Monday mornings I like to sit at my desk, read my Bible and journal a little. It helps me set the tone for my work week and gives me something to look back on to see my spiritual growth. This morning, I got to work a little earlier than usual so I had time to do some additional reading. I came across an article on BlackDoctor.org entitled “The New Face of Depression: The “Strong” Black Woman.” (http://blackdoctor.org/462194/black-women-depression/)
The brief article discusses that stigma in the Black community surrounding seeking mental health services. The idea that Black women should take our problems to Jesus rather than to a stranger and that “if our people could make it through slavery, we can make it through anything” are a few of the things that bother me about being a Black woman in America. I love God more than I love myself but I understand that when your faith is shaken and you don’t feel close to God, seeking help from other sources is necessary. Depression is real and addressing it is very necessary in order to strengthen our families and be successful as a people. This article really hit home to me because I have experienced depression and I was too ashamed to speak on it. Symptoms of depression include, but are not limited to:
- A persistent sad, anxious or “empty” mood, or excessive crying
- Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased appetite and weight gain
- Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders and chronic pain
- Irritability, restlessness
- Decreased energy, fatigue, feeling “slowed down”
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness, hopelessness, pessimism
- Sleeping too much or too little, early-morning waking
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities, including sex
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
- Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
Several years ago I experienced the worse pain I have ever felt as the result of betrayal and heartbreak by a man that I would have given my life for. Prior to the breakup I had never experienced signs of depression so I did not recognize that what I was experiencing was depression rather than heartbreak. For almost a year I cried. I cried when certain songs came on. I cried everyday on my way to work. I cried when someone said “what’s wrong Miss Ashley.” It was like I always had a pool of tears sitting in my eyes waiting to spill over. But I cried in private. I cried in my office and used Visine and wet naps religiously. I was slipping in to a darkness and did not realize that I was a few tears and hopeless feelings away from doing something drastic that would have changed my entire life.
I went through several counselors before my EAP connected me to Steve Hoekstra. People always say I’m being dramatic when I tell them that Steve saved my life. No, I was not suicidal. No, I was not homicidal. No, I did not need medication. What I needed was someone to teach me how to get through depression BEFORE I reached the point of no return. The benefit of a Christian counselor was that he helped me overcome the things I needed to in order to survive the depression but he also redirected me to God because I had lost my way.
The crazy part is, when I finally opened up and told my mother that I was going to counseling she assumed I was “playing crazy” in order to get some time off work. At that point I knew that I could not allow myself to be seen as weak so I kept everything bottled up until my weekly sessions but I will say this… I never took time off work because that was never my goal. My mother didn’t GET IT until I had a break down at work one evening and called her sobbing uncontrollably. It was at that point that she realized that something was wrong.
My friends spent all their time telling me how strong I was and how they couldn’t understand how I was keeping it together so well. Little did anyone know, I was dying on the inside. I felt like I was constantly being held together by a single strand of cheap thread. I was suffering in silence, like so many Black women.
Depression is not always about being heavily medicated or being labeled as mentally ill. I have not had any episodes of depression that required counseling/therapy but I love the fact that I am a Black woman that is strong enough to recognize when I need help and how to seek assistance. I don’t look for approval from anyone because I understand that I have to do what’s best for me. I cannot be a strong woman if I am too weak to ask for help.
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“Grief is depression in proportion to circumstance; depression is grief out of proportion to circumstance.”–Unknown