As a black girl who suffers from undiagnosed anxiety, this quote hits all too close to home for me. Growing up, my mother always taught me to be strong, independent and fearless. As a black mom, she had to. She taught me to be twice as good as my counterparts to receive equal recognition. Those lessons have molded me into the fierce woman that I am today, but they have also caused me to silence some really obvious mental health issues. While I am still growing past the negative stigma associated with black women and mental illness, I have connected with someone who has mastered the art of taking lemons and making some pretty damn good lemonade…
Meet Devyn Walker; independent, college graduate, yoga instructor, counselor, diagnosed with major depression, generalized anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorder…
What life event(s) preceded your diagnosis?
In 2011, I lost my father to suicide. I was in San Diego, California visiting my father for the summer and we had a pretty good time together. His death caught me off guard and I was not expecting it at all. Now that I look back on the situation the signs were actually there. He was giving away possessions that were special to him, he randomly took me to the gun range and taught me how to shoot a gun, and he initiated all these random conversations with me about dating and men. It was almost like he was trying to teach me everything he could before he passed away, almost like he planned it. My father passed away on August 22, 2011 and I remember that day vividly. I remember how I had this horrible feeling leaving the house when he told me to go shopping. I remember my stomach feeling like a bottomless pit when I was driving back home and I couldn’t figure out why I felt that way. I just knew something bad happened. I remember the smell of the gunpowder when I walked into the house. Lastly, I remember finding his lifeless body with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the temple. I don’t really remember anything else. Everything was a blur from that moment until about 2013. Sounds crazy right? But that’s how bad my diagnosis took over my life. It’s like overnight I had to grow up. I had to plan his funeral and as the oldest, I had to be strong for my younger siblings. It was definitely a life-changing situation for me and that one single event shaped me as a woman. Before 2011, I was a hot mess. I was hanging with the wrong crowd, getting into many physical altercations, and doing many other things I had no business doing at the age of 19.
When did you realize you needed to take charge of your mental health and seek professional help?
My mom made me start seeing a counselor and psychiatrist immediately after I made it back to Texas because I wasn’t sleeping, but I really wasn’t receptive of the process. I was numb and I isolated myself. I personally reached out for help in March 2012. I realized I needed help because I was smoking like crazy, constantly having nightmares, and I dropped down to 84 pounds because I couldn’t eat. During the time I was also prescribed an antidepressant and Xanax to help with the symptoms but they really weren’t helping at the moment. One very sunny and pretty day I remember the thought of taking all my pills just would not leave my mind. I just wanted to die at that very moment and I felt like I absolutely had no reason to live. Then I thought about my mom and how hard she was riding for me during that difficult time in my life. I told myself that I didn’t want my mom or anyone else that loved me to experience the pain that I was currently experiencing due to my dad’s suicide and I decided to just pop up at my primary care physician office to see if he could help. I was a mess when I made it, I couldn’t stop crying and it was like I was having an anxiety attack. I told him how every time I closed my eyes I just saw my dad’s body and I couldn’t stop having thoughts about taking my own life. Then he admitted me into the nearest hospital and I stayed there for a few days. The psychiatrist there diagnosed me with severe post traumatic stress disorder, general anxiety disorder, and severe major depression.
As an African American woman, have you experienced any negativity from the black community since speaking out on your diagnosis?
That’s a very good question. I experienced a little negativity but not as much as I expected I would. A lot of people told me I was brave, strong or that they experienced something similar. I do hear people speak negatively about mental illness and suicide in the black community often but when I share my story it usually gives them a different viewpoint. You know, we really don’t talk about mental health in our community so a lot of people think it’s courageous that I share my story.
In your darkest hour, what were some of your thoughts? How did you overcome them?
During my darkest hour I thought that nobody loved me and I actually thought God didn’t love me either. I didn’t think anyone cared but then I thought about my mom. I knew if no one else loved me, my momma sure did. I didn’t want to hurt her. It wasn’t even about me at the moment. I saved myself because I didn’t want to hurt my mom.
Have you ever been in a mentally abusive relationship with a man? How did you cope with the issue?
Yes. I was in a mentally abusive relationship with a man during the time of my father’s death. My boyfriend at that time actually broke up with me about a week after my dad passed. A few months later he came back and me being vulnerable, I took him back. He would tell me he didn’t want to talk about the situation with my father when I was still trying to process things. He told me to just ‘shake’ off my depression and stop having nightmares. He also was not faithful throughout the majority of our relationship. I don’t hate him for it. We were both young and he didn’t understand what I was experiencing. Hell, I didn’t even understand it. He currently is not in my life at all and probably never will be but I still wish him the best.
As a yoga instructor, you take pride in how beneficial yoga has been to your mental and physical health. What benefits have you noticed?
Oooo chile! When I tell you yoga got me through this! It got me allllll the way through. After discussing it with my counselor, I decided to get off medication and find alternate coping methods. Yoga was one of those methods for me; hot yoga to be exact. I definitely did suck at it at first, but it was still my getaway. I learned how to meditate and escape. Yoga taught me how to breathe, how to let go, how to hold on, how to move on, how to love, and how to be me. This may sound weird but I really got to know myself through yoga. I learned my triggers. I learned how to calm myself down in certain situations. I also learned how take control of my life.
How has your faith helped you overcome your illness?
I’m not going to lie though, for a while I completely gave up on my faith. I was so angry with God and my dad. All I could think about was how could God let something so horrible happen to me? I slowly started back praying, then I started doing my daily devotionals and going to church again. My relationship with God is personal. I have my quiet time where I meditate, journal, pray and God speaks to me during that time or randomly.
You truly made the most out of life with the cards you were dealt by becoming a certified counselor. What are some of your long-term career goals and what do you plan to do with your certification?
I am a certified rehabilitation counselor and I’m scheduled to take the national counselors exam to become a licensed professional counselor as well. I would like to start my own non-profit where I can combine yoga and counseling.
Through your blog, you inspire women to be the best versions of themselves; physically, emotionally, and mentally. What do you want any young lady suffering from mental health issues to know?
Reach out for help sis. If you know your mental health is suffering, get some help! There is no excuse. There are FREE behavioral health insurances where you can get counseling and antidepressants for FREE! All you have to do is call your county’s crisis line and they will get you linked in. If you do not get help you will continue to have unhealthy cycles in your life. Once you do get help, remember it takes time. It’s 2017, and I’m finally at the point where I’m genuinely happy. That doesn’t mean I don’t have my moments though. Mental illness is similar to being addicted to drugs. You will relapse and have episodes, but the difference is after you start getting help you actually know how to deal and cope with those episodes. Your coping method may not be yoga, it may be kickboxing or taking an antidepressant may work for you, whatever it is just make sure you do it. Make sure you take care of yourself first and love yourself first because nobody else can do it for you!
If you or someone you know is suffering from mental health issues, please seek help. The Mental Health Crisis Hotline and National Suicide Prevention Lifeline are available 24 hours a day for anyone in need.
“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” Thank you Devyn Walker, shine on!