Op Ed

A Black enby person's mental health journey

Dion McNeal
May 31, 2022

"Being a black man in America means being my brother's keeper. Being a black man in America means being my brother's keeper while keeping a distance from my brother because don't trust him further than I can see him. It's believing the cops don't care about you. It's learning how not to doubt yourself because when you're born everyone else already does," —Poet Prentice Powell, 2014.

I never thought I would become a person who regularly deals with anxiety, severe depression, and chronic pain. It wasn't until I let go and gave in to the will of the universe that I experienced a true sense of healing. In 2020 my life, as well as many others, spiraled out of control. I tried to grip onto everything that I could to help me fulfill a sense of duty, pride, and security. Eventually, those things had to be released as they no longer served me in my next chapter.

It wasn't until my ego death in late 2020 that I experienced an awakened sense of not doubting myself (as the quote above states) when no one is there except for you. If you aren't familiar with what ego death is, I can best describe it as seeing your life die in front of you, so that you are able to be reborn with intrinsic faith, empathy, and understanding of your role in this world. Think of Lion King when Simba was talking to his father in the clouds before Simba saved the Pridelands. Real-life is less theatrical, lol. Back in November of 2021, I visited a friend in Washington-the state. One day we spent about an hour and a half walking up this mountain and when we got there this was what we saw:

Alt-Text: A view from a mountain top of pine trees and rubble. In the background is a vast blue sky with overcast clouds and below its miles and miles of green and brown landscape. Photo credits: Dion McNeal

This moment exists in my memory so vividly, the wind, the sound, the sun, and my friend reminded me that nature doesn't rush itself, and yet it is always on time. To be transparent, I found it difficult to write this, I'm sure you can relate to me when I say expressing yourself and thoughts take a lot of courage but claim all the space you need, sweetheart. If this can feel cathartic, I implore you to share your thoughts with us. Moments like the one in Washington remind me that life can be less complex if I give in and breathe. But also, never hold onto anything as tightly as I do for the things that ground me (i.e. faith).

All the signs were there that I would have some struggles as an adult-like being mentally abused, sexually assaulted, hit by a vehicle at a young age, and growing up in poverty. I could throw a statistic behind this, but I am practicing the belief in lived experiences before data and being able to process all of this with the help of therapy and spirituality. Especially, when it comes to my disabled-Black experience. I had to figure out how to process all of this and the start of it was quite difficult. I remember in college that I was so stressed, had anxiety through the roof about classwork, juggling finances, and working that I developed an ulcer. The campus doctor recommended things to stay away from and stressed that I practice yoga and decompress from my responsibilities. I started by journaling my thoughts (I still have this journal and it is so wild to read these entries) and then I picked up an interest in yoga. I paused going to my classes and work to solely focus on relaxing and meditating. It was then that I learned how powerful breathwork is and accessing a calm mind. It felt like I was high on oxygen!

 I have learned that peace of mind is free and should never be compromised. And making time to realign for peace of mind should be a priority in every aspect of our lives, including work and advocacy. I fully understand how important it is to show up with community because numbers equate to power when we are together. However, if we're not making time for ourselves the likelihood of having longevity/involvement in movements is slim. Like Mother Ru says,

RuPaul, a black male drag queen wearing a blonde wig-looking glamorous in the front purple glittering backdrop.

"if you can't love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?" It is important that we take care of our body in every area, when possible. I love the analogy my first therapist gave me when we explored my HIV status and how it intersects with my mental and spiritual health. He asked me to think of my body as a car when a check light pops on, it indicates that something is wrong, and that external help may be needed. But if ignored too long the condition of the car worsens and makes it difficult to remain in operation. Like the car, your body gives you signals when something is wrong, but when you layer this with social determinants of health (loss of job, PTSD, lack of comprehensive health/access to, lack of proper transportation, poverty-stricken community, food desserts, etc.) it can make it difficult to get the needed help before things worsen.

 I say all of this because today we celebrate May as it is the National Mental Health Awareness month and I get to write a blog. But this is a reminder that there is so much work to do, but it can't be done if you aren't resting and making sure your mind, spirit, and body aren't where they need to be. So, when it's time to hit the streets to exercise our rights, we're able to do so from a place of wealth.

 We celebrate this month knowing that many of us are still struggling to access just the minimal support that we need. You aren't alone there is support in just about every corner of the internet. The pandemic has stretched our public health system, but it also gave birth to resources like Insight Timer, Guzo, Zero, Calm, Headspace, and other virtual spaces for communal support. I encourage you to locate community via local community-based organizations, coalitions, and mutual aids, and finding these can be as easy as scrolling through Tik-Tok (following certain hashtags and doing additional research on those sources or people). Incoming statistics "Only 26.4% of Black and Hispanic men ages 18 to 44 who experienced daily feelings of anxiety or depression were likely to have used mental health services, compared with 45.4%of non-Hispanic White men with the same feelings (NCHS Data Brief No. 206, 2015- https://bit.ly/3GhTu1q). When Black men do seek help and would prefer a same-race provider, it can be difficult to find Black psychologists, since they still make up only about 4% of the doctoral-level psychology workforce (though that number is growing, according to the 2018 APA Center for Workforce Studies data)." The device we call smartphones holds so much power in our hands it just takes the first step to begin the journey. Even after almost a year of therapy focusing on my PTSD from my previous work environment, after joining Disability Lead, I noticed triggers within myself, but nothing is ever perfect. I turned to the skills I've learned and my community for support.

 I truly didn't know what anxiety felt like until I experienced working in a county office during a pandemic. Turmoil draws out the true nature of humans, good or bad, they inform us about our environment and the people we see every day. Sometimes this information can be overwhelming and can deteriorate us; physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally if not addressed sooner than later. In my case, I am still processing it all and recovering from it. As I still experience things that trigger a trauma response. I give myself grace and space to feel them and try my best not to think through how I feel.  I am operating from a place of experience now and my work environment is a much healthier place for me to grow, heal, and expand from my experience! It is easy to get caught up in the madness of work or life that we forget to take off our rose-colored glasses and see the world outside of our existing problems. As a Gemini, I exist in duality and can have quite the catastrophic thinking if not kept in check, so I get it and I applaud you for being here with me. But this too shall pass.

If you need support, please seek out mental health resources. The National Mental Health Hotline is1-866-903-3787 or find additional resources like nami.org.





Op Ed