Elijah’s Story –

Strength in the Face of Mental Health

How has the pandemic affected your mental health?

It affected me negatively in the beginning. I like to stay home but at the same time I was starting  a new job and it was incredibly difficult to work at home.  I lost motivation and I had to deal with imposter syndrome because I felt like I couldn’t do the work that was asked of me and I wasn’t trusting my own capacity. Even though people were telling me I was super competent, I felt that I wasn’t able to see all the good things that I had done. I felt like I did all these trainings but I didn’t have ownership over the work that I had done. A lot of  my negative thoughts started to spiral out of control and that’s when the depression came in because I felt that I was not good enough. Being overwhelmed with emotions I shut down. I became  apathetic and it made me depressed because I stopped caring about things. One of the things I learned in therapy is that when you shut down your emotions to cope with negative thoughts and emotions everything shuts down with it and you have no motivation. A lot of the time, the only thing I could do in a day was lay down in bed and  binge watch shows just to shut down my mind.

What’s a tool or a resource you have found helpful during this time?

What helped me get out of it was my work as a GSA Support Coordinator. The purpose of this job is supporting LGBTQ+ students  by creating supportive environments for them; so queer students feel like they have a place where they belong. I knew I could make a difference in the lives of so many students who were forced to live in an unsupportive home where school and GSA was their only solace.  This led to my own search for self-help, because it was hard to get a therapy appointment. I started googling and listening to philosophers who spoke about stoicism and nihilism. When you become nihilistic and believe that life has no meaning, it becomes  very easy to wallow and become apathetic to the beauty of life. But nihilist and stoic philosophers believe we shouldn’t wallow in our self pity, apathy, and defeat. Instead, we must understand that we are going to face a lot of adversity that can make you shut down, but when you are able to accept that these difficulties will happen, you can set yourself free from its constraints.Though it was not my fault I was being bombarded with these thoughts, I realized that I had  some control over them, meditation really helped me understand this. Meditation allows me to detach from the process in my head and all the thoughts/sensations that I’m having. Not in an apathetic way, but in a way that I’m not emotionally possessed by the cycle of thoughts When I disconnected from believing my negative thoughts, I was able to realize that they were just thoughts. They didn’t have power until I believed in them. That’s what really helped me understand that I didn’t have to believe in those feelings. I may feel like I’m not doing well in my job, but if I show up with my best foot forward then I can do what I need to do. 

The second thing that helped me is taking time for myself. I used to make myself feel guilty  because I felt like I had to show up everyday and do this work otherwise I’m letting people down. That guilt would make it so that when I did want to take a break I couldn’t even relax. I had to realize that when you do take a break you are able to do your work better.  By restructuring my thoughts and what I was willing to believe, I was able to accept a new way of looking at relaxing and taking time for myself. 

Look at what you can reframe to be more positive and understanding of yourself and other people. Don’t think that you’re a god  and you shouldn’t feel bad or overwhelmed. Allow  yourself to feel those things and forgive yourself for it. 

What’s something that you have learned about yourself this past year that has motivated you to push yourself to either get help or achieve your goals?

I care. Before, my motto was “I don’t care” and it would prevent me from showing up for myself or others because I would end up believing that I didn’t care, despite the contrary. When I accepted that I did care, that motivated me, even if  I was feeling depressed or tired, understanding that I do care motivated me to get help and continue pursuing my goals.

I also learned to love myself. It was a process. If you’re very used to hating yourself and not acknowledging the things that you do good, you’re going to keep putting yourself down, and you’re not going to be able to perform to your best ability.  When I would start hating on myself, and calling myself incompetent, I would truly end up believing that. And all the knowledge that I had, I would blank out. When I started focusing on what I could do, and not what I couldn’t, I started realizing that it wasn’t helpful to keep focusing on my deficiencies. Instead, focusing on what I could do, allowed me to realize that I was really capable. Learn to recognize your own contributions.

What’s one incredible thing you are doing right now that you would like people to know about?

I’ve gotten so many great opportunities during the pandemic. I did a presentation for the National Guard, because they had a transgender woman who was coming out and they wanted to make sure she was included. I also got to do a presentation for the Boston Public Health Department and it was really awesome to have other people recognize my contribution monetarily because a lot of people who do this work, especially if they’re LGBT, tend to not get compensated enough. The last thing I got to do which was really cool was I’ve never done a presentation for legal judges before, and I had to learn a lot of do a good job.I got to present to all these people who were so intelligent, and had some of the highest roles in the judicial system, and here I was at 23 getting this opportunity, and it was so awesome! It was something that made me realize that I have all of these people who are giving me these opportunities. I’m giving information to people who really need it. It really made me value my experience of a transgender black man. I used to lament being transgender and black. But now I can use my lived experience to help educate other people about how to treat people like me, so whenever they come across someone who is LGBTQ they can treat them with respect and include them. And for me that means I’ve made a difference in the world. Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be like MLK or Malcolm X, someone who could make a difference and change the world for the better for my community, and now I am, that is all I could ever ask for. 

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