People who haven’t known me long may find it hard to believe that there was a time I was often too depressed to shower, wash my face, brush my teeth, or even get out of bed. These simple tasks would leave me paralyzed and unable to cope because I battle with bipolar ll and borderline personality disorder, which had gone misdiagnosed for a decade.
At 19 years old, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I lived daily in waking misery, fatigue and body ache, and the wretchedness of trying to make it through college. As a young adult, looming deadlines for essays and projects and later from nagging bosses would leave me paralyzed, unable to complete even the most basic tasks. Meanwhile, constant changes to my antidepressants and antianxiety medications led to a 50-pound weight gain and deeper depression. I was maxed out on antidepressants, my soul felt numb, and the rapid thoughts and heart palpitations never seemed to stop.
But, I had a tenaciously resilient circle of friends and family that kept me committed to cultivating my mental health and staying goal-oriented through tough times. A decade later, with a proper diagnosis, medication, and psychotherapy, I’m no longer aimlessly irritated and now live my life with vivacity.
One night, sitting on the side of the bed, I browsed the internet for a gift to celebrate my progress, but I couldn’t find anything representing me as a Black woman. So, at that moment, I decided to take matters into my own hands and birthed Curly Contessa, a culturally-centric home goods and giftware company.
Curly Contessa is the matriarch of cultural appreciation. Our products reflect a positive self-image while celebrating Black women. I find solace in illustrating and celebrating my tribe. My inspiration stems from my sincere appreciation for soul-healing women who held me close and loved me through some of my toughest days. Illustrating is a healthy way for me to process my thoughts. It is also a way for me to give gifts to a loved one who helped me through difficult times that is representative of them.
Now I live life at full throttle! As an accomplished 34-year-old with a mental illness, I’m truly grateful for my journey and the lessons learned. Battling a mental illness is tough because you must train yourself to get through whatever challenges arise each day of the week. Despite what one may assume the lifestyle of a bipolar Black woman may look like, I pride myself on defying the odds and using my talents to lift up other women in need. I find no gratification in being average and consider it my mission to create high-quality products that give naturalistas (a Black woman with unprocessed coily, curly, and kinky hair) and their loved ones a chance to celebrate their wins authentically.
The hand-drawn portraits and intricate details displayed throughout Curly Contessa collections are a direct reflection of my self-care investments. My products are designed to help women incorporate ease and chic convenience into their days. Famed novelist and Nobel Prize winner, Toni Morrison, coined the phrase, “You are your best thing.” Those words serve as a humble reminder to care for me so I can show up and authentically care for others.
While honored by my growth as an entrepreneur, I continue to hone my artistic capacity in my full-time role as a graphic designer. Despite an often heavy workload, I’ve learned the value of prioritizing my needs holistically, allowing my personal self-care to fuel my professional prowess.
So, how can one manage their mental health while balancing a career, let alone a dual passion? Here’s my advice.
Learn to manage up and set healthy boundaries. This leaves no leeway for people to make assumptions. Establish expectations of tasks and deliverables. Put weekly or bi-monthly check-in on the calendar. And no, this isn’t another meeting. This could be simply an email checklist of tasks completed and where you are on deadlines. So that nothing falls through the cracks, and you can ask for a deadline extension ahead of time. Let your peers or manager know if something is too stressful. You may need to take a day once said task is completed or during an ongoing project. Build a culture through check-ins.
Get moving: take a quick walk in between tasks and stay hydrated.
Don’t let tasks pile up. Establish a system that works for you to complete tasks. That could be something as simple as a checklist or a completed folder. Seeing tasks moved into a complete pile or marked off the list can create a heightened sense of accomplishment.
And the most important thing is to be as vulnerable or transparent as you are comfortable. Communicate to people your needs and expectations. Leave no rock unturned.
At the end of the day, we have to be accountable for our mental health. Don’t make it complicated; take small steps, and modify practices as needed. No one needs you more than you. So take care of yourself!