Nowadays, being transparent is the wave as more and more celebrities are owning their mental health issues and bringing struggles to the forefront in a public way. Michelle Williams isn't new to the mental health conversation and has struggled with depression most of her life, dating back to her teenage years. In the past, the artist has been candid about her mental health journey, including her experience with suicidal thoughts and depression while with Destiny's Child in 2017. Michelle is taking the step of speaking her truth a step further through the forthcoming release of her memoir, Checking in: How Getting Real about Depression Saved My Life---And Can Save Yours.
The battle with depression is real. And checking in with yourself can be a catalyst to self-healing you didn't know you needed.
For Michelle, depression reared its ugly head during a time where a lot of her prayers were being answered. One of which was a new engagement following a whirlwind romance with her beau Chad Johnson. She was also experiencing some wins professionally, including a gig headlining a Broadway show, as well as starring in a reality show alongside her newfound love. Despite the obvious highs, she eventually checked into a treatment facility in the summer of 2018 after announcing her decision to seek help to the world. In an interview with PEOPLE, she revealed:
"I thought I was over depression. I thought, I'm good. I've got love, I'm working out. But I was so angry. The rage built up in me. I did not attempt suicide, but I was questioning [life]."
Despite seeking treatment, her struggle with depressive episodes throughout 2018 would ultimately cause her to step away from everything, and by December, she left her job, she broke off her engagement, and she left her show. She recounted the experience in a recent exclusive with ESSENCE:
"In December it was a whole 'nother story, sis. I was weak, very depressed and thinking it was the end of my life. If someone had asked me where I would be today, I didn't think I would be alive, because I was so broken. It felt as though I had failed publicly and privately too, and that was just not like me. And I was like, God, there's got to be more."
Her decision to step away wasn't easy, but it was necessary. In an effort to keep going, Michelle had taken on more. Like so many of us who feel validated by what we do, she found herself spiraling while trying to be "busy", not realizing how much burnout was taking a toll. She continued:
"I wanted to be in the season where I did everything. Why should I have to space things out? I thought. I can do everything at once. Well, I got so overwhelmed in that season that by the time I got to rehearsals for Once on This Island [the Broadway show], I was already depleted and exhausted. But we were taught that you'd better get on that stage even when you're sick. People paid their money to see you.
"That was a thing from Destiny's Child. I think I've only missed one show ever in my nearly 20-year career. You just want to push, push, push until you push yourself to exhaustion. Then you have a nervous breakdown, and you can't do anything."
Breaking down was life's way of telling Michelle, "That's enough. You are not fine. Take care of you." That time, she had no choice but to listen. She had to address her depression by checking in with self:
"I had to dig deep. It took a lot of people around me to say, 'Take care of yourself. The stage will be there when you get back. The same God that answered that prayer, He'll do it again.' I had to have faith that what is for me will always be for me."
I'm not about to lie to you, it's an ongoing battle but it's one worth fighting. When it comes to depression, I learned it's important to accept that I will have flare-ups, and that what worked for the last episode may not necessarily work for the next. Even more importantly, you have to get to the root to uncover the things that could potentially stop you from leading the life you deserve.
"When it's untreated or you don't get to the root of things, anxiety and depression can possibly rob you of the very things you work hard for and are praying for."
In short, you have to be willing to try out different tools, but most importantly you have to give yourself grace and find your inner strength. Michelle echoed this sentiment:
"Allow yourself to feel the pain of what you're feeling, OK? ...You have to have it in you to tell yourself to get up. The days do get better. They really, really do. I'm a living testament of it. You have to do the work. And I strongly suggest finding a therapist to talk to."
