For most of my life, I was associated with a label—usually one I didn’t place on myself. In my youth, I was the pastor’s daughter. As a young adult, I was the head of worship and arts. When I married, I was known as an NBA wife.
All I knew were labels. They dictated how I acted, what I wore, where I went and how I spent my time. Labels come with expectations, most of which are not healthy. I became so caught up in the roles and titles that meeting expectations became more important than the experience of being in those roles.
These expectations led me to countless hours of comparison, standing in the mirror pinching whatever fat I could find. I have struggled with bulimia for many years. I was so cruel and hard on myself. When I was happy, I overate. When I was sad, I didn’t eat and used starvation to punish myself for not being perfect. I remember overeating only to go to my room and do about a thousand crunches until I could hardly laugh. I would weigh myself all day, reducing my value to the number on the scale.
I knew I had a problem, but what could I do? Who could I talk to? After all, eating disorders weren’t for black girls, and especially not for preacher’s daughters. So I did what I knew how to do quite well, I decided to push my feelings down and carry on.
Feeling The Pressure To Conform
My struggles with labels manifested during my time as an NBA wife. When attending Milwaukee Bucks games, I got to be a part of an elite group: NBA wives, fiancées, long-term girlfriends and side chicks. The learning curve was steep, especially as a small-town Midwestern girl. I often felt inadequate, scared and incredibly lonely. Thoughts would race through my head:
What am I doing here? Sure, I love Michael, but am I cut out for this? No, I am not cut out for this.
Looking at the other women was like looking at a limited-edition, high-end fashion magazine. Their shoes: amazing. Their makeup: professional. Their hair: not a strand out of place. Their outfits: Wow!
My mind was filled with negative self-talk.
Did he really think I could fit in? I am completely out of my element.
Walking into every basketball game, I realized that there was a social pressure urging me to conform. My need to fit in and be accepted was out of control.
I wanted to make Michael proud. I wanted his colleagues and their significant others to think highly of me. I wanted them to take one look at me and realize why he picked me when he could’ve had anyone he wanted. I wanted to show I was special and unique and that I deserved him.
Reaching My Breaking Point
One day in 2016, when I woke up, I felt strange. I wasn’t nervous about anything, but as I brushed my teeth I could feel my legs and arms shaking. The shaking wasn’t visible, so I kept getting ready. I was scared, but I tried to believe it was in my imagination and move on. Obviously, that didn’t work. It got worse. Much worse.
The shaking continued for weeks on end, and my muscles began to twitch at random times. What was once noticeable only to me became outwardly noticeable and more concerning. I battled severe insomnia, which I’m sure made things worse. I lost 10 pounds in a week because the thought of eating wasn’t appealing to me anymore.
Then one morning, my eyes popped wide open, and I felt complete fear as I hyperventilated, and my body twitched. I thought I was dying. I quickly got out of bed, panting, pacing and trying not to wake my husband.
Should I call an ambulance? Am I having a heart attack?
I managed to calm myself enough to go to my basement, and I began to pray. It helped for a little while, but then another panic attack came.
When the panic finally subsided, I gathered myself and woke my kids up as normal. I tried to follow our normal routine, but I couldn’t get it together. I was crying and shaking and nervous. I had to ask my mom to come over to help me finish getting the children ready for school. When my mom arrived, she found me lying on the couch, hand over heart, trying to calm myself down. She took my kids to school and insisted I go to the doctor.
I walked into my doctor’s office feeling humiliated. I had been crying and hadn’t slept. I, the woman who always looked like she had it together, was just a shell of myself. I felt so emotionally drained that I had no more energy to fake it. After listening to me describe my symptoms, my doctor diagnosed me with generalized anxiety disorder and depression.
Realizing My Own Value
Trauma from my past and present combined with the heavy weight I bore from the labels I carried were like gasoline, and all it took was a spark to set my life ablaze. That was my day of reckoning, where I finally met my issues face to face.
Women today are pressured and often forced to define ourselves by what’s popular or trendy. We are made to focus almost entirely on our outward physical appearance, status, achievements and accolades to dictate our worth. These labels ultimately box us in and leave little room for growth beyond them. They divide us and enable us to continue in our unending comparison of ourselves to everyone else. When we perpetuate this type of behavior, we are unable to become who we really are.
I’ve decided that I’m done with the opinions of others, whether in the real world or in the fake world that social media has created. My beauty is not predicated on the length of my hair or what the scale says. I don’t have to be a part of 20 boards and committees to be of value. I no longer have to earn acceptance. I am enough, I am worthy.
Achea Redd is a mental health advocate, author of Be Free. Be You. and founder of Real Girls F.A.R.T. In early 2016, Redd was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. As a form of self-expression and healing, she created her own blog, sharing her feelings about mental health and authenticity. The flow of support she received from the community compelled her to create Real Girls F.A.R.T.—a space to empower and equip women with the necessary tools to use their voices and become their best, most authentic selves.
This post originally appeared here.