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Guest blog: Take Time to See Beyond a Person’s Look (Maisha Howze)

Guest blog: Take Time to See Beyond a Person’s Look (Maisha Howze)

Maisha Howze (contributer) was going to be the featured speaker at our Recognition Event this year. However, due to Covid-19, we had to cancel this event. We are honored that Ms. Howze agreed to compose a special blog about beauty written specifically for Minority Mental Health Month 2020. (More about Maisha can be found after the blog.)

In today’s society, the outside appearance is very important to many people. We see it often: people focus on the ‘right’ filters and angles, the retake of a simple photo of friends and family at a social event can result in several retakes for people to ‘feel’ as though a good picture was taken before it can be posted on social media…some people have endured the pain of surgery to enhance their outside beauty. Others refuse to be seen without make-up, hair extensions, or hair dye. In 2018, the beauty industry was valued at $532 billion and is certain to continue to rise. There is a ridiculous number of companies (182), but they are only owned by 7 major leaders. It seems as if this is a one-sided industry controlled by an ‘elite’ who decide what is considered ‘beautiful’ for everyone else.

Although I do not believe the beauty industry strives to exploit insecurities or perpetuate the idea that people cannot present their natural selves. For those who may already have an existing internal struggle with self-worth, the need to be accepted by social beauty standards are at significant risk.

I believe this very thing has happened to many in the African American community. So many of us were conditioned to believe that a certain look is most acceptable by society. In some respects, some feel inferior if their natural look does not align with who they see on television or in the entertainment industry. The thought that ‘light is right’ led to many people using bleaching creams or an abundance of make-up on their skin. The thought that straight hair was somehow ‘right’ led to many people using chemicals to alter their naturally kinky hair. The thought that a thinner nose was ‘right’ led to many people having rhinoplasty (plastic surgery of the nose). The thought that a smaller waistline is ‘right’ led to many ‘tummy tucks.’ These are all things done to be more acceptable in society’s view. The struggle that some African Americans must be accepted or at the very least not be viewed in an unfavorable way can be a heavy burden to carry. The struggle with trying to appear ‘acceptable’ and still have the mental and emotional capacity to cope with your own internal struggles can lead to unstable health.

There is a lot of time and money focused on enhancements and ‘being beautiful’ on the outside. Enhancements are not a bad thing, but when this is done to cover-up issues that you are struggling with internally, it can be very detrimental. When you consistently cover-up who you are and what you are truly dealing with, it may be hard for others to see beyond your created self. Some say, ‘presentation is everything,’ but what does this really mean? Is the person’s presentation a true representation of who they are? Or are they covering up internal struggles?

Internal struggles can be past or present trauma, mental health and/or substance use challenges, familial discord, grief, disappointments, loss…the list goes on and on. These issues are at times buried so deep within the person it can be very difficult to recognize. Then the focus on external presentation may inhibit the ability to recognize a person’s issues may seem near impossible. But if you take the time to ‘insert a pause’ when interacting with people, you may be able to see beyond their ‘look.

As you journey through each day, do you take the time to truly see the person in front of you? Do you challenge yourself to go beyond the surface of what others may present? This is challenging, but it can be accomplished. This act of humility and compassion may literally save the person’s life. There are people that are truly suffering from internal warfare; they get up every day, go to work/school, interact with others, care for their siblings/children, care for parents/grandparents, attend church, participate in social activities – but because of their outside presentation, others would never know internal struggles exist.

Truth be told, that person was me! About 15 years ago, I was struggling with constant thoughts of suicide and even those closest to me had no idea.

They had no idea that I had daily thoughts of taking my own life.

In fact, people would often tell me that I looked like I always had it all together. That could not have been further from the truth. At times I felt like I was drowning, but if you were only focused on my outside appearance, you would never have known. I was a single parent of twins, in college, and working multiple jobs. But I was spiritually, mentally, physically, and emotionally drained.

I also had not healed from previous self-esteem issues. As a young person, I was teased because of my physical appearance; this was very difficult for me. I thought I had moved past those feelings of inadequacy and ‘not measuring up’ to those societal norms of beauty. On the outside, I had a ‘good presentation’ and I was sure to walk with my head held high. It was a struggle, but I felt forced to do so.

