The author of Self-Care For Black Women works with the unhoused population of Los Angeles as a psychiatric social worker. She shares her thoughts on being in-relationship with people suffering from mental illness, and how the system might be changed to better care for all. Please note that this episode contains discussion of mental illness and identity-based discrimination that some people may find triggering.
Aja Monet 00:04
Hello listeners. My name is Aja Monet, and I'm a blues surrealist poet and organizer. I am your host for this show, The Sound Bath, a podcast brought to you by Lush Cosmetics, where you'll be hearing conversations that cleanse. Thank you for joining us today. This podcast explores what personal, social and environmental care and wellbeing really mean in today's society. This show is designed to be listened to in the bath. So sit back and enjoy the conversation. At the end, stick around for a beautiful, meditative, sonic sound bath. We've made it, and I'm excited, Oludara, to have you here with us. I would love it if you wouldn't mind please introducing yourself for our listeners.
Oludara Adeeyo 01:11
Thank you so much for having me here. My name is Oludara, I am a psychotherapist. I work as a psychiatric social worker in Los Angeles. I primarily work with those who are unhoused, experiencing homelessness, have substance issues, and severe and persistent mental illnesses. I'm also the author of “Self-Care for Black Women”, which is a book filled with 150 tips to help Black women revitalize their self-care for their mind, body and soul.
Aja Monet 01:37
Something we all definitely need. I would love to know what brought you to this work. Is there a specific story or moment in your life that brought you to this work?
Oludara Adeeyo 01:47
I feel like it was a spiritual journey and it was a series of events and also me listening to my intuition and just following the path that I fully believe that I belong on. So before becoming a social worker, I was a journalist. I worked at Cosmo Magazine, I worked at Double XL. So, I was in the media industry. I have a bachelor's in journalism so I really thought my life was going to be being a journalist and being a magazine editor or a web editor. And I quickly realized that that industry wasn't necessarily for me. It began when I was working at Cosmo and my mom was sick at the time, she had rheumatoid arthritis. It's an autoimmune disease, and her health just never got better. And while she was in her illness, I was also her caregiver while working full time as an editor. So, I was very, very stressed and also dealing with my own health issues. And I began to realize that my mom never really prioritized her health. And while her disease wasn't necessarily her fault, I really began to see that because she neglected things like being anemic and taking her medicine and she just never really looked after her wellness. And I began to see that pattern in me in pushing myself to the limit and ignoring the things my body was telling me in regards to my health. And at that time, I was diagnosed with something called a polycystic ovarian syndrome and that had taken over my life, and I had become anemic and I had to go on that journey to properly heal myself. And so, my mom passed away, and I fell into a depression. But I kept pushing forward because my family, we are Nigerian and African, it's like, “Mental health, like, what is that, you know?” Like, it's just like, “You’re fine, just pray”, you know? So, I ignored the signs but I also was burnt out from working at Cosmo. I experienced the typical things that Black women experience in the workplace which is extra workload, your ideas being ignored, standards for you are different than everyone else, and it just got to the limit where I had to quit. And, you know, I then started working at Double XL as the managing editor and that was its own thing as well ‘cause it's the music industry and the media industry. And so I, while I was in it, I began to just realize, wow, I don't know if I can do this because I cherish a balanced life. I love to do things that go yoga, spend time with family and friends and really tap into my wellness and my spirituality and it's like, I don't have time for this when I'm basically working 24/7 on the 24/7 news cycle. So I just one day decided to quit. And I realized I was depressed from the job and I quit without a plan. I basically was just like, yeah, I can't do this anymore. And thankfully I have a really strong group of girlfriends who really hold me down and they were like, yes, this doesn't make sense for you to be in this industry anymore, like you need to find a different path. And I've always been interested in mental health. And I had friends who were going to school for basically their second careers as well. And a friend said, maybe you should try social work. And so I was like, but I don't, I don't want to be taking babies from families like that's, that's not my thing. And she's like, no, you can be a therapist and I was like, oh, okay. So I basically researched and I found the program at the University of Southern California. I visited, I fell in love with LA. I was just like, okay, this really does feel like me. So I applied, I got in, they gave me a scholarship. And then once I got to LA, it was just like, things lined up. My internships were filled with stipends and it was just like I met the right people. And I don't know if you've ever had this experience, where you like, get to a place, and you just feel like it's home. And you're like, oh, this is where I should have been the whole time. And that's kinda how I felt once I got to LA. So, once I started my social work program and I was able to really just have time for myself, I began to, you know, dive into self-care more, and figure out what does well for me and how to take care of me, and doing the things I feel like my mother never really got the chance to do. So it was like a really spiritual connection. And it just made sense.
