Seeking joy during the holidays: Miss Native America USA shares her experience with depression
Lexie Michael James shares her experience with depression while using her platform to shed light on mental health issues
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — The holidays are a joyous time for many as they celebrate with family and friends, but not so for some people who suffer from sadness, depression, anxiety, loneliness and suicidal ideations.
Lexie Michael James, 23, a Hopi tribal member and the reigning Miss Native American USA, has made it her mission to advocate the importance of suicide prevention and mental health wellness as her main platform issue titled, “The journey is not over: Suicide prevention and mental health wellness.”
James explained a lot of people do not like the holidays and many get into a “funk.” She explained everyone is different and they all deal with their depression in different ways, so she was hesitant to provide advice for getting out of a depressive mood.
James suffers from depression herself and was free to admit it because she said she is only human and she feels her experience helps in bringing awareness to the issue.
“Sometimes, we just need to sit and be and take in everything that is going on around us. Take that, step back and be able to reflect and enjoy all that is happening."
— Lexie Michael James, Miss Native American USA 2019-2020
She recently experienced an episode of depression caused by a multitude of issues she was experiencing. She was missing her stepfather and biological father, who both passed on, they were both significant figures in her life and both practiced the Hopi traditional ways.
“I really started to feel that void of their presence,” she said. “It is hard for me during the holidays.”
She also felt the pressure of high expectations as a titleholder.
“[I felt] like I wasn’t meeting the expectations of people I am supposed to be representing,” she added. “[I felt] overwhelmed and wanting to do it all… to fix every single problem that we have and the harsh reminder that I can’t. That frustrates me and I internalize all of that.”
She told some of her friends about her mood and they simply suggested, “Go for a run… go do this… go do that…” without realizing that those types of activities are not for everyone. She simply responded, “That is not my thing.”
She dreads the holidays because of the expectations to be happy and of being with loved ones, and she often finds herself anxious for it to all be over. She often tells herself, “I’m over the holidays! Let’s just keep on going.”
In the midst of her depressive episode a few weeks ago, she said she went outside barefoot on a cold winter day and grounded herself.
“I was reminded of who I am. There is a saying, I don’t know if it’s specific to Hopi or if it is universal to all natives… where they mention when a baby is born, they place their feet on the ground to ground them to Mother Earth, ground them to a higher power in a sense,” she said. “That is what I did. I walked around barefoot even though it was freezing.”
“I just took a moment to reflect [on] why I [was] feeling like this?” she added. “I have family, I have a really big family [and] I shouldn’t be feeling this way and so I felt guilty. I had to reevaluate why I was feeling this way and in doing so, I felt refreshed.”
James said there are various techniques that one can do to overcome their anxiety and depression, and her method to re-ground herself may not be for everyone.
“There are different breathing techniques, there’s [also] different points in our bodies that release these emotions or release these feelings for us,” she said. “Not so much Western medicine types of things but our cultural teachings and our values as native people.”
She has been introduced to many different techniques that help her but she finds being outside is one method that really helps her overcome her anxiety and depression.
“It doesn’t hurt that it is also pretty outside when it snows and taking in the scenery,” she said.
James said the holidays are always a busy time for people. She is often reminded of a quote she likes by author Kurt Vonnegut who said, “I am a human being, not a human doing.”
“Sometimes, we just need to sit and be, and take in everything that is going on around us,” she said. “Take that, step back and be able to reflect and enjoy all that is happening — the many things that we tend to overlook with our busy lives and our busy schedules.”
For her, the holidays are about spending time with loved ones and not necessarily the celebration of Christmas because she does not celebrate Christmas for personal reasons.
“Growing up, we didn’t really celebrate it,” she said. “My family, my fathers were involved with [Hopi] culture and that was their thinking.”
She said they do not decorate their home for the holidays either, no Christmas tree and no gift-exchanging.
“It’s not really Christmas in our home, it’s more of a gathering time, a time to connect with family and enjoy one another’s presence and company. Everyone is home,” she said.
She said many of her family members spend the entire year working hard and going to school and by the year’s end, they are tired and they enjoy the holiday break to rest.
“We just like to sit there and enjoy one another’s company and that is our Christmas,” she said. “That is our gift, being able to catch up and talk, and use any excuse to eat.”
Although life is much better for James now, it was not always the case. She grew up in a broken home by parents who were alcoholics and domestic violence was prevalent in the home.
Her life has been a long journey and when she speaks about depression and suicide, she speaks from direct experience.
“I had to grow up really fast,” she said. “I had to learn how to take care of myself.”
While growing up, she never realized she suffered from anxiety and depression, and she did not know how to deal with it until she was in her early 20s when she sought help. She was taught to never talk openly about her personal problems or feelings and to instead, “suck it up or tough it out.”
“I had my own attempts at suicide,” she said.
She began her journey to heal and said after seeking help; she realized that depression and suicide need to be talked about regardless of embarrassment or cultural taboo.
“We need to have that conversation,” she said.
Aside from being Miss Native American USA, she also works as a youth liaison with the Hopi Foundation. She sees some Hopi youth fighting depression and anxiety, and some who may have suicidal ideations. She does what she can to help them.
“They feel alone, they feel like they can’t talk about these things,” she said. “In many cultures, it’s a taboo to talk about suicide or mental health. I want to be able to break that barrier. If we continue to be silent about these things, we are going to continue to lose more and more of our people to mental health-related issues and to suicide.”
“I know what it’s like to suffer with [depression],” she said. “I am still working on myself and working to heal from past traumas and heal from whatever has gone on before in my past. I work to be a better person, to take care of myself so that I can best serve our native communities and so they don’t feel alone, so they feel supported.”
If you or anyone you know is suffering from depression or suicidal ideations, seek help. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Hotline is free, confidential and available 24 hours a day and year-round, they can be reached at 1-800-662-4357 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.