“Sick of crying. Tired of trying. Yeah I am smiling…but inside I am dying.”
– Unknown Author
This quote reflects my life in a nutshell. Somewhere deep within my soul remains a 14-year-old girl who is hysterically crying, “I need help! Someone please help! I can’t do this anymore…I just want to die”. One would think that a natural human’s instinct would kick in, and aid with an attempt at helping to heal a lost and broken soul after hearing such despair. However, when pride is preventing you from speaking your truth, you are blocking the process towards your soul’s healing. If no one hears your call for help…you are left to suffer alone.
In my case, it was almost a sin to ask anyone for help. I am an African-American 22-year-old female. For some, that explains a lot. But for those who are not sure what I am referring to, please allow for me to explain.
Depression in the black community is frowned upon. In my culture, women are trained to be strong. Expressing any form of pain is known to be a sign of weakness. I have experienced this firsthand. Starting at the age of 14, just before starting my first year in high school, my mood changed frequently, like Florida’s spring weather. One moment I would be perfectly fine, then without warning my energy vanished, like a shadow hiding from the sun on a hot summer’s day. I was angry, and I cried so much but I did not know what I was crying for. My family immediately noticed these changes in me, but their responses were, “You need to shake it off”. My mom said to me on more than one occasion, “you better pray about it because that ain’t nobody but the devil.” With that being said, I was left to fight that battle alone. I even began lying to myself… pretending to be happy on the outside, but every night in the privacy of my bedroom, I wept and dreaded facing a new day. I fought and kept being defeated until I was about 19 years old.
By that time, I had taken a few psychology courses in college, and I had the privilege of gaining knowledge about the mental health illness of depression. Before turning 20, I had hit rock bottom; feeling as if I had absolutely no purpose worth living for. I was faced with choosing if I would live or if I would die. Ultimately, I had to face that demon of depression, who had gained so much strength and authority over my life within a five-year period. I made up my mind that I wanted to live, and I accepted the fact that I was in intensive critical need for professional help. My family did not agree that counseling was necessary. In fact, they thought that it would be a waste of time and money. Despite that, I still made the choice that I thought would be best for me. I had very little support from my family in the process of overcoming depression, not because they did not care, they simply did not understand its severity. I had phenomenal Doctors and Psychologists who held my hand along the way. Even now, the depressive thoughts resurface and hangs over my head like a dark gloomy cloud, but I have learned to dance in the rain. I have the tools which allows me to have authority over it because it no longer shared authority over me. I gained faith and determination that depression would not be how my story ends.
“I serve a God who walks on water…there was no way I would drown.”
If I would have continued being strong; smiling on the outside, and dying on the inside, most likely I would not be here now to share my story. My family’s ignorance about mental illnesses almost cost me my life. We as African-American women must break and reconstruct that stigma of being a strong black woman because if not, depression will continue sucking the life out of our beloved sisters and generations to follow.
I came across a personal blog created by a beautiful Queen, who goes by the name of Nefer Heru. I turned to this blog because it is a personal story from a direct source. What really captured my attention when I first browsed this blog, was the power in just the first paragraph, “I said when I started this blog I’ll be open and honest. Part of opening up is admitting that every day I wake up wearing a mask of “The Strong Black Woman”. That opening statement captured my attention because it sounds like an experience similar to my own. Also, I was intrigued a picture of a black woman weeping, quoted with “no one had ever asked me what it felt like to be me”. I introduce to you, Nefer Unveiled – “Depression and the Myth of The Strong Black Woman:
“Every day I wake up wearing a mask of ‘The Strong Black Woman’. I hide behind the resting bitch face while I cry and break down inside. I fight for my community while wishing someone would fight for me. I hide behind the myth of the strong black woman. I cry because I hate that I have to be the strong black woman, but yet other races of women get to be soft, vulnerable and fragile and it’s OK. But black women, we are expected to take the weight of the world on our shoulders, face racism and misogyny and still smile and be alright. It’s a struggle at times to just get up and do things. I dread being around people. I just want to withdraw and sit in darkness. I’m not supposed to show weakness or talk ‘family business to outsiders. In the black community, there is a shame surrounding mental health, it’s like a taboo to discuss. People must realize it is not a mood that you can “just snap out of.” Don’t suffer in silence under the mask of strong black woman.”
