“What the hell do you have to be depressed about?” “After all our people have been through! You don’t know depressed!!” “You don’t need no therapy. Telling white folks all our business ain’t gonna help nothing!” “Go to church. Talk to the pastor.” “Black folks don’t get them fancy mental problems.” “Suck it up and get your shit together!!” “You ain’t depressed. You’re just a little sad.”
This is just a tiny snapshot of what is thrown around the black community in reference to mental illness. We do not accept it AT ALL. If you mention it, the conversation will change quicker than a blink. This is why so many of us are suffering. Mental Illness is taboo in our homes.
I can speculate as to why we’re so quiet. Mental illness is a sign of weakness to some. Black women MUST get it done! ALL OF IT!!! No one has time for being “down” Bills need to be paid. Kids have to be cared for. Home has to be perfect. Be depressed later. Wanna hear a secret? I used to time my medicine around my kids school schedule. I’d drop them off in the morning, come home and take my meds. Pick them up at 3. Do homework. Make dinner. Clean house. Then take meds again. If I had an event or appointment, I didn’t take my meds. Who cares that I shouldn’t have been driving. Who cares that I slept all day and accomplished nothing. I was a functioning depressed mom. And this is AFTER I stopped working. If I told you how I managed while working, hmph! You’d probably report me.
Now I’m a rare bird. When I was in my 20’s and realized something was wrong, I sought help. I wasn’t afraid to go to therapy. But I didn’t share it with my family and friends. Definitely not my coworkers. So I was aware that there was a stigma surrounding therapy. I was a new mom obsessed with my baby. That was my motivation. Still is. I had to be better for her. For them. This would begin an on and off process for the next 20+ years of my life.
But I can’t tell you how many friends, family, and coworkers were struggling quietly. We wore “the mask”. “Hey girl. How are you doing?” “Fine.” *insertfakesmile* How many of my sisters were dealing with- emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, spousal problems, and just plain ole being a black woman in America. Chile, we put on some make-up, a good girdle, and kept that shit movin.! #aintnobodygottimeforthat Family reunions, family gatherings- “I’m fine. You want some potato salad?” Yup. That’s how we rolled. Quietly exploding. Quietly dying.
I may not be a lady
But I’m all woman
From Monday to Sunday I work harder than you know
I’m no classy lady
But I’m all woman
And this woman needs a little love
To make her strong
You’re not the only one
Here’s the thing- mental illnesses can lead to physical illnesses. Heart problems- stress related. Obesity-stress related. Headaches and neurological problems-stress related. And you know what the topper is? We’re too damn busy to go to the doctor!! Do you know who diagnosed my first breakdown? My family doctor. She said that my body was shutting down. She refused to continue treating migraines and “sadness” without the help of a psychologist. Two months later, I was in the “ward”. And guess what? My doctor was a sister. She would sit with me and just talk some visits. Some days, SHE was the one who needed to talk. Guess how many doctors prior to that took the time to HEAR me? I’ll wait……
My family has a long history of mental illness. I never knew. I found out that my grandpa, the love of my life, struggled. WHAT!!! If you looked up man’s man in the dictionary, you’d see Deacon T. Coleman. Grandparents. Parents. Uncles. Cousins. It wasn’t until after I was sick that I heard about this. And when I tell you that my granny and her sisters, cousins, friends were some of the STRONGEST women I’ve ever met! Honey! The world would have stopped if something was wrong with one of them. But they wore “the mask”. Smiled the “smile”. Made the potato salad.
“Why are you depressed? If our people could make it through slavery, we can make it through anything.” “When a black woman suffers from a mental disorder, the opinion is that she is weak. And weakness in black women is intolerable.” “You should take your troubles to Jesus, not some stranger/psychiatrist.”– http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/depression-and-african-americans
We have to start getting help. We have to start taking care of ourselves. I’m the last one who should talk, but I am. Why? Because this disease is STIFLING. I would wish it on my worst enemy, but I’m tryna live right.(another blog) Seriously, I can’t even describe a day in my mind and body. Now multiply that by millions. That sister in the next cubicle-Dying. That sister next to you on the train-Masking. That sister in the alley-Hurting. Stop and REALLY LISTEN. You can hear it. When I get messages in my inbox, I can see it in the fonts! We have to slow down and help our sisters. Our daughters. Yup. My baby has more than my eyes and thighs. Our mothers. Yup. Where do you think I got the gene from? Our elders. Yup. Grandma isn’t addicted to her “cocktails” for nothing.
There are maybe 10, and that’s a stretch, books about black women and depression. Most don’t include bipolar disorder, anxiety, OCD, ADD, ADHD, etc. These are mental illnesses too. One author made me so angry because she tried her best to “whiten”, I mean lighten up her illness. We don’t need cute. We need ugly. Hideous. Death’s door type shit. That’s the only way that our sisters will get a glimpse into the real story. The words behind the words. Then they will realize that they are not alone. I will do a separate blog with the books and resources i have found. I promise.
I have three sisterfriends who text me daily. One prays. One says hey. One says i love you. None of them know that some days I’m on the ledge. Knife or pills in hand. They just know that I’m their sister and I MAY need a life jacket.
OPEN YOUR WINDOW. STICK YOUR HEAD OUT. SCREAM. “I’M YOUR SISTER AND I LIVE WITH A MENTAL ILLNESS TOO!” “YOU WANNA GO FOR-COFFEE, MARTINIS, BLUNTS, NEWPORTS, FRIED CHICKEN.
Meet them where they live. Don’t be ‘shamed. Don’t be prissy. We got ta get dirty, SISTAHS