Whenever someone asks me about my depression I always gloss over it.
I use code words like "dark" period in my life
or I laugh about my 5 minutes with Doc (Dr. Pamela Ralph, a noted adolescent and adult psychiatrist in PA) but what I don't do is tell them about it.
Not the whole truth anyway
because I didn't want to be seen as weak or unstable
I worked in mental health
I know people "treat" you differently when they know you're seeing a psychiatrist or a therapist.
The tag is always the same...”you don't need somebody to tell you what you already know” or "We" don't get depressed that’s for rich people, white people, other people, “You just need to get over it already….you always make stuff so damn dramatic”
My depression actually started long before I realized it was happening
I was sitting in the parking lot balling my eyes out because I physically could not get out of the car and walk in the building. I hated the very thought of going through another day where I had to listen to people complain about their lives and the stuff they bought and the things they dealt with.
I was overwhelmed with this sadness that my life didn't mean anything
But like many of the women in my family "I don't have time for nonsense like that"
So I wiped my eyes, checked myself in the rearview mirror, popped a couple of aspirin and pushed myself out of the car.
It would be two years before my next breakdown
The mirror had only cracked for me on that beautiful March morning
The whole damn thing broke when I was going out the door to work and I couldn’t find enough money to get lunch.
Depression didn't just happen to me...
I just didn't know what the signs were
Women in my family don't get depressed...they just buy things, drink, hang out, join groups and pretend to be ok
We're taught to just be ok, we have many examples of those around us just being ok
First it was crying in the parking lot
Then it was staying up all night because I was afraid I would die in my sleep because of the panic attacks I would have every morning.
Then it was I ate everything that wasn't nailed down Followed by yelling at my daughter to the point of wrapping my hands around her throat because her report card read FEFEE
NONE of these "things" had anything to do with depression they were insignificant incidents that took place weeks and months apart from one another...
Or so I thought
Even now as I write this I'm trying to find the humor in the scenarios because I want to lighten the mood but there isn't any other way to let you know how close I was to killing myself
I was unprepared for being depressed because I'd always been told it wasn't what black women do
I didn't drink to numb my sadness
I ate, so to many people I was just letting myself go…not stuffing myself so I wouldn’t think about how lonely I was
and when I couldn't eat anymore I lashed out at myself by looking into the mirror and telling me how fat and disgusting I looked
No one knew or at least they never said anything
I thought I was hiding it by smiling at family gatherings and hanging out with friends but it didn't feel right.
It was like standing behind a 10 inch glass, watching me talk, eat, play and I didn't know how to get from behind it.
I felt better when I volunteered to teach but even then I wasn't fully present but I was getting back to feeling something.
But the bottom fell out when my mother died unexpectedly
When I tell people I have no recollection of myself or my life prior to May 4, 2003 they think I'm being overly dramatic or metaphoric but the truth is I literally have no memory of my persona prior to the phone call that told me to come to the hospital where my mother was being taken.
I remember bits and pieces of my life but there are large chunks that I cannot recall, I don't know what my favorite food was or is, I don't remember birthday parties, or my baby shower
The pain of recalling certain events is sometimes so overwhelming that our bodies block them out in order to protect us....my depression bought that on
The slide down hill from that point was quick
It began when I moved into my mothers home
instead of selling it like I had originally intended. EVERYBODY thought it was dumbest thing in the world to sell a house that was almost paid off. But I knew if I moved into my mothers house it would be a really bad idea for me.
But I did it anyway to shut them up.
My depression was in full swing by the time I decided to remodel the house
It was in my ripping up the carpets and taking the book cases from the wall
The house to me was dark so I brought 100 watt light bulbs that never went off
I couldn't go to work because I afraid that if I left the house I wouldn't make it home
I worried about everything constantly from the moment I opened my eyes
Needless to say I lost the house
I neglected my children
Even though on the outside I may have looked like I was holding it together, I was falling apart if anyone listened to me for more than a few seconds
I would catch myself and laugh it off but in reality I really should have been under a doctors care but I was too far gone to think straight.
Even now I'm more than a little bothered about what I went through because I changed so drastically.
I self-check once a month so I don't go backwards.
It was like climbing out of hole so deep that you couldn't even see the bottom but you couldn't see the sky either.
You have bright spots and you think "I'm ok...that's it, its over" but an hour later you're sitting on the couch trying to calm yourself down because a song came on the radio that made you think about it all over again.
After we moved into an apartment that in my right mind I wouldn't have given a second look
I got a job at a mental health clinic
I have to say that only way I got this job was through divine intervention because I literally broke down in tears during the interview with the clinic director.
At first my 5 minute therapy session with Doc were to just ask questions about "is it normal". We'd joke about my idiosyncrasies. But as time passed I became comfortable with letting her know what I was going through and she'd give me insight on how to cope.
I don't like taking medicine and fortunately she didn't think I needed any...I just needed someone to guide in the right direction.
People think that if you're in therapy then everything will be instantly better
That is not how it works, you actually go through a period where you feel worse than you did before because you’re talking about what's going on with you.
For some it’s too painful a time and they stop therapy saying it doesn’t work for them but this is the most crucial time because you’re the most vulnerable and susceptible to impulses.
My crucial moment started over trying to find money for lunch, in a matter of minutes I was reduced to hysterical crying in front of my children. It lasted for 45 minutes and during it I let out ALL the demons that kept me up at night
How I was afraid I would die like my mother had
That I still dreamed about being molested from the age of 5 til 8
That I was constantly afraid that I was a horrible parent
It went on and on until it was all out
My daughter tried to convince me to take the day off but I knew that would only make my situation worse.
So I went to work
When I did I recounted to Doc everything that had happened that morning
She didn’t look surprised
She said you feel better don’t you
There aren’t any words for how much weight was lifted off my chest, I could actually breathe and it didn’t physically hurt.
I’d held in so much that there was no place left to put anything
I still had my 5 minute sessions
But these days I’m much better now, I don’t hold in so much
I see the signs and I look at what’s going on in my life at that moment so that I know what I’m dealing with
Good mental health isn’t being free of problems or issues it just knowing how to change things around without being so overwhelmed by it.
Seek therapy, we all need someone to guide us through the forest so we can see ourselves out.
And when the moment comes that everything falls apart…just know that’s just about the time you can begin to climb out of that hole.
For more information follow the SIWE Project or contact your local Mental Health Professional
Ain't no shame in being depressed just realize we are not alone.
Causes Monique Annan Supports
The Leeway Foundation