meet riley blanks reed
The socially conscious storyteller, photographer, writer, and founder of Woke Beauty believes medicine can be really powerful, psychedelics can be really powerful, and walking can be really powerful.
What grounds you?
I find grounding ourselves in our environment to be really soothing. There’s a lot of power in being outside. There’s something so expansive about being in nature and it’s really good for perspective.
That said, I think there’s a lot of pressure for people to be outside as if you have to do something extreme. But no, you can just stand outside.
My husband and I are really lucky to live in a neighborhood that’s walkable. So I walk a lot and it’s a really meditative experience. I like to walk with my dogs. I like to walk with no headphones, no phone, nothing, and feel the world around me. So nature, for me, has definitely been one of the most soothing forms of mental health healing.
You’re a writer, so how does journaling factor into your mental health?
When you write, you’re alone. It’s a very quiet practice. And I think getting quiet with yourself is really important and writing can elicit that. So for me, I write professionally and that’s a big part of who I am and it’s a way that I express myself.
But I also believe in writing for no reason because it allows you to sit with your thoughts. Often we react really quickly. I know I do. And when I write them down and I have a conversation with myself just by using paper and pen, I can really flesh them out and realize that most of them are not really that important.
“So I journal regularly.”
I don’t have a schedule. I do it when I really feel like I need to, and I need to when my brain is overwhelmed because I’ve got to get some of that out. I like to journal pen to paper because you can’t erase anything.
Who in your life holds space for you and is a major support system?
I don’t like to think of my partner as a tool, but he’s definitely a vessel, a container, a witness, and a partner. I’ve been with him for almost 12 years and we’ve grown up together in a lot of ways. I feel like I can fully unleash and be who I am with him. And you can’t say that about a lot of people. With him, I’m a stripped down me. And so I feel living with him, being around him, integrating with him while still maintaining my independence, all those things have completely affected who I am.
And then my dogs, they’re great. I love them. I probably spend more time with them than anyone because half of my work is at home. There’s something so cool about having a connection with a being that doesn’t speak. They’re so quiet, yet they’re so supportive.
What’s a practice that you try to implement everyday?
Tea has a lot of healing properties and I like the idea of it being a practice. You make the tea, you steep the tea, you pour the tea, you hold the tea, you drink the tea. I think even beyond what tea in it of itself has to offer, I also love that process. Being able to share a tea with someone or having a cup of coffee is such a binding element.
How would you describe your mental health, currently?
I’m in a good place right now. My wedding is on October 9 and we were supposed to get married on April 4, 2020. It got derailed because of COVID, which was awful. Then it was supposed to be in October 2020 and it got derailed again. So we ended up eloping, shared our vows, and had a 4-person ceremony in Big Sur, so it’ll be really wonderful to finally have our people together and have a wedding. I’ve been preparing because I want to be as present as possible on this day.
“So my mental health is really good and I would say it’s good because I’m not drinking.”
I’ve had a couple of drinks here and there, but drinking, they say, is like pouring gasoline on anxiety. It is one of the worst things you can do if you have a mental health condition. It is absolutely destructive. But it is also is beautiful, like coffee. It can bring people together. And I truly believe that, but it also can ravage your mind and it has that effect on me. It’s really fun when I’m drinking, but the next week I could fall into depression. I do have severe anxiety. I don’t sleep and my eczema will just break out.
I also have been exercising a lot more. I’m an athlete. So generally, I exercise a lot, but the pandemic threw that off. But I found my stride, lifting weight, walking 5 miles a day, and drinking water. It’s part of getting my hormones back on track. I went off birth control last summer. so my body is starting to find its natural rhythm. I feel really good. I have my struggles, but you know, they’re all managed right now.
How does intimacy and relationships impact your mental health?
It has an effect because I show my husband all of me. He sees everything. He’s completely attuned to what’s going on and it can definitely negatively impact correspondence. If I’m in a state that is off-kilter from usual, I’m communicating in ways that are different. And so, we navigate different tools and tactics that he can use to help me feel better.
We go to couples counseling once a month. At first, we were doing it as premarital counseling. And then I felt it was great for maintenance, like an oil change. Our therapist is wonderful. And a lot of what she does is help us work through what works for him and where he is coming from. And what works for me? Where am I coming from? A lot of it is just better understanding where each of us stands independently so that we can come together.
As far as sex goes, we’re really blessed that it’s healthy and fluid. Physicality is important for both of us, whether it’s walking, dancing, high-intensity exercise, or being intimate together (on any level). I think it’s important to acknowledge that, like anything, sex isn’t an equation, nor is it perfect. And that’s what makes it beautiful. Understanding your partner, changing and growing with them, and adapting when necessary…those are ways you make someone feel seen and thus fall deeper in love and closer in compatibility. And that doesn’t always happen in your bedroom. Sometimes you need to migrate to another part of the house or leave the house entirely and go on a walk. Sometimes you need a staycation, other times you need to host a dinner with friends, visit family, or leave the country. Routine can be grounding, but it can also lead to stagnancy. Leaving the container and finding ways to get close holistically is so important.
What’s your take on medication, like antidepressants, and supplements?
I believe that Western medicine is really powerful and I believe that Eastern medicine is really powerful. And I think they can come together and forge this beautiful blend. There are a lot of flaws in public health, so I recognize all of the problems, but when used properly and diagnosed properly, I think medicine can be really powerful. I also think psychedelics can be really powerful. I think walking can be really powerful.
“But I don’t think you can just take medicine.”
You also need to study how you live, how you behave, who is around you. There are a lot of different elements to being human and medicine can act as a band-aid. It can also act as one other moving piece to you being fully whole.
I take a probiotic and it’s incredibly helpful for my diet. I also have mood stabilizers. I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder (the ‘II’ is very important to note as it differs largely from bipolar I disorder) in the fall of 2017 and thankfully, my psychiatrist is incredible. I was very resistant to taking medicine. For the first few months, I resisted taking it and I tried to do yoga and whole 30. I stopped drinking, all these things, and I still had episodes. So I got to the point where I said, okay, I’ll give it a shot. I take lamotrigine and with it, you have to titrate because there are risks. I started really low and then we slowly moved me up until I got to a point where the episodes stopped and I felt more chemically balanced.
In a lot of ways, it saved me. It had a huge impact on my life, but I promised myself if I’m going to take this, then I’m also going to do everything I can to support my mind in other ways. I’m never going to purely rely on this.
What makes you stressed or anxious and therefore impacts your mood and mental health?
What stimulates hypomania or anxiety the most for me is lack of sleep. My psychiatrist, since day one, has said the biggest and most wonderful thing you can do for yourself is get on a sleep schedule. So going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time. If don’t get enough sleep, I can get very irritable and anxious.
I can also get really anxious if there is some kind of conflict with another person out of the blue. If I get an email from a client who’s unhappy, the first place I go to is anxiety. I have to immediately fix it. And if I don’t, the world will end. So I have to take a breath. That person does not live in your phone. It’s okay to wait a few hours, maybe talk to someone about it, maybe journal about it, fully think it through, and then respond.
When do you feel most at peace?
With my partner.
When do you feel your body tense up?
If someone’s upset with me.
What gives you serotonin?
Moving my body. Walking, running, something that elevates my heart rate.
What does your body language say about you?
When do you speak your mind?
All the time. And when I don’t, I deeply regret it.
next story — maxine goynes