"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
Whether it was your group chat, social media feed, or your favorite media outlet covering the spectacle, I’m pretty sure you’ve come across the viral Black wedding between actress KJ Smith (Sistas, Raising Kanan) and actor Skyh Black (All the Queen’s Men, Sistas). From their grand entrance to Jay-Z, Kayne West, and Beyoncé’s song “Lift Off” to KJ’s standout dance routine and the endless celebrity appearances, it’s an addictive TikTok scroll you can’t help but delve into.
But what many people would be surprised to know is that the couple’s original wedding plan was nothing like what it grew to be. What started as her simply scrolling through posts to get ideas eventually transformed into what the internet knows now as #TheBlackExperience. In an exclusive conversation with xoNecole, KJ walked us through her planning process, the morning of her wedding, and what she thinks of the online response.
Some women have their whole wedding planned out, from the bridal gown and venue to the bridal party and playlist. However, KJ was not one of those people. “I didn’t foresee a wedding in my future,” she reveals. “I was just gonna be the boss chick, rich auntie. I didn’t force love in my life until recently. I never had an idea of what a dream wedding would look like, it was easier for me to elope.”
Photo by Stanley Babb/ Stanlo Photography
And to many people’s surprise, that was their original plan – until Skyh brought up a valid concern. He was raised by his grandmother and thought she should be at the wedding, and naturally, that led to KJ wanting her grandmother to be there as well – then her mom – and later her sister – and, you’ve gotta invite the besties too, right? From there, the guest list continued to blossom. Much like the updo and pop of color bold red lip, she wore on her special day, which was initially on her Pinterest board as a soft glam look with her hair hanging on her shoulders, KJ is okay with changing her plan if it brings her and her loved ones happiness.
So let’s get into the wedding, which took place in Malibu, CA. The first thing you should know about the celebrity couple is that they’re non-traditional. They know, and they don’t care. So, in true unconventional fashion, they shared the morning of the wedding together.
“I woke up with Skyh, we walked our dog, had black coffee, and said good morning to the people who stayed at the venue with us,” she says.
Now, it was time for hair and makeup. While she was getting glammed up, she had Black-owned McBride Sisters wine and champagne (which ties into The Black Experience theme) on deck with her mom and friends, had her besties help rework her vows, retried on every outfit (sis is very Type-A), took photos, and ended the early-celebration with prayer and meditation. It seems very non-Bridezilla, I said.
“Yeah, I was the most unbothered bride ever. Everyone was just so supportive. As entertainers, we go on red carpets all the time. We actually have a production company,” she explains. “The get-ready process was like a day at work, but with people we love the most. Being entertainers, we didn’t feel stressed at all, but my excitement was so high.”
Things moved quickly, and before she knew it, it was time to line up to walk down the aisle.
“Yeah, I was the most unbothered bride ever. Everyone was just so supportive. As entertainers, we go on red carpets all the time. We actually have a production company. The get-ready process was like a day at work, but with people we love the most. Being entertainers, we didn’t feel stressed at all, but my excitement was so high.”
KJ Smith and her bridal party
Photo by Stanley Babb/ Stanlo Photography
Since everything started with their grandmothers, the couple wanted to ensure they honored them and planned to keep an element of their wedding traditional. Although we’ve all seen the reception videos and photos online, you may have noticed visuals from the wedding itself are harder to find.
“We planned for it to be traditional, but we’re not like that, so we tried to create those moments. We jumped the broom and had a salt ceremony (where the bride and groom individually pour salt into a glass container, symbolizing their lives becoming one.) But honestly, still, nothing was traditional about it.”
She goes on to explain that her mom caught the holy ghost coming down the aisle, her glam team was on deck, and she became so nervous with excitement that she had an anxiety attack – something she struggled with for years, she explains tearfully. Her friends had to literally cheer her down the aisle because of how overwhelmed she felt until she eventually calmed down.
“Skyh was standing there with his hand on his heart; we have our own little language, and I could feel the support,” she shares.
It was surprising to hear all these emotional moments happened before the party we saw online. That is until she once again got into the backstory.
“As a Black woman actress, for so long, it was popular to be mysterious and secretive, but that’s not who I am or what I like. Plus, we both wanted to create an experience for everyone there. We are the people who always host family and friends,” she says. “Like for me, the first order of business was getting sandals for the women so they can dance all night long. We had oxtail, D'ussé, and a coffee and sativa lounge – which is part of Skyh and I’s lifestyle and routine. We wanted to bring them into our world.”
Skyh Black (L) and KJ Smith (R)
Photo by Stanley Babb/ Stanlo Photography
She went on to discuss the dance routine she did for her husband at the reception, which has taken over the internet. Apparently, that’s another thing that didn’t go according to plan. According to KJ, she had promised a performance at their joint bachelor/ bachelorette party, but her outfit got stolen from her car. So, Skyh ended up performing for her – complete with a strip tease. Still, she never forgot her promise to dance for him.
