Posts Tagged struggles


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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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NASH Tigers #talkaboutit for a Clearer Vision in 2020

NASH Tigers #talkaboutit for a Clearer Vision in 2020

North Allegheny Senior High School is returning for their second year in Stand Together and what a whirlwind it has been! Their team was able to complete two of their activities before the ‘quarantine’ went into effect and have really left an impression on their school this year, excelling beyond their previous work last year.

NASH’s first project was an interactive anti-stigma fair with various stations of educational activities for their peers. Building off of last year’s peer-to-peer presentations, they went many steps further this year. In 2019, the group prepared a moving video (link) of students and staff sharing their personal experiences with mental health and substance use disorders. They then broadcast this movie to students during their gym classes and engaged the students in a true/false activity accompanied by a PowerPoint of education and review of resources.

This year, the team hit it out of the park! (Can you tell we’re missing baseball?) Instead of a small classroom of students with a video and a presentation, students created a huge event with activities for all the students to rotate through. They also produced another video (link), this year focusing on treatment and recovery. Students again shared their struggles, but also talked about how they bounced back and who-and what-helped them along the way. After the video, students went through various stations around the room to learn about stigma, challenge myths, and use physical activities as a metaphor for mental health challenges:
‘Stigma Ducks’ (a play on words) – educating students about the S.T.I.G.M.A. acronym* and challenging students to think about the consequences of stigma.
‘Be a Helping Hand Obstacle Course’ – students went through the ‘course’ blind-folded-only one person got to have a peer help them as they went through. This activity signified the importance of S.H.E.* and the support of family and friends when someone is struggling with a mental and/or substance use disorder. Students received a mini hand clapper for participating. (Get it?!)
Myth or Fact spinning wheel
1 in 4 Hoops – 1 in 4 individuals got a football instead of a basketball to show how mental and substance use disorders make it harder for the 1:4 individuals that struggle with them.
The Pledge – students read and signed the pledge on a huge poster to show their commitment to ending stigma in their school.
Whew! That’s a lot of education and awareness in one event!

The group followed that amazing event with another that covered all three of our goals: their take on a ‘truth booth.’ Students and staff alike were encouraged to visit the stand and select a color-coded tiger (their mascot) paw or paws that represented themselves to add to the ‘tree.’
Purple : I personally deal with a mental illness and/or substance use disorder.
Green : I am a friend or family member of someone with a mental and/or substance use disorder.
Blue : I support or advocate for someone with a mental and/or substance use disorder.
Yellow : One way that I can help someone with a mental and/or substance use disorder is to… (fill-in-the-blank)**

The impact was remarkable. Multiple students and staff shared their own experiences with mental and/or substance use disorders (‘I have…’ ‘I have a brother…’ ‘I am a cousin to someone that has a substance use disorder.’) Without being asked to, students disclosed some of their struggles; others wrote inspirational messages for their peers that were experiencing this issues:
-‘I will be okay.’
-‘You are strong and you are worthy.
-‘Last year was extremely rough. The recovery I had was huge…but there’s much more to improve on.’
-‘Be kind to yourself.’
-‘You’re never alone.’
-‘I have a good friend that deals with one. Much love to her.’


‘Schizophrenia does not have the right to control you.’

Anonymous

I can’t believe how eager students were to participate and how vulnerable they were willing to be with each other. Even though it was anonymous, students and staff had a visual reminder that they were not alone and that we’re all in this together. We all are affected by mental health and substance use disorders in some way and mental health is just as important as physical health. These youth are addressing myths and breaking down barriers to treatment by normalizing discussions about mental health in their school communities. After students put their paw on the tree, they were given a package of resources and treats for participating, including how students could help a peer, Resolve crisis cards, End the Stigma: NA Stand Together stickers, and a green bead necklace to remember the event.

I was so glad that I was able to attend and participate in these events. I could tell the students were having fun and engaging in the activities, but were also having intimate and sometimes intense conversations about mental and substance use disorders and the stigma associated with them. The team also plans to design a permanent mural for their school to remind them of the program, the pledge, and NASH’s commitment to ending stigma. Congrats on another job well done! Thanks for all your doing-you’re changing lives!

*S.T.I.G.M.A. – stereotypes, teasing, inappropriate language, ignorance, myths, and attitude
*S.H.E. – support, hope, encouragement

**Click here to view a list of things you can do and say to help your peers.

Written by Danyelle, coordinator

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