Written by Lara Ashley
Racism is the oppression that is killing the Black community mentally and physically.
The Black community is dealing with two viruses: COVID-19 and racism. Both are killing us. Black people have reportedly been dying at a rapidly higher rate with COVID-19, with 75% of the frontline workers being people of color. A frontline worker, a Black EMT, was killed in her home while resting from working tirelessly caring for the ones who contracted the virus.
The community was shocked over her death. We tried to cope with it, as well as trying to deal with the looming disease in our hometowns. We listened to experts and health officials who reported that while quarantining, it would be best for our mental and physical health to exercise and jog outside. A simple jog became a fearful act for the Black community, feeling that they would be targeted and shot in their own neighborhoods. Soon, any everyday action became a fearful one, not even feeling safe stopping at the store. Even that could lead to death at the police officer's knee, while the other officers watch you die in the street with cameras in your face.
An organization called the ADAA has done studies on how racism affects mental health. In ADAA’s racism studies, they have found that Black people suffer from anxiety, depression, psychological distress, and trauma distress from seeing and experiencing racism. Because of this racial trauma, people of the Black community struggle with fear, hypervigilance, confusion, shame, or guilt following the experience, blaming themselves for the person projecting racism towards them.
Racial trauma can be triggered by the cumulative effects of experiences of racism or by one specific experience. Hashtags like #imtired, #whatsnext, and #stopkillingus on social media platforms have indicated this, with people expressing their reactions to killings and mistreatments of Black people. Another way racial trauma comes into effect is through the transmission of historical context across generations. Black people have heard the stories of their grandparents fighting in wars that they were forced into, and they have seen pictures of their parents, uncles, and aunts marching during the Civil Rights Movement. For the Black community of today, they are thinking, "When is it enough?".
Chelsea Walton, Psy.D says that the senseless murder of George Floyd spurred a call for change in a system that allows disproportionate and unjustified violence against Black people.
It is a never-ending cycle that too many community members have experienced and have to cope with on a day-to-day basis. A Black mother posted on Facebook, "I sometimes can't handle my emotions and have to protect my mental health, but over the last few days, I've found myself fighting back the tears and not trying to become angry." Dr. Walton said that the effects of racism are insidious when they are not overt. She comments, “Those who have an awareness of this, it can create feelings of lack of control and agency.” She continues to say that there's a mental and emotional exhaustion of constantly being aware of the environment one lives in, which is necessary for survival. “Racism has deleterious effects on the mental health of Black people. It’s important to highlight that despite challenges, the Black community faces systemic and systematic racism, we continue to see the resilience needed to change the status quo,” she says.
Black people are struggling with finding their ability to influence the environment. The Black community has been told to "get in line" with society's expectations (like having a legal gun and announcing to the officer that it is in our possession), to show respect (similarly to the Black woman who called police to help a dispute in her neighborhood and Yvette Smith being the one shot at by police.) and to value the ones who are here to protect us (Gilbert Flores raised his hands in surrender to police and remained motionless as the officers shot and killed him.). If we comply, then incidents like these will not happen. However, we see countless and countless times again that this alone will not stop the killings. If a white man can kill nine Black people in a church and come out of it wearing a bulletproof police vest, Black people should be able to breathe again.
Racism requires many moments of metanoia; we bring forth a new worldview on the issue. The protests and social media posts are all ways for the Black community's concerns and fears to be heard. It is not about changing anyone's mind; Black people's bodies and minds have burned from the trauma of racist people. We understand that no matter how many marks are left on our bodies, some people's ideals will never change. Right now, we want our criminal justice to change, and we want justice to be served.
Thankfully, the You Are Not Alone Project has dedicated its time and resources to provide a haven for individuals to discuss their mental health openly. Numerous therapists conduct virtual therapy sessions to help Black people cope with their reality. These resources are here to help cope with what is present in today’s society. The real cure, though, is for the Black community to feel that they are valued in this world.
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In order to escape the Great Plague affecting Cambridge, Newton retreated in isolation to Woolsthorpe where he came up with his theories of gravity, optics and calculus.
After a wildfire, landscapes will explode with thousands of flowers known as a superbloom and come back even more beautiful and healthier than before.
