Picture Imperfect: A Lesson In Emotional Wellness
By: Gabrielle Nichols
When you look at this picture, what do you see? You may see a girl with a brilliant smile and a bomb twist-out. But I see, well, me - Gabby. I would like to think of myself as the girl in this picture - warm, bubbly, and cheerful. I know deep down that this is only one part of who I am. Behind that smile and sepia Instagram filter is a girl who is insecure. There is a girl who is lonely. There is a girl who thought about committing suicide. For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with intense feelings of alienation and worthlessness.
These feelings seemed to get worse after I was raped during my freshman year of college. The act of a complete stranger violating my body sent me over the edge. I didn’t think anyone would understand, so I kept this painful secret to myself. Binge watching all nine seasons of The Office; having sex with strangers from dating apps; and drinking glasses of wine helped for a little while. Deep down I knew these were toxic, temporary fixes. I felt like there was no hope for me until about a year ago.
In August of 2018, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I felt this overwhelming sense of clarity. All the crying for no reason; the not wanting to get out of bed; the thoughts of ending my life made sense. Now that I had a name for what had my mind spiraling, I could begin the healing process. I’m not going to pretend like my first sessions with my therapist were easy. It was hard rehashing things from my past. However, acknowledging my own shortcomings was even harder. Early on, my therapist suggested I try keeping a thought record to combat negative thinking.
At the time I was having trouble finding a job. I wrote down concerns like “I don’t have enough experience” or “they might not even look at my application.” Next, I wrote down why I was thinking this way. It normally came down to a lack of confidence. I later wrote down ways to turn my negative thoughts into more positive ones. This exercise was something I would use in and out of therapy when negative thinking reared its ugly head.
During my time with my therapist, we also explored vulnerability. Opening up to people had always been hard for me. There was an underlying fear of people not understanding me. I was scared to take chances and make mistakes. My therapist suggested I look at some of Dr. Brené Brown’s work on vulnerability; more specifically a Netflix special entitled “The Call to Courage.” That hour and a half special changed my life for the better. I used to think being vulnerable was a weakness. I didn’t want people to see my ooey, gooey marshmallow center. Sharing the fragile parts of myself with a world so unforgiving and callus was terrifying. Dr. Brown assured me and others in the studio audience that vulnerability was probably the bravest thing we as human beings could do. Life, or “the arena” as she referred to it, is best lived with the fullest versions of ourselves in the forefront. For me that meant accepting my insecurities.
Another lesson from Dr. Brown’s special that stuck with me was the phrase “the story I’m telling myself.” She defined it as one’s mind misinterpreting a situation and filling gaps with false information. It really got me thinking. How many times had I let my mind misread certain situations? How many times had I let false feelings dictate my actions? I was reminded in that moment that I had control over how I responded to life’s never ending obstacles. I could let negative thoughts keep me from the life I wanted or I could beat back those thoughts and live the life I deserve.
I have learned many things to help me better manage my depression and anxiety. Here is what it boils down to:
First and foremost, do not be afraid to seek help. There is still a lot of stigma surrounding mental illness. Don’t let that stop you from getting the healing that you need. It’s always best to talk things out with a licensed mental health professional because they may be able to see things that loved ones may not be able to. Access may also be a problem but there are services such as Better Help and Talk Space that put you in touch with counselors and therapists through your mobile device. Therapy for Black Girls and Open Counseling also have great directories.
Second, try to utilize the techniques you learn in therapy in your everyday life. You might think this is a no brainer but it’s probably one of the most difficult things about seeing a therapist. It’s easy for you to slip back into old habits. Keep writing down negative thoughts in your thought record until you can dispel them without it. Write things down in your journal. Get up at early and meditate to Enya. Just like with anything else, bettering your mental health comes with practice.
Third, have a strong support system in place. I would not be here typing this blog post if it weren’t for my family. They have been there at every step of my mental health journey. This unconditional love is what someone who is struggling with their mental health needs. It doesn’t have to necessarily be family. Your support system can be anyone you feel will be your listening ear and hold you accountable.
Lastly, the most important thing that I have learned so far is that everyone has their own separate journeys. I may not be where I want to be right now, but knowing life’s many twists and turns, I will get to where I need to be in due time.
Until next time,
About the Author
Gabrielle Nichols is 25 years-old and hails from Grovetown, GA. She graduated from Georgia Southern University - Armstrong Campus in 2018 with a Bachelor’s degree in Women and Gender studies. Gabrielle is currently employed as an after school counselor at the Marshall Family YMCA located in Evans, Georgia. Her job allows her to work with children from the local elementary school to strengthen their love of education and physical activity. Gabrielle is also a member of the illustrious Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
Social Media Handles:
Twitter - @missALYgee & Instagram - @miss.ALY.gee