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New Jersey native creating a life that she loves while living in gratitude. Beauty, Fashion, Lifestyle and Wellness creative, fur mom, full-time lover of laughter. She is out for revenge against the darkness by being light, taking her own advice, traveling the world, and letting you know that you are so lit. Connect with her via IG @Iamzaniah
Chief Mom Officer: 23 Quotes From Working Moms Finding Their Balance
The truth is, Black moms create magic every single day. Whether we're juggling motherhood with a busy 9-5, a thriving business, or staying at home to run a household, no day is short of amazing when you're managing life as a mommy. This Mother's Day, xoNecole is giving flowers to CMOs (Chief Mom Officers) in business who exemplify the strength it takes to balance work with motherhood.
We've commissioned these ladies, who are pillars in their respective industries, for tidbits of advice to get you through the best and worst days of mothering. Here, they share their "secret sauce" and advice for other moms trying to find their rhythm.
Emmelie De La Cruz, Chief Strategist at One Day CMO
"My mom friends and I all laugh and agree: Motherhood is the ghettoest thing you will ever do. It's beautiful and hard all at the same time, but one day you will wake up and feel like 'I got this' and you will get the hang of it. After 4 months, I finally felt like I found my footing to keep my kid and myself alive, but it took vulnerability to take off the cape and be honest about the areas that I didn't have it all together. The healing (physically and emotionally) truly does happen in community - whatever and whoever that looks like for you."
Alizè V. Garcia, Director Of Social & Community Impact at Nike
"I would tell a new mom or a prospective mother that they must give themselves grace, understand and remember there is no right way to do this thing and have fun! When I had my daughter three and a half years ago, I was petrified! I truly had no clue about what to do and how I was going to do it. But with time, my confidence grew and I realized quickly that I have all the tools I need to be the mother I want to be."
Nikki Osei-Barrett, Publicist + Co-Founder of The Momference
"There's no balance. I'm dropping sh*t everywhere! However, my secret sauce is pursuing interests and hobbies outside of what's required of me and finding time to workout. Stronger body equals = stronger mind."
Lauren Grove, Chief Experience Architect, The Grant Access, LLC
"I try to give myself grace. That’s my mantra for this phase of motherhood…grace. I won’t be able to get everything done. To have a spotless house. To not lose my cool after an exhausting day. Those things can’t happen all of the time. But I can take a deep breath and know tomorrow is another day and my blessings are more plentiful than my pitfalls."
Rachel Nicks, Founder & CEO of Birth Queen
"You have the answers within you. Don’t compare yourself to others. Curate your life to work for you. Ask for help."
Tanisha Colon-Bibb, Founder + CEO Rebelle Agency + Rebelle Management
"I know love doesn't pay bills but when I am overwhelmed with work or client demands I take a moment to play with my baby and be reminded of the love, energy, science, and Godliness that went into his birth. I am brightened by his smile and laugh. I remember I am someone's parent and not just a work horse. That at the end of the day everything will work out for the good of my sanity and the love within my life."
Christina Brown, Founder of LoveBrownSugar & BabyBrownSugar
"Learning your rhythm as a mom takes time and can be uncomfortable when you’re in a season of overwhelm. Constantly check in with yourself and assess what’s working and what’s not. Get the help you need without feeling guilty or ashamed of needing it."
Mecca Tartt, Executive Director of Startup Runway Foundation
"I want to be the best for myself, my husband, children and company. However, the reality is you can have it all but not at the same time. My secret sauce is outsourcing and realizing that it’s okay to have help in order for me to perform at the highest level."
Jen Hayes Lee, Head Of Marketing at The Bump (The Knot Worldwide)
"My secret sauce is being direct and honest with everyone around me about what I need to be successful in all of my various "jobs". Setting boundaries is one thing, but if you're the only one who knows they exist, your partners at home and on the job can't help you maintain them. I also talk to my kids like adults and let them know why mommy needs to go to this conference or get this massage...they need to build an appreciation for my needs too!"
Whitney Gayle-Benta, Chief Music Officer JKBX
"What helps me push through each day is the motivation to continue by thinking about my son. All my efforts, though exhausting, are to create a wonderful life for him."