I was too afraid to let my head down even a little bit or miss a beat, because then others would know that I didn’t have it all together.

It can be a suffocating feeling to think that you must always ‘be on,’ not trip or allow others to see the vulnerability in you. I challenge you to not view this as a ‘trip,’ but as a calculated step towards healing. The healing process is taken step-by-step. You cannot approach your process without being honest with yourself first about those internal issues that you are struggling with, the challenges we try to cover-up and hide from others.

I am grateful that someone was able to see beyond my outside appearance. This person was not concerned with the origin of my issues, but instead that I start taking care of myself and begin the healing process. She could see that I was dealing with an internal struggle. Although she was not certain where my internal struggles came from, she was able to be supportive and help me through my inner turmoil. Her concern was not the where, but how I would transition from my place of hurt and when I would begin my process of healing.

Fast forward to now. I recently published a book entitled W.A.S.H. (Withstand All Strife to Heal): Time to Do YOUR Laundry. W.A.S.H. is designed to help the reader move from a place of withstanding the strife they have endured to a place of healing.

In the book, I talk about two different types of ‘stains’ (issues/concerns): ‘laundry stains’ and ‘life stains.’ Laundry stains are marks, possibly from ‘dirt’ that is not easily removed. Life stains are issues/concerns that have caused damage to you emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually, socially, etc. It is the life stains that some people strive so hard to cover up on the outside.

As a community, WE have a responsibility to support others through their healing.

Much like a laundry stain can spread and begin to negatively impact the other fabric in the laundry basket, this too can happen when someone in your community has a life stain that has begun to negatively impact them. Issues that a person is fighting internally can have a tremendous impact on the community. Internal struggles can manifest in different ways: unhealthy thoughts and actions, such as drug and alcohol use/abuse, unstable/untreated mental health conditons, criminal behavior, and a lack of attention to personal needs (employment, housing, children, etc.), just to name a few.

We know that the beauty industry, social media, and societal norms of a person’s appearance will most likely continue to be superficial. We know that many will continue to struggle internally and try to cover up their inner turmoil with perceived outside beauty. BUT, we also know THERE IS HOPE. There is hope that as a community, we can support those who struggle internally and support them on their healing journey to love themselves.

The time you invest in ‘seeing’ a person beyond their look can be invaluable and literally save their life.

About the Author: Maisha Howze has worked in the social services field for more than 20 years. She is currently the Administrator of Allegheny Co. Bureau of Drug & Alcohol Services. Ms. Howze is the owner of In Touch Consulting, LLC and the author of W.A.S.H.: Time to Do YOUR Laundry (see below). Maisha is passionate about community, healing, and mentoring young women. Special thanks to Maisha for sharing part of herself and her wisdom in this amazing blog.

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World Bipolar Day

World Bipolar Day

What do you really need to know about bipolar disorder? World Bipolar Day is observed annually on March 30 and reminds us that stigma is a reality for people with bipolar disorder; it hinders their ability to achieve wellness. We want to bring the world population information about bipolar disorders that will educate and improve sensitivity toward the mental health condition.

French researchers in 2012 reported that fewer than 70% of the general population could name specific characteristics of bipolar disorder and most identified the media as their main source of information (which is probably not a good thing). There are a lot of misconceptions about what it means to have bipolar disorder. Even though symptoms c3-30-17 wbd blog 3an vary from person to person, there are certain characteristic behaviors and expressions that mark this condition.

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that is characterized by opposite states: mania and depression. Mania is a period of time when an individual experiences increased energy, motivation, and social activity; decreased attention span; indecisiveness; insomnia; and (sometimes) engagement in risky behavior. Depression, on the other hand, is a period of time when an individual experiences decreased energy and motivation; feelings of sadness, emptiness, and worthlessness; social isolation; significant weight loss/gain, and insomnia. Having this disorder can consist of experiencing one episode at a time or a mixed state of both. Some individuals affected by bipolar disorder may transition rapidly from one to the other and some have longer periods of time between episodes. For some, the states may be incredibly extreme, for others, generally mild. Bipolar disorder is a complicated condition!

