In a fast-paced society, it is easy to fall into the hustle and bustle of life. On social media, we are constantly seeing #grinding, #hustle and #teamnosleep and so many of us wear it as a badge of honor. This use to be me until I found myself being forced out of my home by the police and into the psychiatric unit. What? Me? I never thought I would end up in a place where I was told only crazy people go. I remember saying to one of the staff members at the hospital, “I do not belong here. I have a bachelors from Howard University and masters from Georgetown University.” I thought to myself, “I guess this means I am crazy too.” I could not wrap my head about being educated, having my own car, apartment, family and friends who love me, and being locked in a place that felt like jail. Honestly, I did not realize how sick I was until the psychiatrist asked me the day of the week, date and month and I had no clue.
I am an extremely goal-oriented person. I do not simply talk about my dreams, I go after them but that does not mean I cannot take breaks to replenish myself. Scrolling through social media made me feel like I was not doing enough and taking a break meant that I was not working hard. I found myself in a hamster wheel where I was not taking time to sit with my thoughts and emotions. I felt like the energizer bunny of constantly going after my dreams, working to pay bills and debt without stopping to take care of myself. I was like so many people who walk around being busy opposed to being productive. I did not know what the term self-care meant especially since so many limit it to manicures, pedicures and massages. What I found is that self-care is not limited to those things, but it is self-preservation. Self-care is what feeds your mind, body and spirit. It is setting boundaries, exercising, having a well-balanced diet, journaling, therapy, having healthy relationships, reading books and sleeping. What good is a manicure, pedicure or massage if you are depressed, empty and broken from trauma?
Where did we get this “brilliant” idea that the less you sleep and take breaks the more successful you will be? I attribute it to American culture and for Blacks, some of it is linked to being oppressed and having to work twice as hard just to get half of what our oppressors have. It is ingrained in us. There was a time when older generations worked themselves to the bone to provide for their families and overcome racism and oppression. Many of them felt like they did not have time for a mental breakdown or wrote it off as the blues instead of a mental health condition. They prayed to Jesus and pushed through. Majority of African Americans identify as Christian, and 50% of African Americans attend church services weekly, according to a Pew Research Center study. We believe that participating in rituals such as attending worship services, reading devotions, fasting, listening to gospel music, participating in ministries, and listening to sermons will help us during difficult seasons of life. Previous generations did not have the luxury of therapy, so church was a form of therapy. While I certainly contribute my relationship with God to being healthy mentally, I also contribute it to addressing my trauma, depression and anxiety disorders, learning my triggers and developing coping strategies in therapy.
One of the many ways to take care of your mental health is to sleep and take breaks. Sleep is needed for us to function at maximum capacity. According to Heathline, a lack of sleep contributes to memory issues, weight gain, a weakened immune system, increased risk for diabetes, high blood pressure and so many other health problems. And yet, we wonder why depression, obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure rates are so high in our community. These illnesses are not limited to the foods we eat. We do not take the time to take care of our mental health such as sleep and address generational trauma in therapy. I now realize that #grinding, #hustle and #teamnosleep is ridiculous and truly killing us. It glorifies being a workaholic and the idea that taking breaks limits your success.
It has been two and half years since my experience in the psychiatric unit and after coming home, I have been in intensive therapy, on medication, and learned to take care of myself. I refuse to work myself to the bone like my ancestors. I’ve learned to take breaks and say no to replenish my cup. The scripture (Psalm 23:5) says “my cup runneth over.” I like to say, “What’s in my cup is for me and what runs over is for everyone else.” In this year alone, I accomplished more than I could imagine such as meeting Issa Rae and Jenifer Lewis at the NAACP Image Awards, had over 15 speaking engagements, started a podcast and featured on Good Morning Washington twice. On a smaller scale, I’ve read over 13 books this year. While reading books may not seem like an accomplishment to many, it has forced me to pull away from social media, spend time with myself, acquire new information, slow down, process my emotions, and sit in silence. Most importantly, I have been rebuilding my relationship with God. Whereas in the past, I never took time to pull away from the distractions and noise of life. Managing my mental illness is not easy and I have to actively work on myself. However, I no longer deny myself sleep and rest in the name of success.
What will you do to better manage your mental health and ensure you are getting adequate rest?