Ezinne Okoro, Global Chief Inclusion, Equity, & Diversity Officer at Wunderman Thompson,
"The advice I received that I’ll pass on is, you will continue to figure it out and find your rhythm as your child grows into new stages. Trust your nurturing intuition, parent on your terms, and listen to your child."
Jovian Zayne, CEO of The OnPurpose Movement
"I live by the personal mantra: 'You can’t be your best self by yourself.' My life feels more balanced when I offer the help I can give and ask for the help I need. This might mean outsourcing housecleaning for my home, or hiring additional project management support for my business."
Simona Noce Wright, Co-Founder of District Motherhued and The Momference
"Each season of motherhood (depending on age, grade, workload) requires a different rhythm. With that said, be open to learning, to change, and understand that what worked for one season may not work the other...and that's okay."
Janaye Ingram, Director of Community Partner Programs and Engagement at Airbnb
"My daughter's smile and sweet spirit help me to feel gratitude when I'm overwhelmed. I want her to see a woman who doesn't quit when things get hard."
Codie Elaine Oliver, CEO & Founder of Black Love
"I try to listen to my body and simply take a break. With 3 kids and a business with 10+ team members, I often feel overwhelmed. I remind myself that I deserve grace for everything I'm juggling, I take a walk or have a snack or even head home to see my kids, and then I get back to whatever I need to get done."
Jewel Burks Solomon, Managing Partner at Collab Capital
"Get comfortable with the word ‘no’. Be very clear about your non-negotiables and communicate them to those around you."
Bridget Bogee, Marketing Lead At Meta
"Ask for help and always prioritize making time for you."
Julee Wilson, Executive Director at BeautyUnited and Beauty Editor-at-Large at Cosmopolitan
"Understand you can’t do it alone — and that’s ok. Relinquish the need to control everything. Create a village and lean on them."
Salwa Benyaich, Director Of Pricing and Planning at Premion
"Most days I really try to shut my computer off by 6 pm; there are always exceptions of course when it comes to big deals or larger projects but having this as a baseline allows me to be much more present with my kids. I love the fact that I can either help with homework or be the designated driver to at least one afterschool activity. Work can be draining but there is nothing more emotionally draining than when you feel as though you are missing out on moments with your kids."
Brooke Ellis, Head of Global Marketing & Product Launches at Amazon Music
My calendar, prayer, pilates class at Forma, a good playlist, and oatmilk lattes all help get me through any day.
Courtney Beauzile, Global Director of Client and Business Development at Shearman & Sterling
My husband is a partner who steps in when I just can’t. My mom and my MIL come through whenever and however I need. My kids have many uncles and aunts and they will lend an ear, go over homework, teach life lessons, be a presence or a prayer warrior depending on the day.
Robin Snipes, Chief of Staff at Meta
"Enjoy the time you have to yourself because once kids come those times will be few and far between."
Monique Bivens, CEO & Founder at Brazilian Babes LLC.
"For new moms, it is very important that you get back into a habit or routine of something you use to do before you were pregnant. Consider the actives and things that give you the most joy and make the time to do them."
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Understanding The Silent Battle Of PMDD
For many women, the severity of our menstrual cycle can make us feel foreign in our own bodies.
From physical symptoms like bloating and fatigue to emotional waves brought on by mood swings and irritability, 3 out of 4 menstruating women have experienced some form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) in their lifetime. However, what separates normal PMS from a more debilitating variation of these conditions lies in the severity and impact of these symptoms and how it impairs a woman’s ability to function in their daily life — and such is the case of Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD).
WHAT IS PMDD?
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) is a severe type of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) that brings about a variety of emotional and physical symptoms during the week or two before menstruation. It is often recognized as 'severe PMS’ and typically occurs during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, which spans from ovulation to the onset of the period.
“PMS and PMDD are very similar but also very different,” says Dr. Ashanda Saint Jean, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at New York Medical College.