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Bipolar disorder affects approximately 27 millions people worldwide. Celebrities that have self-disclosed having this mental health condition include: Demi Lovato (singer), Russell Brand (comedian), Carrie Fisher (actress, Star Wars), Amy Winehouse (singer), Vincent Van Gogh (painter), and Winston Churchill (British Prime Minister). Personally, I am also affected by this disorder and share my recovery story during the Stand Together trainings.

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There are a few myths we want to point out, too:
Bipolar moods aren’t equally split.
-Treatments take time to work and usually include a combination of medication and therapy, not just one or the other.
Not everyone with bipolar disorder is the same.
-How individuals affected by bipolar disorder react and respond to situations varies greatly.

Bipolar disorder is not 3-30-17 wbd blog 4something to be taken lightly; it’s not something to joke about and minimize by using it inappropriately (ie slang: She’s so bipolar!, etc.). It is a serious mental health condition with sometimes severe disruptions in daily function and can include suicidal ideations and behaviors.  If you or someone you know is displaying signs of this condition, be sure to talk to an adult you trust or reach out to a mental health professional.

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(Special thanks to Gabe Howard’s article, “What I Wish the World Knew about Bipolar [Disorder]” (BP Hope, Spring 2016). Reference the DSM-IV for symptoms and further description. Also, check out www.facebook.com/worldbipolarday for more info.)

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National Drug & Alcohol Facts Week 2017

National Drug & Alcohol Facts Week 2017

National Drug & Alcohol Facts week occurs every year on the last full week of January. This intervention aims to links students with info to counteract the myths about drugs and alcohol that teens get from the internet, social media, TV, movies, music, or from friends. It’s an opportunity for teens to shatter the myths about substance us and educate others on how drugs affect the brain, body, and behaviors. Look at the past month’s drug use among high school seniors, more than 5% misuse prescriptions drugs; more than 20% smoke marijuana, and 35% have drank alcohol. Those aren’t small numbers! And many teens aren’t aware of the short- and long-term risks associated with substance use during adolescence.

Check out this video:

Let’s Shatter the Myths below:

1-27-17 blog mj iq1. Myth: Smoking marijuana does not affect your intelligence.
Fact: Persistent cannabis users can have neuropsychological (brain power) decline.

2. Myth: Drinking at a young age doesn’t make you more prone to addiction.
Fact: 4 out of 10 people who begin drinking before age 15 eventually end up becoming addicted.

3. Myth: Smokeless tobacco cannot cause cancer.
Fact: Smokeless tobacco increases the risk of many types of cancer, including oral cancers. Just because there’s12-17-17 blog tobacco no smoke, doesn’t mean there’s no harm!

4. Myth: Substance abuse and addiction are the same thing.
Fact: Substance abuse generally refers to the misuse of drugs while still being able to experience the euphoric effects. Substance addiction is a physical, chemical dependence on a substance to avoid withdrawal. Individuals can easily progress from abuse to addiction in the right circumstances.

1-27-17 blog substance use before 185. Myth: You can’t become addicted a substance after one try.
Fact: Some substances are so toxic that your body is permanently altered after the first time. Experimentation with substances is never a good idea; even though some things are legal, it doesn’t mean that they are safe.

6. Myth: Once someone is addicted, they can’t return to sobriety.
Fact: Recovery is ALWAYS possible! Through hard work, determination, hope, professional assistance, and community support, individuals can achieve sobriety and lead healthy lives.

7. Myth: There is a gene for addiction.
Fact: Geneticists have identified approximately 40 genes that may have some connection, but there is no simple, predictable combination. Although there is some genetic tendency toward substance use, environmental and personal choice are essential factors.

That’s just a few of the myths that exist. Join us as we shatter the myths to prevent substance use!

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Thanks to the National Institutes of Health & on Drug Abuse for these facts and info. To learn more about NDAFW, click here.

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