Conversations around mental health are at an all-time high. The pandemic has led people to question aspects of their lives that were once buried deep within a facade of coping mechanisms, be it work, family, friends, or social interactions. Though good mental health is now seen as a vital part of functioning, the stigma around it is still present, particularly amongst marginalized groups.
African-Americans are one racial minority that is less likely to seek care for mental health issues. The roots of mental health stigma amongst the Black community can be traced back to slavery. Till the mid 19th century, a common misconception that stemmed from racial oppression regarded Black people as not developed enough to have mental health issues. The mental health issues they faced were reduced to terms such as “being overworked” or “tired.” “According to Mental Health America, Black people experience direct traumatic stressors (including being heavily policed or being the victims of physical and verbal attacks), indirect stressors (such as the effects of viewing the video of the killing of George Floyd), and transmitted stressors (from traumatic stress passed from one generation to the next). Despite these challenges Black people are far less likely to seek care.”
One vocal proponent of mental health has been doing the rounds lately, not only for his efforts to de-stigmatize the space, but also due to his life-long battle with anxiety. Lenard McKelvey, better known as Charlamagne Tha God, is an American radio host, best-selling author, and tv personality. Growing up in Moncks Corner, South Carolina, he worked hard to develop a persona to help him survive the genuine dangers present in a troubled neighborhood. Having fought off drugs, jail time, and the appeal of a life of crime, Charlamagne kickstarted his career in radio as an intern at Z93 Jamz in Charleston. He later joined DJ Envy and Angela Yee to host the iconic radio show, ‘The Breakfast Club’ on Power 105.1.
The media mogul has been blessed with success after success in his career. Last year also saw him host a new tv show on Comedy Central called “Tha God’s Honest Truth.” However, it wasn’t until the 2018 release of Charlamagne’s book, “Shook One: Anxiety Playing Tricks on Me,” that he went public with his mental health journey. The man who portrayed a persona made of steel was opening up to his many vulnerabilities, his frequent panic attacks, and his lifelong battle with anxiety.
Charlamagne was first diagnosed with anxiety in 2010 when he was back in Monck’s Corner living with his mother. He had been fired from his job for the fourth time, his wife and kids were away, and life was at a standstill. While driving on the freeway, he felt symptoms he was only too well acquainted with: a quickly beating heart, chest tightening, the feeling of impending doom. Upon checking into the emergency room, he was given the same diagnosis as with previous episodes: he had an athlete’s heart and everything was fine. This time around, the doctor inquired about his mental health and whether he suffered from anxiety. That day was the beginning of a life-long journey of self-discovery and healing for Charlamagne. It took him several years to realize that he was not alone in sharing this reality and many other people struggled with their mental health.
During this journey, Charlamagne set his sights upon creating a platform to help others heal normalize talking about mental health. His book has inspired many people, including his father, to speak up regarding their struggles with mental health. Charlamagne has often spoken about finding out that his father also suffered from mental health problems his entire life and at one point even attempted suicide.
Observing Charlamagne’s journey, we have gathered several key lessons that may aid in our approach to mental health and help us on our journey of healing and self-actualization.
One of the first steps towards improving our mental health is finding the courage to seek professional help through therapy. Therapy allows an individual to resolve their mental or emotional issues, resolve childhood trauma and have access to a safe space within which they can talk about the challenges they face in life. This allows an individual to focus upon how they view themselves and the world around them, their thoughts, and the underlying patterns behind their behavior.
Charlamagne often talks about the practice of placing limits on how you spend your time. When on a journey to improve our mental health, we should be deeply aware of what we consume, who we spend our time with, and what kind of energy we allow to enter our lives. Depriving ourselves of healthy boundaries can lead to resentment, irritability, and neglect of our own needs.
Meditation is a practice that allows an individual to focus their mind for a period of time. This allows the usual frantic, distracted mind to learn how to be still and at peace. Regular meditation practice can lead to a feeling of relaxation and inner peace, which allows the mind and body to heal. Meditation is a simple yet life-changing practice that has been developed over centuries and can have remarkable results with regular use.
IRRATIONAL V RATIONAL ANXIETY:
Charlamagne has also spoken about dealing with panic attacks in several interviews. He has a concept based on irrational v rational anxiety. “One thing that works for me is knowing what the source of my anxiety is. I truly believe in rational and irrational anxiety. Rational anxiety is, if I’m getting on the radio every day, talking to millions of people, I know I’m going to have some anxiety. I know I’m going to feel away. I have to expect that. That’s when I can tell myself, “I know what this moment is. The irrational anxiety is when you’re sitting on the couch and the wind is blowing crazy outside and it’s hitting the side of your house. Then you feel like your house is about to blow away like you’re one of the three little pigs. That’s just irrational. In moments like that, you have to breathe and say a little prayer.”
According to Charlamagne, everyone is simply trying the hardest they can. Being compassionate towards yourself and others, and learning different techniques to improve your mental health, is something we must all strive towards.