In many black families the only conversations had about mental health are centered on that one uncle everyone swears was perfectly “normal” until a friend gave him some “bad stuff” in college twenty years ago. Although circumstances surrounding this "situation" are vague there is an unspoken understanding amongst family members that everyone handles “Unc” with kid gloves.
More importantly it is known that nobody, nowhere, at no time is to mention any of the details surrounding said uncle's bad weed (?) experience.
Growing up in my poor Black Midwest family, these very real circumstances were barely discussed, and when they were, rarely did anyone use technical terms or point to the very real and present examples. When anyone mentioned therapy or burnout it was regularly dismissed and filed away under White People Shit. My only example of self–care was when the phone would ring and my mama would say, “I don’t care who it is, I ain’t here.” I wouldn’t say that this was the best form of self-care but it was the 90’s, she was a single mother raising four kids working two jobs—It be like that!
I knew back in high school that I was suffering with depression pretty badly; I had days where I literally could not get out of bed, and I contemplated suicide on multiple occasions. Although I was struggling to get through my day to day life and considering putting an end to it, nobody knew. I was taught at an early age that no matter what was going on, always live by the ancient Wakandan Proverb: “Fake it ‘til you make it!” I did and I did it well.
I lived this way well into my 20's. At 21 years old I was working 60 hour work weeks running an after-school program, and juggling life as the primary caretaker of my 6 year old nephew who was staying with me at the time. On the outside people thought I had my shit together, but in reality I had no balance and my life was a mess. My wife (then just a friend) warned me that I needed to take care of myself. Clearly this life I was living was not sustainable, and she feared if I took on anything else I’d break.
One day after a series of unfortunate events I was forced to move from my apartment and had nowhere to go. It was an ice cold rainy day in February. Most of my clothes and some of my furniture were ruined. It was a mess. I recall standing frozen in the pouring rain, thinking, “This is rock bottom. I’m done living.” I heard a neighbor asking if I was okay. I immediately snapped back to reality and responded, “Sure.” Remembering that old proverb, I held it all together, rented a truck, mustered up Hulk-like strength, and moved my entire two-bedroom apartment into a storage unit by myself.
When I was done I sat and stared at the ground for a whole hour before I called my friend, Jazz (now wife) to tell her what happened. Within 30 minutes, she and my homeboy both offered me space at their apartments. That night, both of them laid on the floor with me, and gave me permission to just be, and to feel whatever I needed; I sobbed uncontrollably for hours before falling asleep.
The next morning I woke up and started getting ready for work, and I heard Jazz’s voice yell from the other room, “What do you think you’re doing?!?” I explained I was headed to work.
“Oh hell nah, you’re taking a Mental Health Day.”
I had never heard this term before then. She explained to me that I needed to take a day detached from my stressors and worries, focusing on recharging and reenergizing. First I thought she was crazy, but then I realized that was exactly what I needed.
After I took my first Mental Health Day, I noticed immediately how refreshed I felt, and how detaching for 24 hours allowed me to focus on life, regain my positivity, and center myself.
Taking a Mental Health day allowed me to approach my life (bullshit included) with a sense of control and stability that my stress and depression took from me.
Fast forward 9 years I am now married with two kids. Not only am I still taking Mental Health Days, but the rest of the family is too. They have become of our family’s wellness plan. There are unscheduled days throughout the year when we each take the time we need. There are all also days when the whole family needs these days together to regroup and focus our energy, and watch all the Harry Potter Movies. Right now Mental Health days are only offered to my Wife and the the ActionFigure (my 12 year old son). My 2 year old daughter, The MiniFigure?
Oh, her ass is the reason we need so many, so she goes to daycare whenever it's open!
I used to feel guilty. I would be nervous calling my boss to request the time off. I would lie and tell The ActionFigure’s teachers he had to go to the Orthodontist (lil' nigga ain’t even got braces). I even tried to keep these days a secret, cause God forbid grandparents got wind that the kid missed school for “no good reason.” We would have to hear a speech about how crazy “these millennials” are with this “newfangled parenting.”
Finally, I said I don’t give a shit. I value our mental health and well-being over what folks think. I don't worry anymore about what I'll tell my job because for me to do my best I need to be at my best. If I'm honest, I'd have to say employers are overdue on writing mental health into sick leave situations. In the meantime, what do I look like hoarding my sick/vacation time knowing Susie from accounting just took a week off to get her dog cataract surgery?!? Mental Health Days are so crucial to my overall wellness and success, that I’m not letting anyone or anything stand in the way of me taking these days to get my mind right.
Also from today: Mental Health Monday #23: Ways to beat anxiety, healing via apps, Isaiah Rashad on depression, etc.
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Before retiring to his life as Husband and father of two, Jamond Coaston-Foree was a theatrical performer, director and costume designer. He now works in the Youth Development Non-Profit world, teaching the children of our future well, and letting them lead the way. Not at all competitive, he is the absolute best at talking shit. He is a well decorated fried chicken connoisseur, and enjoys singing show tunes when everyone else is quiet.