Self Care

In the Dark: Depression Affecting Superwomen

Look at her. She is decorated head to toe in skills and success stories. Having triumphed over the embarrassing mistakes of her youth, negations of her worth, and a host of other challenges. She walks in pride with a sparkling smile and glow in her eyes. Who could challenge her wit, grace, and professionalism? Who is this go-to goddess of the industry? She is here right before you as a reflection on the screen. But…underneath this gilded shell of magnitude she trembles in the fear of not being enough. She whimpers at the thought that she is going at it alone. She wails at the thought of being unloved. Because an enemy known as darkness, sometimes sadness, sometimes overthinking, or perhaps a simple needle that pokes a hole in her gilded shell is unrelenting. An enemy others would call depression.

Depression is not as simple as sadness. Nor is it only a chemical imbalance. Sometimes it is circumstantial. Other times it is all three. As women, we can be chastised for being too dramatic in our reactions to things by both men and women. If a normally strong woman has an emotional breakdown due to stress, some would ignore her cry for help and call her a victim. When you have gotten use to the toxic trait of “I got it” syndrome and refuse or never ask for help it is easy to get to the point of a nervous breakdown. Additionally if you already suffer from a mental illness like depression or anxiety stress only makes it worse. A woman could have everything together and going well, but if they do not have a method to release their emotional state will implode and they will sink into the darkness of depression.

WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE 

 I am not a medical professional, however after a few conversations with friends and some research I was able to conclude that a lot of “Superwomen” suffer from high functioning depression. Some of the common traits of HFD can easily be experienced by a Businesswoman, Mothers, and College Students. People who need to keep going  no matter what. It can be a combination of all three factors in depression (chemical imbalance, sadness, and circumstantial), but because they keep smiling through it, who would suspect otherwise.

According to Healthline these are some of these traits and actions I have witnessed in Superwomen:

Feeling like you’re “faking it”: A mother must keep her children happy and try to set the mood for their days as she smiles in their face. Deep down she is feeling unappreciated, unloved, and unfulfilled. Whether or not the environmental factors affect how she feels, it does not matter. She must stitch a smile across her face when she wants to cry as if she is putting on the greatest show on earth; it is agonizing.

Needing help and no one believes you: When everything is going swimmingly at work or business and it appears that everything is perfectly organized and completed no one would believe that deep down you want to scream. Of course no one likes a consistently sappy person at work. So why show signs of weakness? In order for someone to believe the agony you want to release, you have to be ill or driven to drastic measures before they believe you. And the thought of resorting to such extreme measures makes the depression seep deeper into your psyche.

Good days, Bad Days, and Exhausting days: If you are a student doing well or failing there can be days you throw caution to the wind, some days you sink low, and some where it is in between but you are exhausted. You feel like no matter what you do in school or in life that you are worthless. Even at the end of a victorious day there may be a sense of sadness that someone did not see the wonderful moment or the daunting thought of carrying a winning streak at school. Having to be a million different people from one day to the next and none of them reflect how you feel is exhausting, because it is not about your happiness it is about how other people see you.

IT’S OK TO NOT BE OK

I’m not really sure when we were taught that we must always wear a smile on our face to be socially accepted. That type of thinking is an illness within itself. Some people have a genuine happy walk and look about them. Others appear to have…well let’s just say an unwelcoming face for a woman. Women need to allow themselves to not feel great every once in a while.

Much like a virus, depression and anxiety must run it’s course sometimes and that is OK.  I hate getting sick and at the first sign of a cold I rush to get whatever vitamin C tablet, echinacea, or DayQuil I can get my hands on to avoid the sickness  so I can keep functioning. But sometimes the virus beats out everything that should stop it. It is time for my body to process it on it’s own and let it run it’s course for the next 2-3 days.

After a discussion with a friend who has suffered through this I realized not owning your emotions can create an internal toxic environment where depression can grow. If you are stressed out and no drink, massage, or expensive excursion can fix it, just take a moment a be in your stress/depression. That moment could be an hour or a day. When you allow it to sit for that moment and start to process then slowly begin your healthy coping mechanisms. Whether that is counseling, something active, prayer, or just talking with a friend.

It is ok to not be ok, but do not allow the “virus” to stay past it’s expiration date.

 

CLIMBING OUT THE WELL

It is ok to not be ok. It is ok to ask for help. It is ok to fake it when you need to. It is not ok to always go at it alone. Being a woman in business, college, marriage, motherhood, just being a woman can be difficult…and that is OK.  Speak your affirmations, say your prayers if that is your thing, go for that run, read that book. Do whatever you need to do to get yourself out of the darkness fully knowing that it is acceptable for you to feel low. If you can not climb out of the well of depression reach out for help to your inner circle, your resident sage in your life, or try one of the resources below to let you know that the woman staring at her screen right now is allowed to be vulnerable and powerful simultaneously!

