I had a headache. A pounding, excruciating, painful headache that wouldn’t seem to go away. I was taking over 21 college credits in an attempt to participate in a graduation ceremony that I was already 1 year behind on, I was working part time as a bank teller, I served as leadership in multiple campus organizations, I was involved in campus ministry, I had physical health concerns, my weight & physical features were a constant annoyance, I was financially struggling, overwhelmed, lonely, frustrated, and tired …so tired.
The headache got stronger with each new thought. Then, I received a call that my father had passed away. A source of much of my life’s confusion, gone before I could reconcile. Gone before I could make sense of everything. I hated myself for my mistakes. I hated myself for being ugly. I hated myself for being fat. I hated myself for the molestation. I hated myself for the sexual assault. I hated myself for never being good enough for my father, for other men, for love, for graduation, for acceptance …I just wanted the headache to end. I wanted the pain to go away…so I took some Ibuprofen.
The next day I woke up in a hospital bed with a pumped stomach, IVs in my arm, and still in pain. It hadn’t gone away. The headache was still there. But it was now accompanied with shame and guilt. I was a Christian, I was social, I was outgoing, I was funny, I was …”happy”. ”Too blessed to be stressed”, but now an attempter of suicide. I was afraid of what people would say. I was afraid of what they would think of me. I didn’t want my mother to worry. I didn’t want her to see her only baby in a hospital bed, not like this. But she did. A day later she flew from all the way across the country, and as visitors and doctors came and went out of my room, the only thing that I could muster in between tears were “I’m not crazy. I promise…I’m not crazy”.
Some may disagree with that comment. I’m a gemini, so I’m no stranger to the accusation. I’m emotional, passionate, impulsive, imaginative, an overthinker, and an exhaustive lover. I love hard. I feel hard. I feel easily. I stress quickly - I am my mother’s daughter. Carrier of neurosis. A nurturer. Giver until every drop is depleted. Loving you until it hurts. It does hurt. A lot. Much of my grief is my own. And some, i’ve managed to adopt from others. I’m an emotional sponge, collecting hurt & pain of as if it were my very own. I attempt to save. Somewhere along the line I lost myself in the process. “Feelings” turned into boulders. Massive, obnoxious, intrusive boulders that rolled down a hill and became bigger than life…bigger than myself. I could no longer carry them.
That day, the dam had officially broke, the shelf had fallen, and walls that I had so meticulously created came tumbling down. After a of culmination of traumatic events; some from childhood, some from recent events …fear, anxiety, and low self esteem had become close acquaintances. But somewhere along the line, I had also become good friends with pretending and denial. I was a pro at laughing, joking, and entertaining. I was an overachiever. I’d give & do for others excessively. A natural people pleaser. It was a way of attempting to win approval (since I didn’t believe my looks would do it). But it also worked with distracting myself and others from things that I was going through internally. I figured if I was social enough, busy enough, and if I gave enough, I wouldn’t have time to focus on the people, situations, experiences, and thoughts that tormented me. It was easier to pretend.
I grew up watching “strong Black women”. Women who worked tirelessly at a 9-5, raised families on their own, supported their men, moved furniture, cured ills, loved unconditionally, and carried burdens without complaining or missing a beat. And if there ever was a dilemma, sickness, or issue, the proper thing to do was to go into your “prayer closet”. Prayer solved all things, and if it didn’t, you weren’t doing it right. I believed that admitting that I had a problem, would be a sign of weakness. It would make me a failure. It would mean that I wasn’t saved enough, or brave enough, or competent enough. I would mean I was “crazy”. I feared the gossip, judgement, and assumptions. So I pretended. I pretended until it was too painful.
That hospital visit four years ago led to me being diagnosed with Clinical Depression . Today, I still deal with a revolving door of disappointments, heartache, loneliness, fluctuating weight, health issues, anxiety, and confusion regarding my future & purpose. However, I am also equipped with something that is far greater than all of those things: faith & knowledge. My faith is what pushes me to fight. My knowledge is what informs me how to.I’m a little more self aware. I know my triggers. I know my symptoms. I know when i’m going to that place ….or when it’s coming to me. I promised myself not to ever let my mother see me in that hospital bed again, not that way and not under those terms.
Instead of ignoring, covering, denying, and pretending, I try to speak. It’s downright scary at times, but it is as necessary as breathing. Silence hadn’t gotten me anywhere. I’m honest with myself. I try to be honest with others. I’ve opened up to my closest friends, as well as my employer about my mental illness. This is bigger than just having a bad day, being in a not so good mood, or making excuses. Like cancer, HIV, or diabetes, this is an illness and I recognize it as such. Although I still sometimes have trouble asking for help (and accepting help), I am fully aware that I cannot do this alone. I seek the assistance of professionals. I utilize treatment. I reach out to those who can understand my story. I don’t walk around with a banner. I use discretion about when sharing is needed and appropriate. Everyone won’t “get it”. Everyone doesn’t have to. I have accepted the fact that there will be many that won’t understand me. It doesn’t make me or my testimony any less real. I wasn’t created to convince. I was created to speak. I was created to be a life changer. Starting with my own.
I may not have everything that I want, I may not be where I want to be, but I am growing. I am healing. I am fighting. I am loved. I am here…and I am honored to be. I still struggle. It’s a struggle just to write this. But it’s worth it. If not for myself, then for those who are silent.
"When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak" - Audre Lorde
This post is in recognition of #NoShame Day, which is meant to bring awareness to mental illness within the international Black community. It was started by Bassey Ikpi: writer, mental health advocate, and founder of The Siwe Project .
If you are experiencing something similar to the information in my post, just know that you are not alone and that there is support and resources available to you. We need you. I need you. Contact me ANY time.
If you have someone in your life that is exhibiting some of the symptoms that I listed above, be patient with them. Be understanding. Listen. Don’t minimize their feelings. Be supportive, be a friend, and if possible, direct them to a professional or personal resource that could be of assistance. They need you …and the world needs them