Initiation & Religion
“I think I’m depressed!” I said, sobbing. My cousins and mom laughed me back into the bathroom.
Later, my mother prayed over 14-year-old me. She asked for the spirit of depression to leave my body. The devil had no place attacking me! As she leaned over my bed, I just stared up at the ceiling because she didn’t know.
She didn’t know the feel of knees on hardwood floor amidst 2 AM darkness on a school night. Crying long tears and praying up to God to take this from me.
I didn’t blame her because Black American culture teaches us “It’s all in your head.” But I’d tried all the positive thinking. Time didn’t make it go away. After unsuccessfully trying to heal myself, I came to the conclusion that depression isn’t something you can just snap out of, no matter what a large number of black people thought.
To me, it is actually a discredit to my ancestors–the ones who had to serve as slaves and work menial jobs afterwards–they had no choice but to keep on in spite of depression, anxiety or mental illness of any kind. It was either that or death or a whiplash or your family’s starvation. Some kind of punishment. They did not work so I, too, could hide my pain. They sacrificed to give me the choice to say “I am not okay. I need help.” They sacrificed to make “pushing through” archaic and thus, ignoring your mental health not something you had to do.
I’m not going to go over the stigma of mental illness in the black community because there are so many articles that speak on that topic much better than I could. This post tells about me making the mistake of ignoring my mental health. Perhaps you’ve made it, too.
Away, Away, Away…
It is my now long-held belief that your mental health should rank in importance with your physical health; I argue it’s even more important. If you’re not right mentally, everything around you suffers: your job, your relationships in every aspect, your bodily health, too.
Despite that, most of us have the tendency to put our mental health on the back burner, even run from it.
One of my favorite songs details the different ways we try to escape our emotional pain: I tried to drink it way / I tried to put one in the air. And on and on. All the myriad ways we cope ineffectively. “Cranes in the Sky” by Solange.
I am now the speaker in “Cranes in the Sky.” I am reflecting on all of my feeble, futile attempts of hiding my emotional pain over the years, one faulty coping mechanism at a time.
Won’t you reflect with me? Are you ignoring your mental health right now? Wherever you are on your journey, I hope you truly understand how important your mental health is.
I traveled 70 states…
I found myself in a depressive state after graduating from college with no clear plan. Somehow I thought traveling overseas would make everything okay, but depression and anxiety came right along with my luggage. It got through customs without a hitch!
I went to Spain to teach English as a second language. I would excitingly travel alone to a foreign country and post envy-worthy flicks of my adventures. What was there to be sad about?
Naturally, things didn’t go so smoothly. I’d romanticized starting a new life that I took out how hard it is to rebuild. I was thousands of miles away from family and friends, and I struggled to make friends.
Loneliness and isolation is a breeding ground for depression, so looking back it’s no wonder it threatened to engulf me then.
I was naive to think that my problems would suddenly vanish the minute I crossed the Atlantic. But, the minute I took my mental health seriously, things started looking up. I found an English-speaking therapist and started going out more. The sun came back out and I could breathe again. I truly started enjoying my time abroad and my dream of travel bliss actually came true.
I tried to drink it away…
Sometimes we turn to substances for our escape. The summer of 2014 was painful. My strong, hard-working father had become a bed patient. He never let me see a moment of weakness, but there he was, vulnerable and with tubes and machines attached to him.
I’d already paid for my party bus trip to Atlanta for a weekend of fun. I was set to leave a few days after his admittance.
“Go,” my father’s girlfriend told me. My father’s condition was stable and there was nothing I could do. What could it hurt? I followed her command.
The bus took off and the party ensued. The drinking and dancing ensued. It was so fun. It was a lot of fun!
Later I woke up to the rising sun and tried to remember what happened. The bus stopped at a restaurant for breakfast. I dodged sheepish, wide-eyed looks from the other passengers as I got off.
That’s when I saw the throw up stains on my clothing. My friends explained the wild night I’d blacked out on and shame piled on top the guilt I’d already been feeling.
I was just trying to follow the command. But I also tried to use liquor to drown out how I really felt. Others use weed or other drugs or food to bypass their pain. But that pain is going to find a way to get out and express itself.
“Energy cannot be created or destroyed; it can only be changed from one form to another.”
Maybe it’s in an embarrassing way like mine was. It could manifest as promiscuity or emotional detachment or abuse. One way or another, you’re going to see that pain in your life. Wouldn’t you want more control over how?
I tried to work it away…
“Have you ever felt like you’ve had everything you’ve ever wanted and you still couldn’t get out of bed?”
Dear White People
I had a stable, salaried job. Most importantly, I was in my own apartment. Alone, y’all. “My first apartment” had been my top manifestation goal for years. I’d grinded for it. I’d humbled myself and sacrificed my social life for it.
Yet, I wasn’t happy.
I’d groggily get out of bed at 6:30 AM to shower, cursing out the air. I’d shuffle to the bathroom and stare in the mirror with a frown.
A lot of times mental health issues don’t make sense. You could have everything going well in your life–a nice family, good job, some disposable income–and you can still feel not okay.
Always one to bottle my emotions, I pushed that something’s-missing feeling back. Way, way back. I focused on work. For 9+ hours of my day, I could forget. I stuffed why-am-I-still-not-happy thoughts way down. But coming home was one thing.
Then, you know how life goes. I was shaken up by a life event that had me crying at work! The problem was a disguise. It was God shaking me up as if to say: Listen to yourself.
“I’m sad…Like I’m lonely / And then, I started thinking about my couch and my table… And it’s just like, all the furniture you get does not keep you warm at night…And then I realized, oh my god, I need people!”
New Apartment by Ari Lennox
I couldn’t lie anymore. I sought professional help to get my life back on track. I’m still learning how to accept happiness in whatever form it appears. Sometimes it doesn’t even look like independence and your own place.
Sometimes I don’t wanna feel those metal clouds
My personal experiences of self-neglect could go on and on. Maybe your coping mechanisms differ from mine. The mistake’s still the same: ignoring your mental health and its importance.
You can’t brush off metal clouds; they won’t go away so easily. You’ve gotta take your mental health seriously to be the best version of you.
Would you ignore a friend who tells you she’s been feeling down? Would you brush her off and just say you’ll get through it if she expresses she’s been concealing her sadness for weeks? (You’re insensitive as hell if you do.)
Be a good friend to yourself. Listen when your self knows you’re not yourself. Listen. Seek professional help if possible or necessary. Tell someone. You’re not alone.
Let this be a mistake, not a habit you commit to because your health is one of the most important facets of your life.