Nefer’s story of her battle against depression sounds very similar to my own. What about you…can you relate?
Have you heard about an inspirational young woman who goes by the name of Karyn Washington? This young woman lifted others up, but apparently, no one was there to help her in her most critical time of need. Karyn lost her mother a year prior to taking her own life. In April of 2014 I had just turned 20 years old 2 months prior, and just the thought of someone my age committing suicide is emotional for me, because that could have been me. “How could a beautiful, talented young woman whose mission was to uplift others take her own life buzzfeed.com?”
Here we have this inspirational and greatly empowering and admirable beautiful young black woman who helped so many others feel good about themselves…but who was there to help her? I can relate to Karyn Washington in many ways. One being the fact that I am always there when others need me, but there seems to be no one around whenever I am in need. For some reason, many people, even strangers, feel comfortable with sharing their heartaches and pains with me. Being the loving person that I am, I have a big heart for people, so I willingly help anyone out in any way that I can. But again, the question remains…who is there to help me? A negative side of being viewed as “A Strong Black Woman” is that to others you are like a real-life SuperWoman! A writer for Ebony’s magazine says it perfectly: “The peculiar thing about doing the work to uplift others, is the world often forgets that the workers also needs uplifting, that the work becomes heavy, that frequently the work is being performed to soothe one’s soul.” In simpler form, even a Superwoman is sometimes in need of a Superhero.
Black women have been brainwashed into thinking that because we are black we do not get depressed. One of my favorite stories comes from Cosmopolitan, titled “Black Girls Don’t Get to Be Depressed”. A quote coming from this article reads, “Depression was something that happened to white people on television. Not a thing that could take down a strong black woman. If you’re African-American and female, not only are you expected to be resilient enough to just take the hits and keep going, but if you can’t, you’re a black bitch with an attitude.”
As I look back into the depressive period during my childhood, my moodiness from depression was mistakenly misunderstood as an attitude. I now realize that I didn’t have a bad attitude and “act like the world owes me something”, as my Father would say. I was only crying out for help, and receiving the negative reactions that I almost always got; such as punishments, and beatings only made things worse for me. I would fight anyone for the pettiest reason…if someone accidently stepped on my shoe, I was ready to fight. I had an attitude out of this world! I was such a defiant teenager that my guidance counselor verbally stated that she thought that I was going to end up in jail before I graduated High School. In Middle School I received at least one referral each month during the school year. Many of the adults in my life, excluding my Mom, had eventually given up on me, and labeled me as “the troubled child” aka the rebellious one. If the ones in my community were able to identify the symptoms and signs of the major depression that I was facing, I honestly think that the depression I was entangled in would not have intensified over a five year period.
“My moodiness from depression was mistakenly misunderstood as an attitude.”
Growing up in the black community, I have witnessed my Grandmother, Mother, Aunties and Cousins overcome battles that seemed unconquerable. In my eyes, my Grandmother, Carrie Mae Whitsett-Gibson, is the strongest woman that I will ever meet in this life. My Grandmother was born in 1931, during the time in which racism, segregation and discrimination was very much so still widely known in the South. However, she survived that, with her head held high. My Grandmother birthed and raised 10 children; 6 boys and 4 girls. I never got to meet my Grandfather; he passed away from a heart attack when my Mom was only fifteen years old, but even through the loss of her Husband, my Grandmother remained strong, and did what she had to do in order to keep a roof over her family’s head, and food on the table…even if that meant she would have to go to bed hungry. I watched my Grandmother raise 3 of my oldest cousins as if they were her own children. My Grandmother is MY SUPERWOMAN. I have never seen my Grandmother cry; until the death of her son, Charles and her daughter, Annetta. Even through hard times, no matter how intense the storm was, my Grandmother always walked out of it with her head held high, and ready for any other obstacles that came her way. Sadly, our family’s strongest soldier has transitioned to her eternal Heavenly home.
Even during my Grandmother’s last days of life, we all thought that she would “bounce back” as we liked to call it because she has been sick with different illness for my whole life, and for majority of my Mom’s life…but no matter how sick she was, she always recovered full force. However, my Grandmother was tired, and a few months before passing she said to my Mom, “I’m not going to make it this time baby”. On a Thursday night, August 4, 2016 it was time for our beloved soldier to rest. She fought to her very last breath. My Grandmother, Carrie Mae Whitsett-Gibson, will forever be my Superwoman. Even Superheros need rest too.
