A Mental Health Journey: Camille Bennett

 

Camille Bennett wears many hats. She is Co-owner and Director of Focus Scope – 3 child care centers; the Founder and Executive Director of Project Say Something, a non-profit group advocating racial justice; and the Minister of Living Spirit Church.

This workload can be taxing and yield mental and physical health issues. As her mother, I asked Camille to share her journey in rescuing her health on all levels:


When did you discover mental illness was taking place.

The first time was when I was about 31 when my dad and grandparents passed within six years. I had helped care for several of them; I also suffered post-partum. I took an herbal supplement that did not agree with my system, and my anxiety spun out of control. I had to be hospitalized.

When hospitalized, what did the doctors say about your condition?

The hospital gave me sub-par care. As I was regaining clarity, I was not asked about my history, and immediately they wanted to diagnose me as bipolar. Thankfully, there was an Indian doctor who was the only one that sat down and talked with me and questioned me about bipolar symptoms. He was the one who assessed, “No, you are not bipolar.”

Was he able to properly diagnose you?

No, they did not diagnose me. The doctor told me to return for therapy, which did not work. (The therapist spent more time talking about herself than treating me). I started antidepressants for a while and weaned off under a doctor’s supervision.

My second time with mental health services was when I was simultaneously diagnosed with Covid and the flu, and my anxiety spun out of control.

What would you say triggers an episode of “spinning out of control?”

The lack of sleep.

Give me symptoms of what you now know as your anxiety disorder.

My biggest symptom is insomnia. I don’t suffer from depression or ever have times where I’m just laying around. But, when worry and stress are at an all-time high, I cannot sleep.

What does worry mean to you?

Worry is thinking of my to-do list, my work, my family, and the movement work that I do, and it’s something that I have a hard time controlling. Even though I have my spiritual acumen, my body does not listen to it. And I cannot sleep. So once I’m in that state, I need help returning to myself.

Can you tell what precipitates coming into that state now?

Yes, I can, and I could see in the past. However, my pride, embarrassment, and shame kept me from being proactive.

What does proactive mean to you now?

It means disclosing to my family that I’m having trouble sleeping and working with a team of doctors to help me get the rest I need.

Describe your regimen.

I routinely stop talking by a specific time in the evening and ensure I do my Yoga; it helps my muscles relax. I do have to take medication for sleep. I still see a therapist weekly. Spiritually, I meditate, have a gratitude journal, pray, and weekly meet at Living Spirit for grounding and centering.

How do your family and friends support you?

They play a protective role, as well as checking for my accountability. I could not have made it through without my husband, Taurus. He is extremely patient, understanding, and unwavering regarding my health and wellness.

I personally enjoy working a lot, and my support team has to lovingly tap me on the shoulder and say, “Hey…you need to rest…or Let’s go do something fun…It seems like you’re not doing the things you enjoy.” So much of this has been through my guidance, discerning what I need and don’t. It’s a group effort. I tell them what does and does not work. We are all so committed to health, wellness, and love until everyone does their best and you find a happy medium.

For example, I had a bad reaction to a new medication while at an out-of-town conference. My crew had to show up for me, which ended up as a beautiful experience. I was extremely vulnerable and had to lean on my team. I recognize that people love me and want me to be healthy and well, and they will do what it takes to support me. It takes trust.

What is that like for your sons (Christian, 20, and Morgan, 16 )?

My boys fully accept that I suffer from anxiety, ADHD, and PTSD; they jump right in. If my youngest son sees I’m up a little late, he will say, “Hey, Mom, ‘it looks like you’re on the phone past 9:30; you need to go to bed.” Even my dog, Henry, calls me in. He is on point, barking at me if he sees me up past a certain point. He’s an untrained therapy dog; he can tell when I’m wound up, ad he won’t leave me alone until I rest.

That’s great. Is Anxiety Disorder an umbrella term for the other challenges, PTSD and ADHD?

I’ve had ADHD and Anxiety Disorders my entire life, but the PTSD came from the Movement work that I do. Being put in potentially life-threatening situations leaves a scar. That scar is PTSD. It makes the disorder take on a different form.

Do you see your condition as a curse, blessing, or both?

I think it’s a little bit of both. Right now, I am so disciplined and have to stay healthy. I do not do caffein, meat, or wheat; I only eat fish. My diet shifted after COVID. I am treated by Dr. Deborah Carter, a Naturopath, that is straightening me out of my relationship between anxiety, the brain, and food. My GP, Dr. Wayne Stanley, who formerly treated Veterans, helped me understand PTSD. Because of my work, he says my symptoms are pretty typical. He explained to me and my husband the need to regulate my body.

Again, the Covid exacerbated the issue. Looking back, I wasn’t doing well before, but I was functional. But when I got Covidflu, it magnified the problems I had. Looking back, I’m grateful; I wasn’t living life to my fullest potential.

How are you now having fun?

I’ve been having a blast! I’ve been traveling and spending a ton of time with my family; I danced in a Carnival and celebrated Juneteenth at a Block Party. I haven’t missed a moment of enjoying life.

What about your ministry?

I am more of a minister than ever. Unless vacationing, we still meet weekly with Living Spirit, a thriving ministry. The movement work I do is an arm of the ministry, as well as the work I do with children and their parents. My ministry looks different but remains ongoing. It’s all connected to the Most High.

What would you like people to know about diagnosis and treatment?

Never give up on yourself. Make sure your doctors listen to you; share your past experiences and routines. Make sure you have someone thoroughly looking at you and not rushing to labels before they have an accurate picture. Get into your body. Mental health can be affected by your physical health.

Mindfulness is my biggest practice. If you can, stay in the present moment. There’s loads of information about this concept. Be grateful for the little things. But again, I want people to know that the only way out is to seek help and allow yourself to be vulnerable. My therapist warns that good mental health needs a “toolbox” for times of crisis; it can bring you back to the present moment.


Camille Bennett

Camille Bennett, wife of Taurus Bennett and mother of Christian (19), Morgan (15) an interfaith spiritual leader, entrepreneur and white supremacy abolitionist. .  Camille, a graduate of The University of Alabama, earned a National Championship in public speaking while on The University of Alabama Forensics Team in 1999. Bennett has been the Chief facilitator of Living Spirit Center for Spiritual Oneness since 2012.

Camille Bennett founded Project Say Something(PSS) in December 2014, a nonprofit organization with a mission to confront white supremacy and misogynoir through black history using direct action, community empowerment, education and civic engagement to reconcile the past with the present. Project Say Something, initially a local grassroots effort, mobilized regionally and nationally through coalition building, sustained protests, and advocacy for the political power and humanization of Black Alabamians. In 2015, Camille Bennett became the Director/Co-owner of Focus-Scope Child Enrichment Centers, centers focused on holistic child development and minority at risk children. In 2020, Project Say Something formed the Alabama Childcare Coalition with a mission to advocate for equitable policies for Black women and children. Camille Bennett and Project Say Something work in partnership with the LGBTQIA community to advocate for social change. .

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