Aïcha Conde is ASPA’s head for the RDV division and she’s also an avid musician and YouTuber. What started as an interview about one of her recent videos, “WiseAïchaTalk Episode: A Message to ‘Depression’” evolved into a larger discussion about mental health in the African diaspora including topics like mental health stigma and multigenerational trauma. This is Part 1. See link to Part 2 at the bottom of the page.
LGA: Why did you start the video with the letter to yourself? How did you come up with it?
AC: I usually do something as an intro in the first 30 seconds of the videos, ie dancing or something related to the topic. I was going to play music, but it didn’t feel right because what I was discussing was too serious and didn’t match with the video’s vibe. I wanted to write something instead and the letter was inspired by the stuff I already do – affirmations I’ve told myself in the journey to become myself and the promises I’ve made to myself.
LGA: How did you prepare to talk about this topic and how difficult was it for you to do so?
AC: The whole concept of my series is based off of what people send me. Someone DM’ed me the question I read [at the start of the video] and it made me think that the topic was bigger than any one scenario. You should check on friends that are strong, but the bigger questions were “what is depression?”, “what does it look like?”, and “what are the misconceptions?”. Basically, I googled a lot of the medical signs for depression and there’s so many symptoms out there that just reading through a list could make you feel like you have depression even if you don’t. So I picked the key signs that signal that there’s something really wrong with me, or my friend or family member. So I prepared with Google, using the question I received as a framework to outline the video, and of course my own life experience, which is what I mostly rely on when I’m answering the questions that are asked of me. The poem was a spoken word letter that I actually wrote on the spot that day. I wrote it right before I filmed. I’m pretty good at doing stuff like that really quickly, I don’t need to think too much about it. Because if I do, it’s not going to happen. So that’s how I prepare.
LGA: So this video was a response to a DM. Do you often get inspired by DMs for your videos?
AC: Yeah, that happens a lot. Sometimes there are people who DM me and I can tell based on the way they’re writing it that it’s not for a Wise Aïcha [talk]. Most of the time, they’ll be like “Thank you so much for what you’re doing, I have a question for you.” Normally people will be like “Oh I don’t know if you did this topic but this would be a great topic”. That’s how I know they’re okay at least with the idea of me sharing a video [with that topic in mind] or me considering that. But there are other times when people DM me and ask me questions and then we go back and forth talking about whatever topic it is or issue in their life. Or they’ll use somebody and say “Oh I have a friend with a problem” and I’ll be like “Okay, you know so much about this friend. I think it’s you but I ain’t gonna say nothin.”, you know? But it’s fine.
[However], the whole show started with me talking to people on Instagram and on my stories, playing around with my friends, responding to people, and sharing my thoughts with people. So it’s not about the show. The show is just a product of the relationship I’m trying to build with my community. But the show is also creating a larger community with people that are not my friends. My Instagram used to be private before but when I started doing WiseAïchaTalk, I made it public because I didn’t think it was fair to keep it to my circle. What’s the point of doing healing work if you’re only keeping it to your inner circle?
LGA: How difficult was it for you to talk about such a topic and why did you decide to talk about it on YouTube? Was it therapeutic?
AC: [Filming] the video wasn’t difficult. But this was the first time I made sure that people could insinuate or know directly that that is something that I [personally] deal with. In my videos, I’m responding to people’s questions but this is the first time that I’m responding [and] also owning a scar of mine in a public forum. So it wasn’t difficult because I usually speak about my life, whenever I talk to people I don’t care about showing my scars. But I think it’s different from when you’re doing that in person and then doing that in a video. In a video, you put [it] out there and people can take that as a snapshot of what you’re trying to say. Whereas in a conversation, there can be a back and forth where you can clarify certain things. So I felt like there was a heaviness because I [was] being vulnerable in a space [where it’s] very hard to make room for mistakes. If I say something wrong or something that is not correct, sure I can edit it out but I don’t like to have to do so much editing. I like to have fun with my edits in the beginning and then get to the mumbo jumbo. So it wasn’t difficult in the sense of “I can’t do this” or “I’m scared” but I noticed that my speech pattern was different. I had a little bit of trouble breathing, a lot of heaviness when I was talking so perhaps my body was trying to tell me “you’re feeling vulnerable at this moment”. I’m not ashamed of it, I’m very proud that I did the video because so many people DM’ed me and [told me] “I can relate to that” or “It’s so great that you picked this topic because no one talks about it”. You know, people usually keep that to themselves. They don’t say “Oh, I’ve dealt with depression for my whole life”. Nobody really goes around saying stuff like that until you actually, you know, know them.
LGA: In a video about mental health in the black community, Trevor Noah talks about how hard it is to access therapy in general, let alone therapy that considers the difficulty of the black experience. In your video, you recommended therapy for everyone. I was wondering what you thought about how that works when therapy isn’t always easy to access and the person or the people who would best help you with the issue aren’t so easy to find?
AC: This is complex. Therapy is not mandatory. You have to be ready to do that, it’s [a working process]. Like I said in the video, therapy is like dating, you have to find the right person to do that with. And for some people, that might look like a regular therapist or psychologist. For others, that looks like a life coach. For some people it might have something to do with the arts. For others, it’s linked with having dialogue with someone and having your ideas bounce off with someone else. For some people, therapy is having a session with their personal trainer at the gym. Long story short, I don’t want to say “therapy for all” because I do acknowledge, and I do agree with Trevor Noah, that it is hard to access therapy especially as a person of colour from a certain social demographic and also, it’s very hard to find a therapist that you feel like you can be vulnerable with and trust.
