This is the type of post I hope you read once,
read it again and save for rough days
I have struggled with my mental health since I was a teenager, but I haven’t had the words to express how I dealt with depression as a black person until recently.
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Depression and my Christianity
Growing up in a Christian home, I didn’t understand the concept of depression until I was in my early twenties. In our house, depression was something other people faced. It wasn’t even something that we talked about if I’m being painfully honest. Our home was happy, it was filled with love and it was filled with God. Sometimes I feel guilty for saying I wasn’t content knowing people crave the childhood I had, but that’s my truth.
Something about me was off and we likend it to me being the grumpy one. Sometimes my daddy would call me Eeyore or I’d hear someone ask why are you so grumpy. I could never put my finger on the feeling of not belonging, unsatisfaction, unhappiness.
Our faith encouraged us to face life with the strength of Job; how many times have you heard the story of how he was tested only to have even more goods at the end of his trials. I tried my hardest to not complain, to appreciate the blessings in my life. When something terrible happened, as a good Christian I was meant to praise God for my challenge.. To do otherwise was acting ungrateful.
If you read my post about keeping my virginity, you might have noticed the role religion has played in my upbringing. I don’t hate Christianity, but I’m not in love with it after the experiences I’ve had.
The need to be in constant praise God mode meant I constantly surpressed any emotions I felt. Ultimately it lead to a cycle of forcing who I truly was (and am) under the surface. It’s something I struggle with today. It’s led to me feeling detached from life and reality. There are times when this is a blessing – my minimalism journey thrives off the fact that I don’t feel attached to items – but there are times it’s a curse, like when I need to react to things that are happening in my life.
Christianity made me feel like I had to be happy all the time. There was never an off switch, there was never a be real switch, there was always a “thank you Jesus” switch that never turned off.
Depression, Black folk and medical care
Mental health support was not easily accessible in the Caribbean. Getting professional help in the Caribbean (during my teenage years) meant having access to money. My family wasn’t poor but I don’t think it was something we would have been able to afford without some juggling and sacrifices.
Unfortunately, I think good mental health care is still lacking in the region (and in other countries as well). A lot of people know they need to talk to someone or get medical help but the attitude from professionals is disgusting. I’ve heard professionals make jokes about mental health, make jokes about their patients or criticize the validity of a person’s feelings and state.
It’s a joke when you think about it – the quality of mental healthcare is a joke and a lot of doctors view it as their personal entertaiment. I was able to afford private healthcare when I lived at home and it was only through that avenue that I was managed to access medicine. I still wasn’t able to find a therapist who would respect me as a patient.
While this isn’t the case everywhere, I believe Black people everywhere run the risk of interacting with “professionals” who do not care about us as much as our non-Black counterparts. I dread going to the doctor for any medical reason as I have been ignored or not listened to on many occasions; imagine going to the doctor for your mental health. It’s a task.
Black culture and the taboo of depression
If I wasn’t facing the guilt of Christianity, I had to deal with Black culture. I love my Blackness, I love my culture, but the way we deal with issues like mental health isn’t always healthy. Thankfully, the entire world is going through a shift in how we approach mental health, but during the ’90s and early 00s, it was a different story.
When I needed help the most, the culture said
depression wasn’t real; it was just
a case of temporary sadness
Seeing a therapist was considered “white people stuff.” We only saw people going to therapy in movies or tv shows, and the characters did not look like us. That’s the impression I got as a child. When I grew up, it took ages for me to cast that idea aside.
The first time I had to take medication for my depression some of my family members were not keen for me to start. I had an aunt who felt I could pray my demons away. I know I am not the only black person to encounter this. Prayer is helpful but it’s not the only way to heal. Medication is not the devil’s kool-aid; it is a tool that can help dramatically if used correctly.
Even now, as a mid 30 year old woman who is making her own choices, I still feel that nagging of diasppointment. Black culture says “when will you get over this depression thing? You took medicine, why isn’t it gone?”
It takes more strength sometimes for me to move past the expectations of Blackness than it does for me to get out of bed on a bad day.
Getting help for my depression
The first time I was able to access support for my depression I was in university. Since I went to a Christian school, therapy came with a healthy dose of religion attached. While some of it was helpful, those sessions were steeped in that same rhetoric of “be thankful for hard times.” In the end, being told I was questioning God left me feeling more confused.
My mantra after that became suck it up. In my head, that’s what black people did – that’s what black women do. I believed if I didn’t suck up the problems and issues I felt, I wasn’t a good black young woman.
You can only absorb so much
before you crack
A few years later I was suffering; I finally got on medication and started seeing a therapist who wasn’t associated with the church. That was the first time I allowed myself to embrace the idea that I was suffering from depression.
I moved forward and clung to the coping tools I had learned but here’s the thing, you have to work on yourself. I had learned those coping tools ten years ago. In that period, I had developed from a young woman into a grown ass woman.
I believe the struggle I faced at the start of the year was so intense because I the methods I was using to cope where outdated.
Life is a struggle when you’re depressed
On the blog I shared a bit of the struggle I was facing before it all fell apart in January; I highlighted how I felt like I was lost in a maze for the past few years. I also shared some of the goals that I wanted to accomplish this year. Although I wanted to end 2018 marching triumphantly into 2019, my attack plan was ten years outdated.
When It’s Up And It All Falls Down
In January I reached the lowest point I’ve been at for years. I think writing about my struggles on the blog and spending the holidays in a reflective space gave me time to think about my life and I wasn’t happy with what I saw.
Thankfully some of my internet buddies talked me through those first days of feeling like I was spiraling and they all encouraged me to get professional help.
Finding help for depression in London isn’t easy. Going through the NHS could mean waiting for months. When I looked at private sources, I was shocked to discover the waiting list was still long.
Almost every place I turned to wouldn’t be able to see me until March. Imagine being told in January that you would have to wait until MARCH to possibly get help. It felt hopeless. On top of that, a lot of the places that could take me were incredibly expensive.
How therapy helps me
Since moving to London two years ago I have faced culture shock, I’ve endured loneliness, I have dealt with the trauma of my fibroids by myself, it was stressful finding a job in a new country, on top of dealing with past trauma that continues to haunt me.
I needed to talk.
I cannot express how thankful I am to be in therapy and to have a black therapist. Being able to speak with a black woman who understands my jokes, who doesn’t force me to code switch, who has natural hair and who treats me like a human being is refreshing.
Entering therapy is a form of putting myself first. One of the most significant issues I’ve faced throughout my adulthood has been putting others first and not setting appropriate boundaries.
That is changing.
Black people deserve help for their mental health
When I faced a low time in January, I knew therapy was the best option for me, and I wasn’t ashamed to go that route. However, I know getting help is a taboo subject in our communities.
I am going to write this with emphasis – FUCK. THAT.
Taboo will limit your growth, your experience, and your opportunities.
If I had limited myself to “stay in my lane,” I would have continued to exist in my pain. My chance to walk down this new path of self-discovery would have been stunted.
In no way am I healed, and maybe those of us who are in therapy will never fully heal; humans are complex beings. For today, for this moment and this time, I am operating more clearly. That is why I will encourage you to do what is best; get help for yourself today.
Let me know below, is mental health a taboo subject in your home or culture? Do you feel you have the resources to look after your mental health? I hope this post was helpful and thanks for sharing!