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Mack Wilds On Mental Health & The Strength He Gains From His Daughter

"My strength comes from my girl and my daughter- and therapy. She's innocent in everything."

#xoMan

The first time I had ever come across Tristan Mack Wilds' impeccable acting talent was in my then-favorite book-to-movie adaptation of Gina Prince-Bythewood's The Secret Life of Bees. Playing the role of a young Black male in South Carolina during the 1960s confidently spoke to his ability to adapt to historic significance and tell his story through the silver screen. Two short years later, he would become a protagonist on one of my favorite TV shows to date, 90210, as Dixon Wilson. As his acting career began to blossom, his music career followed suit during which time he would receive a Grammy nomination for Best Urban Contemporary Album and, later, be signed to Roc Nation.

Tristan 'Mack' Wilds is an actor, an artist, a podcast host, a Black man, and more importantly, a human being. From his acting debut on Spike Lee's Miracle Boys to HBO's The Wire and VH1's television movie The Breaks, Mack has effortlessly stepped up to the challenge of portraying any character in a script that is thrown his way. As a man of many talents, Mack recently talked to xoNecole about managing his mental health within his career duties and responsibilities, being present in modes of self-care and the stigmas against Black men in our community.

In order to start a conversation about mental health, we have to define it - or, at least define what it looks like to us. "My personal definition of mental health is my same definition for physical health and spiritual health: know yourself," advises Mack Wilds to xoNecole. "We should look at mental health the same way we look at physical health, or spiritual health. It starts with understanding where you are. From there, it's up to you - do you want to grow? Are you happy where you are? What and where are your limits?"

Courtesy of Mack Wilds

"We should look at mental health the same way we look at physical health, or spiritual health. It starts with understanding where you are. From there, it's up to you - do you want to grow? Are you happy where you are? What and where are your limits?"

When I have a depressive spell, my body aches, my appetite is construed and I'm fatigued more than ever. Linking back to the concept of physical health, Mack Wilds recalls previous accounts where his physical and his mental weren't in sync. "I don't think people understand how much your mental and physical are connected," he explains. "Whether it's dealing with a depression episode or a strenuous workout, the connection of mind and body is necessary to understand if you want the optimal way to pull through."

When our mental health is compromised, especially within communities of color, the shame and stigmatization placed upon us weighs more when added to the stress of anxiety, depression and trauma in our minds. According to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the suicide rate amongst African-American children between the ages of 5-11 increased exponentially since 1993. In the Black community, men are not allowed to speak on their mental health because they're deemed as "weak" or not masculine, and this starts in the home with our childhood upbringing. "I think we've all had those moments where we hear 'boys don't cry', or 'man up,' to keep us from crying, but my mom always gave me the space needed to explore my emotions," Mack shares with xoNecole. "And because of that, i've been able to better recognize my feelings and how to handle them."

While Mack hasn't had any negative stigmas aimed at his head personally, he shares with xoNecole his thoughts on labels and connotations that are used as ridicule for those that suffer from a mental illness. "I can't say I've heard any disparaging words towards me personally, but I can tell you the idea that depression isn't real, or it's all in your head is terrible," says Wilds. "If you're going through it, a lot of times you begin to think that yourself and belittle what you're feeling, and the only way to combat that is to be gentle with yourself. Allow yourself to feel however you feel, and understand what someone says or feels about you has less to do with you than you think; majority of the time, it's how they feel about themselves, or it's an emotion they've been scared to talk about themselves."

Courtesy of Mack Wilds

"If you're going through it, a lot of times you begin to think that yourself and belittle what you're feeling, and the only way to combat that is to be gentle with yourself. Allow yourself to feel however you feel, and understand what someone says or feels about you has less to do with you than you think; majority of the time, it's how they feel about themselves, or it's an emotion they've been scared to talk about themselves."

When it comes to managing his own mental health in his day-to-day experience, Mack finds balance in meditation, good communication, good food and seeing the smile of his beautiful daughter. These are all things that the entertainer describes as "just doing things that keep your mind stable and happy."

