Mental Health

The Pursuit of Happiness

“Crush a bit, little bit
Roll it up, take a hit
Feeling lit, feeling right
Two AM, summer night”- Pursuit of Happiness, Kid Cudi
 
Is every day supposed to be a pursuit of happiness or a fight for survival? Or is there one day when you say “ah-ha” and it all makes sense?
 
Battling with depression in silence with the expectation of being a strong black woman. I was diagnosed with clinical depression when I was a young teenager. It didn’t really occur to me that something was wrong with my brain or my mood. I just didn’t feel motivated to do much. I grew up poor and felt like I didn’t have much to look forward to. My mom noticed that I wasn’t getting up in the morning, I’d sleep all day for 12-14 hours and I stayed up all night, alone. I didn’t want to wash up, change my clothes and go and do anything. You could say I was a bum. The psychiatrist asked me a bunch of questions. He came to the conclusion that I was clinically depressed. He didn’t ask me what happened to me to make me feel that way. He prescribed me Prozac. My mom never gave it to me. She felt like it would change me and once I was on medication then I would be in the “system”. My grandmother who happened to be a social worker for Fairfax County said that “the system” was when the government put your child on notice that they had a problem. Once you’re label in the system your life would never be the same you would forever be marked as a criminal.
 
After my diagnosis my grandma would say that I didn’t need medication, I needed Jesus. Florence prayed for my mental wellbeing.
 
As a teenager, I had been aware of depression and somewhat of how it affected my motivation but it wasn’t until I was 19 did I come to understand anxiety. I had been working at Ruby Tuesday as a Kitchen Manager at the time. My brain was multitasking at its full potential as I dropped the burgers on the grill, the fries in the fryer, the plates on the counter, the lettuce, tomato, and onion on the bun. Am I cooking fast enough? Are the ticket times low enough? Did we prep enough food? Are we staffed enough? I started to lose my vision slightly. My chest got tight. It was hard to breathe. Am I having a heart attack? In the middle of a dinner rush, I start to panic. I can’t be sick right now, I have orders to fill. I ask for water and sit down in the office. I start to worry about being sick in front of everyone. My breathing gets more labored. Am I even breathing right? I start to hyperventilate. I think I’m having an asthma attack. Someone calls 911. I’m being taken to the emergency room. I think I’m going to die. They check my vitals and nothing seems wrong. I assume it’s asthma. They send me home.
 
After experiencing what I assume to be asthma attacks and visiting the emergency room on numerous occasions and racking up hundreds of dollars on hospital bills, a doctor finally referred me to a Pulmonary specialist. I go to this private office and I tell the doctor my symptoms and do you know what he said? “It sounds like you’re having panic attacks”. What the Fuck is s panic attack and what did that have to do with my asthma? He hands me a prescription for Paxil and sends me on my way. I look up panic attacks online and chuckle a bit in a bit of disappointment and embarrassment. I tried to fill my prescription that day but I have no insurance. The cost for a bottle of Paxil is $90. I paid for 10 pills for $30 because that was all I could afford. I remembered being prescribed Prozac and a kid but I was an adult now. Taking this pill had to be better than feeling like I was going to die at any moment and the fear of dying in front of people. How ghetto would that be to die and suffer in front of others? I had a subconscious expectation of being too good to die in front of someone. What a fucking weirdo. I took my first pill and went to work. There should definitely be warnings for driving on Paxil. I felt like I was riding in a hovercraft with my car floating above the ground. My peripheral vision didn’t seem to matter, I drove to work on autopilot. When I arrived to work I had been reassigned as a hostess. Much less stressful than Kitchen Manager. A coworker asked if my asthma was okay and I replied “turns out it wasn’t my asthma, I’m just crazy!’. She didn’t respond.
 
The pills got to be too expensive. The withdrawal symptoms got to be too much. I felt dependent on this pill. When I slept at night I was so relaxed that I started peeing in the bed. What the entire Fuck! I didn’t understand why but after the 3rd occurrence I came to the conclusion it was the pills. One day while sitting in traffic on 95, I was having crazy withdrawal. My stomach felt queasy, I felt like my equilibrium was off and my anger boiled up from my stomach to my forehead. I visualized getting out of the car and bashing my own windshield with a crowbar. I knew that I couldn’t continue like this.
 
One night while watching late-night television an infomercial came on. It featured a woman named Lucinda Bassett and she was selling a self-help program for people who suffer from Anxiety and Depression. “God, are you actually listening to me? Are you sending me a life raft?” I had never bought anything from an infomercial before, mostly because I didn’t have a credit card and the instant gratification of purchasing something in the store made more sense. But this time I was really set on purchasing this product from an infomercial. I bought the $125 self-help kit that I couldn’t afford. It was truly an investment and one of the best investments I’ve ever made in the entirety of my almost 40-year-old life. The kit had workbooks, VHS tapes (it was two decades ago), cassette tapes, and a journal. I learned to identify the physical science of how my trivial fears were causing my body to release adrenaline as if I was literally being chased by a tiger. The chemical causes your heart to race and you are meant to use that feeling to run as fast as you can to fight for your life. I learned to acknowledge when this is happening, accept it, understand that I can’t undo this release of energy, forgive myself for allowing it to happen, and ride it out. This was the first step of physically dealing with panic attacks without medication because the Paxil did not address the root cause of the issue it would only make it bearable.
 
