By Lissa Alicia
I am writing this because transparency in depression and overall mental health is important. These are not things that should be hidden away in a dark closet, but brought to the light and discussed. This is the type of dialogue that we need to ensure that others know that they are not alone in their struggles. People need to know that there is no reason to be ashamed of their mental illness.
I grew up in a household where mental health was ignored. As a child, it seemed as if I was not allowed to be sad. I was told by numerous matriarchs in my life that “I have nothing to be upset about”. I mean, despite growing up dirt poor, I had food to eat, toys to play with and a house over my head - that was the logic that was supposed to wash away all of my troubles. That attitude - the one that did not allow me the space to be sad - did a number on my mental health and made my depression less manageable than it should have been.
I didn't really experience deep depression until I got to high school. Throughout my entire childhood I never fit in. Yet, when I was 15, I managed to secure a small group of best friends. This group consisted of myself, my boyfriend of the moment, another girl, and her dude. As a unit, the four of us rocked pretty strong for about 9 months. We went on double dates, cut school together and had sleepovers. It is safe to say that they were my only close friends.
What triggered my first downward spiral in bad decisions and hopelessness is when I decided to kiss a guy other than my boyfriend. I told the other girl in my quad about this transgression in confidence. Unfortunately, for me, she informed my boyfriend that I cheated on him. The same day, and rightfully so, my boyfriend dumped me - it was my 16th birthday. Of course, his response was warranted and I was totally in the wrong, but the loss of my core group of friends hit me strongly. I instantly became an outsider and it honestly made me feel like shit.
At this point in my life, I placed much of my self-worth in the people around me and what they thought about me. Without my ex and other two friends in my life, I felt worthless. The rest of my high school career was a failure. I continued to skip. There was one time that I even broke down crying in Mock Trial practice. I felt totally worthless.
I can’t remember for sure, but I believe that this was around the time that I tried to kill myself. I can’t recall if there was an exact trigger that brought me to this decision. I do remember feeling discouraged that there were no dangerous pharmaceuticals in the house that I could consume - I blame that on my mother and I’s non-existent health coverage. I had to settle for about 30 extra strength aspirins and half a bottle of mouthwash. To this day, I am squeamish when I am required to pop a pill.
Although I now talk about my mental illness freely, almost a decade later, my mother and the rest of my family have no idea that I tried to kill myself. I didn't, and still don’t, anticipate their response to be the warm and welcoming one that I need. At the time, I may have been brave enough to tell one friend about what I tried to do to myself.
While my suicide attempt was a secret to the school faculty, they noticed a major change in my once studious behavior. I am not sure who, but someone decided to bring in an outside counselor to talk to me about “cutting”. When this appointment was arranged, there was an ironic and sad miscommunication. The faculty told the shrink that I liked to cut - to them “cut” meant cut class. To the shrink “cut” represented self-harm. I never actually cut. I explained to the counselor that I was a fan of cutting class and not myself. Regardless, through her questioning, she diagnosed me with severe depression. She suggested medicine as if I could afford it.
The rest of high school was a blur of rage, tears, two more suicide attempts, and graduating a year late from a totally different school. Life went on - I dropped out of college twice, worked dead end jobs, I briefly became a pothead and discovered my love of drinking. After a year or so of smoking, weed started to give me anxiety and made my depression worse. I was having fun and living the occasional happy, messy, early-twenties lifestyle. I was content and unambitious.
I moved out on my own for the first time when I was 20. Shortly after, I moved in with my emotionally and psychologically abusive boyfriend. This was absolutely the worse period of my life. Like most people, I am attracted to individuals of intelligence, and boy was this guy smart, or so I thought. I was reeled in with his pro-blackness but was initially blind to his gas-lighting and manipulation.
At this point in my life, I was pretty honest about my depression and my emotions overall. This guy used my openness as a weapon. When I expressed to him how his actions negatively affected me, he blamed it on me being oversensitive - according to him I was so used to people coddling me that his abrasive way of dealing with me was “normal”. According to him, I just couldn’t see it because I was always so soft and emotional. He blamed my worsening depression on my non-holistic lifestyle. He refused to acknowledge or take responsibility for how he chose to interact with me.
