It’s Okay To Not Be Okay (But It’s Not Okay To Stay That Way)

First let me start this off by saying it’s okay to hurt, it’s okay to feel your emotions, and it’s okay to sometimes feel stuck. That’s life, that’s natural, that’s a part of being human. Roughly two years ago when this pandemic started I was in a bad state mentally. I was working a job that was taking a toll on my mental health, due to the pandemic I was barely going outside, let alone spending time with people, and I was heavily using marijuana to numb the pain.

It dawned on me after one really exhausting work day that I was on a downward spiral that I’d let get completely out of control. I was diagnosed with clinical depression at fifteen years old, and I thought I’d been managing it pretty well. I was in fact lying to myself. I knew I had two choices, to either continue to wallow in self pity and unhappiness or to make a change.

The first change I made was to find a therapist right away. I reached out to a TON of therapists on Psychology Today, with only a handful of them getting back to me. I spoke to the ones that contacted me back by phone and did a consultation. I settled on one that fit my criteria, a man of color, roughly around my age, and from Philly. We spoke once a week for an hour and after about six months I could feel the improvement.

Next I made a decision to leave marijuana alone cold turkey. My dad is 34-years sober and has been a part of Alcoholics Anonymous for as long as I can remember. He encouraged me to let the weed go and spoke about the benefits. He told me it was important to attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings, but I chose not to. 

I made it seven months straight cold turkey before falling off the wagon, the longest streak of sobriety since I started smoking at 16 years old. I restarted my sober streak again six months later, and I’m now approaching my year mark of sobriety. I don’t know if I’ll remain sober for the rest of my life (I definitely understand the upside of responsible marijuana consumption) but I know for 100% sure that my mental health transformation would not have been possible without this very necessary change.

Next up was my physical health, which is something that I’m still combatting to this day. I gained 50 pounds in the pandemic, going from 190 pounds to roughly about 240. Sitting on the couch day in and day out took its toll, as did my terrible eating habits. I stopped exercising, and out of fear of tearing something or breaking a bone that may take me away from work for an extended time, I stopped playing basketball as well. 

So during an unseasonably nice day in March of 2021 I got up from my couch, threw my running gear on, along with a knee brace, and my running sneakers and gutted out a two mile run up the hill outside my house. It was grueling, and painful, but I found that I loved every minute of it. I still run the hill, along with Kelly Drive and wherever else I can find that will present a challenge. The weight is still lingering, but I know that it’s not due to inactivity (moreso me getting older now haha).

After dealing with my mental and physical health, I made the decision to significantly alter my media consumption. Whether that be on the TV, or social media, I made a conscious effort to curate my exposure. That meant taking an extended break from Twitter and Facebook, and avoiding the evening news. It meant unfollowing negative people, and discontinuing relationships with friends and family in real life that did not serve my purpose of growth and prosperity. 

I had to do A LOT of soul searching to find out what really made me tick and what mattered. That’s when I realized that podcasting was something that I not only had a real interest in, but also had a skill for. So a year and a half ago I started The 3rd Lap Podcast, and it changed my life. It gave me value outside of my job and allowed me to flex my creative muscles in a powerful way. 

It connected me to new people that have helped to teach me so much, and also it taught me to value the already amazing people I have in my life. With each episode I recorded and posted I felt a resurgence in my joy, something that I felt I’d lost long ago. A year ago I began a second podcast, Mind Ya Mentals Podcast (MYM) with my friend Tim Massaquoi to talk about mental health from the perspective of two Black men. 

MYM has had a profound influence on my mental health journey and has provided me another platform to speak my truth and tell my story. Not only that, but Tim and I are able to actually help people to learn more about why mental health should be a priority, and provide tangible steps to follow to attain mental wealth.

The last decision that I made was to leave my job. I was miserable. I was unfulfilled. I was lost. This is no knock on my previous employer, or any shade at them or their practices as much as it’s an understanding that all things come to an end. My time at that organization and in that role had run its course. But I was well compensated and I knew that I had bills to pay and as a husband I had responsibilities to fulfill financially. But after a while that wasn’t enough to keep me in a perpetual state of unhappiness. 

So I sat my wife down and told her that I was contemplating leaving my job and venturing off to do something else. I didn’t know exactly what that was at the time, I thought about transitioning into journalism, or maybe a full time recruitment role outside of education. Then one day while perusing LinkedIn I came across a post from Sharif El-Mekki promoting a Fellowship opportunity with his organization. The fellowship was through a reputable non-profit organization in Philadelphia and involved working in education policy. Mind you, I didn’t know the first thing about Ed policy but I knew a good opportunity when I saw one. 

I talked with my wife again, and also looped in my parents because I trust their input. The fellowship opportunity meant taking a leap of faith and taking a calculated risk on myself. It meant taking a significant pay cut at a time when making less money was probably not the wisest decision. I fully expected all three of them to tell me I was out of my mind. But none of them did, actually they were fully onboard. They told me to think about how I can make the transition happen financially, but if it’s what I wanted then go after it. 

I took long runs thinking about the transition. I sat and thought about it at length. I prayed and meditated on it and talked to the ancestors. I finally decided to apply and was able to secure the position after a lengthy interview process. My new role has empowered me to be my authentic self and has provided me with an opportunity to actually say I love what I do and love who I do it with. 

You are not alone in your struggles, but ultimately you are the one that has to make the choice to do something about it. It won’t be easy, you have to make a plan, save, and be very tactical in your transition. Your passion project won’t become profitable overnight. You may chase sobriety and fall off the wagon several times.

You just have to do it. Find your passion, align your mission in life with it and never look back. If you fall down, pick yourself up, and wipe yourself off. Every single time. Don’t quit. Realize that your mental, physical, and spiritual health are your priority and yours alone. Start the journey, and you’ll be amazed how your positive momentum will attract the right people and opportunities. 

I hope that you’ll be able to attest to the power of self improvement and actualization and share your story to be motivation for others. It’s okay to not be okay, but it’s not okay to stay that way. Trust me, I’m living proof.

Stay present. Stay positive.

Mal Davis
Mal Davis
Mal is an educator, podcaster, and social justice advocate that believes in the power of people. He has spent most of his adult life working with communities of color to identify issues that cause harm, and then working with schools and nonprofits to create solutions. He spent roughly five years in talent management, working to identify and hire teachers, support staff, and school leaders in New York City, Camden, and Philadelphia. He joined the Center as a Stoneleigh Emerging Leader Fellow, working in education policy with a specific focus on equitable hiring solutions for the School District of Philadelphia and schools across PA to increase the number of BIPOC teachers in the workforce.


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