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Need A Mental Health Day? Here's How To Ask For One

It's time out for us feeling like we have to be a superwoman every day, and suppressing our feelings.

Workin' Girl

Can I be honest real quick? I'm sick and tired of society holding a "superwoman" complex on women of color (especially Black women). While yes, we are multifaceted, strong, and fearless, we also experience moments of vulnerability, confusion, and anxiety. Because of the superwoman complex that the world has placed upon on us, sometimes it makes it difficult for us to ask for what we need, because a "superwoman" doesn't need help, right?

Wrong.

Oftentimes as the minority in the office and in spaces where men (and people that don't look like us) are the majority, we never want to appear weak or inadequate - especially when we are in positions of power. However, it's time out for us feeling like we have to be a superwoman every day, and suppressing our feelings. Sis, when you're really strong, courageous, and fearless, you understand the power in being honest and asking for what you want and need. And sometimes the exact thing that you need is a personal day off for the sake of your sanity and mental state. It doesn't matter how high up the corporate ladder you are, or how lit your job title is, we all need a break (or two or three), and that's OK. It's normal, sis.

Recently, we spoke with several fearless women that are leaders in their own space. Here are their thoughts on how you can communicate when you're not at 100%, how you can ask for a mental health day, and if you're in a leadership role, how they've communicated and asked for their own mental health day when needed.

How To Ask For A Mental Health Day Off From Work

For Employees: Asking For A Mental Health Day Off From Work 

Duanecia Evans, Chief of Staff for Teach For America DC Region

Photo by Kenny Bundy

"One thing that has worked for me and people I manage is building an intentional space for me to talk about not only how projects are progressing, but how energized or drained they are with specific pieces of work. When it comes to having your needs at work met, take the driver's seat.

"Normalize talking about how projects, tasks, and even teammates who are landing with you. If you have a weekly or bi-weekly check-in with your manager, add a section that supports you talking about what's on your plate and how you're feeling about it. So often we get caught up in the 'doing'.

"Some practical prompts that you can include to keep things constructive include:

  • This week, (example) about this project energized me, but (example) about this project drained me.
  • I enjoy working with (teammate) but would like to roleplay a difficult conversation I have to have with them about (problem that came up), can we make some time for this?"

Christa Clarke, Project Manager at Baylor College of Medicine

Courtesy of Christa Clarke

"If my direct report needs to request a mental health day or two, I don't require much. I prefer to receive advance notice so that I can adjust my responsibilities accordingly and minimize the impact of their absence. Also, I appreciate them getting their house in order beforehand. For example, reschedule your meetings in advance, block your calendar, delegate important or time-sensitive tasks to others, etc.

"However, I understand advance notice isn't always possible. We don't give advance notice for physical illness! I don't need all the specific details of why. When I have a general understanding of what is going on, how it's been impacting your work, and ways I can support you, I'm empowered to be a better boss who can effectively support you before and after your return."

Jasmine Farrar, HR Business Partner, Manager at Netflix

Courtesy of Jasmine Farrar

"In my experience as an HR Business Partner, there is often an underlying assumption that we are not to be leveraged as trusted advisors for employees at all levels; however, this couldn't be the furthest from the truth. HR Business Partners (HRBPs) are stewards of company culture, liaisons between organizational leadership and individual contributors, and advocates for all employees.

"I prefer that employees feel comfortable coming to me about any issues that may arise and that I present myself as accessible and approachable to help foster that dialogue."

For Managers: Asking For A Mental Health Day Off From Work 

Duanecia Evans, Chief of Staff for Teach For America DC Region

Photo by Kenny Bundy

"As a Senior leader, it is often hard to feel like taking some time for self won't lead to more work when I return. Recently, I learned the power of a vacation memo.

"Ahead of asking for some mental health days, I prepare a vacation memo that I send to my manager, people I am on projects with and sometimes external partners. The memo gives those I'm working with a clear sense of the status of projects and who they can contact while I am away. I brief my assistant and manager on the memo, as they are typically the points of contact while I'm out, and then I go ahead and take my time off.

"The vacation memo strategy not only supports clarity of workflow but also eases my anxiety so I can fully unplug. I recognize that I am a key player in the work, there is no way for me to continue to be if I am not well."

Christa Clarke, Project Manager at Baylor College of Medicine

Courtesy of Christa Clarke

"I am an advocate for mental wellness in the workplace. I meditate in my office, often placing a sign on my door that reads, 'Meditation in progress. Do not disturb.' I've also requested mental health days when needed. Unfortunately, no matter how much I'm an advocate for mental health in the workplace, many of us may not be lucky to have bosses or work at a company that is open to the idea of mental health days. Therefore, it is important to understand the workplace culture in which you work before asking for a mental health day.

"At a previous company, I didn't believe requesting a mental health day would be respected. On days where I just couldn't bring myself to get out of bed, I'd just call in sick. No detailed explanation was given. It is our right to be able to use our sick days without probing questions. So, don't be afraid to do so.

"In another workplace, I maintained a great, transparent relationship with my boss. We openly discussed our stressors and mental state, and have even left the workplace for mental health breaks to grab an ice cream or a treat. When I need to request a mental health day, I simply make sure my workhouse is in order. I inform my boss that I need to take a day or two to work on my mental wellness.

"Sometimes, my mental health day is working remote to change my environment. Other times, I am unplugging."

Jasmine Farrar, HR Business Partner, Manager at Netflix

Courtesy of Jasmine Farrar

"With respect to mental health in the workplace, it's so important to understand that we cannot operate at our fullest capacity if we aren't taking care of ourselves from an emotional, spiritual, and physiological standpoint. We usually don't hesitate to share when we are sick or in need of time off to attend to a doctor's appointment. These types of conversations should extend to mental fitness as well. Company cultures may differ in terms of the level of transparency or candor amongst managers and employees but the concept of needing a mental health day should not be foreign.

"When I think of all the things that are going on in the world around us, especially with respect to people of color, we owe it to ourselves to ensure that we are continuously engaging in self-care practices.

"My best advice for employees and leaders are to work on building authentic relationships so that when conversations like these arise, they feel more natural. Leaders, check-in with your employees from time to time and move beyond status updates and project deliverables in one-on-one meetings. It's OK to ask how folks are doing. How can I help support you? Many times, the work environment is predicated upon the leadership style and they should help to model and reinforce the importance of overall well-being."

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Featured image by Shutterstock

Originally published November 20, 2019

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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