By Diamond Raymond, Program Assistant
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy — experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” – Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
It’s National Anxiety and Depression Awareness week: a time that has become a secret pause in my life. A moment for reflection and the deepest breath I take all year. This week, more than the actual anniversary date itself, is a reminder of the suicide attempt I survived in 2007. While it is a moment I will never forget, and surely one that will never cease to influence my life, this time is a periodic gift I give myself to celebrate my survival, count my inspirations to pursue a life worth living every day, and share the hard won wisdom that is my guiding light today.
Today I know a precious truth that I didn’t in 2007 – and sometimes still forget – which is that I am not alone. Depression and anxiety are not aberrations in the human condition that effect a weak few, but instead, for many people they are a common reality. In fact, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18% of the population.” Major Depressive Disorder, the leading cause of disability in the U.S., affects roughly 15 million adults, about 6.7% of the U.S. population. Depression and anxiety are very real illnesses that affect your body, mind, and spirit, and for many like myself, they are lifelong experiences that can play a central part in how you experience the world.
For me, my struggles with mental wellness were instrumental in my journey to becoming an advocate for reproductive justice. In an effort to combat my despair as a young adult, I set out to learn about the institutions that impacted my life and unearth the source of my trauma. As I continued to grow in my understanding of my own mental health, my activism inherently became more compassionate, holistic, and intersectional. Uncovering the web of factors that eroded my ability to cope, find a sense of worth, and contribute in a way that was not self-sacrificing but instead fruitful, helped me see the factors that can diminish anyone’s ability to lead a full life. On an institutional level, racism, sexism, and educational and economic inequality were all foes I got to know in a deeply personal way, and identifying the damage they wrought on reproductive freedom was not hard. The work that I do in the RJ movement is as much for women of color who deserve access and the ability determine the course of their lives as it is for my right to live a full life filled with self-love and compassion.
Just as the impacts of racism and sexism are not guarantees for failure nor are they confirmations of a lack of worth, depression and anxiety are not a death sentence; they are not a confirmation that you are broken, unlovable, or unworthy; and they are not a permanent block to joy and finding a life worth living.
I won’t give a prescription or a roadmap for escaping depression and anxiety because that’s going to be different for everyone, and what worked for me will not necessarily work for you. What I will tell you is that there is help out there for you in the way that you need it! The first step for everyone is accepting that you are going through something and that you need and deserve help.
So, if you can relate to any or all of the symptoms of anxiety and/or depression, please check out the resources that are out there for you today! And, don’t take this step for granted. For many people, especially women of color, acknowledging that you need help and asking for it can be beyond difficult for a whole host of reasons, including cultural understandings, religious beliefs, and disproportionate or inadequate representation. In fact, in the beginning of my journey, I didn’t ask for help. My mother happened to find my suicide note, and her strength and courage to be curious and compassionate, rather than judgmental, saved my life. Like many others, I believed that the way I felt made me weak and that I was supposed to soldier on because that is what my mother had done; her mother had done; and certainly all the mothers before, forced to live their lives in bondage, had done.
I’ve since learned that soldiering on is not always the strong thing to do. When the pressure is on and my emotions are high, putting up an emotional block and barreling through is not a loving act, nor does it require a commitment of strength, the likes of which would improve my life and help me grow. What is strong, and rewarding, is to radically accept my emotions and circumstance and proceed with my whole heart – with intentionality and thoughtfulness into action. When you accept and acknowledge the help you need, pause and celebrate your courage, your strength, and your resilience. Know, as I do now, that you are not alone. You are joining a tribe committed to a journey of self-love and self-acceptance. We are waiting for you.
Today it’s 2017, ten surviving years later, and I am still celebrating, even though my struggles are far from over. I find different ways to share my story – it’s my way of giving back and seeking connection. I look in the mirror and thank myself for surviving. And most importantly, my favorite part of pausing and celebrating: I count my joys. I think of all the things past and present that have brought me joy, and I do so mindfully, knowing that this part is not easy. Our mind is engineered to hold on to the bad and let go of the good. So I meditate and relive the good. I let the memories wash over my heart and accept them wholly, acknowledging that they did not happen in isolation but rather came hand in hand with sadness, anger, jealousy, and trauma.