I remember waking up from a nap one January night, crying. Yes, a nap at 8:30pm and I was in actual tears. I said out loud, “I have to go to the gym.” At the time, free endorphins were an immediate fix; something that I knew would help me in that moment. My depression had gotten so bad that I felt like I was just existing. I had been working out and lost a bunch of weight and hadn’t had a bout of depression for 8 months. I almost thought I was “cured”. When it reared its ugly head seemingly overnight, I was crushed. I thought I figured out how to make it go away. I was working out like a beast, eating like a champ and felt clearer than I ever had. I’m not a “why me” person so I hadn’t posed that question. I’m more of an “Oh damn! Something is actually happening here” person. And then I kind of freeze until I can wrap my head around a solution. Honestly, I don’t know when my depression started but I know I haven’t always felt like this.
It’d been heavily suggested for a few years now that I get on medication. My standard response was, “I have some things to be sad about” and it’s true. I’d like to be married one day, have children one day. I’d also like to not have to deal with systematic racism every single day. I could pinpoint the source of the sadness until about three years ago when I was devastatingly sad for no reason. Well, no reason other than the fact that you can’t always control mental health issues, but I wasn’t there yet. I would have these bouts of darkness where it was a struggle to have hope but just when I’d feel almost hopeless, the sun would start shining again. It wasn’t until earlier this year that I realized that my confusion and almost constant state of being in a fog was actually my depression and not me being lazy or stupid. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told myself that I was stupid for not being able to figure out the simplest of tasks. I was talking to a friend and they were describing their depression and it was as if they were reading off a list that I gave them. The fogginess, the confusion, the irritation even when I wasn’t experiencing a marked sadness. Not only was this person extremely open about their own mental health struggles, they spoke about them as if they were saying that the sky was blue. Those few conversations completely changed my life.
I began researching depression and there I was. It felt as though someone had been taking notes on my life for the past three years. I was relieved but also frustrated for being so hard on myself about it. I would feel embarrassed around people who were happy and who didn’t have many complaints. I felt like a fraud often times because you can usually find me laughing at something longer and harder than anyone else. I genuinely laugh at almost anything and I’m always joking around but even in the darkest times, I could throw a smile on my face. I’m not insecure about most things but my depression is something that I keep close to the chest. I don’t want to be the sad friend, the friend whose energy is just too heavy right now, the girl who the guys don’t want to date because they don’t understand depression either and won’t be able to see past it. Back in June, I didn’t feel like I had much of a choice. For an entire week, I had only gotten out of bed to use the bathroom. There were two days that I didn’t even eat. I rejected medication for so long because I didn’t want to be numb; I wanted to be able to feel everything. It was on day seven of this torture that I called one of my best friends and told her that I decided to get on some meds because I was scared that I’d never see the sun again. That’s how I always saw the end of a bout of depression, the sun would seemingly shine again.
Mental health issues have such a negative stigma that we don’t talk about them enough, especially not in the Black community. The general idea when it comes to depression is that you’re just sad. The unsolicited advice: “why don’t you JUST” and “all you have to do is”…fill in the blank, is constant. “Why don’t you just go for a walk?” “All you have to do is stay positive”. Well, no actually. All I have to do is talk myself into getting out of bed and once I get myself out of bed, I have to talk myself into getting dressed and actually going outside. That’s what I JUST have to do.
I slowly started talking about it with my friends. Most of the people who are closest to me know this about me but I opened up to those who didn’t know. The more I talked about it, the more comfortable I felt with it. I was looking through my facebook memories and was triggered by a video that this guy made about depression. It was the most uneducated, useless video that I’ve seen on the topic of mental health. He literally didn’t know anything about it. It’s kind of like when people tell you to go to church for your depression or to just smoke weed. See, there’s a chemical imbalance going on that needs to be dealt with that neither church nor weed are going to even out. You don’t go to a gynecologist when you’re having heart palpitations. Go to a therapist or a psychiatrist and get on some meds…or don’t. But do something, anything.
We have to start having these conversations and removing the stigma. There are Black women who are expected to be strong and not have most things get them down. Heck, there are similar expectations for Black men as well. How incredibly unfair of us to presume that mental health issues are a sign of weakness or a lack of discipline? My best friend suffered with bipolar disorder for twelve years and he fought for his sanity with the strength of a lion. He became recluse after getting pulled over and roughed up one night by police officers. Being the most gentle soul I’d ever had the pleasure of loving, you can imagine my rage when I found out that this incident was the catalyst to his reclusion. I was embarrassingly ignorant when it came to how his condition manifested itself. I thought it meant that you were sad one day and the next you weren’t. In our last conversation, I was taken aback by how much he sounded like his former self; the Quddus from twelve years prior. Unwarranted, I offered this advice, “Listen, when you start feeling the way you’ve felt the past 12 years, run like hell.” As if that was an actual solution. A few days ago I rolled my OWN eyes at my OWN self for telling him to “run like hell”. Run like hell to a psychiatrist? Run like hell to therapy? Maybe just "I love you" and keeping my unsolicited advice to myself, would have been sufficient. It wouldn't have changed the outcome but I wonder if I had been more educated about his condition, if I had been more understanding, would his limited time here have been a little less painful? I'll never know. What I know for sure is that mental health issues don't go away just because we stop talking about them.