In honor of #WorldMentalHealthDay, I took a trip down my own mental health memory lane and landed on May 22, 2018. It was my son’s second birthday, the anniversary of my own birth into motherhood. A day that reminded of my power and strength after experiencing a sacred and successful drug free birth. Despite that, post birth challenges later led to an emergency ride strapped down in an ambulance and a two-hour surgery to repair an internal tear from just 30 short minutes of pushing out my little prince. To celebrate his birthday, that morning I loaded the cutest chocolate cupcakes and balloons in the car for our afternoon birthday party with his classmates.
With this as the backdrop on that day, the racism and discrimination I suffered from while serving on Microsoft’s Global Advertising team had left me cognitively and emotionally debilitated. For several weeks leading up to May 22, 2018 I would arrive at work, close my office door and sit in front of two black monitors, weeping as I tried to bring myself to turn them on. I felt so alone and there was nothing anyone could say to soothe the isolation of what felt like my career being flushed down a drain. Sometimes friends or family would offer shock in response to what I experienced, “You should talk to an attorney”; some would say “You got this girl” or “You can do this”. Others told me to pull up my big girl panties and show them I’m better than their racism and racist policies. Honestly, none of it was helpful in those dark moments of despair and pain. I was also pissed that I agreed to a role that offered no advancement opportunities for a former 5-year high performer, but I tried to make the most of it…because really I was happy to go anywhere outside the walls of Microsoft’s Building 37.
Eventually I would turn my monitors on, and felt even worse as I made my way through emails from colleagues who could come to work and do just that…work. I was enraged by their privilege as I read and re-read emails and then would write and re-write responses only to shut it all down and sit there feeling numb. Often times I was stuck in that numbness, wondering how I functioned before that short 8 months on the Advertising team, feeling as though I was a different person back then – where was she, how would she respond??? I didn’t even know myself in those moments. I would berate myself with a dialogue loop of “get your shit together” and then shutdown in defeat because I just couldn’t seem to show up in the same way. Most days I would emerge from my office looking snatched (see attached photo, yes snatched), ensuring no one could see the sorrow, tear stains or running eyeliner. I knew how to clean up and turn on a brave face. I knew how to walk and talk like her – the woman that had achieved greatness. I knew how to look that part, but I wasn’t her anymore and it all felt wrong.
So, on that day just before heading out for the birthday party I met with one of Microsoft’s Black HR General Managers (who is now a VP – #dafuq). As I drove to our meeting I thought back to the day when I met her, when I was sinking in an org that had a history of racism which she confirmed and later described as a team of “blonde hair, blue eyed white women who hire within and amongst themselves.” I thought for sure she would help me, especially when we began to meet and she comforted me with understanding and validated the experiences I had as 100% racist and discriminatory.
Fast forward to that afternoon – she chuckled as I implored her to go back to the investigation team and demand that they acknowledge what happened to me. I wanted receipts, I wanted to understand that if what happened to me was not discrimination then what, damn it!? Her response was clear – “What else can acknowledgement look like for you?” I spun into a cold silence as I looked her up and down… at her brown skin, her beautiful kinky hair and looked deeply into her brown eyes. The moment is impressed upon me forever. She knew what happened, she knew ever single detail – the retaliation from my manager and skip manager, the intimidation from her boss, Chris Capossela, and the sweeping under the rug of the investigation team. What I saw in her eyes spooked the fuck out of me and I finally felt what people mean when they say they’re scared shitless. The systemic racism in Microsoft’s empire had become clear and I couldn’t un-see what I saw.
For a sliver of a moment it wasn’t hard to walk out those doors and never look back. It was another day of birth for me. And what I know about birth is that it is magical and painful, and sometimes the ending feels miles away, but I knew I could achieve anything I wanted. I also knew it was the road less traveled and that I would need to get my spiritual and mental house in order for the days ahead. But for that day, I beamed with pride and celebrated another “birth” day, not quite sure of what the future would hold but sure of my destiny for greatness.
Mental dark days are the seeds for change and growth. Water them, nurture them. Allow them to be, let them wash through you and make sure you get the lessons. Therapy has been a saving grace for me; both personal therapy and what I learn from my clients. Treat your mental health the same way you treat your physical health – it’s often the precursor to other challenges.
Danielle

Author Danielle

More posts by Danielle

Leave a Reply