different for each person and situation. But mostly you can love yourself by:


  1. Remember #5 on this list “Don’t compare yourself to anyone and don’t compete with anyone?” Practice catching yourself when you go into comparison mode or try to keep up with the Joneses. Comparison is also the thief of self-love. So stop. :)

  2. Be okay with the opinions of others. Someone's opinion doesn’t automatically diminish your value. But this can be easier said than done, so if you need to set some strong boundaries amid opinion overload, then do it. That’s self-love.

  3. Create a mistake-based learning environment for your life. Think progress over perfection. Don’t freak out if you make mistakes. Embrace mistakes and the lessons that come with them. I call these “failure seeds to future success.” The fact that you’re trying and making progress is commendable. Celebrate yourself for making progress. Don’t beat yourself up for imperfections and mistakes.

  4. Get curious about your anxiety. There’s nothing to fear but fear itself. When we are curious about what scares us, we find understanding about our fear driven motivators. Self-love is also about self-acceptance, and deeper understanding of yourself. For example if you fear starting your own business, but question why you have that fear, then uncover that you fear the embarrassment of failure, we can go deeper into challenging why you fear failure. Unlocking the reasons behind your fear could set you free in multiple departments of your life. Kick your anxiety by understanding what you’re so afraid of in the first place. Then create affirmations that affirm your love, strength and courage over anxiety. For more check out this FREE TRAINING.

  5. Accept your body for all it offers. You are not your body, or your hair, or your appearance. You are a lively and unique soul housed inside that body. When we start to accept this self-love just flows. Appreciate your body for it being an awesome and useful vehicle for mobility and all it’s cool features. Cultivate a focus on all your intrinsic and special qualities like your kindness, boldness, loving nature, generosity, leadership, supportiveness, uniqueness, and creativity. Besides, everyone likes a little jiggle with their wiggle, honey! And if you’re lean and mean that that’s great, too. Accept your body for all it offers. It's the only one you’ve got! Love it, take care of it and send it some positive thoughts of appreciation.


This Black History Month, let's focus on our collective future and make more space for normalizing conversations around emotional, spiritual, and mental health. Let's normalize COACHING— everyone needs a coach, mentor, or someone to help them strategize growth, health, and more profound life satisfaction. We have to fight hard together to create more joy, peace and life satisfaction in our lives.

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