There are very few things we talk about when it comes to mental illness. As a Black woman dealing with mental illness, it’s easy to feel alone and isolated from the rest of the world. Even though I’ve grown to realize that I’m not the only one striving to overcome depression and mental illness, it’s hard to find other women willing to open themselves up to speaking about it openly. When I was younger, I felt very alone.
DEALING WITH MENTAL ILLNESS AS A BLACK WOMAN
Growing up, I was meant to feel ashamed of my struggle with mental illness. “Black girls don’t commit suicide”, “You better pray about it and keep it moving”, “Once you get your life together, it will all just go away”, were all lies I was fed to keep me from seeking therapy and get back to the business of living. Despite all of my accomplishments in life, depression and mental illness were always lurking in the background, putting a pause button on my ambition, my potential, and my purpose.
Educated, beautiful, creative, and driven black women dealing with mental health issues are commonplace nowadays, yet you rarely see any strong black women wearing that title… Depressed. I’ve never met a successful black woman say, “Yes, I have borderline personality disorder and major depression.” At some point, you start to believe this is a flaw, a flaw that I must either cover-up or fix ASAP. Until this issue of mental illness is fixed, I have to try to do as much as can without drawing too much attention to myself.
However, there are those times when I can’t take it. My anxiety and depression take a hold of me so hard and fast, that without realizing it, I’ve tried to kill myself. Without realizing it, I’ve gone weeks without eating, sleeping, or getting out of bed. I get so afraid of people seeing me at my worst, that I opt to just not be seen at all. I get so afraid of others knowing that I’m depressed that I ostracize the very people who I love and care about, to keep them from my negative and depressing line of fire.
If I knew back then what I know now, I would have done things differently. My mental health issues aren’t something that I should be ashamed of. Although I would prefer to live a life with no depression or mental illness, these were the cards I was dealt. It doesn’t mean I have to give up on myself, my dreams, and everyone/everything that I love. Having a mental illness isn’t a death sentence or a sign that tells people that I’m not worth it.
If I could reach back to my younger self, the girl who thought it was just a phase that she could cover up with drugs, cutting, and being destructive, I would tell her the truth. If I could tell her what’s in my heart, I would say…
#DEARME THE MOST INSPIRING LETTER TO MY YOUNGER SELF:
You probably don’t know this yet, but you are amazing. You are a black woman overcoming and dealing with depression and mental illness. Through all the obstacles that you’ve gone through, you still manage to find a way to live your dream, to find love, and to raise children.
Many women aren’t going to mention this, but dealing with mental illness can be discouraging. Because of this, there will be times will you try to give up. There are going to be moments in your life they get so dark and so sad that you will hurt yourself. You will be destructive. You will be sad. That will cause you to push a lot of loving people away.
You won’t understand why you’re depressed. You won’t know what triggers your depression. After a while, you’re going to accept the fact that sometimes you get sad. I want you to know that because of the environment that you were raised in and because of some of the situations that happened to you as a child, you will develop a mindset that isn’t exactly positive.
You will do things, say things, and believe things that aren’t true, to survive you will sometimes get so sad and so numb to the world that you cut yourself to feel. You will get so sad and so afraid to be alone that you overdose just to go to sleep. This will happen so often, that you have to make a change.
One day, you will find love and you will find God, but neither one seems to soothe your pain. Eventually, you’ll give up. You try to kill yourself again. I want you to know that you don’t have to. Even though you’re talented, even though you’re beautiful, and you have a good heart and positive intentions, you’re going to fail at this one thing in life… killing yourself. You’re going to fail at killing yourself and that’s going to be the greatest thing that ever happens to you. You’re going to fail at ending your own life and this will make a difference for so much more than just yourself.
I want you to know that when that moment happens, you are going to find out what was wrong with you the entire time. When that moment happens you are going to discover your purpose. You are going to realize that all that pain, suffering, and hurt was not for nothing.
I’esha, I want you to really stop and listen to me. Don’t be hard-headed this time. You can stop all of this right now, by just stopping, reading, and learning about your mental illness. Don’t listen to anyone that says black girls aren’t depressed.
It’s time for you to research, why is it that one in ten people report clinical depression, however, those suffering in the black community are the least likely to report any mental health issues such as mental illness or depression? It’s time for you to step up and be a voice for those women who are struggling.
You will understand as you get older, that there are plenty of women that are going through mental health issues and depression. Black women in your community, who are raising families and starting businesses, who are all suffering in silence. Because for some reason in our community, it’s better to rely on church and the religious community. It’s better to believe that we can pray our blues away then to invest in the cost of therapy. We actually do have a mistrust for the medical community and those of authority. We have a long history of unethical medical testing on black people.
You can still find help by reaching out to someone who you care about for options that can help black women with mental illness survive in a world that perpetuates the idea that needing therapy is a sign of weakness.
I want you to understand that you are going to have a big responsibility on your hands once you get past your own confidence issues, once you get past your own traumatic childhood, and once you get past the abuse that you’ve suffered. You have the responsibility to be an advocate for those that are suffering. You will have the responsibility to be a support for those who are dealing with mental illness and those who are dealing with depression.
You can help those that don’t know where to turn for help and support. You can help those needing a non-judgmental friend. You one day realize, that without even trying, you will become a walking/talking example of a black woman dealing with mental illness and trying to survive.
I want you to be open to the uncomfortable questions, open to the adversity, and open to people judging you. You are strong and can handle whatever life throws at you. You are a black woman dealing with a mental illness but you are not alone.
