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Slowing down: My mental health crisis and what I am learning from it

2022 looked like it was off to a great start! As usual being the self professed multihyphenate that I am, I had my projects lined up; coming back to my job which I love, restarting my podcast and leading the preparations for International Women’s Day for the Women’s Employee Resource Group that I lead. More personally, this year would also be the year I finally go to see my family in Zimbabwe, after a long time. I was incredibly optimistic about 2022.

Then I started feeling exhausted more than usual, and having mild headaches. With how rampant corona is, I self tested several times to make sure I was not just falling sick. The conversations that used to excite me began to drain me and I lost my patience with some people a few times. My days felt longer and longer. Then the tears came. They were private and also public. The most frustrating thing was not knowing why I was crying, so I would cry even more.

I turned to my amazing support system of friends, who lent me their shoulders to cry on. They started gently suggesting I might be going through something more serious. I heard the word “burnout” being suggested about me for the first time in my life. I was devastated!

I DO NOT BURN OUT! I am a warrior and a survivor. I have been through enough things in my life to have a deep reservoir of resilience. Surely this could not be happening to me?

But it was happening and I needed to face it. With the support of my manager, my teams, my therapist and my amazing friends, I am now several weeks into a journey of recovery and recharging. Because of how hyper self aware I am, I had stopped myself before I actually burned out. I am now slowing down my life considerably to manage my energy better. Here are three key learnings I have had so far:

  1. More people are going through some version of what I am going through than we know

We are coming on year three of a global pandemic where many people lost friends and family around them. Every single moment, I lived in constant fear of catching COVID and dying in a foreign country alone without my family, and my paranoia about this in the weeks I was mentally breaking down was real! Next to that you have crises around the world like wars and the environment breaking down. It makes the world feel like it is just in shambles. I am honestly struggling with humanity right now and discerning what is worth fighting for. I am questioning if any of the impact I have created so far matters at all. If you are going through anything like my mental health crisis, know that you are not alone. I talked to enough people in the last weeks to know that we are all overwhelmed. It is ok to not be ok.

2. Black women have it different

The way we experience the world is influenced by our identities. The most intense period of my mental health crisis coincided with the suicide death of former miss USA Chesley Kryst. According to reports very few people knew she had high functioning depression. She was going through it privately while being an amazing bright light on the outside to the world. Mental health is a challenging topic in the global black community. It is a cultural taboo and black women in particular, we live in the shadow of the “strong black woman” stereotype. I have learnt that while empowering it is also quite toxic. I wrote before about my increased awareness of this while dealing with trauma in my life and you can read about it here. I need to be extra vigilant about my health and my mental health. I am glad I have a black woman therapist and a whole village of black women in my life, who always have my back. If you are a black woman going through something like what I am going through, know that you are loved and it is ok to not be ok and seek help. You do not have to be strong all the time.

3. It is ok to put down the weight of the world off your shoulders

I was asked on a panel before why I care so much about equity and equality and I told them first and foremost, look at me. As a black woman I used to think I do not have a choice but to fight inequality everyday because it is my lived experience. Secondly I am a massive empath. I absorb all the energy around me, including the bad one. Strangers feel compelled to tell me their deepest worries all the time. In my recovery I have gotten to learn this important lesson. The responsibility to make the world better is not only mine to bear. It is on all of us. I realized I actually have never been just a carefree black girl living her life. I have always had a cause and a purpose and I wrote about it here. While it is a powerful driver, it is also incredibly exhausting and I need to manage my energy around it. These last few months have been my body and my mind literally forcing me to do so. I have learnt that, I do not always have to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. Fellow black women and empaths out there, it is ok to put the worries of the world down and prioritize you. That is what 2022 is going to be for me.

So if you have missed me the last few months, this is what has been going on with me. Moving on, you may see even less of me. I am emotionally exhausted and I need to rest and reflect. I have paused all my personal activities, including the podcast and I am rethinking others. For the sake of my mental health I am focusing on only a few things in my life for a while and figuring out what brings me energy in this phase of it.

I think for example I know healthcare equity is a mainstay in my life, and I wake up excited to solve problems at my job all the time. I also decided this is the year I am doing more to settle into my new home, the Netherlands, so the Dutch language and I are becoming friends. I might even finally ride a bicycle! I want to read more and write whimsical articles again on my blog. I am going back to the basics of what brings me joy, when I am not out “saving” the world.

I am grateful for the amazing support system I continue to have in this time. I know a lot of people are not so privileged and are fighting some tough private battles alone. In a recent meeting we all entered into a word cloud how we are feeling and I was the only one with a positive leaning word, hopeful. Even with everything going on, I will always be hopeful that there is better out there. I may be naive, but I believe there is more good than bad in the world and we will all make it somehow.

Sending lots of love and strength to everyone feeling overwhelmed and helpless. In my language we have a proverb that says, “ Chisingaperi chinoshura.” It means nothing has no end. everything shall come to pass so hang in there and lean on your support system if you have to. We will all breathe easy again.

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