“In terms of PMS syndrome, it is characterized by both physical and behavioral symptoms that occur prior to the onset of menstruation,” she tells xoNecole. “Whereas PMDD is the severity of the symptoms, which then can be characterized by depression, anxiety, mood changes, and sometimes even suicidal ideation. It's the severity of the symptoms which then require medicinal therapy.”
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF PMDD?
One of the main distinctions between PMDD and PMS is how it impairs or disrupts the daily functions and quality of life of the women who experience this condition. “Some of the signs of PMDD can be depression, irritability, and anxiety,” Dr. Saint Jean explains. “You can have the severity in the form of breast pain, bloating, swelling, headaches, but once you have your period, these symptoms usually remit or stop occurring.”
While symptoms of PMDD may vary on an individual basis, they typically show up with PMS symptoms and can be broken up into two categories:
- Mood swings
- Experiencing sadness or tearfulness
- Fatigue or decreased energy levels
- Crying spells
- Less interest in activities you normally enjoy
- Feeling hopeless
- Suicidal feelings
- Feeling angry or irritable
- Feeling anxious, tense, or ‘keyed up’
PHYSICAL AND BEHAVIORAL EXPERIENCES
- Breast tenderness or swelling
- Bloating sensation
- Changes in appetite, including overeating or specific food cravings
- Sleep disturbances
- Muscle and joint pain
- Increased anger or conflicts with others
- Strong emotional response to perceived rejection by others
Although the specific causes of PMDD are yet to be fully understood, research suggests that there is a connection between PMDD and heightened sensitivity to the typical hormonal fluctuations that take place throughout the menstrual cycle.
“It's your body's response to estrogen. There’s a cycle to how your brain sends out signals and that influences your ovaries to produce hormones,” she says, “It’s hypersensitive sensitivity to the elevation of the hormones that can make the body and mind experience symptoms of PMDD.”
HOW IS PMDD DIAGNOSED?
Women who suspect to have symptoms of PMDD can begin their self-screening by taking the International Association for Premenstrual Disorders (IAPMD)’s online screening assessment. Your medical provider will then look for five or more PMDD symptoms, including one mood-related symptom to determine the diagnosis.
Because PMDD is diagnosed based on recurring symptoms, it’s helpful to keep track of your symptoms for at least two full menstrual cycles by using a journal, notebook, or tracking app.
“One's agency is very important and our patients know their bodies,” Dr. Saint Jean says. “It can be something that you may suspect that you have, but I will always advise patients to then have that conversation with their provider (gynecologist or primary care physician).”
“If you’re having any of these symptoms, it’s always a good idea to bring them to the forefront and discuss with your provider and see together how you can arrive at the appropriate diagnosis for you,” she continues.
WHAT ARE TREATMENT OPTIONS FOR PMDD?
Once a diagnosis is made, there are a variety of treatment options that can be prescribed. Many patients may require a mood stabilizer such as a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI), which is a category of medication that increases the levels of serotonin in the brain. Dr. Saint Jean also shares that there is the option of continuous oral contraception, which “increases the intervals of your menstrual cycle,” and allows you to have fewer periods throughout the year.
In all, treatment solely depends on the severity of your symptoms is the advice from your medical provider.
“Not everyone requires to be on an SSRI, but it is helpful for some, especially some patients who have suicidal ideation,” she shares. There are also a variety of lifestyle changes, exercise, and dietary modifications that can aid in decreasing these symptoms. “You may crave salt and sugar, which then can contribute to bloating and water retention; so we advise you to stay away from sugary and salty foods prior to menstruation.”
Struggling with PMDD can feel like a silent battle when you’re experiencing it alone or never knew there was a name for the symptoms that you endure. Thankfully, with the proper tracking and advisory from your primary care physician, PMDD doesn’t have to be something that you suffer through unsupported or untreated — and with these tools, relief could be closer than you think.
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