Hurricane Sandy rid Long Island Bay of its polluted water--the constant surge of the tides dispersed toxins in the bay and returned the water cleanliness to levels not seen since the mid-1970s.
Shakespeare wrote ‘King Lear,' 'Macbeth' and 'Antony and Cleopatra' as London reeled from an outbreak of the bubonic plague in 1606.
What a beautiful thought it is that things, and people, can come out of a state of devastation and isolation even stronger than before.
Covid-19 forced many of us into self-isolation. In this isolated state, emotions can be heightened, and mental health can be gravely affected. A recent review in Psychology Today on the effects of quarantine on individuals points to increased confusion, anger, post-traumatic stress symptoms, and extended periods of grief, sometimes lasting even three years after the end of the quarantine. Stressors range anywhere from longer quarantine duration, inadequate information and supplies, and infection fears, to frustration, boredom, grief, financial loss and stigma.
Of course, people with a history of mental illness are at increased risks, but no one is immune to the mental effects that isolation and fear can have during and after a pandemic. And, for some, those effects will last long after the virus is gone. In addition, health care workers and others on the frontlines are facing even more dangers to both their physical and mental health. These workers, especially, will need continued support after this is over.
Effects on Children
The good news for parents is that psychologists who work with childhood trauma agree that children are incredibly resilient. According to child psychologist Jessica Wozniak, we’re going to see a range of effects from this pandemic on children based heavily on family and community circumstances. Some will be mild and short-term such as trouble sleeping, increased worry or behavioral outbursts, while others may see more long-term effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. It is noted that there are factors that can decrease a child’s ability to withstand trauma. A child’s proximity to the event can be a factor. In this case, children are just as impacted as adults, but parents do have the ability to monitor their intake of news surrounding the pandemic and are encouraged to do so. The likelihood of long-term trauma also increases for children who are already in an unstable state. It will be more important than ever to make sure disadvantaged populations have adequate access to mental health care and ongoing support.
Wozniak stresses that children most often look to caregivers for how to react and cope with trauma. The more adjusted a caregiver is, the calmer children will be, especially as life starts to return to a sense of normalcy. As with adults, giving children some agency over the isolation and being away from friends by making sure they know they are helping others and contributing to the greater good can provide comfort and a sense of pride. That shared purpose can also bring a family even closer together and add value moving forward. It is also likely that we will continue to see small changes in this generation, such as being more reluctant to shake hands or leaning into technology even more. Only time will tell. What we do know is that we need to continue being compassionate and understanding with one another. We are all experiencing this together, after all, and no one has all the answers.
Shining a Light on Mental Health
On the bright side, mental health is being talked about more than ever before, and people are even more aware of the importance of taking care of their overall well-being. During the pandemic, self-care has been deemed a necessity for most, with many organizations sharing resources for taking care of one’s mental health, counselors switching to tele-health services and individuals sharing at home self-care routines. Crisis hotlines saw calls increase in the thousands during this time. We also saw people making an active effort to connect with each other through virtual game nights, Zoom happy hours, drive-by birthday “parades,” and through other innovative means.
As we go back to normal, it’s important to identify which parts of “normal” are worth going back to.
Where we go from here matters.
As we’ve seen throughout history, some of the world’s greatest creations came from a forced state of isolation, and regrowth is often healthier after a state of disruption. Jessica Carson, Neuroscientist and Psychologist, stresses the importance of using this situation as an opportunity to reallocate energy and find balance. Imagine dividing 12 units of energy across four areas, family, occupation, recreation and dreams (making dreams a reality). What did it look like before Coronavirus? What does it look like now? And, where do we want to go from here?
Written by Chelsea Borruano
written by: Becca Ames
we compare our pain as if there is only a certain amount in this world to be given. rank our suffering, use it to give or deny ourselves the permission to feel. there are people who are sick, dying, losing their jobs, people who never had them to begin with. people who are hungry. who are you to be experiencing anything but gratitude?
I am overwhelmed by my sadness, the strength to which my feelings can overtake me in a matter of seconds, dragging me to the depths of despair as I sit comfortably in an air-conditioned apartment with a fridge that is full and a fluffy little creature nestled at my toes. you are not worthy of sadness today, the voices say.
my disorder thrives in these lonely moments, feeding on the guilt and shame of asking for too much from a world that is - for all intents and purposes - tapped out. I berate myself for the messiness of my feelings, shave away the excess so I too can fit in the box of all that is ‘just right’.
