After two shocking celebrity suicides within one week and several not-so-famous deaths about a month or so later, I began thinking more about mental health.
Mental health is a taboo that many would rather dance around than approach it head-on. Naturally, pointing the finger at others is easier than examining one’s own mental health.
This post sat in my “draft” box for
weeks over a month. Ongoing edits, determining if the piece is worth publishing, and sprinkled with a little fear of what you will think (of me). While pondering and editing, I learned of yet another suicide from a close friend, so I decided to go with it.
For anyone who has never experienced depression, it is probably easy to misunderstand the complexities of a mental health disorder. I have overheard comments from others who emphatically purport that suicide is a selfish act. However, I think the statement is selfish, troublesome, and demonstrates a lack of empathy and a lack of knowledge with respect to mental health and suicide. It’s proof that that people really don’t understand the scope of the problem.
People who suffer from depression or die from suicide are worthy of empathy, compassion, and love.
My thoughts about the people who took their lives are that,
They must have been emotionally and mentally broken. They must have experienced an insurmountable amount of agony. They must have been badly hurting. They must have felt helpless. Did the person have second thoughts? They must have believed their world would be better on the other side. They must have taken a considerable amount of time to make the decision. I cannot imagine their pain.
Like you, I have many questions. An extension of empathy for anyone dealing with depression led me to think long and hard. To consider if I had ever been in such a dark place. Did I ever experience depression? My immediate response was no. No, because the face of depression did not look like me.
However, I did recall a hectic time in my life. I worked full-time in midlevel management, I was a college student commuting an hour away from home and from work, sometimes twice a day (before and after work).
My multiple roles as wife to a supportive husband and mother to a pre-teen daughter were relationships that I cherished.
At times, my commitment to my family, career, and education was suffocating because I never came up for air.
Unfortunately, I could not see myself drowning with self-inflicted obligations. Perhaps I overcompensated for being away from home.
No one was aware of how overwhelmed I felt because I appeared to be just another resilient and strong black woman who was present to support, help, and encourage everyone else…but myself. I know one when I see one. My mother was one and her mother who nurtured 13 children was one. My grandmother raised nine strong women.
Several of my friends are that black woman too. I am not being dismissive of white women, I just can’t speak for one that I am not but I’m certain this post will resonate with my white and brown friends too. Anyways I wholeheartedly bought into the stereotype of the Strong Black Women.
Some of us (black women) talk and jive amongst ourselves. We bond over personal war stories like we earned medals of honor. We toot-our-horns about how we persevered through the toughest of times without the likes of Prozac and other pills.
Looking back at that time, I did not want my family to sacrifice or suffer because of my personal and professional goals. Today I know this way of thinking is severely flawed, and harmful to my mental health and well-being. I was teaching my daughter bad habitude. Our home would have survived just fine with dusty floors, a pile or two of dirty laundry, and dust coated coffee tables. What was I thinking? Sigh!
Although it’s been over 25 years, I recall on one occasion while driving to a workshop in Trenton. I was cruising on the Garden State Parkway passing a large body of water in Raritan, NJ. Although I don’t recall being stressed, sad, depressed or angered by any particular event, for a moment, I impulsively thought to pull the car over and jump. Yessss, I said it! Me. The happy one. At that moment, the word suicide never came to mind. I remember feeling tired. Not sleep deprived tired but simply tired from doing it all. Tired of guiltily doing too much.
During my drives to/from the university, on at least three occasions, similar and random thoughts flashed in mind.
While driving at a high rate of speed, simply turn the wheel in the right direction and I could rest. Sigh. 😦
I have never shared this with anyone. If you know me, you are probably surprised. I was happy. I wasn’t using drugs or drinking. My marriage was intact. My child was healthy and doing okay. Life was good, or so I thought. I was employed and liked my job. I wasn’t dealing with financial problems. I know know,
I was just doing too damned much.
Perhaps I was unaware of the fact that I was experiencing bouts of depression. Maybe I was ignorant to the face of depression. Maybe it wasn’t depression. Perhaps I was just overwhelmed.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports, depression is different from usual mood fluctuations and short-lived emotional responses to challenges in everyday life. So what did I experience? More importantly, what if I had acted on my sudden impulse to do the unthinkable? What about those who did and died? I pose a few questions but have more. What I know is this.
I didn’t talk about my torrent feelings.
As a child, I learned from adults that you don’t talk about feeling overwhelmed.
I was raised to handle my business.
Put your big girl panties on and handle your shit.
Why didn’t I speak up about my feelings? Probably from fear of looking weak. What’s bad about being weak? Nothing! It is a state of needing help. Weak is fatigue, exhaustion, powerless, fragile, unsteady, and unstable. None of which one should be ashamed of.
I never saw anyone in my family and tight-knit community ask for help. You endure. End of discussion. We must unlearn and unteach this behavior for ourselves and for everyone around us. It is detrimental to our health.
Ages ago, I don’t know what I thought about depression. Because of the stigma associated with mental illness, I think it was treated privately with medication and whispered about. Depression facts, according to (WHO) :
- Worldwide more than 300 million people of all ages suffer from depression
- Suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15-29-year-olds.
- Depressive episodes can be classified as mild, moderate, or severe.
- As of March 2017, the number of people suffering from depression increased 18% from 2005-2015.
- Depression is a common mental illness characterized by persistent sadness and a loss of interest in activities that people normally enjoy, accompanied by an inability to carry out daily activities, for 14 days or longer.
- More women are affected by depression than men.
Although I did not suffer from a classic case of depression, I now realize that I still needed and should have sought professional help. I should have taken a break from my responsibilities. I am thankful for my network of family and friends, who supported and encouraged me to follow my dream. Without them, I would have never earned my degree. In retrospect, I learned much from my experience. The number one lesson I learned–Don’t ever stretch myself that thin again. Period. The purpose of sharing my story is to help others.
I was in a hurry. The rush compromised my quality of life and caused me to miss out on important time with my family. In life, we are supposed to enjoy our journey. Recently I saw an image that illustrated a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly. The caption read, Give. Yourself. Time.
Now, I do just that. I take my time and understand that, as long as I pace myself while working toward my goals, I will accomplish them when it’s meant to be. Romans 12:12 reminds us, Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
Hurdles and hiccups serve a purpose and growth evolve through all struggles. knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4 ).
To prevent feeling overwhelmed, I carefully pick and choose my activities. I think long and hard before taking on commitments, and when I do, it’s because I choose to NOT because I feel obligated to do so. I don’t let anyone guilt me into doing anything I don’t want to do. Saying no becomes easier with frequency. 🙂 Saying yes to what you love is more fun.
The videos in this post are from a family excursion to a nearby park. The stroll through the park didn’t cost a dime but the hours spent with my husband and children were worth a million bucks.
Now I live a simpler and more purposeful life. My life isn’t perfect but it is a lot less complicated. Having large windows of downtime is wonderful. I still have goals but the difference is, I take my time. I have quiet time. I listen to the birds sing in the morning and the noise of the bugs at night. My teen son participates in sports, but don’t look for me at the concession stand before, during, or after a game. I read more and stress less. Lastly, I shifted gears and have made a major career change. I haven’t found my new career niche yet but in due time, I will. Until that time, I am enjoying my journey and hope that you are enjoying yours.
Peace and love and remember to Give. Yourself. Time.
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National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255
National Institute of Mental Health
Center for Disease Control and Prevention