I don’t know anyone who hasn’t had THAT day. A day full of sadness, loneliness, and the blues. I have had many of those day. Trudging up the steps to the house like I had to do battle, I would have a hasty and distracted chat with my son about school, slap something together for dinner, then find myself disappearing in a book, binge watching TV, or laying in a darkened room wondering at the insanity of doing this again the next day. I had lived this so long that it became normal. My blues was validated by a Google search here, a borrowed library book there, a dusty pamphlet from my doctor’s office that this was normal. Major change cause depressed feelings. It’s a normal reaction to loss, life’s struggles, turning forty. What happens when those feelings become overwhelming? When getting out of bed in the morning is a struggle? When the IDEA of dressing exhausts you? When these feelings last so long that it gets in the way of enjoying life?
My blues ain’t your blues. I live with clinical depression.
My illness is not tangible. I can’t walk into Rite-Aid and purchase an over the counter remedy. I can walk into a liquor store and numb the pain, but that’s a temporary measure. I wake up the next day still in pain and with cotton mouth.
Clinical depression is the most common form of depression and the most misunderstood. When left untreated, this depression can worsen, leading to despair that can lasts for years. In the African American community, depression is still considered a taboo subject. Like other African American women, I suffered in silence, until I couldn’t stand the suffering any more.
I live with depression, but I am NOT my depression. Among other things, I am a mother, writer, wife, advocate for my community, and sister. I like life, but I know that there is so much more I could be loving about my world. The massive weight that is depression, invisible to the eye, gets heavier each day. I was raised to understand that depression doesn’t happen to my people. That’s a luxury that is not afforded to women of color. We tell ourselves to shake it off. If we push harder, go the extra limit, we can beat this. I was raised to believe that I am indeed a strong woman, that I can do the dance, backwards and in heels like the late film star Ginger Rodgers.
What happens when the heel breaks and the music stops? The black envelopes again and I am back on my couch, struggling to get up for the next dance.
I remember the first time a doctor told me I had clinical depression. I laughed at the doctor and calmly explained that I was Black and we don’t get depressed. We take naps, we go shopping, and we gather our girlfriends and talk trash over wine. My doctor listened then explained that my illness does not discriminate. When I got this diagnoses, I immediately felt lighter. I wasn’t being lazy, I wasn’t less ambitious, I wasn’t less than. I had a real illness that could be controlled with medication and therapy.
African Americans are raised on stories of ancestors who survived the middle passage. During family gatherings we are regaled with stories of grandma who held down the home front while working two jobs, took care of her man, led the church bazaar, plus started a business after the kids went to bed. We feed on the folklore of powerful women who run Fortune 500 companies and still manage to be there cheering their kid on the sideline. What we don’t hear about is that these women find themselves sitting on the side of the tub, hoping that the sound of the water running for the kids’ bath covers the sound of the sobbing into a towel?
The face of depression is closer than you think. These are some of the ways depression can manifest in a person:
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
- Fatigue and decreased energy
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
- Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
- Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
- Irritability, restlessness
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
- Overeating or appetite loss
- Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
- Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings
- Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
These signs aren’t always indicative of depression. There are many people who has felt one of these things. When these feelings persists, or, any of the symptoms from the following are present, it’s time to seek help. What are the warning signs of depression?
- A sudden switch from being very sad to being very calm or appearing to be happy
- Always talking or thinking about death
- Clinical depression (deep sadness, loss of interest, trouble sleeping and eating) that gets worse
- Having a "death wish," tempting fate by taking risks that could lead to death, such as driving through red lights
- Losing interest in things one used to care about
- Making comments about being hopeless, helpless, or worthless
- Putting affairs in order, tying up loose ends, changing a will
- Saying things like "It would be better if I wasn't here" or "I want out"
- Talking about suicide (killing one's self)
I would never tell my daughter, who lives with asthma, to practice breathing so she doesn’t wheeze. When my son broke his collarbone playing football, I didn’t tell him to think happy thoughts. As my mother recovers from her various ailments I don’t recommend shaking off the pain. Why is it so easy for people to say these things to someone in a depression? Things never to tell someone who is depressed:
- Pull yourself together.
- Pray it away/ you’re faith isn’t strong enough
- Grow up
- You’re being lazy
- Fake it till you feel it.
Trust and believe that every last one of those things has been tried and the failure at not being able to shake it off or pray away the blues just adds to feelings of failure. No matter what type of depression you have and how severe it is, the following self-care steps can help:
- Get enough sleep.
- Follow a healthy, nutritious diet.
- Exercise regularly.
- Avoid alcohol, marijuana, and other recreational drugs.
- Get involved in activities that make you happy.
- Spend time with family and friends.
- If you are a religious or spiritual person, talk to a clergy member or spiritual advisor.
- Consider meditation, tai chi, or other relaxation methods.
- Add omega-3 fatty acids to your diet. You can get them from over-the-counter supplements or by eating fish such as tuna, salmon, or mackerel.
- If your depression occurs in the fall or winter months, try light therapy using a special lamp that is like sunlight. I use the tanning booth at my gym on really gloomy days. Those five minutes helps me feel much better.
Since my diagnosis and treatment, I have days when I feel myself slipping back into depression, but I haven’t had the episodes of the past where I felt like I was walking through water with a heavy item tied to my ankle. I know that there IS a light at the end of the tunnel and I need to take care of myself better than I have. I see so many women in pain. How many of them could use this information? There is nothing to be ashamed of when one lives with depression.
I have depression, but I refuse to let depression define who *I* am.
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