We Can No Longer Overlook the Mental Health of Black Mothers

I didn’t know I was depressed.

I just thought life as a Black person – and especially a Black mother – meant struggling all the time, feeling stuck, and doing what you have to do while hoping to find some joy.

The joke was on me because I never found joy in anything other than drinking every Friday after a very long, exhausting, challenging and frightening week. I was using alcohol to numb all my thoughts of unworthiness and shame. It got to the point where drinking all weekend wasn’t enough. It would take me some time but I eventually found my path for healing my mental and emotional health as a single Black mother.

Too much stress and not enough time to think about mental health

It’s hard for me to name when I first realized something else could be going on. However, I am certain it was around the time I was carrying my third pregnancy to term. The relationship I had with the father of my children was toxic. After reaching a fever point I told him I needed a break while I was still in my first trimester. I was 22 years old, a mother of 2 young children under the age of 5, and sharing a 2-bedroom apartment with my older sister and her daughter.

My mental health affected my pregnancy

I was pregnant, broke, and alone. The weight of everything was too much for me; I cried so much during that pregnancy. I believe depression is what caused my water to break at 32 weeks.

The week after giving birth to a healthy baby girl my mental health continued to be in shambles.

Six months after giving birth to my third child I told myself there had to be something better for my life and for my daughters’ lives. I didn’t know what exactly that “something better” was but I was so tired of feeling like crap and questioning my existence.

Seeking a change in my health

My journey towards healing began in 2007 but it certainly didn’t seem like it. Another two years would pass before I started seeing a therapist. My mentor at the time gave me some information about a university that offered psycho-therapy with a sliding scale fee. This was my first experience seeking counseling and I was terrified! I was overwhelmed with fear, anxiety, and curiosity. The fear was fueled by the stigma and shame society places on mental illness and especially those who seek mental health services. As a result I didn’t tell anyone in my family.

Shame kept my quiet

The truth is no one wants to be at the center of family gossip. So I carried that shame around for months, lying about where I’d been and why I was late picking up the kids. Turns out the anxiety was connected to the depression; having shame and trying to hide my anxiety and depression while withholding the truth about using mental health services from my family was a lot to handle in secret.

Acknowledging my depression took some time.

When I finally sought the help of a therapist I did so because I thought I was a “bad mother.” I feared my children would hate me for not being the type of parent society told me I should be. In a session my therapist shared that my feelings of being a bad mother were connected to something larger, depression. I was shocked and relieved to learn that something beyond my control kept me feeling like crap every single second of the day. For once, all those sleepless nights, thoughts of being a horrible mother, weeks of not eating, body dysmorphia, and suicidal thoughts had a source that wasn’t of my making. I was finally getting the help I needed. I was on the path to learning about myself so that I can learn how to continue to improve my parenting.

Committing to my heath

Nine years after entering therapy and experiencing several financial setbacks, anxiety attacks that led to hospitalization, a messy and violent divorce, professional woes, and many other things I was tired. I needed to make a commitment to my healing because I had nothing else to lose and everything to gain. Choosing to heal didn’t mean I got to choose between being depressed or not. It meant I got to choose what to do about it. Healing meant showing up for myself so I could continue to show up for my children. Being more cognizant of their needs and being emotionally available to them was essential.

Mental and emotional health wellness is a process

Let me be clear, healing isn’t linear. It isn’t always peaceful, light or pretty. In fact, it’s been downright ugly at times. I’d go to therapy mentally kicking and screaming my good and bad thoughts. The level of discomfort while navigating healing is fascinating.

Finding what works for me and mental health

For me focusing on being the parent that I want to be has certainly helped. I’ve learned to be kind to myself. Even when I mess up or fall out of practice with my commitments to healing. Most of my adult and parenting life has been filled with depression and anxiety so I had to learn how to be a different person; I felt so uncomfortable practicing kindness and patience with myself. This practice still requires me to choose how I want to show up each day as a mother and Black woman on my own terms. It feels good to feel like I’m finally being who I am, without everyone’s judgment and expectations leading the way. I am finally in charge of my reactions to life’s ups and downs. I am finally being proactive in creating the life I want for me and my children.

My process to healing and commitments to healing have been filled with challenges and setbacks. However, through these things I am thankful for starting this process and committing to it everyday.

Brittany Mostiller is a single Black mama that lives, works, loves, and heals in Chicago, Illinios.