"I'm your girl, you're my girl, we your girls - don't you know that we love you…"
"Girl" (one of my personal favorites) was released by Destiny's Child in 2004, and the song speaks to being there for a friend who's in a toxic relationship. Today, the importance of having your tribe and being there for each other is still a powerful and significant message considering the fact that: 17 years have passed, which means responsibilities and priorities have likely changed for many of us, AND we survived a whole global pandemic. Hence, "checking in with God, yourself, and others," is so important for such a time as this.
Throughout the pandemic, we've heard a lot about Zoom fatigue. However, when the beautiful, talented, multi-platinum, award-winning artist, and member of one of the best-selling girl groups of all-time, Michelle Williams, shows up on your computer screen, all of that so-called Zoom fatigue goes out the window.
Recently, I had the wonderful honor and pleasure of "checking in" with Michelle Williams. When Michelle first appeared on my screen, there was an effervescent glow about her. It wasn't just the fact she was rocking a glamorous, natural look, or the vibrant pink lighting that added a delicate, yet fierce, femininity to the room. Instead, it was her kind, warm, down-to-earth spirit, and her humble and genuine personality. As someone who has experienced and invested in my own mental health journey, not only could I relate on so many levels, but I was all the more appreciative for her candidness.
During our "check-in," we discussed how Michelle courageously decided to share intimate details and experiences in her new book, Checking In: How Getting Real about Depression Saved My Life and Can Save Yours. She also shared the importance of checking in, how she's overcome public shame, embarrassment, and humiliation, as well as how she navigates mental health in her relationships. And let me tell you...she definitely kept it real.
Getting Real with Yourself
xoNecole: Because you are such a private person, how difficult was it for you to openly share and pen your mental health journey and experiences?
Michelle Williams: So many people told me about the healing effects of writing. So, a girlfriend and I went to a cabin one weekend, and I began to write and voice everything. It was like a therapy session. As a singer, I'm used to putting everything in a voice recorder. So, writing the book wasn't different. It was very healing and very restorative.
In your book, you shared a story about how when you originally joined Destiny’s Child and were asked about your name: “Who do you think little girls want to be like? Tenitra or Michelle?” Although you chose Michelle, there was a part of you that also thought about: “...how much my feelings of unworthiness may have sprung from comments just like that one. I wonder how much influence I lost by exchanging that label.” Reflecting on that, how have you peeled away those layers and labels to truly embrace your authentic self?
Michelle: Just so people know, Destiny's Child did not make me depressed. The music industry did not make me depressed. This is something that I've been dealing with since the 7th grade but I was finally able to put a name to it by my thirties. At first I was scared to include that part because this is not a tell-all book, but based on the way it was written and the heart of the book, by now, people know Tenitra Michelle. They know I'm not out here trying to ruin my 20-year friendships with Beyonce and Kelly.
Besides, Michelle in the beginning of Destiny's Child didn't know what she was doing. So, a part of me felt like I could keep Tenitra to myself. I am Michelle, but at times, "Michelle" served as a cover-up or a mask, but it was Tenitra who was wounded and hurt. Tenitra needed the miracle and emotional healing. Now, the only label I've got that matters is God's: God's creation. God's work. God's child.
"I am Michelle, but at times, 'Michelle' served as a cover-up or a mask, but it was Tenitra who was wounded and hurt. Tenitra needed the miracle and emotional healing. Now, the only label I've got that matters is God's: God's creation. God's work. God's child."
Paras Griffin/Getty Images for Tyler Perry Studios
We know how close you, Beyonce, and Kelly are, but how difficult was it for you to be open and honest with them about your mental health journey initially?
Michelle: Many times, we talk ourselves out of having conversations that we know we can have with our girlfriends. When I joined Destiny's Child, I know that Beyonce was really struggling with depression. Her two childhood friends were no longer in the group even though they had dreams and plans. So, I couldn't come in and be like, "You know, I'm depressed too." I wanted things to go smoothly, so I did what needed to be done. Fast forward to some years later, Bey and Kelly were getting married and having children. So, I talked myself out of talking to them. I didn't want to be a "Debbie downer." I didn't want to bring the wrong energy.