So, I was really interested in having this conversation with you because I think there's this correlation between what we deal with personally and what we're experiencing politically. And I think something that I've personally struggled with that many women and Black women struggle with is the quote-unquote “mother wound” and how much of that is a big part of the way that we see care and love and responsibility in our communities. And while it's like, admirable to hear you talk about the way that you cared for your mother, I mean, one of the struggles that I've had, and I haven't spoken publicly about often, is the struggle with my mother's mental health and the strain it's put on our relationship. The inability to kind of, make sense of it with other people, or to talk about it in fear of, you know, disclosing too much information, stigma, wanting to protect your family from really just the horror that it produces in your family. I mean, it's not pretty, it's not nice, it's not cute, it's not something you can sound-bite.
Oludara Adeeyo 07:32
Well, thank you for sharing that. You know, it's not easy to like, come out and say when you have a family member that's struggling with a mental health issue because it really, it impacts the whole family system. And the family system, it impacts how we move through the world, and how we have relationships and so forth.
It can be a very horrible experience, especially for children growing up in households or with families that are not well mentally, you know?. How do you love someone who's struggling with mental health as it can oftentimes, it can exasperate itself and become very abusive.
When it comes to encountering those who are having mental health issues, it definitely requires a deep level of empathy and understanding that often, people are behaving in a way that has nothing to do with you and the person who may be on the receiving end of the behavior. Oftentimes it is them reacting to something we call inner stimuli, which is just like, stuff that is going on on the inside, and how someone is maybe reacting to a situation as a result of trauma they've experienced. And when you're interacting with someone who is displaying behavior that is really hard to interact with because of their mental health, it's really best to just try to give them the space and understanding but also set a boundary for yourself.
Aja Monet 09:04
So, one of the things I wanted to ask you was like, oftentimes we talk about mental health as something that just impacts the person struggling with it. And our society is so individualistic. We make all our problems personal rather than addressing systemic and political issues that play a role. And I know that you talk a little bit in your book about racism and the impact it has on Black women. Of course, class is a big part of that and of all discussions but I wanted to know, what do you see is the role of the personal accountability to something but then where you see mothers or women or men, even fathers struggling with their mental health and really being incapable of showing up for their community, let alone the people who love them.
Oludara Adeeyo 09:48
Intergenerational trauma, right? So intergenerational trauma is trauma that's passed down to us from the previous generation. And oftentimes, as we've seen in the previous community before us, the generation before us, a lot of our family members or our friends and so forth, the collective Black community, don't really address what's going on. And also sometimes we don't even have time to address what's going on, or they didn't have time to address what's going on. I'll say that now because I feel like the current generation is definitely doing a better job.
Aja Monet 10:19
Or they’re in denial, you know?
Oludara Adeeyo 10:20
Yes, or they're in denial. Or in denial, because it's, it's a hard truth to face when you realize that it's your work that you got to do to heal yourself and address all these things.
It's a larger conversation about how this reflects American values. You know? What America has done to the psyche of Black people but also of the people at this time. I think it's about our personal responsibility to, you know, healing and addressing our mental health while also recognizing that there are systemic things that affect us.
Oludara Adeeyo 11:01
Yes, I mean, okay. Yeah, you're definitely right. It's like, there's the structural and then there's the individual and if there's someone in your life that you love, and they're going through something hard it's like, you also have to recognize that their mental health is their responsibility. I mean, there's a tiny bit of responsibility on you in the sense that you have to be able to build your own boundaries and also recognize when you have to step back. And when you’ve done as much as you can, because if this is someone you love, and obviously you want them to get better and just be functioning better in society, but it's like, okay, society isn't necessarily giving them the support they need. So, it's almost like it's a losing fight.
So many of us are struggling with this in silence. It's an epidemic. It's really an epidemic in our society, especially as political issues become graver and graver in terms of socioeconomics and the global crisis and environment. I mean, these are all things that you can't just, you can't just say they don’t impact you. So people are getting impacted, you know, and I think it’s an unspoken conversation that our mental health is a big part of the frontline of some of these issues.
Oludara Adeeyo 12:13
Mm hmm. Right, because so like, with the population I work with, yeah, a lot of them are unhoused and experiencing homelessness and if they can't even get their basic needs met, of course, they're gonna have mental health issues. They're gonna fall into substance issues. And I know a lot of people have resolves to dealing with the homelessness crisis and et cetera but it's not an easy issue that it's just like, oh, just give people housing. It's like, okay, well, you know, a lot of these clients that I have, so some of them, we get them housing but then it's like, they struggle with the housing because of all the other systemic structural issues and their mental health issues.
