There are very few things that embarrass me, so few that I can only tell people specifically one of those things. If I ever fall, I instantly get embarrassed to the point where I’d rather lay there and pretend to be dead than get up and acknowledge I bit the dust. Sounds ridiculous, right? Well, we all have our oddities and sharing this was prompted by several people letting me know they were shocked that I publicly admitted to dealing with depression.
Their consistent reasoning for being shocked is that they figured it was too embarrassing of a thing to admit. They are not the only people who express embarrassment over having/seeing a mental illness that is very real and ain’t going nowhere any time soon. Specifically, MY PEOPLE have an issue with acknowledging this and the need for it to be addressed. There is so much denial, shame, and confusion attached.
I’m not embarrassed that I have depression and I’m going to tell you why.
For one, I haven’t always dealt with this mind-boggling darkness. I was once a wildly self-assured person who was confident that EVERYTHING in life had a solution and nothing was ever too difficult to deal with…you just needed to be serious about the time you invested to get the desired results. I didn’t think I knew it all but I knew I had enough knowledge to be okay with the direction I was headed in life. Of course life has a way of lobbing monkey wrenches directly at your skull to show you that you really know nothing at all, no matter what your inflated ego
So, one of the life wrenches that knocked me dead in the forehead was finding out I was going to be a mother and then deciding to keep the baby. This wasn’t some fly by night decision. I wasn’t supposed to be able to have children and even with a couple of scares (exactly 2), I knew that was more my desire to have fully functioning plumbing versus wanting to raise a human being. Everyone assumed I’d be a perfect mother because of the practical, responsible, and determined way I lead my life. Those traits don’t necessarily make you a good parent, by the way. You need a lot of other stuff to accompany those three traits. Major ones being the ability to love someone more than you love yourself and time you care to devote to someone other than what you’ve set aside for your selfish flights of fancy.
I suffered through a nasty case of postpartum depression and this is what triggered its age old cousin of just flat-out depression. I had people tell me it wasn’t real. It was just the mommy blues and I would get over it. Someone even went as far as to tell me that any time I had sad thoughts, to just look at my daughter and that should instantly make me happy. My reality was, every time I looked at her, I’d sink even further into this place that I can only describe as Infinite Darkness. It wasn’t because she was some hideous alien larvae threatening to destroy my existence. I saw darkness because I, nor her father, had any idea what the fuck we were doing and there is no return to sender. How was I going to be responsible for another human being?
There was no reset button. So, I stood on the balcony every day, contemplating The Jump. During this time, I had a friend who came over pretty much every day. She spent hella time with me while I was pregnant too and I believe, to this day, that she did this to keep me from tossing my life over the bannister. She wasn’t big on discussing feelings but she’s one of the most intuitive people I know. She knew I needed help and she stepped up. It made it a lot easier to share with her that some days, I didn’t want to do any of this but I’d think about my daughter. Who was going to feed her if I was laying on the concrete taking a dirt nap or paralyzed for the rest of my sad-ass life? Who was going to change her diaper? Who was going to love her? These three questions often halted my sense of urgency to end it all.
I was taught to suffer in silence, as most Black children are because our parents, grandparents, great grandparents, etc. often did out of the need to survive. We like to pretend that the struggles of being Black are so far removed from our DNA because slavery was abolished back in 1865. That wasn’t even 200 years ago. All of my grandparents lived beyond 80 years of age, some into their 90s. Some of my great grandparents LIVED through slavery. The 13th Amendment might have been passed in 1864 but that doesn’t mean slavery instantly stopped and ALL Black people were respected as great contributions to society. It opened a door for something just as sinister to permeate all of our lives: Systemic racism. And because of this reality that is still present today, a lot of us deal with mental health struggles.
What was once blatantly obvious is glazed over with, “this is business, not personal,” “you’re being too sensitive,” “stop feeling sorry for yourself and do better,” “you don’t want it bad enough,” and my personal favorite, “no one’s keeping you down; that’s an excuse to be lazy.” These are the perfect gas-lighting statements even used by my own people to invalidate the effects of centuries of abuse. There is no form of abuse that isn’t accompanied by mental stress. How our mental stress shows up is often in various states of depression.
I’m not ashamed to admit that sometimes life takes its toll on me and I can’t think my way out of my thoughts. To some people I don’t look like the face of depression. Maybe I smile too much. Maybe I push through to the other side too much. Maybe I don’t stay in an obvious depressive state long enough. Maybe I talk too freely about it so it seems romanticized versus something to constantly paint as lifelong dread. Maybe because I’m not ashamed, it isn’t real to others.
I’m here to let anyone reading this know that depression looks different for everyone. I’m a high-functioning keeper of depression. You’re not going to immediately see it, NOT BECAUSE I’M ASHAMED, but because my coping mechanisms involve staying busy enough that it doesn’t take over my life. However, me staying busy doesn’t make any of it go away, it just forces me to not sink quicker.
I have depression and if you have it, this is your safe space in this very moment to say it with me. WE have depression. We don’t have to hide behind a veil of positivity to maintain a healthy mental state. If you battle with depression, it’s a part of who you are but we don’t have to be solely defined by it. It’s personal and attached to very real events in our lives that aren’t to be pushed down into the Sea of Suppression because it makes other people uncomfortable to watch.
The great Zora Neale Hurston said, “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.” I don’t enjoy any of this and I’ve grown tired of suffering in silence. This is why I choose to speak freely about depression. I have too much in life to accomplish to let darkness eat me alive. I see a lot of my peers, colleagues, and friends who shy away from admitting they too deal with depression. It’s a valid fear that they will be judged severely and be viewed as incapable of being the great person they have already shown themselves to be. It happens because we live in a judgmental society that lives to insert superiority by comparing people to what looks good and what we believe to be is good. Right now, so many of us don’t have a safe space to say, “I have depression.”
As long as I’m alive, I will continue to create safe spaces so we can detach from shame, denial, and the loneliness of depression. I will continue to extend myself because it’s part of my life purpose to help others. I’m not alone and because of that, I encourage those who can afford it, to seek professional help. Those who cannot, I encourage them to surround themselves with people who understand their plight and will love them regardless of their state of mind.
I want to normalize Us being able to step away from self-imposed and external shame. I want us to be okay with admitting, “I have depression.”
Would you like to tell your mental health story? Do you have a mental health resource, video, or event we need to know about? Reach out and say hello.