Felix Gabriel Lopez
Black Mental Wellness Intern
What does Black Mental Wellness mean to you?
Black Mental Wellness is the fulfillment of spirt that lies amongst Black people across the diaspora. In spite of centuries filled with pain, scrutiny, violence, death, sadness, and stigma, Black people have the ability to see the crevices of joy. Black Mental Wellness is harnessing a keen sense of self-awareness to allow space to modify and heal from certain behaviors grounded in trauma and pain so that future generations perceive themselves and their community as nothing less than great and deserving.
Black Mental Wellness spans across the Black diasporic community with an intersectional lens to be in hands with those who also identify as LGBTQIA+. The mind is a powerful tool that can activate biases, stereotypes, and action, so why not use this tool a method to shed light in the good that is within ourselves for others to share? The possibilities of Black Mental Wellness are endless! When we see consciousness and vulnerability as a sign of strength, we allow ourselves to radically imagine the future of Black Mental Wellness.
How can we encourage more people to seek mental health treatment?
Mental health treatment is compounded with stigma. Stigma shoulders a burden among all of us. This is especially true with those living with a mental diagnosis. Secrecy, embarrassment, and invisibility gives the mental diagnosis power over people. Anyone could have a mental diagnosis, but disclosure and treatment are often associated with weakness. I want to stop that trajectory and normalize seeking mental health treatment. In making mental health and treatment part of everyday conversation allows for people to feel empowered to express their need for help.
Asking for help can be difficult for many people especially those raised in an environment where it was encouraged to work on issues in isolation. Unlike a friend or family member, mental health treatment is an unbiased space solely served for the individual to share. Finding the appropriate mental health treatment can be overwhelming, but with the appropriate guidance it is a life altering experience. In explaining the process, it can be compared to finding a job or dating: not every therapist is the right one. People should not be afraid to initially seek several avenues of treatment before finding the right person them.
Do you have an experience with seeking mental health treatment that you would like to share with the Black Mental Wellness audience?
While navigating the maze of my serious mental diagnosis, I learned to love myself. Throughout my early twenties, I faced a series of obstacles where I thought I was alone and different from the world. I was scared of the person I was turning into. Stigma amplified my fears with the media often portraying Black men living with a serious mental diagnosis as criminals, and so I resorted to silence. My days were filled with being in the unknown of my mind where depression filled the walls of my heart. The valves of my secrecy and sadness were finally released when I took ownership of my health. I wrote my own care plan, shared my story, consistently went to therapy, and found healing modalities that fit my needs. I am in a place where I am proud to claim my mental health treatment as I hope it inspires others to do the same. Healing is not linear, filled with twists and tangles, but the end result is magical to witness.
What are you Top Five Coping Strategies
Self-care is an everyday practice and constant state of awareness. As a commitment to my mental wellness, I make it a ritual to ask myself the following: “How can I further distribute and receive love from this world?” The following strategies are reminders to myself and my community that we deserve.
I use different sensory experiences to cope. With aromatherapy I utilize different scents depending on how I would like to position myself. At night I use lavender to help me sleep, whereas I use the scent of oranges to energize myself throughout the day.
When I am feeling stressed or overwhelmed, I learned to implement a grounding body scan technique where I go outside, notice my two feet planted on the ground, and move up to scan and notice my body. I focus on my environment, stillness, and the locus of my control. This has also been accomplished when I take ten to fifteen-minute power walks where I enjoy the vastness of nature this world has to offer. This technique helps me know that everything is going to be okay and that projecting or catastrophizing events will not serve me.
I am a firm believer that rest is a form of resistance especially as a Black Queer man. I have made a commitment to allow my body to speak for me. We have been conditioned to tirelessly work pairing hard work with self-worth which can lead to burn out. I love to take afternoon twenty-minute power naps as it gives me a moment to reset. I have placed an emphasis on having a full night’s sleep because the work will get done, but the body is a temple that requires rest and care.
I love to cook and bake! It is a love language that I offer to myself and others. It is a time where I must strictly think about the ingredients, measurements, spices, etc. This is especially true for baking. If I allow the memory palace of my brain multitask and think of other things, it can impair the meal. And as someone who loves food, I always want my food to be flavorful, moist, and filled with love which requires me to give cooking and baking its undivided attention.
Given the current times we are in with COVID-19, I am constantly on a screen. I miss the physicality of being near and dear with those who I am close with. To cope with the longing and yearning of human interaction I started writing postcards and letters to friends and loved ones all across the world. It is a lost art and great way to communicate with people who see it as a nice surprise. Plus, postcards and letters are a great archival keepsake that takes us back to a certain memory in time.
Felix Gabriel Lopez is a first year Psychology Master student at The New School for Social Research, and his research interests includes mental health amongst Black and Brown queer communities, serious mental illnesses, memory, and grief. As a recent graduate of Columbia University’s Narrative Medicine Master’s program, he utilizes his passion for storytelling and its impact in the clinical setting. In his free time, Felix Gabriel enjoys shooting film photography, cooking, and baking.