I live in constant fear that the bigness of what is happening inside of me is wrong, that my taking of space will overwhelm the people I love and force them to disappear.
but there is something freeing in this quiet, a knowing emerging from its hiding place. I am confronted each day by a shadow that used to dance behind all that is life beyond this. I ran from its darkness, its silhouette stretching thin in my wake until disintegrating into nothing at all.
but now, the shadow stands just slightly taller than myself, cast from a light that is close by.
I am here, it seems to say, announcing my existence.
I am learning to be alone. and maybe it’s because I didn’t bring this upon myself that it feels lighter than it would in another time, a purposeful act of being alone that is not representative of an absence of love but perhaps even a surplus of it.
maybe I am not a mess. maybe I am just a person who feels deeply in a messy world. and maybe there are others who feel this way - completely and without hesitation, others who read what I write and feel the pressure release. others who feel the weight of this loneliness lifting.
maybe we’re not overreacting. maybe we’re not broken.
maybe we’re just paying attention.
We hear it a lot. "I don't see color." And, I get it. The sentiment is there. We're all human beings after all. But here's the thing, it's our differences that make us who we are. It's our background, our pain, our strength, our culture, our history, our hardships, our triumphs, that make us beautiful. It's time to open our eyes and explore the differences. It's time we not only see color, but celebrate it. It's time. I see you, and you are beautiful.
I've been hesitant to write about what I've been dealing with these past couple weeks. Mostly because it's not exactly positive or uplifting. As the founder of the project, I know that people are looking to me to offer something, anything, during this time. I believe we've done a lot as an organization by sharing resources and hosting giveaways and virtual meetups, and I'm proud of that. But I also started this project with the intention of being bold in our conversations about mental health and that starts with me. That starts with honesty and vulnerability.
When I was 28, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). I've talked a lot about how that diagnosis, and subsequent treatment, has changed my life and brought me to where I am today. What I want, or rather need to talk about now is how incredibly triggering this pandemic has been for my GAD and MDD symptoms.
For the past three or so years, I've kept these issues in check. I've taken on a lot of what would be considered stressors and prevailed because of the tools I've learned along the way.
Let me tell you, those tools got nothin' on the coronavirus.
I have this pressure in my chest constantly that no breathing exercise seems to touch. My anxiety is affecting my ability to do my job and succeed in my master's program, in mental health counseling of all things. I'm starting to feel like some sort of poser. How can I help people as a counselor if I can't even help myself? When I got help all those years ago, I did it because I couldn't eat and I couldn't leave my house due to my depression. I've been having flashbacks of that time of extreme isolation and am finding myself being drawn to the safety of shutting out the world. A friend shared an article that could not have explained my fears any better--“On the one hand, I am concerned that this will not only exacerbate things for those who are already isolated and lonely, but also might be a triggering point for others to now get into habits of connecting less...(read more).”
I have been exploring ways to deal. One thing that seems to help me is looking at time differently. When I feel anxious about anything--work, this nonprofit, my classes, getting sick--I remind myself that time is relative right now. I actually have the full 24 hours to spread things out in a way that works best for my mental wellness. Right now, my mental health has to be more important than being hyper available from 8-5:30 Mon-Fri and basically anytime in between. I take a break when my anxiety gets bad and do something mindless, like watch a quick episode of a sitcom, and then I get back to whatever I'm working on. On the flipside, I seem to have more energy around 8 pm or so, so I use that time and energy to wrap up anything that my anxiety kept me from getting to during the day. I also spend time outside, drink tea, paint and call or facetime friends and family. Sometimes, I just wish I could disconnect from it all, but I also have to remind myself that the responsibilities are still there, and I can't hide from them because of my anxiety.
I know other people have it so much worse and I feel guilty for "complaining." I know "our grandparents went to war and all we have to do is stay home." I know that SO many people are sacrificing SO much for me and it physically hurts me that I will never be able to do anything to repay them. I hurt for people who have lost someone to this virus or who can't say their last goodbye to a dying loved one for fear of spreading the virus and who can't be at the funeral because that would be more than 10 people in a room. I just lost someone very close to me. I can't imagine not being with them when they were suffering and not having the chance to say goodbye. I know my issues are minuscule compared to other people. What I also know is that my anxiety and depression have never been rational. Facts and figures aren't going to ease the pressure in my chest or keep the tears from streaming down my face. One thing is for sure. I'm going to hug my family and friends so dang hard when this is all over (with their consent of course).
I know I'll be okay. Maybe not today. Maybe not for a couple of months. And that's okay.
Because I'm alive, and I may be isolated, but I AM NOT ALONE. You aren't alone. We're all in this together. Let's talk about it and just be there for each other.
Written by: Chelsea Borruano
What we want you to know about grief:
Sincerely, loss but not lost
Losing someone you love is hard. You sit at a table for a family gathering, for birthdays, holidays; and you all feel it. You realized that you’ve missed each other because life gets busy and that you love each other more deeply than you thought possible. You laugh because you enjoy each other’s company so much. But then you feel a pang of guilt for laughing instead of crying. You smile a little less. And look around and realize you’re not the only one.
And that’s when losing someone gets just a little bit easier. You feel everything more deeply, more permanently, that is if you try hard not to forget this feeling. You treasure the little moments with the people that you love. Every laugh. Every tear. You know, in that moment and for forever, you are so very not alone.
It looks like the light tapping of your fingers on a desk in a perfect pattern.
It looks like biting your nails till they bleed.
It looks like staring off into space.
It looks like ignoring someone you love.
It looks like leaving a packed room to get some air.
It looks like anger, fear.
It looks like shortness of breathe.
It looks like thoughtfulness.
It looks like tears.
It looks like the “party pooper” or “lightweight” who’s going home early.
It looks like humor.
It looks like tossing and turning in bed.
It looks like nothing.
All the while, on the inside, it feels like chaos, compulsion, uncontrollable energy. It’s fighting to breathe, to think a clear thought, to focus. It feels painful. It feels better to be alone even if it means leaving your friends and what looks like fun. It feels like you could’ve said something better, did something differently. It’s running through your day in your head, questioning every decision you’ve made.
It feels like everything.
Anxiety is real. It’s not something you can just let go or get over. Your feelings are so very valid. It’s also something that we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about or feel judged for. It’s something we should be able to openly talk about so we can help each other overcome it.
It’s not nothing and you aren’t alone.
It's national suicide prevention week. As this project has evolved, I've gotten a lot of questions about losing someone to suicide. What are the signs? What could I have done differently? How do I get past the guilt? The short answer, I honestly don't know. The long answer, well, there are warning signs but they're usually minute, if they show outwardly at all. I believe it starts with being open and bold in our conversations about mental health, depression, suicide, self-harm, addiction, etc.
The guilt question is the hardest for me to address. I think, as human beings, we're wired for it; and someone you love taking their own life will leave you with more questions than answers. The more uncertainty we face, the easier it is to look inward and blame ourselves. All I can offer is this, depression is a disease and for some, it's a losing battle. You don't blame yourself for the person you love getting cancer so why do we think we can take on the weight of depression? The hope I have is that, while cancer is more or less in the hands of science and skilled medical professionals, mental health support isn't. We have resources, and they're growing everyday. We're having the right conversations. We're erasing stigmas. We're making medical advancements in treatment. And we're not doing it alone anymore.
So, to you, whoever you are, wherever you are, You Aren't Alone. We are better together and the world is a better place with YOU in it. Please don't take that away. Today, choose to stay.
For more information and resources, visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
If you think someone is thinking about suicide, assume you are the only one who will reach out. Here’s how to talk to someone who may be struggling with their mental health.
This week, Betty Mujica-Milano, president of our board of directors, and I, stood in front of a gymnasium full of hundreds of high school students, slightly terrified I must admit, and poured our hearts out about the project. We walked into that gym having flashbacks to high school and wondering what the heck we had gotten ourselves into, but let me tell you, we walked out with, well, hope.
You see, a couple of weeks ago, I got an email from an English teacher at Dutchtown High who sponsors a new club the students there put together called "Be the Change" with the goal of creating a more positive school environment and enriching the well-being of the students. This club planned an incredible (and completely voluntary) event called Commitment to Change where students and volunteers, like myself and Betty, could openly talk about mental health and wellness.
