Candace Collins: Mental Health Awareness

weekly update

for January 12, 2021

I can still remember the feeling that night. I was living in one of the most exciting times of my life because my daughter and I had just moved into our own apartment. I was rotating between my bathroom floor and my bed. Sobbing. Heart racing. Terrified. My body was feeling things that it had never felt before. My emotions were all over the place. My sweet daughter sat on the bed next to me, with a helpless look on her face.  As if 2020 wasn’t already stressful on so many points, this particular moment in time would be something that completely shifted my mental health journey. 

Barely able to speak through the emotions, I called some friends. Sure, I’d had a couple drinks, but that was nothing out of the ordinary. [By the way alcohol amplifies anxiety].  As my friends so kindly got out of bed and headed our way, I called 911. That’s how scared I was. I thought I was having a heart attack. When they arrived, within minutes of checking me out, I heard the words panic attack. What? Me? Huh? Why in the world would I be experiencing a panic attack? Those next few, and terrifying, weeks would reveal so much to me in regards to my mental health that has now given me a desire to tell my story in hopes that other Black people have the courage to step into something that has been so taboo in our community. 

In the months leading up to my panic attack, I was seeing a counselor. [I’ve seen a counselor for many years in my life, only to come to realize how very out of the ordinary that is for me as a Black woman. It was free in college, so I decided, why not? But if it wasn’t for my journey beginning that way, I don’t think I would have ever seen, known and experienced the benefits of counseling.] Things were going great in my sessions as the focus was primarily on childhood Candace vs adult Candace, my parenting and healthy coping mechanisms because parenting ain’t no joke, let alone single parenting! And raising a mini version of myself, I need all the therapy I can get! Ha! But, as many of us know, the political, social and racial unrest happening in our country in 2020 had some major influence on us all. Some, more in tune with it, others not so much. As a Black woman who grew up in south GA, none of this was new to me. So I thought. As I began to dig into what led to my panic attack, I quickly realized how being one of very few Black people in my church congregation, one of two on staff at my job, and honestly one of few even in our social circles combined with underlying anxiety I had yet put my finger on was just brewing inside of me. I realized my anxiety was being activated by the constant news stories and videos, being heartbroken for our world, being the only source for many people who wanted to hear things from a Black person’s perspective. It’s a huge burden to carry, and for all of us in the Black community, it’s a burden we’ve carried for a long time. Thanks to technology, it’s now in our faces more than ever. And it’s having a major impact on our Black brothers and sisters. 

Let’s paint my picture. 2020. Black single mom. Racial unrest. Lockdown and isolation. Everyday I’m doing my best to show up for my daughter and my job. Barely anytime in there for myself. I can’t be with friends and family like we used to. I was missing simple things like hugs. Quality time. Daughter can’t play with friends which she desperately needed, so that added more pressure. My mental health was taking a hit in ways I didn’t see daily until my panic attack opened my eyes. But why did it have to take a panic attack for me to take my mental health seriously? One reason is mental health isn’t something openly talked about in the Black community. Mental health is viewed as something negative. Something that only the weak deal with. I remember encouraging a family member to see a free therapist and their response was, therapy was only for certain kinds of people. See, being part of a system that kept us separated for many many years, we were distanced from the lifelong benefits of something like therapy. We’ve always had to make due. Have you heard the phrase “Strong Black woman?” Of course, strong Black women don’t have mental health issues. They don’t need help. That’s the lie that’s formed over all these years. 

All of these things combined is where we sit today. The mental health stigma. Lack of open dialogue in the Black community. It’s not affordable. There’s a lack of Black therapists who can truly understand your shoes. Lack of knowledge in what mental health truly means and how things like financial strain, single parenting and the current state of our country all play into our mental health. 

Therapy literally saved my life this year. None of us could have planned the toll that 2020 has taken on all of us in some way, shape, or form. Had I not had someone asking me the hard questions, to process my day to day out loud, cry within my most broken states and it be ok-I don’t know where I would be. While my panic attack was one of the scariest things to ever happen to me, I am thankful that it opened my eyes to a piece of my life that I was ignoring and needed care and attention. I suffered in silence for so long, not anymore. And the more I’ve shared my story, the more I am learning I am not alone. You are not alone. It’s ok to not be ok. To reach out. Talk out loud. 

I also share my story to bring awareness to mental health and all of the things that surround it. To be a Black voice in spaces where there aren’t a lot of Black voices. To be open about my journey because I know someone out there can resonate. I want to normalize this conversation. Also, I want to bring your attention to the major need to bring more resources to the Black community to help with mental health. We are in a mental health crisis. The numbers are staggering and our Black communities shouldn’t suffer because of lack of access. Legacy Collective is raising $25,000 in January of 2021 to give a grant to help families in the Black community receive mental health services through a one-time donation. You can make that donation directly to Legacy Collective by joining their 100 Campaign. For more information head on over to https://legacycollective.org/100×100/.

-Candace Collins, “Elevating Their Impact” Co-Host

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