 

Peace Be With the Fallen Hero

Not everyone is suited to be an entrepreneur, most definitely stay out of that lane if you are not built for it. However everyone is capable to command their own lives. Sometimes it means breaking and bending rules, but you are your own first priority. Former first lady Michelle Obama recently spoke at The Essence Festival about how women must put themselves on their own priority list, because we have a bad habit of putting everyone else first. As a woman I can agree with this, but to an extent. Only because this is not just a woman issue, it is a super-hero syndrome issue. At times we feel that we must conquer all of our issues and others too, because we’re ‘capable’ of doing so. Eventually your emotions, mental state, and body will run aground and who wants to deal with a broken hero? It is important not to allow everyone’s need of you to replace the appreciation and love for yourself. Essentially, we must learn to say NO.

STOP BEING A PART OF THE GROUP

Working on a team or having a group of ‘complicated’ friends and relatives can be easily compared to the worst group project of the century. There are people 5 types of people in a group project: The Face; they show up and speak with conviction on matters they know nothing about, The Whiner; they whine about everything including the smallest of tasks, The Grinder; they take care of everything to keep everyone on track with little to no help, The Charlie-Come-Lately; they show up in spurts and are amazing when they are there, and The Pumpkin Head; full of hallow ideas, boisterous, and have no follow through.  Whether in the professional realm or personal life there will be one of these people always coming to The Grinder for advice, to save them in their crisis, or to criticize you for not doing either. The Face will act as if they have it all together, but in truth they don’t and The Grinder will have to pay for it. The Whiner will never be satisfied by any word of advice or direct action because they are lazy and entitled. The Charlie-Come-Lately can be a good ally at times, however they are as unreliable as everyone else, when The Grinder needs help themselves. And finally the The Pumpkin Head will always talk about making major moves, helping out the Grinder, or others and then disappear when they are needed most.

Being a Grinder has one major flaw, they gain fulfillment by being the the ‘go-to’ person even if it leaves them mentally destitute. Being able to handle everyone’s problems is not a gift. It is a charge that no one should take on fully. Separate yourself from people who will ultimately bring you to an emotional demise because they themselves are mentally and emotionally destitute.

RADIO SILENCE

In the military, Radio Silence is used to stop possible  communication interference or interception by an enemy. It is also used by sea captains to make sure they can hear faint distress signals. Both are needed in your life if you are going to take command of your peace. I have a colleague and friend who seems like she has 8 arms to manage everything within her business and personal life, will call her Serena. Serena would seemingly have it all together and for the most part she does. However there are times when anxiety takes over and her body shuts down ; distress signal. Unfortunately there have been moments where she’s had to power through ‘the distress signal’ and people will either pick up on it and see it as a weakness or it would interfere with her communication to others. Serena’s circumstance is not uncommon, however the solution is…go silent. When you are managing a lot in your life, even if it is beneficial, it does not negate the fact that you need to take a break for your mental space.  Have the courage to say no, turn off the phone, get off social media, don’t respond to the email and be with yourself. In this space you can recognize what is and what is not working to your benefit or you can just be silent. In this silence no one can penetrate your emotions or mind with their issues or emergencies. This is for work and your personal life, because sometimes the careers we have and people we love can wear us out as well.

DON’T CRY OVER PEOPLE WHO WILL NOT CRY AT YOUR FUNERAL. 

There will be a lot of people in your life that will guilt you into doing things for them, but they won’t shed a tear when you’re gone. When you are dead, in the proverbial or literal sense, the same people who have demanded your time, attention, and energy without reciprocation will not cry at your demise. There are three types of people at a funeral : The Wailers; they are slightly upset but are there to be seen in a dramatic fashion, The Vase; these people send flowers with a generic card and not their presence, and The Crier; the people who know and care for you and silently plead for your reemergence even though it’s unlikely.

Let’s say you are proverbially dead (career tanked, desperate situations, health crises etc) and you are crying out for help. A Wailer will announce publicly how terrible they feel for you, pry to get more gossip,  and do nothing to assist your reemergence. A Vase may contact you to critique your “funeral”, offer generic advice or words of comfort and disappear until you are useful to them again. These are the people that use up most of your energy and resources like the Face, Whiner, and Pumpkin Head. However the Crier will always speak life over your situation because they genuinely care, are Grinders themselves, and want to win as a team.

Do yourself a favor and take off your cape. Make peace with the fact that you said no to being everyone’s hero. Ultimately the person you need to save first and always is yourself.