And that we did. Ya'll, that fear we had going in immediately dissipated the moment these students started opening up about what they're going through. We talked through some coping mechanisms; we talked at length about the power of having a trusted adult to talk through your problems with; we talked about the importance of having at least one friend you could pour your heart out to and, in turn, be there for. We talked about self-care and vulnerability and support. We talked about real pain. And then we watched a group of teens, from freshmen to seniors, sit in a circle on the floor surrounding one of their fellow classmates, but ultimately a stranger among a sea of 2400 students, to comfort her as she expressed her pain and anger. We saw them cry together, we witnessed them be vulnerable about what they've gone through, and we heard them make an oath to meet up the next morning. And then we watched as they took the first steps in the planning process with one of their teachers to start a peer support group. And ya'll THIS, this is what the project is all about.
When we arrived, we were given a sheet of paper with questions the students had submitted that we could use to guide the discussion. As I left, I realized that we didn't touch on some of these so I'd like to do that now. As I told the students honestly, I am not a mental health professional. I'm just a girl who's been through some shit (ok, I didn't use the word shit) but I made it out the other side and I didn't do it alone. And you don't have to either. So these are strictly my opinions based on my own experience. Please, if you have anything to add, do so in the comments. The goal of this blog is to serve as a discussion board for support and hope. To crowd-source that help and that hope and provide resources to our community.
What's the best way to manage or prevent stress?
I think we can all relate to this and it's no different for high school students. If anything, I think students today have even more pressure on them to be something they may never be able to live up to. (And yes, social media has a lot to do with that.) So, here's my advice, set boundaries for yourself. Don't be afraid to say no to helping plan another school event or going to that party. It's ok to take some time for yourself, actually it's not just ok, its necessary for our survival. And be honest about why you're saying no. "I'm feeling overwhelmed and I would rather take the time to recharge so I can come back stronger than to commit to something I can't give 100% to right now." "I do want to hang out but I'm feeling anxiety and stress and I think I need a day to myself." Preventing stress is impossible. We're wired for it. And sometimes we can strive in stressful situations. We just have to keep our well-being top of mind, be honest about what we need, and reach out for help when we can't do it alone anymore.
Some of my friends have told me that the relationship I'm in isn't healthy. How do I know if I'm in a toxic relationship? What should I do if I am? Where can I go for help or who should I talk to?
This is something I unfortunately can relate to all too well. I don't talk about the details because I've chosen not to hurt the people who hurt me and truthfully, I still care deeply about them. But, I was in a physically and emotionally abusive relationship in high school which led me down a dangerous path of emotionally abusive boyfriends until I was 28 years old.
First, if your friends think your relationship isn't healthy, they are probably right. And you will likely hate them for it, at first.
Secondly, if you have to ask, you are likely in a toxic relationship. You should never feel afraid or less than the person you are dating. You should never let another person make you question your own self-worth. Mental abuse can lead you to think the worst about yourself and, the longer to stay, the more you will believe it. Which will just lead you down a dangerous cycle of more abuse, trust me.
If there is any violence AT ALL, whether thats "just when they're drunk" or because "they had a bad day," that's NOT OK. If you're having to make excuses for them, you're not in a healthy relationship. If you are experiencing any sort of violence, get out immediately and tell someone, right NOW. DO NOT WAIT UNTIL ITS TOO LATE.
That doesn't mean that the person you care about, and probably even love, is a bad person. That doesn't even mean that you don't love them. Like I mentioned, I still care deeply about the people I dated that hurt me. But it does mean that they need the kind of help that you are not capable of giving. Talking to a trusted adult about both your situation and theirs can help you both. It's not an easy thing to admit. And confronting the person you're with is not the answer. They will likely be combative and again, you are not capable of providing them the help they need. YOU HAVE TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF BEFORE YOU CAN BE THERE FOR ANYONE ELSE.
There are a host of counselors and therapists in the area that are trained to handle abusive or toxic relationships, especially in teens. So, ask for help and I promise you, you (and they) will be better for it.
Wow, ok. I still have 12 more questions to go but I will end this post here and pick up where I left off another day. I hope this helps. I hope you know you're not alone. And I hope you know that there are people you can turn to for help.
-Chelsea Borruano, Founder | Executive Director