Boxer Holly Lawson Talks Mental Health and Dating With Depression

Holly "Lil Bear" Lawson is a British Columbia, Canada native of Trinidadian descent, a Golden Gloves Champion, Bellator MMA fighter and celebrity trainer now based in Los Angeles, California. Lawson is a polarizing open book when it comes to her personal life as she is a strong advocate for mental health, self-empowerment and constant growth in all forms. Lil Bear also had her own personal bouts with depression, trauma as a youth and domestic violence from a previous relationship as an adult.

Holly chats with URMND founder Ryan Brown and discusses her own personal mental health, relationships and how her dating life has turned a corner while dealing with depression herself.

Ryan Brown: So tell me how you became such a big advocate for mental health.

Holly Lawson: So I grew up in a small, predominantly white town in British Columbia, Canada about two hours outside of Vancouver. Mental health and treatment for people of color like myself was just really not a thing. I dealt with self-image and body issues as a teenager. Then I had my own issues with high-functioning depression. I had a family member who suffered from schizophrenia and psychological breakdowns and it was hard to watch. Even as a young child, I dealt with abandonment issues that I am still coping with. My two best friends now are black men who struggle with their own mental health from time to time and I love them and worry about them dearly. I am just all for empowerment and getting people in the space to communicate and address their mental health along with their physical health.

That is why I love what you do with URMND. It is about having those conversations especially for people of color because we bottle up so much and suppressing our issues is only going to make things worse.

RB: Are you going to therapy now?

HL: No and it’s hard. The reason that I am not going now is that the person that I was seeing before moved. After that one, it became hard to find someone that does not cost an arm and leg. Two, it’s hard to find someone that I am comfortable with. It’s still kind of a weird thing for me. I am still not all the way open to spilling my guts so the thought of doing that over again with someone new is daunting.

The reality of it is that you sometimes have to try a bunch of different people before you find the right person whose therapy style suits you. I do believe there is nothing better you can do for yourself than try to correct those issues by going to therapy. With my past experiences with it, I knew that if I did not put in the work to heal from some of my pain, I knew I was going to carry it around with me forever and it was influencing the relationships that I was in. I knew that I wanted better and be the best person for myself.

RB: It’s interesting when we don’t treat those traumas from childhood or as young adults that it can really shape your personality, your relationships and how you react to things later in life. Even things we’ve never discussed or dealt with for possibly decades.

HL: Certainly. It is really sad to think about that, but also it’s fascinating. Like it’s fascinating that you can carry generational trauma. I think that people are aware of it, but they necessarily are not coming to terms with it and wrapping their brains around it. So because of that, mental health (especially for people of color) is just not treated or even addressed.

I was in a relationship a few years ago where we were connected mentally and spiritually, but he was struggling with depression. It was pretty severe. When I met him, it wasn’t as bad and he was highly functioning, but getting through it every day was a chore. I wasn’t even in love with him and I realized I couldn’t be with him, but as someone that cared about him, it was just so sad.

It took him a long time for him to reach out and seek help and I think he is doing better though we aren’t talking. It took me a long time for me not to take it personally, because I wasn’t quite sure what was going on. Even though I had my own experiences with depression, most of the time it would not affect the relationship and it was an internal thing. But being on the other side of that, I couldn’t quite fathom depression being the issue.

That’s why when it comes to mental health and even depression specifically, I try to keep in mind with my relationships and interactions that it’s easy to be judgemental and just assume you know what is going on. People with those issues put up a good front. People have found ways to self medicate, cope and get through their lives without loved ones seeing trauma and whatever issues they are carrying around.

RB: You talked about your past relationship where he was dealing with depression and you had to learn how to not take that personally, but on the flipside have you ever dated someone where they did not know how to handle your depression issues?

HL: Yeah, but at the same time I feel that my issues were not huge. I feel that I can be a little sharp, I can be extra protective and I really have to trust you before I can really open up and let you in on what is going on internally. There are definitely points where I shut down at any given time and then distance myself. Ultimately, that is usually what happens and it’s not constant in every relationship. But I do understand that has happened before. For sure.

RB: Do you ever regret using that approach?

HL: Certainly, but at the time I didn’t have the tools to articulate myself and cope with truly being vulnerable with someone. Also, I feel maybe that was not the right person to be vulnerable and safe enough with to leave my heart out there.

RB: Do you feel that you have ever been in love or been that vulnerable where you felt that you could put your issues and emotions all the way there?

HL: I am now and in all honesty, it has been challenging, but really dope as well. It’s been a really great growing experience. He’s the first person that I have ever tried to articulate and communicate my frustration and hurt with. He’s the first person that I really wanted to be better for and also the first person I have ever trusted all of myself with. It’s terrifying. It’s so scary and almost mind-numbing at times that I found someone I can trust like that. It’s not the first time I have been in love, but certainly I have not been in love like this before.

RB: People do tend to mask their true feelings and vulnerability (including myself at times). It’s just easier to deal with emotions that way and it’s scary to be that vulnerable.

HL: And with someone you want to be with, you should want to be a little scared. You should want to be in a place where you can be vulnerable, a little uncomfortable and push yourself. The angle is to find someone who challenges you, pushes you and helps you realizes that it isn’t going to be a walk in the park.

Your partner should challenge you to overcome that hurt and pain. I think we sometimes have these visions of relationships that everything is supposed to be rosy all the time once you meet the love of your life. There is this perception that you aren’t going to disagree or argue and you will only show the bests parts of yourself. But to have a real relationship, you have to show your ugliest pieces at times and trust that your partner is going to love those pieces just like they love the prettiest pieces.


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Photo Credits: IG @slaucienega

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