The end of the year and the holidays is oftentimes stressful; exponentially so when you factor in the intersectionality of race, gender, and orientation. The good thing is we are able to press reset every January .

This January, we are all about Mental Health & Wellness and Self-Care. What better way to discuss mental health & wellness than to reach out to various people within the community who practice self-care and promote positive mental health and wellness.

This #WellnessWednesday, we talk to Candice Thorton, a holistic mental health specialist on what self care means to her and how she maintains a positive state of mental health.

1. Describe your professional work/expertise/experience regarding mental health.  

I am a Mental Health Advocate, who has invested more than a decade attending Cognitive Behavioral and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. I believe in living beyond the labels of Bipolar and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and empowering others through transparently sharing my experiences.

I’m also a Holistic Wellness Practitioner.  I help people understand the “innergetic,” mental, and physical manifestations of personal and ancestral trauma.  I use a combination of meditation, herbal remedies, art/sound/touch/aromatherapy, and intuitive ritual to help people learn helpful practices and solutions for their various symptoms.

As an advocate and practitioner, I partner with various counseling and health professionals, and people who are in or seeking traditional therapy, by helping them find the best licensed professional and resources while sharing indigenous and metaphysical knowledge.

My ultimate goal is to provide empowering information, assistance,  and resources for all parties involved so that people have a vast set of tools and coping skills to cultivate and sustain their well-being.

2. What is the most important mental health lesson you have learned or gained from your childhood?

Often times,  children are not permitted to express or identify with their emotions,  or are not educated with affirming language that helps them to clearly and safely describe what they feel and what to do with those feelings.

The most important lesson that I learned from my childhood regarding mental health is the necessity to normalize mental wellness check-ups, and to empower children through the gift of affirming language and awareness.  I know my parents didn’t have the awareness or language to recognize how some of their own unresolved or suppressed issues or lifestyle decisions (i.e. being a military family who constantly relocated) affected both theirs and my own socialization skills, emotional intelligence, and mental health.  Because of my bipolar and anxiety diagnosis at 20, my parents had to re-examine their labels of me being  “emotionally reactive,” “high-strung,” “dramatic,” and having a “sensitive disposition.”

In my childhood, the lack of awareness and affirming language contributed to unhelpful and arguably detrimental coping skills that I’m now unlearning as an adult.

3. How has the importance of mental health changed for you over the years?

Mental health became a priority for me at 18 after I experienced acquaintance rape during my second semester of college. That violation in betrayal really shook me in a way that I didn’t know how to fully support myself, so I went to see the school therapist a few days after, and from that point forward I made it a point to prioritize my mental health care. I saw in those early sessions how critical it is to have an objective space to go to where I could tend to my mental health consistently. Over the last 12 years, I’ve worked with nine different therapists, and experienced several different kinds of treatment. Although I initially went for trauma support, over time, I was able to learn helpful techniques that positively impacted my mental health, so I continued seeking resources to support my well-being.

4. How do you practice mental health for yourself? 

I prioritize mental health care in several ways.

First,  by checking in with myself and being really honest about my thoughts and feelings.

Secondly, by asking myself what kind of support I need. Sometimes journaling and holding space for myself, or chatting with a loved one is sufficient. However, sometimes I require additional support from an objective and well-trained mental health professional.

Thirdly,  by asking for help before shit gets real. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 20. After 5 years of therapy and experimentation with different medication, I decided that I did not want to continue taking prescriptions, so I had to come up with a holistic treatment plan. One of my rules is to go to acupuncture and therapy as soon as I start feeling overwhelmed or emotionally imbalanced. For example,  right now, I’m coming off of several heavy transitions, so I go to acupuncture and therapy once a week.  When life is less hectic, I may go to acupuncture once a month, and therapy as needed.

5. What are some tips you have to help someone on the path to better mental health?

My first tip to anyone wanting to improve their mental health is to be honest as fuck with yourself, and to let go of the being independent/ strong / survivor / tough mentality. It’s okay to seek help and support and it’s okay not to not always be okay.

My second tip is to embrace all the mental health resources that exist.  For example, the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance offer several free meetings with licensed mental health professionals and individuals with similar diagnoses.  This is helpful if you can’t afford a one-on-one therapist.

Third, if you’re going to try therapy, invest in at least four consecutive sessions. Trust me, it’s worth it, and can be accommodated with a little planning. Before going, identify some things that you want to explore or need support working through. For example, I wanted to explore my challenges surrounding gender identity and sexual orientation, and how it influenced my unwillingness to date. Those sessions were super helpful with identifying my needs, desires, and realistic goals to set and reach in relation to those needs. Special acknowledgment to Courtney Prudhomme who is a Houston-based LGBTQ therapist.  Hands down one of the most impactful therapist I’ve ever seen. ( or @cptherapy on IG)

My final tip would be to get in the habit of journaling. This can be super helpful and learning your thoughts, habits, and influences / triggers. It also helps you to release some of the stress in a safe way. Whether or not you choose to go to therapy, journaling allows you to actually observe your thoughts and emotions on paper, which may be helpful with identifying potential issues or clarifying your needs.

6. How has the intersection of being queer, black, and a woman affected your mental health journey? 

Being queer, black, and a “woman” deeply influenced my mental health journey. Each of these aspects of myself require a specific kind of nurturing and support. I have different anxieties as a perceived woman/”feminine presenting body,” who identifies as non-binary/ gender non-conforming, as a person of the diaspora, and a person who loves indiscriminately of sex or gender. These anxieties are connected to my experience with trauma, rejection, and oppressive institutions, so I have to tend to each of these aspects by honoring whatever comes up on any front. I think ultimately that these aspects of my experience allow me to recognize and value my existence, and mental health needs, which further allow me to really know myself and cultivate greater self-awareness and love.

7. Finish this sentence: Mental health is ____________