There is treatment and although this is something that you may be dealing with for the rest of your life, with therapy, medication, exercise, and transparency; talking about your issues will help you get out of it. You are not by yourself and there are plenty of options available to you. You are no longer held hostage by your feelings and emotions. You recognize your triggers and you understand that the things that you went through growing up during your childhood have forced you into dealing with that post-traumatic stress as an adult.
You have to love yourself. You have to set an example for those people who are struggling to love themselves. Flaws and all, you are amazing. You don’t have to suffer alone. There is nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to mental illness. There is nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to depression. If you rely on the people who you love and that care about you, you will have all the support you need to successfully get through life without committing suicide.
Turning to hurt yourself, to self-harm, and to suicide is not the answer. For you to survive this, you are going to have to rely on faith. You have to be intentional about getting better and you constantly have to fight every day to avoid depression. You have the fight all the triggers that put you in that dark space in your own mind. You are going to have to fight for the happiness that you desire out of life, the happiness that you deserve.
[spp-tweet tweet=”Just because you have depression and mental illness, that does not take away your value.”]
You still are a phenomenal woman, capable of so many things. If you can put faith and work together, you can accomplish it all.
Your family, your children, and your friends are all depending on you. However, it’s time for you to start depending on yourself.
That’s right, again I say, you have to depend on yourself. When you get to the point that you’re incapable of maintaining your daily activities, that you’re no longer participating in activities that you love, it’s time for you to depend on yourself. Depend on yourself to take care of your mental health. Depend on yourself to seek mental health treatment. Depend on yourself to understand that you can still take care of your mental health and take care of your family. You can tend to your mental illness and your business at the same time.
It’s time for us to change the public’s perception of black women with mental illness. We cannot change everyone, but through our actions I’esha, our mental health will be key to our survival and success in life. We need to be proactive and find multiple ways to treat our mental illness. As you’re learning about your mental illness and how to survive with it, I want you to understand that your biggest responsibility will be in educating those that look to you for support and inspiration.
You will lead a life that shows people through your actions and your words, that a young black mother and wife can have a mental illness and still be a productive individual in a society. There’s no point pretending anymore that everything is perfect because when you pretend like everything is OK, life reveals exactly what’s not.
In your efforts to cover up what you believe to be a mark against you and a flaw, you and your mental illness suffer more. To shift attitudes about mental illness, we have to first accept it for ourselves.
Surround yourself with people who are supportive and positive. Get involved in activities that support your skills and talents. Get involved in activities that distract you from those triggers that keep you depressed. Find good health care providers, take your medication and come up with a strategic plan in order to avoid those manic-depressive episodes.
Never feel ashamed for what you’ve gone through because it is the fact that you made it and that you survived that means the most. You did not die those times that you tried to kill yourself because you were meant for something greater. You are not a martyr for those that committed suicide but a voice for those that want to.
You can be the one to promote just how much life is worth living through your actions, your smile, your blessings, and your joy. I want you to focus on helping those that are struggling. I want you to focus on being there for those who feel alone. Unlike so many others out there, you of all people understand what it’s like to suffer inside while smiling on the outside. You know firsthand, all of the traumatic experiences you endured, weren’t in vain.
You went through all of that for a reason and that reason is to shift the public’s attitude about mental health and mental illness in Black women. You’re not someone who is struggling. You are someone who is surviving. This will not break you if you do not allow it to. It will make you stronger but it’s up to you to take responsibility for your own mental health. It’s up to you to not live with shame.
Are you up for the task of being a voice for those people who are too afraid to use theirs? Are you up for the task of being around people even though sometimes you don’t want to? Do you want to take the time out to focus on your mental wellness and engage in activities and with people who are going to help boost your mood and your attitude? Aren’t you tired of hurting yourself and being frustrated at a life that you’ve just now realized, you have complete control over?
There’s no reason for you to suffer in silence. There is no reason why so many women out there have to believe that they’re suffering alone. If you speak up about mental illness, if you speak up about being a black woman with depression, you’ll be helping so many other people.
You are not by yourself. You don’t have to suffer in silence or suffer alone. It’s OK to seek professional help. There is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Although you will continue to pray and depend on God for guidance, He also says faith with no work is dead.
At what point are you going to put in the work? At this point in our lives, we have to understand that there is so much we are capable of doing and so much that we can change right now. If we just admit our shortcomings and our weaknesses, we can make a difference.
I’esha, your biggest weakness is the fact that you did not want to admit that you suffer from a mental illness. At the moment that you accept that, you will then find your purpose. Let people know that they’re not the only ones going through depression. Let people know the truth of how it is to struggle with depression and mental illness while maintaining the household, running a business, and having a social life, all at the same time. Through your transparency and your honesty, you will help so many people. What is life all about? Life is about being there for those who don’t have anyone else and sharing your experiences. You will discover joy in your life, by bringing hope to others.
Love yourself always,
I’esha “GaptoothDiva” Hornes
If you’re feeling overwhelmed and suicidal, there are options. First, find a mental health professional that you can trust. Start a mental health treatment program that is right for you.
More information on Black Women and Mental Health: http://www.blackwomenshealth.com/blog/black-women-and-mental-health/
Mental Illness Awareness Week 2016 – http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/MIAW
National Alliance on Mental Illness – http://www.nami.org/
But if it’s an emergency situation, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, Open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week at 1 (800) 273-8255.
Together we can make a difference when it comes to the stigma attached to mental illness within the Black community. For those out there that are suffering, please know that you are not alone.