Then, in 2018, we were rehearsing for Coachella and I was newly engaged, but I felt like I couldn't go to anybody with this. I didn't want to ruin anything. That's also a trick of the enemy - he wants you to feel like you can't speak about it. His job is to "kill, steal, and destroy." So, he isolates you and makes you believe that you can't talk about it. He tries to mute your mouth because your mouth is powerful...it can open doors, build up and tear down. It can get you the help that you need. So, when I finally did tell them, their response was: "Michelle! You could've and should've come to us!" To this day and even recently, Mrs. Tina, told me, "I wish you would've told us."
For those who may not fully understand the weight of mental illness or they’re on the outside looking in and all they see is the glitz and the glam, what do you say to those who may think, “If your life is that good, then what’s there to feel depressed about?”
Michelle: You might be successful, functioning well, but there may be things that you need to process - trauma, transitions (e.g. job, move, relationship, getting married, getting divorced), and even triumphs. Everything doesn't have to come tumbling down before you go seek help. The main purpose of money is that it enables me to pay my bills on time, and now, thankfully, it enables me to get help.
Getting Real about Relationships
Sometimes, when we struggle with mental health issues and depression, we may feel like it makes us unloveable. How do you navigate and approach those tough talks with partners when you’re experiencing depression and you’re not OK?
Michelle: I've gone out with a few people a few times and you just slide the topic in there….definitely not on the first date though. It could be as simple as asking, "What do you think about this person or that person," or "What are your thoughts about therapy?" You can talk about me if you have to by saying something like, "Hey, what do you think about Michelle and her story?" Then, observe how they respond to the conversation.
Reflecting on your past relationships, what have you learned in terms of how well or difficult it was to manage your mental health in your relationships?
Michelle: I wish I had taken off my superwoman cape and shared more about my mental health sooner than later. I wish I had done that with the man that I was engaged to. I can do it now, but back then, I couldn't. I was afraid because I knew this man had been waiting for a wife this whole time and here I was about to tell him, "Uhhh, I think I'm depressed." So, once he did find out, he was crushed that I didn't say anything because he wanted to be there since he's a natural "fixer" anyway. Now, I just go ahead and talk about it because I want to see the other person's response. If their response is not a supportive one, then we don't have anything else to discuss.
"I wish I had taken off my superwoman cape and shared more about my mental health sooner than later. I wish I had done that with the man that I was engaged to. I can do it now, but back then, I couldn't."
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images
On the flip side, if you’re with someone who is experiencing mental health issues, how can one be supportive?
Michelle: Check on them, and also educate yourself. My ex-fiance was supportive, but he wasn't aware or knowledgeable about certain things. I know he was crucified by a lot of people on the internet because of a past episode of our show when he asked me if I had taken my medicine. Nonetheless, we were trying to get the world to also see what this looks like (relationships and mental health), and how unfortunately, sometimes we say things that are offensive to the people we love.
Asking for Help
In your book, you talk about the moment when you finally admitted and said, “I don’t feel safe...I need help.” Was there a specific situation that led you to that pivotal moment, or do you think it was a culmination of everything you had been feeling?
Michelle: It was a culmination of everything that had transpired. It's like the game Jenga. You're stacking blocks on top of blocks, but the removal or placement of a single block can cause everything to crumble. For me, I felt the symptoms of depression, so by the time I went to the hospital in 2018, I had been feeling the symptoms for awhile, things were building, and I was in a dark place. I remember being in the bed talking on the phone with a pastor and his wife and they said, "In the morning, if you don't feel better, do what you gotta do." So, I did.
So many people struggle with asking for and getting help even privately. How difficult was it for you to experience something so private yet on a public platform for all the world to see?
Michelle: By the time I walked into a mental health facility, the shame had already left. My lip wasn't even waxed and I didn't take any clothes with me. One of the nurses went to Target and bought clothes for the duration of my stay including clothes, panties...whatever I needed. Shortly thereafter, my manager called me and said that a [certain media outlet] needed confirmation about my whereabouts since it was about to go public. So, I released a statement merely because I didn't want them to tell MY story. I wanted to control my own narrative. That's when the shame, embarrassment and humiliation came.
