By Katelynn White
NASHVILLE, TN — At the age of 23, Belmont graduate student DeAnn Whitlow has become an advocate for overcoming depression and anxiety. As part of a generation in which discussing mental illness is considered taboo, she has decided to use her journey to encourage her peers.
“Fighting with your own mind can feel like there is no escape. Luckily, that is not true. When you fight through, you will
learn that you have the strength. Keep faith in yourself, even when you do not have faith in anything else. When it comes to fighting back, the best place is to start with yourself,” she said about how important it is to fight against depression.
After almost losing her battle with depression twice to suicide, she chose to utilize different healthy techniques while attending therapy.
Prayer, exercising and journaling were the three techniques she uses to help her build a healthy mindset. She used journaling to express thoughts and emotions that were too difficult for her to utter.
“Fighting Your Own Thoughts” is a paperback book she released in April, the result of her journaling.
The book provides insight into her childhood anxiety that grew with her into adulthood, her fight with a mental disorder, life, death, isolation, pain, and finding happiness within herself again.
“I didn’t want to claim depression because of judgment. Coping with emotions has been passed on from generation to generation within the African American race. Refusing to put your mental health as a priority is a learned decision,” Whitlow said.
She believes that the African American community dodges the topic and has learned to disregard their mental health because ancestors had to undergo daily trauma and were forced to live with being wrongly treated. She highlights slaves were beaten, ripped from their families, raped and made to suffer emotionally.
Built-up pain, feeling abandoned, absent father and her grandfather’s passing all factored into her depression. Her journey back to happiness was impossible until she began the self-healing process that she resisted while attending college.
She recalled her time as an undergraduate at Florida A&M University, and how she was reluctant to travel home because she did not want to face her mother. Despite her mother being a therapist, she was not ready to confront her.
“My mother thought the smartest thing to do was come home, work, and save money. I didn’t want that because I became comfortable with being alone, hiding in my apartment, and I knew if I went home that was going to be impossible. There I would have to face my fears. She is a therapist; I was trying to avoid her altogether.”
Whitlow placed the spotlight on her unhealthy coping mechanisms before seeking help. “I let myself spiral out of control, drinking so much to hide the pain, instead of expressing my pain through words. This was my choice because it was easier that way, but then I had to deal with the consequences of the choices I made during my depression.”
She believes many people find unhealthy ways such as indulging in illegal substances, sex, and alcohol to cope with depression because it feels easier than seeking help or having to feel emotional pain.
She encourages people to not “put their mental health on the back burner for their sexual health” and advises people to “fight their thoughts sober.”
Whitlow has been excited to share her book and felt this was the best time to release it as most Americans continue to cope with issues related to the pandemic.
According to Mental Health Association of America, “Since the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread rapidly in March 2020, over 178,000 people have reported frequent suicidal ideation. People between the ages of 18-25, (439,000) and 9.5 percent of Black and African Americans have had serious thoughts of suicide. Black or African American screeners have had the highest average percent change over time for anxiety and depression.”
Whitlow’s mother and Nashville therapist Chantel Baker said “the release of the book during the pandemic is important because it allows other individuals to know they are not alone, and other people are dealing with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. People are more inclined to open and talk when they know they are not the only one.”
She added that the adolescent and young adult population are not familiar with mental health and symptoms. “They are more inclined to hide what is going on because they do not want to be labeled as crazy or weird. In today’s society, it is important that we have more open discussions with these two populations. They need to know that people care, and help is available.”
Baker added that “it took me a while to finish the book. When I started reading the book it was hard emotionally. As a parent, we want to protect our children from everything. From a therapist standpoint, I understood what she was going through and I knew how to assist help her in getting help. As her mother, I was scared.”
She said that friends and family who finished the book before her would call and talk about how inspiring the book was. “Having those conversations with people and seeing how her courage to share her story unapologetically helped people of all ages added to how proud I have always been of her. I know that her book has already inspired and encouraged people of all ages to speak their truth and speak out when they are not okay. She is definitely an inspiration to me and I have learned so much from her through this experience. She has helped me to become a better Mom, person, and a better therapist as I continue to work with adolescents and young adults.”
Although Whitlow, who is working on a master’s degree in sports administration, has faced hardships, she said she is now in a great place. “I’m the happiest I’ve been in a long time. I’m growing every day and doing what I need to do to remain healthy.”
To purchase “Fighting Your Own Thoughts” visit, D.W. (squarespace.com)
By Katelynn White