Unpacking Emotional Baggage and Helpful Coping Mechanisms
Listen to Executive Director Gabriel Nathan read this post aloud:
When I reflect on my emotional baggage, I think about the lyrics to the Erykah Badu song “Bag Lady“. The lyrics speak to my experience with my emotional baggage. She sings,
“Bag lady, you goin’ hurt your back, Draggin’ all ’em bags like that, I guess nobody ever told you, All you must hold on to is you, One day all ’em bag goin’ get in your way, One day all ’em bag goin’ get in your way”.
My emotional baggage is heavy, and it runs deep. I carry it with me in all aspects of my life, and it has stifled me in past relationships, at work, and in my mental health journey. When I don’t adequately address it, my depression and anxiety just get worse. No one notices these things about me because I appear to be ok on the outside. I’ve been able to mask how I feel for the most part and appear ok to many. I have a successful career and a very active life.
A therapist once told me, “You are not that depressed because you managed to be pretty successful throughout your life.” A colleague once told me, “You hide your depression well; I can’t tell.” These types of comments are very insensitive. After the experience with the therapist, I didn’t go back to therapy for years. I questioned whether I was really depressed or just emotional. Eventually, I realized my feelings were valid, and I needed to find a therapist that was a better fit for me. I didn’t know depression had a specific look. My accomplishments give me a sense of purpose and self-worth. These are things I can control, for the most part. The way my life has turned out, or how I look, should not be used as a measuring stick for what I am or am not feeling.
While I may appear to be fine to some, I am not. Instead, I am resilient. As a Black woman, I have no room for error. I must appear strong and resilient to excel in my career and to be there for my family. But I’m carrying tons of emotional baggage. My resilience does not mean I am okay. It is a way to keep me from being stuck in a cycle of unhappiness. Resilience does not help me process emotions; it just shows that I can make a good comeback. When I fall, I have no choice but to dust myself off and get back up because my life depends on it. When getting back up, I often do not have time to process my emotions because, again, there is no room for error. The vicious cycle continues.
There are times when I find myself just existing and accomplishing things, but not taking the time to process my mental well-being until something goes completely wrong. My emotional triggers for depression and anxiety are breakups, mean or insensitive comments, having issues at work, my childhood trauma, loneliness, and lack of self-confidence. These are all triggers that I hold onto. I did not consider how unprocessed emotional baggage would cause interruptions in my life over the years. It has stifled my mental well-being and growth and caused me to be toxic in relationships at times. This baggage usually shows up in romantic relationships and when it does, the men run. No one wants to deal with my problems if I’m not even dealing with them.
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Exercise is one of the coping mechanisms I have picked up over the years to deal with depression. My favorite workouts are spinning and running. I even got a spin and fitness certification and teach classes from time to time. I love helping others reach their fitness goals. Working out has been very important to my mental health journey. It’s my main go-to when I’m feeling down. When I go for a run or do a ride on my spin bike, I always feel so much better after. When I practice yoga, my mind is completely relaxed and it’s like I’m floating on cloud nine. Working out is the one coping mechanism that I am most consistent with.
I have gone to therapy in the past and am currently attending group therapy to address my past trauma, depression, and anxiety. This has been extremely helpful because I learned that I must either accept folks as they are or leave them where they are. I’ve learned that talking through my past trauma and addressing issues that upset me is essential. Mental peace is vital and putting myself first is okay. It’s completely fine to be sensitive and emotional. That’s a part of who I am. Therapy is a neutral and unbiased space in which to openly share thoughts and life experiences without judgment. When looking for a therapist, it is important to find someone with the cultural competencies and empathy to address your needs. It may take time to find that person but once you do, it is a breath of fresh air. Therapy can be one of the hardest, most draining, and most meaningful releases all at the same time.
Whenever I go through a relationship breakup, I do something to remind myself that I am awesome, like saying and writing affirmations that make me feel good. I have a quote on the wall facing my bed that says, “Difficult roads lead to beautiful destinations.” This reminds me that challenging times/experiences don’t last forever. Sometimes I’ll just buy myself a nice outfit or get my hair done, which also makes me feel good.
I have been unpacking the triggers of my emotional baggage, which tend to show up in relationships. One of my triggers is uncertainty, so when I meet someone, I let them know that my main expectations are communication, patience, consistency, and honesty. I also create boundaries with family and friends. When these relationships become draining, I take a break and give myself space to focus on myself and relax my mind. The things that help me relax and make peace with myself are yoga, painting, meditating, and just sitting in a quiet space not thinking about anything. Sometimes it feels good to not think.
I am learning to trust in myself to take the initiative to create personal change. I must constantly tell myself that I can do this, I can work through this, and I will be great. My mantra is, “You are stronger than you think.”
Sometimes I fear walking into the unknown and what I may discover along the way, but I am building the tools and the network to cope with my emotional baggage. Even if I don’t get rid of it, I’ll be able to carry this baggage differently, so I am not easily triggered and emotionally drained in vulnerable spaces.