For someone who may be struggling right now or feeling shame about wanting to seek help, what would you say to her?
Michelle: There are a lot of reasons why people don't go to therapy, but I pray that your desperation and your wellness outweighs all of that. Let God do what he's going to do with everyone else because it's going to work out for you. Your life and your well-being has to outweigh your pride, the fear, and shame. Part of the reason why the shame left when I arrived at the mental health facility was because I was so desperate for help. Shame can't be in the same spot as desperation. As Shanti Das and her organization says, "Silence the shame." In other words, silence the fear, and let courage and bravery be amplified.
"There are a lot of reasons why people don't go to therapy, but I pray that your desperation and your wellness outweighs all of that. Let God do what he's going to do with everyone else because it's going to work out for you. Your life and your well-being has to outweigh your pride, the fear, and shame. Shame can't be in the same spot as desperation."
Social media can be a double-edged sword. How do you manage your social media intake? Do you ever take social media breaks as a way to help protect your peace?
Michelle: Yes, I'm very intentional about the follow button. I curate and follow people based on how I want my vision board to look. When someone tells you "your music changed my life," I gotta respond. I love to engage with people but there are times when I do take a break. It's healthy when you're not scrolling all day. Now, have I responded a time or two to those who aren't kind? Absolutely, but I don't do that all the time because I don't want to be known as the "clapback queen."
Checking in and Doing the Work
Besides therapy, have you explored or tried other forms of therapy or treatment?
Michelle: I've [had] a few sessions of something called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR); which is a form of therapy that helps with trauma in terms of desensitizing and disarming. There's also guided stretching, diet-related factors, and boundaries. Boundaries are so important. Being able to say things like, "No, I'm not talking about this," or "No, I'm not doing this," or "No, I don't have the emotional capacity."
I also respect others and their boundaries as well; so much so that if I know I'm about to initiate a heavy conversation, I'll ask, "Do you have the emotional capacity to listen to what I'm about to tell you?"
My condolences to you as I know your dad passed away a short while ago. Would you say that your faith and the mental health work that you’ve done have helped with managing your grief?
Michelle: Definitely. My therapist was on stand-by when I needed her. Just talking to somebody helped me deal with the sadness of the loss of him; the sadness of when I call my mother, I won't hear him in the background. I'm not over it of course, but what's helping me over is the way in which he passed. At the time, my mother was singing hymns to him, but little did she know, she was ushering him into Heaven. I told my Mama (laughs), "I think God and daddy had a Zoom meeting and they orchestrated the way he tiptoed out of here like a G."
I even had hopes of him walking me down the aisle one day, but I guess he was like, "I tried. I waited, but it just didn't work out. I'm ready to go." So, I have tremendous peace about where he is and how he left.
In your book, you stated: “When we fail to check in with ourselves - aware of our own thoughts, feelings, and spirituality - we fail to live as God wants us to live. Because we fail to see ourselves as God sees us." What does checking in look like for you now?
Michelle: I started the process of "checking in" back in 2019. In 2019, I was still going through the thick of everything that happened in 2018. So it was a healing journey of everything that I went through in 2018. Checking in with myself means being aware of how I'm feeling before going to bed. Saying things out loud. Listening to music. Checking in with God centers around praying and talking to God.
Checking in with others means calling up someone as soon as I think about them, and if they don't answer, then I'll send a text. It's about being more intentional. It's also about having the courage to tell my friends, "Hey, I'm feeling overwhelmed," but also being mindful about not putting too much pressure on my friends. That's why processing things with your therapist is important.
Because you’ve revealed so much of yourself to the world, what is your greatest hope for your book and everything that you’re doing?
Michelle: I can't bare my heart and soul anymore than I already have...that's how much I want to help inspire and impact the world. My hope is that Checking In will help people get real about their mental health issues and give them the courage to seek help. Do it for you and your future. You deserve it and your future is coming. There are certain insurance companies that will cover some or all of your therapy sessions, as well as certain schools that offer assistance with getting therapy.