So, she hired her friend as a choreographer, learned the routine, made friends and family watch it endless times, and attended Beyoncé’s Renaissance show a few days before for a confidence boost. It ended up being a show to remember. But that wasn’t all the night offered. Lil Mo performed, and the guests received special goody bags featuring their favorite Black-owned products like journals, hair care, and more.
“We made sure everyone was taken care of all night. That kind of stuff makes us happy. I wanted everyone there to experience the joy and love I have for myself, my partner, and for them. I wanted them to feel full and whole, and they had the time of their lives,” she says.
But naturally, the internet is going to internet, and while there were countless people praising the event and applauding the newlyweds, some thought it was too over the top. I was curious to know her thoughts on some of the criticism.
“It’s cool. We did what we wanted to do. I’ve decided to share my world with people. Just how I went on social media platforms and found inspiration, I want people to do the same,” she explains. “I don’t think it's fair to my supporters not to give that out. There’s so much I wanna share with brides, specifically Black brides. I love that people are adding it to their Pinterest boards."
"I wanted everyone there to experience the joy and love I have for myself, my partner, and for them. I wanted them to feel full and whole, and they had the time of their lives."
Photo by Stanley Babb/ Stanlo Photography
“I’m happy with it because we did what we wanted to do. They can do what they wanna do. Don’t be cruel, though, because you will get blocked,” she said, laughing.
The more I spoke with her, the more her sense of freedom shined through. People are always going to have their opinions, but at the end of the day, it’s you who has to live your life, and it seems like the couple realizes that and embraces that power. She also stressed the importance of not living for others and the lessons life has taught her.
“I’ve been to countless weddings, and I’ve been in countless weddings. I’m a generally older bride. So when women in my demographic get married, and you and your husband are busy working people like us, you deserve to have the one you want to have,” she shares.
“This is what we wanted to do. Our loved ones love and support us. We did so much to honor them, but we also wanted to start our own tradition, legacy, and creation. I'm not going to be pulled back into ideas of the past when I’m trying to create a future with my partner. “
If you’d like to see more of the couple, you probably won’t have to wait long. Although no content is planned yet, she admits to being an oversharer. “Me being open and transparent about my experiences lets people know it’s okay to have flaws; it makes you human, and for many years, I didn’t believe that was okay. I had pressure to be perfect, and I’d crumble every time,” she explains to xoNecole.
Now, she owns her flaws and uses them as a superpower to connect with her community and feel and express her love.
“Some people give us [Skyh and KJ] a hard time because they say we just seem too perfect. I’m like, why is that a bad thing? I love the people I love. From my man to my mama, to my friends - unabashedly. We move through time and space how we want to move. If we did it another way, we’d let ourselves and our union down.”
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Feature image by Stanley Babb/ Stanlo Photography
These 30-minute to 1-hour-long strolling adventures have given us a way to clear our minds and listen to our favorite songs, all while staying active and getting our bodies moving. And while we may have grown accustomed to having a fire playlist or podcast as the soundtrack to our walks, there's a new, more mindful alternative that’s taking a spin on your sidewalk struts.
“Silent walks” are the new walking trend that’s offering a deeper mind and body connection while taking a solo walk. Sure, the thought of having to take a walk for any duration of time while alone with your thoughts may seem unnatural, but you may be surprised to learn that tapping into that silence around you could give you an extra boost of clarity that you’re looking for.
As explained by the creator of “silent walks,” TikTok user Mady Maio, the idea was sparked by her boyfriend challenging her to take a distraction-free walk without the audio support of music or podcasts. While she was resistant to the challenge because her “anxiety could never,” Maio soon found that after two minutes of her mind going “haywire,” she was able to tap into a flow state that allowed her to hear herself and her thoughts more clearly.
#stitch with @KENZIEELIZABETH WE’RE SILENT WALKING ALL SUMMER, BABE 🚶 #walkinggirls #girlswhowalk #meditativewalk #intentionalwalk
Many times when we go on walks, the goal is to either get fresh air or clear our minds from all the mental junk that’s been floating around throughout the day. But when we don’t allow ourselves the space to sit in silence, our inner voice can be drowned out by external distractions and stimuli.
As the creator of the trend notes, God, the Universe, or whichever higher power you connect to has a tendency to speak in whispers. But if we’re unable to tap into quiet and still moments within our days, we could miss an opportunity to receive the answers that could come to us in the silence.
Silence allows us to tap into a meditative state. When we practice quieting our minds and focusing our attention inward, without the use of external guidance or verbal cues, we’re able to decrease brain fog, find solutions to our tangled thoughts, and let new ideas flow.
Silent walks also connect back to the original goals of its predecessor, hot girl walks, which encouraged walkers to focus on three main things: their goals, how they’re going to achieve those goals, and all the things they’re grateful for. Only this time, you're getting your dopamine hit from the thoughts you’re able to produce as opposed to the music, podcast, and phone calls you’re typically tuned into.
When channeled properly, silence is the gift that keeps on giving. With many people finding silent walks to be a valuable tool for reducing stress, enhancing mental clarity, and increasing overall well-being, this is your invitation to leave the headphones at home and plug into the world around you on your next outdoor journey.
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Featured image by Xavier Lorenzo/Getty Images