Panic attacks still happened but I was able to cope with the feeling. They became fewer and further apart until they were no more. The second skill I learned was meditation. It was hard at the start, I felt too self-aware, I blamed myself for not being able to silence my brain, for being too aware of my movements, and if I was breathing enough to survive. I feel more comfortable not being aware of my breathing. I find it remarkable that the body can functionally breathe on its own without me consciously forcing it to do so. Once I become very mentally aware of controlling my breathing it triggers a cycle of anxiety. The third skill I learned was the Art of Not Giving a Fuck. I came to understand that I worried too much about things that may or may not be in my level of control. I practiced compartmentalizing caring which at times made me seem cold to others.
 
I had an issue in my late 20s that resulting in me seeking counseling. I felt that my mother’s home issues were causing me to feel severely depressed and I called my company’s Employee Assistance Program for support. I got 3 free sessions with a counselor. My initial consultation threw me off. As I called and spoke to the phone counselor I explain to him the terrible situation that was going on with my mom and her house. The counselor replied, “Let’s focus on you, what are you going through that you need help with?” I was a little puzzled. Was my mom’s circumstance not worthy of concern? Was I not supposed to be upset about what is happening with my own mom?
 
I started going to the office of my new counselor and began to explain how I believe I got there. As I unpacked my empathetic concerns about the dealings of my mother’s home, I came to the realization that I had some sort of a hero complex. Since I was about 8 years old my mother confided in me things that a child could not emotionally handle. I thought that it was my job to help her through those issues and save her from the cruel world that was torturing her. I didn’t realize that this wasn’t my task. Yes she’s my mom, yes she raised me and yes she may need help but not at the expense of my sanity. I was also taught that even though my mom wasn’t the perfect mom and it wasn’t ideal for her to confide in me, she truly did the best that she could with the tools she had. I took accountability for my own happiness and depression. I left myself with the blame.
 
The problem with being a highly accountable person is balance. I became aware of my strength and my ability to get things done. I worked my way up in my career from an assistant manager to Co-General manager to a full-on General Manager. My life and purpose had 3 roles; Wife, Mother, and Retail Manager. There was no Shane. As a wife, it was my responsibility to watch movies, do laundry, pay my share of the bills, and have sex. As a mom, I had to teach, entertain and care for my son. As a manager, I had to keep it professional, make sales goals and keep everyone happy. There was still no personal identity. If I felt like I failed in one of my roles, I beat myself up and tried to do better. I worked harder, got less sleep, and tried to tailor myself to be a catering person. A servant. I began to feel trapped, hopeless, and empty. When things went great I didn’t worry so much but when I fell short in my roles I mentally tortured myself. At work, I didn’t realize that I was overworking myself and not holding my team accountable. As the leader when my team fell short I blamed myself and would physically try to compensate for their shortcomings. I put 200% of my effort into my job, I worked long hours and tried different strategies. Work seemed to get worse and I judged myself harder than anyone. At home, I had no desire to be with my husband. I felt like he didn’t know me. We didn’t connect in conversation, we had no mutual interests, I couldn’t express my work concerns to him because he couldn’t relate or didn’t care. My son is on the spectrum and he began acting out with meltdowns/tantrums. I didn’t know how to handle it. My life felt like a downward spiral. I tried counseling. I didn’t feel like it helped. So I quit my job. I worked so hard to get that promotion and just like that I quit. I felt like a failure and I knew it was time to go. I took a job in a lower position. Once I got over the blow to my ego, I felt a lot more grounded. I was able to separate my work life from my personal life, balance. I worked closer to home, I took my lunch breaks, I allowed myself to be human. As I find more normalcy at work the issues at home seem to be more evident.
 
In taking accountability for my own happiness I started to pour into myself more. What music am I really into? What movies do I like to watch? I took time to improve my appearance. I got my hair professionally done. I started getting my nails done. I started hanging out with my friends again. I more I poured into myself the more I understood myself, the self apart from the mom, wife, and manager. I started to feel more separated from my husband. Previously in our relationship, I asked for us to go to counseling. I was at a point in my life now where I didn’t want to be the one putting in the work anymore. I had molded myself to fit the ideal that my mate wanted to the best of my ability while losing my identity. We were at a point in our sexual relationship where my libido went flat. I tried to figure the root cause. Was it my birth control? I stopped taking my pills. I’m I bored by the monotony of our positions? We introduced porn and toys into the bedroom. One night after going drinking with the girls I came home horny. This was a revelation that appealed to my husband and me. Occasional drinks became more frequent to get me prepared for sex. Then Covid came. I started drinking out of boredom and loneliness and my husband was happy to keep providing the bottles. One night while up alone with my bottle I started to feel that emptiness and wondered where is this coming from? I realized that I couldn’t self medicate with alcohol anymore and I needed to address the root issue. I sat with my husband and told him that I didn’t feel like I was in love anymore. Quickly our relationship spiraled that week from marriage to separation.
 
I felt bad for the hurt that my partner was feeling but felt free in my decision. I was honest about where I was after 18 years in the relationship which included 13 years of marriage. Separating during my first pandemic in life and being a single mom for the first time is honestly one of the hardest things I’ve had to endure. I found strength in confiding in friends, family, and coworkers. I tell myself I can because I have to and I finally found peace in vulnerability. For most of my adult life, I took pride, ownership, and accountability in being in control. I learned to accept help, I learned to cry when I need to, and take personal days to take care of me when needed. I think my pursuit of happiness will be ever-flowing. They’ll be rough days, they’ll be sad days, and days of happiness and greatness. The key is to keep going and keep being true to who I am.

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