Retrospectively, Mack admits to xoNecole about a time where mental health impacted him personally - which in turn became a wake-up call that mental health is for everyone. "I think when I was going through a depressive state, just seeing and understanding how energy moves, you can see its effect on everyone you come in contact with. Energy is never broken down; it just moves from one place to another," Mack says.

As an actor, it is his duty and responsibility to accurately and effortlessly portray the stories - some fabricated narrations and some true accounts - of others. "Does that ever become daunting on your own sense of self and how do you balance your mental health while diving deep into the mind of other characters?" I challenged the New York native during our chat.

"If you remember the movie Inception, they always had a 'totem' that would let them know what world they were in, the dream world or the real one," he begins. "I believe we, as actors, need something to that effect as well. Mine happens to be my family. After a role that has you delve deep into someone else's psyche, you need that 'totem' or that anchor to pull you back into your own reality. Can it be daunting on your own sense of self? Absolutely, but keeping that totem always brings you back."

Courtesy of Mack Wilds

"I believe we, as actors, need something to that effect as well. Mine happens to be my family. After a role that has you delve deep into someone else's psyche, you need that 'totem' or that anchor to pull you back into your own reality. Can it be daunting on your own sense of self? Absolutely, but keeping that totem always brings you back."

While starring in TV One's 2018 film Dinner for Two with Chaley Rose and Skylar Brooks, Mack's storyline demonstrated the narrative of a Black husband and father, depicting his downward spiral into depression and alcoholism. When asked how true he believed this story to be for Black men and its relevance to sharing these stories on our silver screens to a wider audience, Mack challenged xoNecole's way of initially posing the question.

"I hate to generalize a story like that by race. We all go through our trials and tribulations differently. I believe it's possible, I think we all battle demons on our own, and that's what Chris [his character] was pretty much doing throughout the movie, but it's necessary to showcase not only stories like this, but all of our stories. Our spectrum is grand, and we've only encompassed a small part of our lives on film," he explains about the role of race in this particular movie.

Moreover, when asked which of his roles has been the most mentally challenging of them all, including playing the leading love interest in Adele's "Hello" music video, he responds, "I would have to say Dinner for Two. To play Chris and jump into his skin, understanding where we were going to go at the end was rough, but necessary. I appreciated it."

As an actor, artist, influencer and podcast host normalizing the conversation around mental health, therapy, and self-esteem, Mack has been using his platform for the greater good of mental wellness. "The only way to normalize it is to stop treating it like it doesn't exist, or keeping it as the elephant in the room. I believe the more we're given the room to speak on it, the more normal it becomes," he shares as he continues to touch upon his personal experience with self-imaging and the effects of his relationship with his daughter, Trystan Naomi Wilds. "I have definitely been in those dark places where I question the way I look, compare myself to those around me, even play with the idea of if the world would be better off without me here, but my strength comes from my girl and my daughter- and therapy. She's innocent in everything, so she deserves to have an amazing father, and I want to be the best man I could possibly be for the both of them."

Photo Credit: Julianny Casado/@Juliannycasado

Courtesy of Mack Wilds

"I have definitely been in those dark places where I question the way I look, compare myself to those around me, even play with the idea of if the world would be better off without me here, but my strength comes from my girl and my daughter- and therapy. She's innocent in everything, so she deserves to have an amazing father, and I want to be the best man I could possibly be for the both of them."

When Mack was younger - before being a father and Grammy-nominated artist - he depicted iconic roles such as Michael on The Wire and Dixon on 90210 that would later become pillars in his acting and professional career. He recognizes the importance of presenting the conversation of mental health to the age bracket in which he identified during these times. He encourages younger generations, including Generation Z, to "just speak on it."

"SPEAK. Take YOUR time, but do not be afraid to speak on what you're going through, what you've been through, or what you want to do about it," advises Mack. "I would just give them the space needed to speak on their feelings and help them find productive ways to let go of what's burdening them."

For more of Mack, follow him on Instagram.

Featured image by Julianny Casado/@Juliannycasado

Originally published on May 25, 2020

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