Michelle Williams On Depression, Healing & Why It’s Important To Check In With Yourself
"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
Shonda Brown White is a bestselling author, blogger, life coach, and brand strategist. When she's not jumping out of a plane or zip lining, she's living the married life with her husband in Atlanta, GA. Connect with her on social @ShondaBWhite and her empowering real talk on her blog.
How Content Creators Hey Fran Hey And Shameless Maya Embraced The Pivot
This article is in partnership with Meta Elevate.
If you’ve been on the internet at all within the past decade, chances are the names Hey Fran Hey and Shameless Maya (aka Maya Washington) have come across your screen. These content creators have touched every platform on the web, spreading joy to help women everywhere live their best lives. From Fran’s healing natural remedies to Maya’s words of wisdom, both of these content creators have built a loyal following by sharing honest, useful, and vulnerable content. But in search of a life that lends to more creativity, freedom, and space, these digital mavens have moved from their bustling big cities (New York City and Los Angeles respectively) to more remote locations, taking their popular digital brands with them.
Content Creators Hey Fran Hey and Maya Washington Talk "Embracing The Pivot"www.youtube.com
In partnership with Meta Elevate — an online learning platform that provides Black, Hispanic, and Latinx-owned businesses access to 1:1 mentoring, digital skills training, and community — xoNecole teamed up with Franscheska Medina and Maya Washington on IG live recently for a candid conversation about how they’ve embraced the pivot by changing their surroundings to ultimately bring out the best in themselves and their work. Fran, a New York City native, moved from the Big Apple to Portland, Oregon a year ago. Feeling overstimulated by the hustle and bustle of city life, Fran headed to the Pacific Northwest in search of a more easeful life.
Her cross-country move is the backdrop for her new campaign with Meta Elevate— a perfectly-timed commercial that shows how you can level up from wherever you land with the support of free resources like Meta Elevate. Similarly, Maya packed up her life in Los Angeles and moved to Sweden, where she now resides with her husband and adorable daughter. Maya’s life is much more rural and farm-like than it had been in California, but she is thriving in this peaceful new setting while finding her groove as a new mom.
While Maya is steadily building and growing her digital brand as a self-proclaimed “mom coming out of early retirement,” Fran is redefining her own professional grind. “It’s been a year since I moved from New York City to Portland, Oregon,” says Fran. “I think the season I’m in is figuring out how to stay successful while also slowing down.” A slower-paced life has unlocked so many creative possibilities and opportunities for these ladies, and our conversation with them is a well-needed reminder that your success is not tied to your location…especially with the internet at your fingertips. Tapping into a community like Meta Elevate can help Black, Hispanic, and Latinx entrepreneurs and content creators stay connected to like minds and educated on new digital skills and tools that can help scale their businesses.
During a beautiful moment in the conversation, Fran gives Maya her flowers for being an innovator in the digital space. Back when “influencing” was in its infancy and creators were just trying to find their way, Fran says Maya was way ahead of her time. “I give Maya credit for being one of the pioneers in the digital space,” Fran said. “Maya is a one-person machine, and I always tell her she really changed the game on what ads, campaigns, and videos, in general, should look like.”
When asked what advice she’d give content creators, Maya says the key is having faith even when you don’t see the results just yet. “It’s so easy to look at what is, despite you pouring your heart into this thing that may not be giving you the returns that you thought,” she says. “Still operate from a place of love and authenticity. Have faith and do the work. A lot of people are positive thinkers, but that’s the thinking part. You also have to put your faith into work and do the work.”
Fran ultimately encourages content creators and budding entrepreneurs to take full advantage of Meta Elevate’s vast offerings to educate themselves on how to build and grow their businesses online. “It took me ten years to get to the point where I’m making ads at this level,” she says. “I didn’t have those resources in 2010. I love the partnership with Meta Elevate because they’re providing these resources for free. I just think of the people that wouldn’t be able to afford that education and information otherwise. So to amplify a company like this just feels right.”
Watch the full conversation with the link above, and join the Meta Elevate community to connect with fellow businesses and creatives that are #OnTheRiseTogether.
Featured image courtesy of Shameless Maya and Hey Fran Hey
Halle Bailey Says She Appreciates That Everyone Wants To Protect Her, But She's Got This
Halle Bailey and her boyfriend of over a year, rapper DDG, are young and in love. We learned the two were dating in January 2022 after they were spotted together at Usher's residency concert in Vegas. DDG later confirmed the romance that March when he made it all IG official with a birthday shoutout to his bae. And since then, they've been seemingly inseparable, attending public events together, most recently, for the Vanity Fair Oscar party as Halle prepares for the premiere of her career-defining role in The Little Mermaid.
While there, DDG gave flowers to his bae, telling PEOPLE, "I'm very proud of her. And I'm just happy to see it. I feel like sometimes I'm even more excited than anybody else. Just seeing it and seeing everything that she dreamed of coming to life, it's really dope."
It's the support for me, m'kay?!
And listen, Halle loves her 'some him' too, showing that she pulls up for his music career by starring in the music video for his single, "If I Want You." "Everyone go watch 'if i want you' by @ddg it's out now ❣️you might see a familiar face 🤭💗," she wrote on an Instagram post. She doubled down on her support, revealing to ESSENCE that she had been "a fan" even before they met, adding to the cocktail of their romance that has captured the hearts of many by simply being two young lovebirds navigating their journey of fame, loyalty, and love for the world to see (and dissect).
Well, that was until a little drama, or ex (his), showed up on their doorstep and publicly tested whether the couple's relationship is what they say it is. And after the dust settled (and a little PR work), Halle hopped on IG Live to basically tell us what's understood between the two of them, does not--and will not--be explained. In fact, after sending comment sections into a frenzy for weeks because the culture was coming to her defense, she let us know that, yeah, she appreciates the love, but she's got this.
When speaking about the new music she's recording she said, "This music that I'm making right now, is a lot about the time, how I felt, when I was filming. I was very independent and on my own but also felt isolated and it's also about what happened when I got back home and being in love and all of that..."
"I just think it's so funny, people getting to see me, you know, being in love, in a relationship...I think because I've grown up in the public eye since I was younger, people just feel like this sort of protective energy that they feel like they have to have with me, which honestly I think is sweet, but it's funny."
Halle also wrote on Twitter in a now-deleted tweet, "the devil is working ♥️ lol please don’t feed into the lies, especially from a third party 💕✨stay blessed everyone."
In other words, it's giving 'nothing-to-see-here-but-I-ain't-the-one-and-he-knows-that-so-we're-not-even-going-to-entertain-this.' And as grateful as Halle is for the continued support she has received, she admits is in the process of setting boundaries surrounding matters outside of her craft.
She touched on the subject again, telling Yahoo!'sThe Unwind, "They still see me as that 13-year-old girl that they first discovered and I understand how if you've been supporting somebody for a long time you get invested in their personal lives," she says.
"It's definitely been a learning experience for me. And the beautiful people that have supported me and stuck with me for a very long time, can continue to support what I do publicly in my business affairs, and I really appreciate that, but everything else is my business. And I have to make that priority."
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Featured image by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic