On days I’m tempted to break my no-coffee streak, I remind myself that Man Repeller HQ has something more energizing than coffee: it has Crystal. On occasion, the click of puppy toes on the wooden hallway floors alerts me to the fact that in a mere moment, Crystal will be sashaying into the office wearing a jolting combination of clothing nobody had ever considered before but suddenly makes perfect sense. Her beloved dog Blanche will toss me a proud smile that says he already knows he has the coolest mom on the planet.
Crystal Anderson, who classifies herself as an “elder millennial,” is the person behind the production of all Man Repeller events. She’s famous for donning fish shoes and feathered frilly fuzzy getups, her love for Miller High Life, and that time she made everyone on the planet and their mother happy-cry. Among the long list of magical things that are a part of Crystal’s life, she also lives with OCD, depression, and anxiety. She spent one month in a psychiatric hospital in 2015, which she has discussed openly on social media.
Cue: Dr. Jessica Clemons MD, a psychiatrist who also employs social media — which is often blamed for causing and/or accelerating depression — to forge a path for open conversations about mental health and wellness. As a member of the small percentage of black women in the field of psychiatry, Dr. Jess’s use of these democratic platforms enables her to increase access to her expertise in mental health, in addition to her practice of providing direct clinical care. Naturally, Crystal and Jess hit it off in the place where all great friendships are born: Insta DMs.
So, to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Month, we invited Dr. Jess to Man Repeller HQ for our third installment of Good Evening. Below, some of the wisdom gleaned from the touching conversation she facilitated with Crystal. Although every person’s mental health journey is unique, below are eight highlights and lessons learned from these two phenomenal women.
1. “Sometimes it takes being in Vogue to realize you need to go to the hospital.”
Crystal: “I struggled for so long that I just needed an answer. Two days before I checked myself into [inpatient] treatment, I shot an editorial for Vogue and then I had a meeting with Diane Von Furstenberg. To not feel anything about that — knowing how much I love fashion and how much those things should have ignited something in me, and I was numb to them — it was a realization to me. I tried so hard to muster the excitement — to muster anything. It was like, shoot an arrow through my heart so I can feel. That was the point that I knew I needed to seek further treatment.”
2. “It’s more than okay to seek help.”
Crystal: “I was talking to my psychiatrist and I kept telling him ‘I feel like I’m going crazy, I feel like I’m going crazy, I feel like I’m going crazy.’ And he said to me, ‘the fact that you feel like you’re going crazy lets me know that you’re not going crazy. You want the treatment, you know that something is wrong, and you’re not saying, “I’m good, I’m good, I’m good.” You recognize the issue and that should tell you that you’re going to be fine. You’re going to figure this out and it’s going to be okay.’”
Dr. Jess: “I would like to remind people that the steps you took are a sign of healthy thinking, a sign of strength. It’s very difficult to admit when you need help. I want to encourage anyone who is listening to this, who is thinking you may have had similar experiences or are maybe going through something like this now: It’s okay to seek help.”
Crystal: “It’s more than okay to seek help. Coming from someone who thinks I can always do it myself.”
3. “If you need medication, take it.”
Crystal: “With mental health, the last hold-out stigma is taking medicine. I have to take medicine every single day. It’s how I keep my mind nimble. It’s how I’m able to be the best me and I’m okay with that. It took me a minute to get there. It’s a chemical imbalance in the brain. People forget that the brain is an organ, too. I stopped taking medication a couple of months ago thinking, ‘I’m cool, this is fine.’ Very soon after, I was just not me. And my partner Kiesh brought me out of that. ‘If you need it, take it’ is a reminder that this is your life, this is what you need to do, this is your normal. My job is high stress when it’s high stress and I need to be on. And the only way I can be on is if I take my medication, if I make sure I’m going to my psychiatrist and doing the things I need to do. That’s the only way I can be at 100.”
4. “It’s important to keep your own tank on full.”
Dr. Jess: “It’s important to keep your own tank on full, and recognize when it’s coming down and engage in self-care. Not just getting your nails done and engaging in retail therapy. Those things are fine, but it’s recognizing ‘I need to take the day off. I actually need to sleep in a little bit longer. I need to set firm boundaries, and learn how to say no.’”
Crystal: “Put your own motherf*ckin oxygen mask on first before you help your seatmate. I feel that deep in my soul. You can’t be good to anybody else unless you’re good to yourself. And I don’t mean hokey ‘good to yourself,’ I mean like checking in with yourself like, Are you feeling good? Do you have the things that you need?”
5. “Dress for the mind you want.”
Crystal: “A lot of people say ‘dress for the job you want, not the job you have.’ I dress for the mind I want. Sometimes I’m just not feeling good and I could put on sweatpants and come into the office. But instead I’m like, ‘Ya know what? Let me throw on a tutu, put on a little Texas top. Let me dress for the mind I want that day.’ There was such a long time when I stopped thinking about fashion, and fashion is so closely tied to who I am as a human. It’s how I express myself. I enjoy the act of getting dressed. But when I was depressed before I got treatment, I was in sweats and dirty clothes and I couldn’t muster the energy to get dressed. Today, it feels like such a blessing to look at my closet and feel excited.”
6. “Stand in the gap.”
Crystal: “I stand in the gap for you—my grandmother would always say that.”
Dr. Jess: “That is so southern! I always say that! I told my co-residents that. I said ‘We have to stand in the gap,’ and they are not from the south, and I’m the only Black resident in my class. It means…”
Crystal: “It means that I take on for you what you can’t take on for yourself. My mother says it now, when she prays for me. She tells me that all the time. So what I now try to do for the people who follow me is stand in the gap for them. Maybe they haven’t gotten to the place where they can speak freely to their family or speak freely to their friends or to their colleagues, so I stand in the gap, and I’m comfortable being uncomfortable such that they can see themselves in me.”
7. “It’s a shitty day, not a shitty life.”
Crystal: “Some days are just not going to be good. And you can get caught up thinking, ‘Wow, I’m back here again.’ I just try to be grateful. I can complain as an olympic sport, I’m really good at it. I’m a gold-medal complainer. So I’m trying to reign that in. Having a community is really important. Finding your people is so important. Having a bomb-ass group chat is important. I have group chats with [long-distance friends] and just being able to touch and agree—to be like, ‘Hey man, I’m going through something. What do you think?’ or ‘Let me bounce this idea off of you.’ [is valuable].”
Dr. Jess: “It’s important that, if you’re not able to get treatment, you keep building a community. Because they’re going to help prevent you from going to a dark, dark place.”
Crystal: “My partner and I are fairly new, but I’ve started to teach her. Like, ‘These are the ways you need to ask me if I’m okay. And if can’t tell you that I’m okay, you need to jump in and figure it out. I might not even be able to tell you, I might not have the words.’ That’s super-important, and not just for romantic love but also for friends or people you interact with on a daily basis. Maybe it’s your work wife, your work husband, your work person. Just say, ‘Hey man, this might not be sexy to talk about, but just make sure I’m okay.’ Invite people in.”
8. “I’m always grateful for being able to wash my ass.”
Crystal: “I went so long where I did not take a shower, so there’s a joy in it every day where I grab my bar of soap and get in the shower, because there was a time when I just couldn’t do it. There may be times when I don’t feel grateful for work because I’m tired, or for my big closet because it means I have to wash clothes, but I’m always grateful for being able to wash my ass. You may not be where you want to be in your career, you may not be where you want to be in your relationship, you may even look at my Instagram and see a glossy lifestyle, but trust that there was a road—there was a broken road—that got me to where I’m at. Shout out to Rascal Flatts and my favorite song. I’m country! It took a lot to get there. You run your own race, and then you hold on tightly to the good in your life. If it’s a Diet Coke in the morning, if it’s a coffee, if it’s [seeing] your work person [at the office], hold onto it for all it’s worth, because that’s what makes a life worth living. It’s not the big things. It’s not always a big promotion or a nice house. It’s the small things.”
For more Dr. Jess, check out her Instagram Live session each Saturday or snag tickets to her next #BeWell monthly panel which features open conversations about mental health with activists, wellness enthusiasts, and creatives.
Good Evenings are monthly events that bring the Man Repeller community together over burning candles and Ramona spritzers to get a behind-the-curtain peek at industries that inspire us from people we admire. You can listen to the recording of this event and other Dr. Jess podcast episodes here.
Keep your eye on Man Repeller’s Insta Stories to find out about ticket drops for future Good Evenings and read stories from past events here!
Photos by Ken Castaneda.