However, if you're out there and you can't necessarily afford therapy or don't have immediate access to resources: at least start by asking yourself, "How am I feeling?" As my cousin, Brittany - who happens to be a therapist - likes to say, "Feel your feelings." Be aware of your feelings - whether sadness, anger, grief, or whatever - because those are natural, legitimate responses to whatever's going on around you. Everyone doesn't have to be the poster child for mental health, but I want to be the poster child for seeking help.
For more of Michelle, follow her on Instagram. Checking In: How Getting Real about Depression Saved My Life and Can Save Yours is out now.
Some responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Featured image by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images
This post is in partnership with Amgen.
The seemingly simple task of taking a breath is something most of us don’t think twice about. But for people who live with severe asthma, breathing does not always come easily. Asthma, a chronic respiratory condition that inflames and narrows the airways in the lungs, affects millions of people worldwide – 5-10% of which live with severe asthma. Severe asthma is a chronic and lifelong condition that is unpredictable and can be difficult to manage. Though often invisible to the rest of the world, severe asthma is a not-so-silent companion for those who live with it, often interrupting schedules and impacting day-to-day life.
Among the many individuals who battle severe asthma, Black women face a unique set of challenges. It's not uncommon for us to go years without a proper diagnosis, and finding the right treatment often requires some trial and error. Thankfully, all hope is not lost for those who may be fighting to get their severe asthma under control. We spoke with Juanita Brown Ingram, Esq. and Jania Watson, two inspiring Black women who have been living with severe asthma and have found strength, resilience, and a sense of purpose in their journeys.
Juanita Brown Ingram, Esq.
Juanita Ingram has a resume that would make anyone’s jaw drop. On top of being recently crowned Mrs. Universe, she’s also an accomplished attorney, filmmaker, and philanthropist. From the outside, it seems there’s nothing this talented woman won’t try, and likely succeed at. In her everyday life, however, Juanita exercises a lot more caution. From a young age, Juanita has struggled with severe asthma. Her symptoms were always exacerbated by common illnesses like a cold or flu. “I've heard these stories of my breathing struggles, but I remember distinctly when I was younger not being able to breathe every time I got a virus,” says Ingram. “I remember missing a lot of school and crying a lot because asthma is painful. I [was taken] to see my doctor often if I got sick with anything so I was hypervigilant as a child, and I still am.”
Today, Juanita says her symptoms are best managed when she’s working closely with her care team, avoiding getting sick and staying ahead of any symptoms. Ingram said she’s been blessed with skilled doctors who are just as vigilant of her symptoms as she is. While competing in the Mrs. Universe competition, Juanita took extra care to stay clear of other competitors to ensure she didn’t catch a cold or virus that would trigger her severe asthma. “I would stand off to the side and sometimes that could be taken as ‘oh, she thinks she's better than everybody else.’ But if I get sick during a pageant, I'm done. I had to compete with that in mind because my sickness doesn't look like everybody else's sickness.”
Even when her symptoms are under control, living with severe asthma still presents challenges. Juanita relies on her strong support system to overcome the hurdles caused by a lack of understanding from the public, “I think that there's a lot of lack of awareness about how serious severe asthma is. I would [also] tell women to advocate and to trust their intuition and not to allow someone to dismiss what you're experiencing.”
Jania, a content creator from Atlanta, Georgia, has been living with severe asthma for many years. Thanks to early testing by asthma specialists, Jania was diagnosed with severe asthma as a child after experiencing frequent flare-ups and challenges in her day-to-day life. “I specifically remember, I was starting school, and we were moving into a new house. One of the triggers for me and my younger sister at the time were certain types of carpets. We had just moved into this new house and within weeks of us being there, my parents literally had to pay for all new carpet in the house.”
As Jania grew older, she was suffering from fewer flare-ups and thought her asthma was well under control. However, a trip back to her doctor during high school revealed that her severe asthma was affecting her more than she realized. “That was the first time in a long time I had to do a breathing test,” she describes. “The doctor had me take a deep breath in and blow into a machine to test my breathing. They told me to blow as hard as I could. And I was doing it. I was giving everything I got. [My dad and the doctor] were looking at me like ‘girl, stop playing.’ And at that point [it confirmed] I still have severe asthma because I've given it all I got. It doesn't really go away, but I just learned how to help manage it better.”
