My Self- Disclosure: The Story of a Black, Female, Depressed Mental Health Counselor
It was not until the age of 25, I decided it was time for me to seek counseling. I would say my favorite line, “I’ve made it through worse and I can make it through this.” With a lifetime of pain and struggle, it was a chant of a victorious warrior who had seen and won many battles. At a young age, I lost both my mother and father and lived in foster care for about 4-5 years in New York. Moving from home to home each year, my one constant was education. I loved going to school because it was a get away from the craziness I saw and felt every day. After years of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, my sister found me and reunited me with my maternal family. None of us were prepared to deal with the complexities I experienced as an orphaned child in New York. Looking back, I can admit, I had an attitude from hell. But I also realized my attitude was a wall pushing down on the trauma and pain I had been feeling. It may have been hard to see because on the outside, on any given day, I was a normal kid doing well in school. But on the inside, I was traumatized teenager.
With support from mentors, friends, and family, I managed to beat the odds stacked against me and graduated from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NC A&T) with my bachelors in psychology and master’s in mental health counseling. During my time at A&T, I began learning about the things I was experiencing my whole life. I always knew I had something’s to deal with but I always put it off to do homework or to work (one of my three jobs to support myself). One time in my master’s program, I was required to attend 3 counseling sessions as a prerequisite for a course. That was one attempt to finding the help I needed; however, I was not ready to deal with my demons but they were ready to deal with me.
When I got my doctoral program letter of acceptance in the spring of 2015 I was the happiest person ever. It did not matter at the time that I would be attending the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa for counselor education and supervision. By the summer, life had its way with me- I failed my comprehensive exam, my grandmother died, and I got dumped. But nothing could slow me down; I packed my things and moved to Iowa in August. During my first semester, I experienced extreme sadness. I began reflecting on my life and the events that got me to Iowa. So much time alone I began to face an ugly truth about myself- I needed help. It was not until spring 2016 I took myself in for a checkup and was honest with my doctor for the first time about how I was feeling.
It did not happen sudden but here are some signs that led me to know the time had come to get help.
1. Depressed mood. I was angry. I was angry almost everyday but chalked it up to my black experience in Iowa and starting a PhD program. But I realized I was not angry school but with myself for things that were out of my control. I was angry with a lot and had not realized it was depressed mood before because I figured depression only looked like sadness. Depression can include irritable mood and that was my daily experience. Also known as having an attitude for no damn reason.
2. Loss of pleasure. In the summer of 2015 I was preparing for my second bodybuilding competition. But with all of the life events happening I decided to take some time to adjust to my new life style as a PhD student first. Only to find myself dreading the gym eve though I knew it made me feel better. Currently, I have a love/ hate relationship with the gym but I learned not to put too much pressure on myself to lose weight but to be happy.
3. Significant weight gain. The weight gain after bodybuilding is inevitable because it’s not healthy to stay “stage ready.” However, with my passion to go to the gym out the window, so was my desire to eat well, so my weight sky rocketed and I’m currently working to bring it down slowly.
4. Not sleeping enough. I would stay up at night because I was working or had to be on call. Nights I was not sleeping or on call I was unable to sleep because I would lay there restlessly. Then when morning would come I would fight myself to get out of the bed.
5. Inability to concentrate or make decisions. I still have this problem apparently. At times my thoughts of self-doubt and imposter syndrome would cloud my mind making concentration extremely difficult.
6. Feelings of worthlessness. As I mentioned before the imposter syndrome is a real thing and effects people differently. I compare myself to my colleagues often thinking “how did I get here?” I felt unattractive because of my weigh gain.
Diagnostic Criteria: Your doctor, counselor or therapist will follow the DSM 5’s diagnostic criteria. Here I listed five of my symptoms out of nine. Not all major depression diagnosis are explained as result of trauma. Individuals can experience a single major depressive episode and be in remission. As for myself, my depression was multifaceted with bereavement, feelings of intense sadness.
How have I managed so far?
I began my healing and self-care work in spring 2016. I do the best I can to adhere to the things I learned work best for my depression. I do not always get it right but I’m learning more about myself. Some of my self-care activities include:
1. Wellness Friday’s. It can be any day really but as a grad student I never had classes on Friday’s. So eventually all my appointments were on Friday’s; including my weekly therapy sessions at 1:30pm unless otherwise noted. Tip: Take your time finding a therapist. Create a list of potential counselors or therapist in your area. Call and set up consultations to get to know each other. If they seem distant or uninterested take them off your list. After meeting a few, make your choice. You’ll know when you’ve found the right one (If only dating were that easy).
2. Create an inspirational playlist. This is not a playlist you have to listen to with your friends on a road trip. Just something to help you smile. I have songs that make me sing even when you do not feel like it and songs that will make me grateful and spiritually sound. I have songs that make me feel like a bad-ass when I walk down the hall. Lastly, my playlists include songs that make me feel empowered. Katie Perry “Roar” gives me chills every time.
3. Essential oil that ish up! Seriously, I thought it was whack at first but it made a difference. I put the oils in my detox bath every Sunday. I used tee-tree oil to help with studying statistics and it helped me with my focus.
4. Eat healthy and walk/ run 30 minutes 4 times a week. Food equals your mood. I stay away from processed foods and excess sugar (I love candy!) because they influence my mood. It may feel good for the moment but some ingredient’s cause an inability to concentrate and my irritable mood. I eat three times a day and drink water often. I try my best to go to the gym 1-4 times a week. I listen to my body and rest as needed (sometimes I rest too long, but that’s okay).
5. Alternative medicine for depression. In addition to food, I’ve tried natural remedies for depression including supplements such as vitamin D, B12, Omega-3 etc. And when my graduate assistantship money was looking good I would get massages or acupuncture as other options.
6. Medication. I know a lot of people avoid medication however, if it is severe, please consider taking them as prescribed by your doctor. Inappropriate medication engagement can lead to another depressive episode or worse. Please consult your doctor before altering medication.
7. Listen to your body. I like to try things out and feel how your body responds. If oils give you headaches try something else. Know when to give your body a break, I try my best to relax when I feel my body getting tired. I use to try to force myself to stay up and do things I didn’t want to do. I try to get 7-8 hours sleep. I force because I found sleep also adds to my irritable mood. Honestly, sometimes the best start to healing is knowing its okay to not be okay. Self-compassion can make a world of a difference in your overall health.
Author: Rosie Britton is a Doctoral Candidate at the University of Iowa. She is a native of NYC.