I want every person who has watched recent events unfold in America – specifically Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Dallas, Texas, and Falcon Heights, Minnesota – to take care of their mental health.
It is okay to feel angry. It is okay to feel sad. It is okay to be frustrated. It is okay to feel helpless.
When I heard the news about Alton Sterling being shot to death by police, I was at work. I didn’t watch the witness-captured video of the incident (reasons explained in the YouTube video below), but I did watch Alton’s 15-year-old son break down on the national news that night and it broke my heart.
I thought about how devastating it must be to wake up to your father in the morning and see him in a body bag the same day.
I thought about infuriating it must be to see people vilify his name and justify his death before his blood could even be washed off the streets.
I thought about how horrendous it must be to consider the possibility that the police officer(s) who took away his life may never be held accountable for their actions.
After I watched that video I was drained of all the energy I had. For the rest of the day I found it hard to focus, hard to interact with my coworkers. I went home and went straight to sleep because I was physically and emotionally exhausted. It was not even 10 minutes after I woke up the next day that I learned Philando Castile was similarly murdered by a police officer in Minnesota. This time, the incident was caught on Facebook Live and it took place right in front of his wife and 4-year-old daughter. Once again, graphic videos of these men being pumped with bullets, bleeding out, and taking their last breaths filled my timelines. It got to the point that I almost threw my phone across the room just to prevent one clip from autoplaying.
I stayed in that exact spot in my bed crying and cursing for another hour before I could even roll over. I took the day off work and essentially wallowed in my sorrow. I thought about all the things I could do to try and feel better. Go for a bike ride. Listen to music. Take a yoga class. Sit at the lakefront. I thought about all these things, yet I didn’t move. The only reason I got out of bed was to eat, and then I got right back in. I couldn’t even bring myself to shower until 5 pm.
It was then that I realized I was grieving. Mourning. Lamenting the death of my people. I felt helpless and depressed. I felt hopeless for my future.
Today is Friday and I’m back at work. I’ve broken down at least 8 times at my desk, and I’ve gotten absolutely Z E R O work done. It was during what felt like my first ever anxiety attack that I decided to seek out professional help. My employer benefits include mental health resources, so I called the help line and got crisis intervention and a referral to free professional counseling. I am confident that while this may not be a panacea for all of my current ailments, it is at least a step in the right direction.
That being said, it is extremely important for us to understand that these events are affecting us whether we like it or not. You don’t have to feel like you need to be on the front lines of every protest, debate, and conflict if you are not mentally prepared. You can be just as aware, just as informed, and just as “woke” without subduing yourself to constant trauma and triggers of these atrocities. Unplug your television, refuse to comment, log out of social media, just decompress if you need to. You may find coping through laughter, food, exercise, counseling, spirituality, sex, or even cleaning. Please just make sure you are doing whatever you need to make sure you are taking care of yourself.
Helpful Blog: Self Care for People of Color Experiencing Trauma