It is so difficult to identify emotional abuse, especially when the abuser blames everything on you. You start to believe all the terrible things that the abuser says about you. You begin to feel worthless. When you are in a romantic relationship with someone, you expect them to have your best interest at heart. You don’t expect them to try to sabotage your entire existence and livelihood. I could list all the terrible experience I had with this person and how he brought me to the brink of suicide once again, but, even almost 4 years later, I struggle with pinpointing what exactly he did. He was so good at applying a rose colored filter over his behavior. I know in my spirit that it was wrong, that is was Hell on Earth, and that I didn’t deserve the spirit breaking mind games that he was playing.
One thing I distinctly remember was sitting in the corner of my bed, rocking back and forth crying. I was chanting to myself, “You are better than this.” I was reminding myself that I actually wanted to live despite what my mind and this man’s actions were telling me. I was speaking my emotional wellness into existence - something he usually spoke so highly of. On this day, the esoteric jargon went out the window. His response to my chant: “Why are you doing that, it is so stupid.”
After this episode and others like it, some more increasingly violent and manipulative, and a couple of “If you loved me like you say you do, you wouldn’t be trying to break-up with me” moments, the relationship ended in me throwing his things on the porch at 4 AM.
That night, and the days, months, and years following I learned to love myself better. I was able to reflect on this man and how terrible he really was deep down inside. I was able to realize that how I was treated in that relationship was in no way my fault. That relationship, though quite terrible, was a catalyst for my ever developing radical self-love and acceptance. I learned that there was nothing wrong with having depression and that there was nothing wrong with being uber-expressive with my emotions.
I have not tried to kill myself in years. Though there have been quite a few intense moments where I had to talk myself out of bodying myself. I am one of those people that have become “Ok” with the idea of suicide. Not everybody who feels like that can handle continuing to exist. Some people are just ready for the next stage. While I am no Dr. Kevorkian, I respect the choice that some individuals make to lose their life. I am not in their shoes nor their mind, therefore, I have no right to tell anyone to “keep holding on”. For me, I recognized that I don’t want to die, at least not yet. No matter how bad it is for me, life is pretty damn fulfilling. I know that my feeling of wanting to die is fleeting and that the moment shall pass.
This acceptance has helped me to stay on track with the “This too shall pass” mentality when dealing with my depression. Whatever feeling I have, may it be happiness, angst, anger, or sadness, it will pass - it always has. It may take hours, days, or even weeks to pass, but, I know it will not last forever.
It has become increasingly more important for me to bask in every emotion. When I say bask, I mean that it is essential for me to feel everything to the fullest extent. There is beauty in everything - even the ugly and the painful. There is no way for me to escape my depression. So, I hug it. I play close attention to it. I watch for triggers and most importantly I protect my light. I have learned to value my spirit more - therefore very seldom do I find outside triggers penetrating my wall of emotional protection.
This does not go to say that since I removed toxic people from my life and found more self-worth in myself instead of outside entities that I no longer experience depression. I totally do, it just seems to happen less often.
I guess I can’t really say that I don’t allow outside entities to affect my mood. That is damn near impossible. To be completely honest and candid, I drink way more than I should. Overdrinking is not something that I have deeply explored in myself because I am just recently acknowledging it. I do know that I often use it as a crutch to have fun - which is not at all healthy. I rarely go into any social situation without having a drink. I also don’t pace myself with the drinks. My tolerance has upped significantly in the past 4 years, so I continue to chug since I only feel tipsy.
My self-loathing tends to kick in the morning after binge drinking. I hate myself for making my body feel dehydrated, queasy, and sluggish. And, of course, I vow to never drink that much again.
I guess to conclude this piece, I can say that I have learned to heal some aspects of my mental health through self-reflection and introspection. Not to say that I have figured out a surefire way to beat depression, but some folks who are suffering with the mental illness, and can not afford medication or therapy, may find it beneficial to have a chat with their more grounded inner self. For me it has helped to alleviate some of the trauma that is caused by depression.
I feel like, for many of us with depression, there is tons of self-love waiting to be actualized.