It’s Hard to Be: Black, Female, Male, Homosexual, A Parent, A Single Parent, Chronically Ill, young, old, broke, bisexual, homeless, misunderstood, unemployed . . .
It’s hard to be alive.
It’s also hard to be Black with Mental Health Issues.
My parents should have been genetically tested and never been allowed to procreate because they produced one beautiful, intelligent, busty creature with a broken brain.
I have lived with Depression for 18 long years, it’s a huge part of a who I am and it impacts my daily life. I’m not ashamed of my illness, but I am loathe to tell black adults, even trusted OHNawlians about it. I’ve had years to study mental health and I will advocate for the depressed with every ounce of strength I can muster, but it’s exhausting to fight comments like:
1. Pray about it. God will fix it, just go to church. You’re depressed cuz you don’t pray.
2. WTF do you have to be depressed about? You have a job, you’re healthy. Get over it. Nobody died.
3. Get outside and exercise, quit relying on medication. It’s probably just in your head anyway. Those pills don’t do anything to actually help you
4. Depression is a state of mind, it you would just change things in your life then you would feel better. Stop feeling bad for yourself and be productive.
These aren’t strictly black comments, but studies show that the African-American community is slower at coming to grips with the realities of mental illnesses like depression, Bipolar, Schizophrenia (which affects blacks1.5 times more than whites). There’s this stigma attached to mental illness and for those people who are suffering, or have family suffering,explaining to black friends and family can be a secondary battle that’s just not worth the effort.
Even as I write this I know that some of you are thinking “See? I knew that chick was crazy.” And sometimes Chernanigans is about being THAT person representing some silent voices.
So before I delve in and since I’m sure assumptions are already being made:
1. No, I am not currently or recently (within the last 3+ years) suicidal. I am fFINE. I will not crack or break. If you want to attack my opinions feel free, if you want to ask questions I’ll do my best to be as honest and forthright as I feel comfortable
2. Yes, I am on drugs, but that’s a medical requirement for me (keep reading). .
Contrary to popular belief DEPRESSION IS NOT A CHOICE! It’s not an attention seeking tool. Its not the “Blues” It’s not a thing to “Just get over it” I’m not talking about loneliness or bad days. I’m not writing about grief or bereavement following a loss, I’m writing about Major Depression aka Clinical Depression (hence forth Depression).
Science time: Depression is a Chemical Imbalance, our brains shower themselves with “happiness gems” (sounds happier than serotonin). If there’s a clog in the gem spout, a reduction in happiness gems or an area that gets no gems you can get depressed. Yes, I actually describe the things going on in my brain in terms of gems, clouds, gremlins, etc. AND? It makes it a whole lot more interesting than thinking of it as “grey matter”.
Major depressive disorder, or major depression, is characterized by a combination of symptoms that interfere with a person’s ability to work, sleep, study, eat, and enjoy once-pleasurable activities. Major depression is disabling and prevents a person from functioning normally. Some people may experience only a single episode within their lifetime, but more often a person may have multiple episodes.
Besides Major Depressives there are Human Eeyores. These people have dysthymia they are almost never happy, always negative, always hopeless. . . for years.
Those who annually get the “Winter Blues ” may have Seasonal Affective Disorder
(SAD) due to a lack of Vitamin D and other factors. My Mom has a Happy Light Lamp I’d like her to get therapy, but she thinks she’s fine. I think she’s … moving on.
Since the age of 12 I’ve had 6 Major Depressive episodes the first few were every 3 years on their own, but now the doctors are concerned that in improperly coming off the meds I contributed to a cycle of recurrence. I probably have to be on a maintenance dose of medication for life, which means I have to fight feeling like a failure . . . for life. Even people who advocate for drugs (like me) struggle with the idea of taking them, I
struggle with the idea that I’m “crazy”, that I’m not strong enough to fix myself, that if I could just pull myself together I could avoid the “Darkness”. I’ve been depressed enough times to know when it’s coming and that is when I’m at my worst. Because in my own mind I’m strong enough to turn around and run away, to fight it and instead of getting early intervention I fight the inevitable
Nothing about depression is sensible, it has to be the most painful, painless illness. You don’t know why the idea of brushing your teeth makes you want to cry, but it does. Day in and day out you fight a monster in your head, it can go wherever it wants and interfere with anything and everything and there’s not a damn think you can do to stop him.
THIS is why when I run into the black folks who say “pray about it” or that “your life could be so much worse” and “to get over it” I just want to reach out and punch them in their sternum. My favorite is that we do it for attention.
The reason I haven’t left my bed in 4 days is JUST so someone could feel sorry for me. Because the entire time I was like “Yes, I want to get up and ride my bike today and get some ice cream, but I won’t because I want attention.” Nope, not even shower. Just gonna lie here and cry just so someone who has no idea that I’m lying here will feel bad for me. Because I couldn’t pick up the phone cuz then they would know I had moved my body.
Life could be worse for many who suffer from Depression, it’s not a choice. I would love to take the money I spend on copays for medication and psychiatrists and talk therapy and do anything else with it and I’m lucky to have good insurance and be able to get to my job frequently enough to keep it. Oh yes, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a must! Meds keep your brain chemically balanced, but you still have to problem solve or whatever. I’m on year 2 of addressing my Fear of Change, but I’m expecting big, huge things by year 4.
In my job I am very open and honest about my depression with my students and their parents because I need them to know it CAN get better, it is
survivable and that I may not know exactly what they’re going through, but I’ve felt their pain enough to be able to advocate for them and support
them. There are many times when I’ve let myself be walked on, but the fights that I NEVER back down from at work, or with Toilet Bear, or in life
are about Mental Health. F*ck what others may think, even what you may think of yourself; if you’re hurting or you know someone who is hurting
encourage them to get help. Don’t let the idea that as Strong Black Men and Women we can do it all for ourselves, by ourselves. That’s why we have our strong brothers and sisters to lean on.
If someone is looking to lean on you:
- NEVER assume that because you can deal with something easily that someone else can
- Never assume that your depression (or someone else’s) is just the blues
- Have faith in your God and your religion, but not at the expense of someone’s health.
- Never belittle another person’s pain or problems.
I’m less familiar with the Mania aspects of Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia is extremely complex, but
The National Institute of Mental Health - http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/index.shtml is a great place to start looking for more mental health information.
Also you can e-mail me at Cevogyrl@gmail.com if you need advice or need to talk. I may be goofy, but every single psychiatrist and therapist I’ve seen in the last 18 years assures me that I’m not (clinically) crazy. ;-D