My point of sharing this personal detail of my story is to show that even the strong get weak.
During my darkest moments of depression, I so badly wanted all of it to be over.
All of the hurt and pain that I felt inside. All of the feelings of being alone. There were moments when I felt like I would never be “okay” again, and my life just sucked…I wanted to die. I had days that I literally felt so hopeless. I remember on more than one occasion, while driving I would just burst out crying and thought about running my car off of one of the main highways in Orlando, Florida, I4 or the 408. I even had thoughts of running my car into moving semi-trucks. Looking back now, it is almost unbelievable that I am…Karyn Washington.
My sisters, it is okay to not be okay. That whole cliché of never let them see you sweat, is slave mentality. “Research has been provided as evidence that black community’s hold on to a long legacy of secrets, lies and shame originating from slavery. Avoiding emotions was a survival technique, which has now become a cultural habit for African-Americans and a significant barrier to treatment for depression. During slavery, you were supposed to be the strong one. You weren’t supposed to speak. You were supposed to just do.” We are not slaves anymore, our ancestors have already fought that fight, and they paid a high price. We have a voice, and we have the right to speak because we do matter. It is okay, to not be okay, and anyone who tells you otherwise is hurting just as much as you are. It will take time, but we must tear down that wall and reconstruct the stigma of A Strong Black Woman.
“It is okay to not be okay. Anyone who tells you otherwise, is hurting just as much as you are.”
While conducting some research about Depression in the African-American female community, I came across an article on huffingtonpost.com titled, “High Rates of Depression Among African-American Women, Low Rates of Treatment”. I found this article helpful in identifying our flaws towards depression as African-American women. This is what I learned:
“Black women remain one of the most untreated groups for depression in the United States because they are depressed, but will not admit to it, so this mental illness goes untreated. There are several factors added to this issue; lack of health insurance, shame and embarrassment resulting in feeling “less than a woman”, lack of knowledge, refusal of help that stemmed from a history of discrimination and a deep mistrust of health care institutions, and self-medicating.”
The point is, if you need help, ask for it. If someone tells you that they feel depressed, take them seriously, and handle them with delicate care…as you would a set of costly antique glassware. I understand the whole “I Am a Strong Black Woman” cliché. I was raised with those same morals. However, because of my life experiences and the knowledge I’ve gained, I no longer agree with the stigma of a strong black woman. I am here to say, I am a strong black woman who suffers from depression. Admitting that you’re fragile, is not weakness…it is strength. It takes a strong woman to admit to her flaws. It takes an even stronger woman to take the steps necessary to polish her flaws. And in my opinion, the strongest women, unveils the “I’m okay, but really I’m dying mask” with no regrets. Real strong women believe that it is okay to not be okay. Which are you?
Badejo, Anita Speaking. “Carefree Black Girl: The Life and Death of Karyn Washington.” BuzzFeed News. N.p., 24 Aug. 2014. Web. 26 Oct. 2016. https://www.buzzfeed.com/anitabadejo/carefreeblackgirl?utm_term=.duXPJOVz7#.drX3K1Der
Hamm, Nia. “High Rates of Depression Among African-American Women, Low Rates of Treatment.” Huffington Post. N.p., 25 Nov. 2014. Web. 11 Oct. 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nia-hamm/depression-african-american-women_b_5836320.html
Heru, Nefer. “Depression and the Myth of the Strong Black Woman.” Lost Black Girl Found. N.p., 28 Oct. 2015. Web. 26 Oct.2016. http://lostblackgirlfound.squarespace.com/blogpost/2015/depression-and-the-myth-of-the-strong-black-woman
Irby, Samantha. “Black Girls Don’t Get to Be Depressed.” Cosmopolitan. N.p., 14 Dec. 2015. Web. 26 Oct. 2016. http://www.cosmopolitan.com/lifestyle/news/a50692/black-girls-dont-get-to-be-depressed/
Pickens, Josie. “Depression and the Black Superwoman Syndrome.” EBONY. N.p., 15 Apr. 2014. Web. 28 Oct. 2016. http://www.ebony.com/wellness-empowerment/depression-and-the-black-superwoman-syndrome-777#axzz4On2apOzY