[Personally], when I’m looking for a therapist, I’m very specific. I’m looking for a black woman and not just any black woman. She needs to be aware of certain concepts, I don’t want her to look at me like I’m weird when I talk about certain ideas or cultural frameworks. I don’t want her to think I’m paranoid or schizophrenic when I talk about spirituality. I need to talk to a kind of therapist who is open to the world beyond what it means to be normal in a Western, white-supremacist, imperialist way. I’m not going to say therapy is for everyone and if I did say that in the video I hope I didn’t make it seem like that’s the only route but I do think that for me, it was very helpful. I don’t know what I could recommend beyond or outside of therapy besides the other things that I’ve already mentioned because I feel like it is very important to have someone to bounce your ideas off of. Now, maybe the person is not certified but you need somebody who’s not going to be a biased friend who’s super invested in your life, and in a certain way that knows a little too much. You need someone that is neutral party. Therapy isn’t even about the therapist, it’s about you listening to yourself and you’re like “wow, I didn’t realize that I think like this.” A good therapist asks you questions so that you can answer them for yourself. Therapy helped me to open up the world and see what was going on with me because there’s a lot of things I wasn’t aware of. It opened up my field view and I saw all of these things that I was doing and I didn’t know why.
LGA: Considering the topic you talked about in your video, It would be remiss if we didn’t ask: how are you feeling right now?
AC: I think I’m actually doing very good, compared to most stages in my life. I feel like there were times where I thought I was good but I wasn’t, and now I’m doing so much better. There are still demons that I have to fight but I’m fighting them in the gym, with my prayers, with my class assignments… I’m fighting them with every step I take in this crazy-a** city.
I feel good, because my birthday [December 15] comes up every year close to the end of the year, it’s a big [annual] check-in for me. And this birthday was very good for me: I cried, I fasted, I prayed, and I was just very emotional because I was grateful, just very grateful to God and the life I currently have and all the blessings God has been giving me. I’m just so grateful. There’s no explanation for why things have come to be like this other than God, you know? I just feel like God has fully shown me, Aïcha, I love you. You my boo, I love you and I’m here for you. I’m telling you, there are moments where I’m like “damn, I’m really tight on cash right now” but I know one thing’s for sure, my number one, numero uno bestie’s got me. No matter what happens in this life, he got me! He always does. So yes, I’m good.
LGA: At the end of the video you mentioned doing a video in the future about happiness. How do we find happiness? What do you plan to talk about?
AC: [One thing] that I’ve noticed for my whole life is that happiness in the way that we’ve consumed [it] is not accurate. In [many] movies and media we see happiness sold to us in a very particular way that’s almost perfect, light and airy, just beautiful, wonderful. To the point where it’s even hard for some people to recognize happiness when it’s staring right into their face because they’re so stuck on seeing it a certain way that that’s the way they want to have it in their lives. And I think happiness looks different for everyone. But I do believe that happiness cannot exist without having the darkness, without having the sadness…you wouldn’t know what happiness is if you didn’t go through something that wasn’t that, you know? Now for me personally, I know that happiness means me self-actualizing the kind of life I want to [live]. Knowing that I feel empowered to live the life that I want to live and [being] honest and truthful with myself and others and feel safe in the world. That’s what happiness feels like to me. And that’s what I’ve been looking for and I will keep looking for. Feeling safe. Finding a space, a location, a person, or something that makes me feel safe. And makes me feel like it’s okay to be me. And that’s very hard to do, especially if you’re a black woman. It’s very hard to find that. But I have hope because if I don’t, what’s the whole point of my life? You know? What’s the point of going through this whole thing if I don’t have hope? I have faith that God is going to provide me with a good partner but also provide me with the right environment and circumstances to be able to self-actualize a life that I feel happy waking up to every day. That I feel okay with and sometimes happiness is not just this giddy, high feeling. Happiness is peace. Happiness is safety. Happiness is feeling content. Happiness is feeling proud of yourself. Happiness is not a constant thing because life is not constant. Life is always changing. So just like that, happiness cannot stay contained, it goes, it comes back. It needs to go away for you to recognize that there’s something missing. Peace and safety are big things for me, and gratitude is a huge thing too. Feeling very humbled by life, feeling grateful, that’s happiness to me too. When I feel very emotional. This birthday, I was very happy. It was a different happiness because normally I plan a whole thing, go do volunteering stuff, go have cake with my family, wait for them to give me gifts, and do all the other stuff. But this birthday was especially good because I was happy. I felt lonely a little bit but because I didn’t have all the people I normally have and I didn’t plan anything but I was so happy because I felt full. I didn’t have any expectations. People were calling me, messaging me, everybody was just sending me love messages. And I realized that when I was stuck in the ruckus I was going through, and integrating into life here in Paris, I didn’t realize that I’d already formed a community. A lot of the people who really made my day were people I’d met through Sciences Po. I just met you guys but you made my whole day freaking awesome.
Link to Part 2: https://lagrandeafrique.com/?p=1963&preview=true
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