By Kara Lynch
For years, I struggled with the notion that I was “less than” because of my bipolar disorder. I felt I would never find true love, accomplish my goals or be able to love myself because of my diagnosis. I saw my symptoms as significant flaws that were holding me back from everything I ever wanted.
As women of color, we often have to fight the stigma within our communities surrounding mental health challenges.Kara Lynch
After a few years of living in disarray and not working towards my potential, I began soul searching. I realized I could live the life I wanted with my diagnosis—I realized it all started with how I treated myself.
Here are four ways you can love yourself as a black woman with mental health challenges:
1. Find Your Affirmation
While trying to get to the root of my feelings of inadequacy, I found my faith again. I returned to small concepts I learned as a child in church. During this time, I was dealing with a great deal of anxiety, so I wrote scriptures on sticky notes and stuck them to my mirror. I read them while putting on my makeup every day, sometimes aloud and sometimes silently.
Those scriptures helped me see that for everything I was feeling, God was my remedy. I had to remember I am wonderfully made for a purpose and my diagnosis is not a mistake or a flaw that makes me incomplete, but a piece of who I am that makes me unique and more qualified for my journey. It’s been about two years, and the same scriptures are still there. You can use quotes that affirm or lift you.
2. Put Yourself First
In dealing with my mental health diagnosis, sometimes I’m not as social. I let phone calls and text messages go unanswered. I’ve been absent from family events. I’ve even put my college degree on hold to get myself back into a positive headspace. It isn’t always easy, but looking back, it’s been worth it. What can you contribute to the ones you love most with your head in the sand? What good is a college degree if you can’t get up in the morning and use it at your job?
In putting myself first, I’ve found the people and things I put on hold were still there when I emerged a better, healthier person. Of course, there has to be an understanding, and they have to be aware of your issues for this to work out, but the people who truly love you always will understand. If things have gotten out of control for you, or you’re busy and not productive, take a step back and don’t be afraid to say no. Try focusing on you and see how things change.
3. Ask For Help
I fought before asking for help for the longest time. I grew up in a single-parent, only-child household where my mother was superwoman. She handled her job, her child, and her family obligations and went to church every Sunday. She was more than competent in every regard. I watched her build a great life for us, and as I began to battle with my mental health, I felt as though I should have been able to handle it all, as she did.
My sophomore year in college, I broke down and asked for help. I began seeing therapists. It was a hard decision, but one of the best decisions I ever made. The same was true when it came to asking my family for support. It’s still tough, but I push through.
Recently, I called my cousin to chat with her. I told her I was experiencing anxiety. She talked me through the issues that were concerning me, made me laugh, as always, and told me she loved me. Maybe you need a therapist, or perhaps you need just a listening ear, but either way, don’t try to carry it all alone.
4. Protect Your Peace
As women of color, we often have to fight the stigma within our communities surrounding mental health challenges. There have been times in my mental health journey when people I trusted have given me advice based solely on their opinion or lack of knowledge. It can leave you feeling even more inadequate and questioning what you know to be true for yourself.
For instance, a loved one once told me they didn’t believe I was bipolar. Because I am a very strong person who understands what I’ve gone through, I let the comment go. But for someone who struggles with coming to terms with their diagnosis or challenges, this comment could have been very damaging.
You will cross paths with people who don’t think mental health diagnoses are real or don’t believe in treating mental health conditions with medication, but I am here to tell you that you have to protect your peace by doing what’s best for you. Also, you may have to limit your interactions with people who invalidate your struggle. Protecting your peace includes changing how you deal with people or situations that interfere with your harmony and happiness.
I’ve worked extremely hard to get to a positive space in my life, and I’m sure you have, too. Lately, I’ve found myself ending negative conversations. If I’m talking to someone and they are negative, I stop the conversation or shift to a positive topic. This is not selfish: It’s self-care.
These four practices have empowered me to live unapologetically. They have led me to my purpose and given me the courage to pursue my dreams. I hope these tactics give you the confidence you need to build your own system of loving yourself.
Kara Lynch is the writer of kontentlykara.com, a mental health blog inspiring people with mental health challenges. She writes to give others the opportunity to see themselves in her story. For more, you can follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter: @kontentlykara or at her website.