Mental Health is and should be treated as a part of your overall health. You can be physically perfect, sound body, heart healthy, every organ doing what it is supposed to do, all of your numbers exactly where they should be, but mentally you can be on life support. Of all mental health issues you could experience, depression and anxiety are right at the top of the top 5. As a Black woman I have heard far too often in my lifetime that people my color do not become depressed, we do not have issues with anxiety. I am here to dispel that “rumor” and to further normalize the conversations of mental health, and talk about what we really feel. I can remember an Aunt of mine as a child who had what they considered a “nervous breakdown.” She was almost catatonic. She would sit and stare into a void that none of us could see and some responses were merely grunts. I never knew what the cause of her affliction was, but I can still vividly see her sitting there on our sofa, basically a shell of herself. I was a child at the time, without any type of knowledge or understanding of how your brain can make your entire body turn against you.
A few years later I would be in conversation with my Grandmother; and I asked her why she waited so long to have my mom – who would be her only child. Still a child, I had no idea what kind of doors I was opening at the time, but I did have a better understanding. When she had my mom, she was 43 years old. She explained that she was pregnant before my mom, almost 13 years before she gave birth to her. At that time, she lost her uncle, the man that raised her when her mom could no longer take care of her because she herself experienced a crisis. This stress affected her to the point that she miscarried what would have been my uncle. The culmination of both losses were too great for her and she found herself in a deep depression. My Grandfather was helpless and unaware of what to do. Fresh home from WWII and still trying to find his way as a “colored” man in a white man’s world, he too was a little lost. My Grandmother was the daughter of a twin. Her cousin, the daughter of her mom’s twin, came and took care of her. She told me it took her almost that long to get herself together, to get her mind right, to know that she could take care of herself before she even thought of taking care of someone else. Just in the first 400 words of this post I have shown that 2 generations of Black women experienced mental health issues at a time when it was even more “hush, hush.”
That is the thing about depression, it doesn’t care who you are or what you look like. It doesn’t care how successful you are, how much money you make, or what kind of car you drive – depression does not care who it attacks. This week, there was a discussion with Dallas Cowboys quarterback, Dak Prescott speaking on his bout with depression. It made its rounds on a lot of the sports talk shows because Skip Bayless said he had no sympathy for Prescott because as quarterback of “America’s Team” he’s supposed to be a leader of men. This was in response to Prescott admitting that he had began experiencing depression and anxiety during quarantine, and those feelings intensified when his older brother died by suicide in mid-April. Well Skip Bayless, you have sunk to a low of lows. What’s sad is he knew where he was going before he even got there because he prefaced it by saying, “viewers could condemn him as cold-blooded and insensitive for what he was about to say.” Depression and anxiety doesn’t care WHO YOU ARE and what team you throw the ball for. I applaud Dak for having the balls, literally and figuratively for coming out and sharing his feelings. Once Skip said what he said, we had more men in powerful positions express their times of depression and feelings of hopelessness after losses and other traumatic events. I even saw someone say, he’s rich and famous; what does he have to be depressed about? Money and fame is not a depression deterrent, nor does it make you exempt. These people are still human, no matter what type of money they make. Shame on you Skip Bayless!
This reaction is one of the reasons a lot of people hide their depression. The world around you may not receive it in a kindly manner. I think I read somewhere that depression is when we live in the past and anxiety is what happens when we can’t control the future. Regardless of what causes each of these disorders, there is a common thread between the two – an attempt to control the uncontrollable. I had to realize that myself when I became depressed and anxious. For a while, and I mean a while; there was a time before I sought help for the feelings that I was feeling. I actually went into the doctor for a regular check up and bloodwork, and my doctor goes – you don’t look like yourself, what’s going on? I burst into tears immediately, because as hard as I thought I was hiding everything she saw it. I then started to think, who else had noticed, but didn’t say anything. Maybe my friends and family thought I was just being bitchy and withdrawn, but that is not what my doctor saw. Many people do not seek help or advice, some talk to their friends, I didn’t do either, but my healthcare provider literally saw me.
Depression and anxiety can be debilitating and paralyzing. You feel a sense of constant impending doom, while feeling like you are about to jump out of your skin. There were times when I would look in the mirror, but question who the person was inside of me. I was the strong one. The one people would come to. The one who could always give advice and help. So how was it, I found myself paralyzed in my own body. I was able to go on with life as normal, but let me tell you…I did not care about anything. I faked my way through life for well over a year. I went through countless medications and side effects that were extreme. I lost my ability to taste, I lost other senses, temporarily thank God, but just the trial and error of finding what can make you feel normal again is almost as exhausting as the illness itself. Like Dak, I experienced those feelings again at the mid-point of quarantine. I realized though where I was headed and realized again that I have too much to live for and refused to allow that darkness to engulf me again. I began to take proactive measures – after a month of sulking. Maybe I needed that month, but once it was over, it needed to be over! I had to get back to life in the most intentional way. The depression and anxiety didn’t just magically go away, I just learned over the years how to function effectively.
The stigma of mental health has to be erased. We need to normalize talking about our feelings, going to therapy, acknowledging our issues, and treating others with respect and kindness because we don’t know what they are going through. Mental health illnesses are a global issue, not just a me or a you issue. We’ve all been touched by it whether we realize it or not. Some situations are unique and require more attention and “finesse” than others. I implore you, don’t do like I did and wait for someone to “see” you and know that you are not fine. If you are feeling unlike yourself, talk to someone, get the help you need, IT IS NOT WRONG. An accurate diagnosis means an accurate course of treatment. You can overcome anxiety and depression, the question is: are you willing to seek the help you need? Don’t wait too long.
How has mental health issues affected you? Let’s begin a discussion. Leave a response in the comments.