Aja Monet 12:51
You know, as someone who's working with unhoused communities and seeing the most vulnerable in our society struggling with mental health, what are some of the things that you've seen that have maybe given you some sort of hope or some sort of strategy to deal with and respond to this real need that we have in our society to address mental health?
Oludara Adeeyo 13:10
I definitely see more people caring about this issue, issue of people who are homeless. And I definitely feel like what gives me hope is seeing states like California have laws where they're trying to pass legislation to help get these people housed. And that gives me hope that you know, maybe other states will follow suits and they're trying because it's a systemic issue, you know, the housing crisis it's a systemic issue. So, seeing legislation or legislatures try to figure out what they can do or even just the conversation about it, keeping it going is, it gives me hope because it's not an easy fix and it's hard because it's, oh, it's so complicated. ‘Cause housing is such a complicated thing. I believe it starts with structural change in order for us to see, you know, the unhoused become housed. To see less people who are homeless. It's bigger than the individual and for someone like me who works in this system, trying to help those navigate the ability to get government housing or to get low-income housing, there isn't a lot of systemic support sometimes. Or, it's really hard to find the resources to help people find housing that they can afford. And also, the way we treat mental health in this country is medication, medication, medication, when really we need to give people resources.
Aja Monet 14:53
I think part of what we're finding is that, you know, while I understand “Self-Care for Black Women” is the title of your book, I also feel like collective care for Black women is so important and I think that one of the things that we've been trying to stress in this conversation is, you know, this false notion of a binary between the self and the collective and that care should just imply both. You know, that when we say care, you know, words have become this thing that I think we have distilled to the point where we don't actually know what we're saying, when we're saying the thing we're saying. And so when we say care, we have to add these kind of adjectives like oh, radical, or descriptives like self, or you know, it's like, wait, what happened to it just being care and understanding that like, that's what care is, that’s what care should be, is the space between where we blur the line between self and collective. And I'm interested in what you said, which is like, I don't think so much it's that people wanna run away from the issues of mental health but I think people are trying to also maintain their own mental health, right? And find sustainable ways to survive a system that is like really not set up structural things to support us. So one of the things I wanted to ask you is like, if you could envision the sort of society that was conducive to our mental health as a collective, what sort of society would that look like?
Oludara Adeeyo 16:26
Oh, my gosh, in my perfect world, please, everyone would have a base income. I mean, housing and healthcare would be free or affordable and we would have more money going towards education. So our teachers can be well funded. And the neighborhoods that are not as funded would have enough money. So every student can get a chance to succeed because like a lot of issues do start in the home. They start in childhood, they start in the neighborhood, they start in collective environments. So it would be like funding way more money towards things like childcare, base income for everyone to have. If we could have free housing, that would be amazing. Or just guaranteed housing, however that would look. And basically, I would probably have a very socialist society where everyone feels supported but you know, that's not actually ever really going to happen because we live in the society we live in. But yeah, I feel like--
Aja Monet 17:27
Wait, I push back on that, I push back on that girl. How we gonna get there if you don't believe we possible to ge there?
Oludara Adeeyo 17:34
You know what? No, right, you're right. You're right. You're right. You're right. You're right. Absolutely. And I would also have like mental health to be one of the things we care about. We care about our physical health, but we neglect the mental health. I would be very invested in more restorative care and more preventative care, where that looks like people having more days off, people being able to take naps in the middle of the day of work, not needing your insurance be tied to a job. You know, kids can stay on their parents’ insurance longer than age 26.
Aja Monet 18:09
I think one of the things I look forward to is a world where children are protected and parents are supported, and there are more resources for parents in helping to care for their children. I think that it's just too much for one person or even two people to do. We have to rethink how we structure care in this society for our children and those who take care of them.
Oludara Adeeyo 18:34
Oh, absolutely, I agree with that.
Aja Monet 18:35
That's such a big part of where mental health issues begin. I noticed in your book, you know, describing like the real things that we deal with as Black women as Black people, the stress of racism, the stress of patriarchy. We kind of are hearing more and more as Black people about the things that we're up against and we’re, we're not often encouraged to speak about the ways that we are thriving, manifesting in spite of those things. So for our mental health, what is the clinical reality of constantly hearing about the things that you have up against you?
Oludara Adeeyo 19:10
So you know, it's kind of like being introduced to your traumas over and over again. That definitely has a greater impact when the mind and the body is constantly being met with something that disrupts its system, that disrupts the way it functions. It's going to develop defense mechanisms and unhealthy ways to approach certain things. It's going to start seeing almost everything as a threat and,or you're not going to be able to tell the difference between a threat and a non-threat. And so you just treat everything like it's a threat. So, you begin to move in a way that is not good for you and kind of begin to manifest the issues in your life. So, but I definitely think it's more important for us to be interacting with things that show us as thriving, and just in more peace and harmony. It's exactly why I don't watch a lot of Black trauma ecause I'm just like, how many times am I going to hear this police brutality story? Which I mean, it's very important. These stories are important but for me to constantly engage with this kind of content, it is, it's like, my body is actually experiencing it and as my mind begins to constantly think, like, oh, I'm experiencing this, my mental health is going to deteriorate.
Aja Monet 20:33
Yeah, and I don't think it's just from other entities or other institutions. Like, I feel like, we do that to ourselves, you know? Oftentimes we find ourselves in organizing spaces where we focus on, oh, who's the most traumatized in the room? Who's the person that is the most wounded in the room? Who's the person that has the most identities who are traumatized by society and most oppressed, right? And let's hear them, let's focus on them. And what that does is it also like while we were trying to center the most vulnerable, we also are kind of, I think, in some ways, putting on a pedestal--
Oludara Adeeyo 21:11
Yeah I was gonna say glorifying.
Aja Monet 21:13
Yeah, the most traumatized person. And so I think we find ourselves also in moments where it's rewarded, or if people feel affirmation and kind of being the most quote unquote, “traumatized person” in the room.
Oludara Adeeyo 21:27
You're right. It is definitely a thin line between validating someone's traumatic experience and also perpetuating it and focusing on it.
Aja Monet 21:37
Right? And like, we aren't talking about who wants to be the most free. And I think that's part of what I'm trying to understand is like, as we do this self-care work, or as we do this mental health work, how are we also not creating a sort of basis of reward on trauma, and still acknowledging it, still naming it, that it needs to be addressed, you know? And I'm wondering, what do we see from the people who are doing clinical psychology? What are the ways that we can sort of disrupt that? What are some strategic things we can do that maybe might be helpful for us moving forward.
Oludara Adeeyo 22:10
In my line of work, when it comes to someone's trauma, we often only address it when the person feels safe and is ready to look back at that trauma and uncover it because it's very important. You know, if you don't feel safe, you're not going to be able to fully unpack everything you're going through. And so, a lot of times with clients and in my experience, we try to stay present and also move forward and it is like you're going back and forth sometimes because I feel like, as Black people, it is important to be validated in your experience and be validated in the racism and oppression that you feel. But also, you need to be pushed forward into the other direction and constantly meet something that reminds you that, okay, I don't have to stay here. I can move forward.
Aja Monet 23:08
I think we’re just in a very interesting time and I think we don't have these conversations often in depth, you know? How do we really, really be real with each other about what are techniques and what are pathways through this because it is a real issue we're facing and I think what you said about people feeling safe--
Oludara Adeeyo 23:30
And ready. Yeah, you know, that's an individual, right, thing. It's like, only you can know, when you're really ready to address some things because also there's, in regards to Black people, it's just like, there's a lot to unpack, I'll use myself as an example. You know, I didn't realize I had my own internalized racism. I mean, I feel like ultimately a lot of us have a lot of internalized racism and we have to unlearn racism. And so I didn't even realize that I was experiencing discrimination when I worked at Cosmo until like almost a decade later where I'm talking to my therapist, and I'm finally able to tell her about the things that happened and it's like, oh, that was what was going on because my mind had a trauma response and trauma responses are, you know, how your body, how your mind and body reacts to protecting you from something traumatic. So, my trauma response to a lot of things that I experienced is just to kind of like, shut down, forget about it and focus on myself and be like, oh, I need to work harder. I need to be perfect and to kind of ignore the things. And it took me taking the time to really let go of the internalized racism and also accept my own version of Blackness and also look at the things that happened in the past and, you know, realize that, okay, that was what happened. And then as I was writing this book and going through things with my publisher and not, I also had to remind myself like, okay, this is not Cosmo. Like, this is not the past experience you're having. So, it's hard because our minds will go back and forth. But our brain has neuroplasticity, which is like the ability to basically recreate different meanings to similar experiences that we've had in the past. So, my brain has the capacity to change. So, I had to constantly remind myself, like, okay, this is not Cosmo, you are not dealing with the same white editors you were dealing with almost 10 years ago this. And so, there was a lot of constantly talking to myself and reminding myself and so, you know?
Aja Monet 25:46
Yeah, I think in your book you wrote that the mind is the epicenter of wellness. And I wanted to ask you well, how then does wellness look for people who struggle daily with mental health?