Jania recognizes that people who aren’t living with asthma, may not understand the disease and mistake it for something less serious. Or there could be others who think their symptoms are minor, and not worth bringing up. So, for Jania, communicating with others about her diagnosis is key. “Having severe asthma [flare-ups] in some cases looks very similar to being out of shape,” she said. “But this is a chronic illness that I was born with. This is just something that I live with that I've been dealing with. And I think it's important for people to know because that determines the next steps. [They might ask] ‘Do you need a bottle of water, or do you need an inhaler? Do you need to take a break, or do we need to take you to the hospital?’ So, I think letting the people around you know what's going on, just in case anything were to happen plays a lot into it as well.”
Like Juanita, Jania’s journey has been marked by ups and downs, but she remains an unwavering advocate for asthma awareness and support within the Black community. She hopes that her story can be an inspiration to other women with asthma who may not yet have their symptoms under control. “There's still life to be lived outside of having severe asthma. It is always going to be there, but it's not meant to stop you from living your life. That’s why learning how to manage it and also having that support system around you, is so important.”
By sharing their journeys, Juanita and Jania hope to encourage others to embrace their conditions, obtain a proper management plan from a doctor or asthma specialist like a pulmonologist or allergist, and contribute to the improvement of asthma awareness and support, not only within the Black community, but for all individuals living with severe asthma.
Read more stories from others like Juanita and Jania on Amgen.com, or visit Uncontrolled Asthma In Black Women | BREAK THE CYCLE to find support and resources.
Last night, the 2024 Golden Globes took over the internet, with attendees making chic fashion statements and having giddy moments on the red carpet and during the show. Issa Rae had the cutest moment with Recess Therapy, a media outlet where kids ask questions. The little girls gushed over Issa playing President Barbie in the Barbie movie, and Issa was very delighted. Another red carpet moment included Sheryl Lee Ralph being surprised after seeing Lenny Kravitz (really, who can blame her) behind her when she spun around to show off her dress. When it came to the fashions, the celebs shut it down. Some standouts include Abbott Elementarystars Janelle James and Tyler James Williams, The Color Purple star Colman Domingo, Skai Jackson, and Oprah Winfrey.
But that wasn't the only ceremony that took place over the weekend. The Creative Arts Emmys also held its ceremonies on Saturday and Sunday, and it included some of our faves taking home the beloved trophy. Check out the winners from both the Golden Globes and Creative Arts Emmys:
Ayo Edebiri won her first Golden Globe for her role in The Bear in the Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series--Musical or Comedy category. The actress was visibly nervous as she gave her acceptance speech and thanked everyone from her The Bear family, her real family, and even "manager assistants." "The people who answer my emails, y'all are real ones," she said.
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Keke Palmer was all smiles after winning an Emmy for Outstanding Host for a Game Show for NBC’s Password. She took to Instagram to share the exciting news. "Couldn’t do it without you @jimmyfallon! I’m so grateful for the opportunity to be apart of such a classic game show such as Password. It’s a true honor, I won! I’m excited, BOOTS! Thank you to the @televisionacad ✨ ," she wrote. The mom of one is the first woman in 15 years to win that category.
Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Storm Reid took home an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress In a Drama Series for The Last of Us. The actress expressed how grateful she was in an Instagram post. "i’m still at a loss for words and utterly astounded. thank y’all for the love. thank you to everyone who has been part of my journey and poured into me. thank you for allowing me to be y’all’s Riley. I’m forever indebted and honored. i love you, mommy! Matthew 17:20," she wrote.
Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Legendary actress Jasmine Guy won her first Emmy after being nominated for the first time. The A Different Worldalum took home the Emmy for Outstanding Actress in a Short-form Comedy or Drama Series for Chronicles Of Jessica Wu. “I appreciate that my creative community has kept me in their loving arms,” she said via Variety.
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Feature images by Gilbert Flores/Golden Globes 2024/Golden Globes 2024 via Getty Images, Frazer Harrison/Getty Images