 

Take a Break Mom

For a working mother of any kind, Mother’s Day is a day to be pampered, but also to reflect. Many mothers reflect on how fulfilling their lives have been with their families, the advancement of their careers, but some may be thinking about how little time they’ve had to themselves. Not have a distinguishable time to break away from the duties of being a mother can create a lot of stress and worse depression; unfortunately that is one of the leading causes of heart attacks and heart disease for women. When you become a mother it does not mean that you must relinquish everything that you are and that includes taking some time for yourself.

Ask for help 

One of my friends showed me this article from Scary Mommy, which I thought was a funny and accurate title for a motherhood blog. We talked about how taking time for yourself or asking for help became a ridiculous thought because we needed to be there for our child/children. Then when I read the quote below it summed up how we need to ask for help whether from a partner, relative, or friend, because no one can do this alone.

“Just handle it! You asked for this!” constantly rang in my ears, and I refused — and I mean straight-up refused — to ask for help. Help is for wimps!  Help is for…for moms who don’t love their kids and need those silly “breaks” from them all the time…And then I hit the mother of all mothering walls and collapsed in epic fashion. I was toast. Burnt [sic] toast. And burnt toast can’t raise children.”  (Scary Mommy)

Demand time for yourself. 

 “The more we fill ourselves up, the more we have to give. And as moms, we have to give a lot.” –Kristy S. Rodriguez, a pre- and postnatal wellness expert and advocate stated in a Parents.com article. . 

Loving yourself first is not selfish, especially when you are a mother.  When a woman becomes a mother the thought of putting anyone ahead of their child’s needs is completely out of the question. However if you are unable to distinguish the mother, wife/partner, friend, and individual parts of yourself, they will eventually collide and you will implode. Demanding space, quiet time, time to something you enjoy and more is not hard. Ask for it. Create times for you to be with yourself and enjoy that time. If anyone disrupts it, unless it is an emergency, remind them that they are being disrespectful and ask them to respect your time so that you can be a better person overall.

The important thing to remember is you are not a bad mother if you need some time for yourself. Create in yourself a place of peace that will radiate outward and demand balance within the household. It will take time and adjustment, but it is possible. Take break to show that you know how to love yourself.

Your children are watching. 

Give Yourself A Chance

I was reflecting today on a conversation with a young woman I was mentoring about building her business, I’ll call her Lynn. She was so focused on going through a “life reset” post a recent turbulent transition that she would not give herself a chance to grow as a person and a professional.  One day I said to her ‘You walk around with this chip on your shoulder saying you survived, but what does that mean for your business?’ Since our conversation Lynn has grown in her business and appreciated the process. However it made me think about how much we press the “dress for the job you want” mentality instead of enjoying the process. When my mentee was telling me about what she wanted to accomplish, the plan was rushed, not thought out and she wanted to be the best instead of one of the best, which would’ve allowed the flexibility for growth. Instead of cultivating knowledge learned from mentors, mistakes, and risks she wanted to work tirelessly for the glory now. Which she did. It wore her out and she did not achieve the goal she was seeking. At this point she had given up because she wasn’t making six figures by a certain age.

It was initially hard to understand why she was giving up. But then the realization hit me that she was not giving up, she was upset that she had to start over again. She had worked, stressed, and dressed for the job she wanted without enough substance behind her experience that would have propelled her into the roll she wanted. Lynn needed time to give herself a chance and not sulk about on her lack of desired accomplishments.  In one of my mentoring sessions I suggested that Lynn read The Alchemist. I love this book because it is a look at the wisdom behind taking a chance and going through a process for your “treasure”.  And just like the boy mentioned in the book, Lynn had many stopping points that forced her to grow mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and in skill to achieve her ultimate goal.

We get these ideas in our heads that we will be exceptional, and we respectively will. The distraction is in the anxiety of it not happening fast enough. When your mind is not lined up with how a process will work to achieve your goal, there will be missteps that force you to start over or reevaluate. This is not a bad thing, because we need to learn from mistakes.  However it can cause you to be disheartened on an emotional and spiritual level and that distraction in addition to the initial distraction of rushing, will derail you completely. Lynn had to, as the church folk may say, have a conversation with herself and say “Self! What do you want?”. When she finally had that conversation and chose what she wanted in general for her career,  for her wealth, and for her family all of the little steps that lead to bigger steps have been moving her forward in her business. She had to give herself a chance to get balanced so that she could walk the path to her desired glory.

Do not do yourself the disservice of not allowing the different components (mind, soul, and skill) of who you are to align with each other and lose your “treasure”.  Give yourself a chance to develop and be humble enough to know that you will make mistakes and learn from them. The process is long, it is rough, and your “components” will collide. Take care of each of them and watch how they will intertwine together to conspire in helping you to achieve what you want.  Lynn is still building and giving herself a chance to get it right, you can do it too.