Oludara Adeeyo 25:58
You know, when I think about this, like people who are struggling with mental health issues, and I mean myself included in that, you know my mental health wellness looks different every day, week by week. And I think a lot of it has to do with personal acceptance of how my brain operates and how my body operates. It's like getting comfortable with your mental health issues or getting comfortable with the idea that you even have mental health issues. And from there, with me and some clients I've had, I've definitely realized that it's getting comfortable with sitting in the mess that you have and then getting ready and comfortable to clean it up. And for me, you know, the last year I've definitely been struggling with like mild depression and burnout and I had to accept that some weeks I'm going to be so focused, I am I have all this energy, and then I'm going to have some weeks where I just feel horrible. And as I began to unpack that, I was internalizing a lot of like self-hate for that. I was very much so like, “Ugh, why do I like not want to do anything? Why am I so tired?” I was basically villainizing rest. And I had to accept that you know what, this is just me, this is how I'm operating at this time. And I've noticed that especially with people I work with like, they're they begin to blossom when they begin to kind of accept that these are the things they go through. Now, it's not accepting it and ignoring it and like, acting like, oh, I'm fine, I don't need to deal with these issues. It's accepting that, okay, sometimes I may experience really strong bouts of depression and I need to isolate. Okay, that's how I recover. Or realizing, okay, you know what? I see things, or I hear things, and I need to not be fearful of these things that I deal with. So, I feel like it's a journey. It's definitely a journey through radical acceptance of how you operate, so.
Aja Monet 28:17
Yeah, thank you. I had a question about psychology and social health and the way that we deal with people who struggle with mental health. And I wanted to ask you, what role do you believe conversations and speaking plays in our wellness practice around mental health? I know that therapy looks a specific way in Western society. And you having roots on the continent, I wonder like, are there other forms of therapy that you find to be more effective with certain people or certain groups of people? Because I think some people are very intimidated by having a conversation.
Oludara Adeeyo 28:57
Yeah, I definitely feel like with talking therapy, it helps a person feel like they're not alone in that, they're not alone in their experience. You're working with a professional and examining your thoughts, emotions, behavioral patterns, and it's all about connecting the influence of your past to the present. So that's psychodynamic therapy and that's the traditional therapy that we know to treat like mental health issues like depression and anxiety. But then there's also things like EMDR, which is Eye Movement, Desensitization, and Reprocessing which primarily is used to treat PTSD, or post traumatic stress disorder, and can be used on people with all different forms of trauma to help reduce the vividness of like trauma memories. And then there's like behavioral therapies, which they're also considered psychotherapies but with a little bit of a twist. And like, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy or DBT, which is something is primarily used to treat people with borderline personality disorder or any emotional regulation disorder. It's used to help these like individuals with relational conflict and it can help someone learn how to function in relationships because you're taught a lot of coping skills and it's usually done in a group learning setting while someone is receiving individual therapy. And then there's group therapy, which can also be kind of like community therapy, where there's a clinician who's treating a small group and allows people to learn from others and encourage one another. Therapy doesn't always have to look like you sitting down with a professional and talking to them. Sometimes it's maybe with a collective and gathering with other people, especially with like African communities. They definitely are you know, don't tell people your business type of community, like they don't really want you to talk to a stranger. So sometimes it's helpful if they are in a community and it's like the community is maybe learning about something together or working together towards something because sometimes some people need communities around them to kind of shift their thinking and to shift how they approach things.
Aja Monet 31:12
Okay, thank you. Well, the last question I have for you is around sound. So you know, a big part of this conversation in this podcast is about the power of conversation but also sound, and I wanted to ask you are there sounds that make you feel well, or sounds that bring calm to you that you really lean on when you're in difficult situations? What's the sound that brings you comfort and calm and peace of mind?
Oludara Adeeyo 31:44
Oh, I love this question. Okay, I feel like there's a lot of sounds for me that work. I love sound baths, the ethereal, meditative sounds. I definitely love those ‘cause I practice yoga regularly. Sounds of nature, and I'm connecting and listening to music in Yoruba, which is my family, which is who I am. My family, were Yoruba. So, you know, connecting to those roots is always nice. Things like that.
Aja Monet 32:13
Nice. Thank you so much for that answer and your response to the questions. I appreciate your time.
Oludara Adeeyo 32:21
Thank you so much.
Aja Monet 32:22
Oludara Adeeyo 32:23
It was great talking to you.
Aja Monet 32:24
Yes. Thank you. So lovely speaking with you. I would like to take a second to address our listeners. Thank you for being here with me today and for listening. I believe listening is a radical act in the step of care. So please check in with yourself and listen to the sound of what's reverberating in your own heart.