It was a Monday morning, just before work, and I was on the brink of another panic attack.
I tried to breathe my way through it as I sat in my job’s parking lot, but I was too overwhelmed with fear and anxiety about having to endure another mentally draining workday and a terrible boss who spewed microaggressions to Black employees like me regularly. To some, crying it out may seem like a normal thing to do – to feel your feelings and do the hard thing anyway. The problem was that my incessant pre-work anxiety followed by sobbing was becoming more and more frequent. Something had to change.
Work wasn’t the only part of my life that incited anxiety. I was in a new relationship that felt too good to be true, and my natural response was to self-sabotage. I was also in the throes of recovering from an eating disorder and body dysmorphia that was triggered by intimacy. Life in general had become unmanageable. And my ways of dealing with things – like anxiety, seeking control, self-sabotage – were just symptoms of my inability to deal with life on life’s terms.
In reality, I was in desperate need of healing, from the stressors of daily life and from years of childhood trauma and undiagnosed complex-post traumatic stress disorder (Complex-PTSD). The American Psychological Association defines trauma as an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster. And unfortunately, I was impacted by a number of accidents like gun violence, physical abuse and substance abuse as a child that resulted in Complex-PTSD. While post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can come from a single traumatic event, Complex-PTSD is viewed as a stress-related mental disorder that occurs in response to complex or multiple traumas.
As a Black child who was a product of parents who were just trying to survive in the ’80s, I was impacted by certain circumstances that other races may not have faced. And as I moved into adulthood, I walked through a different set of unique experiences, such as microaggressions, because I was a Black woman.
“Being a Black person in this country exposes you to more trauma than the norm,” says Jordan A. Madison, LCMFT and owner of Therapy Is My J.A.M. “As Black women, we are often inundated with seeing people that look like us be harmed, targeted and attacked. That can put us on edge and evoke strong emotions. Not to mention, as Black women we face racial trauma in the form of microaggressions or other overt comments.”
Prior to this emotionally charged Monday, I had been in and out of therapy and various spiritual groups for years, but I hadn’t quite found the support that worked for me. So, I was on the hunt for something new.
I was always intrigued by ceramics. And even more, I was fascinated by the people who were behind the wheel. They seemed so relaxed and present while creating what I considered something from nothing. Oddly enough, a year prior I moved in with my boyfriend, and a ceramics studio was located directly across the street. We passed the studio at least once a week on walks to our local coffee shop, and on one stroll I began to wonder if ceramics could be a fun thing that quieted my loud, active mind. I went inside the studio, asked the very welcoming studio manager for more information on upcoming classes and attended one just a few days later.
My first class was nothing like I expected. In my everyday life, I was accustomed to grinding and working nonstop, so I was shocked to enter the studio and feel the complete opposite energy. The space was intimate, with about six students who were quietly and attentively working on their wheels or carving their clay. I immediately felt at ease, and the anxieties from the previous work week that I walked in the door with seemed to melt away.
Pretty soon I was attending classes three times a week. I went from being immobilized by uncontrollable emotions and deep anxiety to having a quieter mind and feeling lighter in my body and spirit. What I gained from doing ceramics made it a detriment to my mental health if I chose to skip class, so I knew I needed tools outside of it to manage my life better. And in the two and a half years I did ceramics, I was given hope that more healing was possible because of the mental peace it gave me.
Jordan says that a lot of trauma symptoms include reflecting on the past, or having anxiety about the future, and that doing hobbies helps you enjoy the moment, focusing on the present. “Creative outlets and hobbies help us get out of our head and connect with our body,” she says. “Some of my favorite hobbies I recommend are yoga, exercising, getting massages, dance classes, and meditation. Each of these can help you release stress, release endorphins, connect with your body more and give your mind something else to focus on.”
Ceramics didn’t change my life. It did give me the stillness to separate myself from what I was obsessed with and worried about. It gave me the opportunity to pause and find inner peace. I still had a challenging job, a relationship I needed to learn to navigate and prioritize myself in, and a ton of healing with professional help to kickstart. The only difference was that I now had the space to clearly see my issues and what I couldn’t control. I was empowered to focus on what I could control. Me.
Indulging in play and creative outlets continues to be an integral part of my healing journey. From ceramics and meditation to boxing and pole dancing, I’ve allowed myself to follow instincts and make time for what fills me up and calms me down. We all deserve relief from what troubles us, and Black women in particular are the utmost deserving.