‘‘I’m not together, but I’m getting there.’’
If someone had told me five years ago, I’d go to the doctors and leave with anti-depressants, I would have told them to fuck off. I used to think depression was just a matter of pulling your socks up and getting over…till it happened to me.
I don’t really know where to begin, I didn’t wake up one day and all of a sudden I was depressed. It was subtle. It fell like snowflakes. The sly disappointment here and there that I’d brush off but would settle all around me and build up till all I could see was snow even if everyone else told me there wasn’t any.
If I was to give a rough estimate I’d say failing my A levels was the beginning of it all. I’d never failed anything in my life (except for GCSE maths and technically, I passed). It felt like every bone in my body was being crushed. I saw the hours I had put in, I saw the life I had invented in my head evaporate and then I had this image of everyone laughing at me. That is what stuck for years. It wasn’t the fact that I had failed a few exams, it was the fact that I had failed. I convinced myself I was a failure in general. It was an overwhelming blow to an already shakey self - esteem. It was especially devastating because I based a lot of my identity on achievement. It didn’t matter if people called me ugly because I was good at basically everything so no fucks were given. I couldn’t control being ugly to the likes of Matt Scott Lee and Ben, but I could control how well I did academically. The fact that I failed, in my head, gave any negative thing said about me validation. It fucking hurt. A few months earlier I had gotten a conditional offer from every university I applied to, just a few months on, I was ringing every university I could through clearing. Seeing everyone I knew moving away and people talking about what high hopes they had for me only deepened the fact that I was a failure. I cried every day for a week, till a very good friend of my got my arse in gear. I managed to get onto a foundation year course, which would eventually lead to where I am now. £32,000 in debt, but I have a degree.
It would take a long time till I could even speak about my A levels and even now, all these years later; I still get knots in my stomach and throat every time I think about it. I try not to, but almost every time I’m met with dissapointment, it takes me back to that morning; logging in to UCAS and seeing the future I felt I should have had being ripped away from me. This is when I would begin to second guess and over think almost everything I do and unfortunately old habits die hard.
‘‘Behind the eyes’’
I remember almost everything about the day I took this picture. It was a Sunday, one of many I’d spend chain smoking; cigarettes, shisha, weed anything. It was also a day I’d spend crying about nothing but everything at the same time. The friday of that week, I received news that my Father had married the woman which he abandoned our family for. Ironically; that week would have been my parents 21st wedding anniversary. That week, one of my best friends stopped speaking to me, because the person he saddled himself with told him not to. Although my ex and I had broken up a few months earlier, the strain of it had just become unbearable. To top it all off, I missed my Grandmother who had died the previous year terribly. With the exception of my Grandma’s death, the initial shock of these things didn’t affect me. When my friend stopped speaking to me, I smoked a spliff and bought myself a carrot cake. When I found out about my Father’s unification with a marine demon; I smoked a spliff and bought myself a carrot cake. When my ex dumped me via bbm (sign of the times), I went to sleep. Yet, on this ordinary sunday, I could physically feel this pressure of sadness in my head. I remember catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror and not being able to see clearly. Those snowflakes of sadness that had been silently falling, had finally succeeded in obscuring my vision. I took this picture because I wanted to see if that image was true. I see every tear that fell and every morning I couldn’t physically leave my bed in the eyes of this picture. I see the girl who would spend stupid amounts of money trying to amount to something, but inevitably feeling nothing. I see the girl who forgot how to sleep. I see all the people who I allowed into my soul and the backs of them when they left. I see so much anger, but most of all loneliness. I see an omniscient and overpowering shadow of loneliness in my eyes. Of all the feelings I felt; loneliness is and was by far the worst one.
‘‘I’m not mad though…’’
Days and sometimes weeks would go by, where I wouldn’t have a physical interraction with anyone but myself. I would watch Harry Potter and Murder, She Wrote, endlessly trying to mute my own thoughts. I thought I was coping with depression, it never dawned on me that I was suffering. I remember leaving my room for a friend’s party. I made it as far as my bedroom door and suddenly this gust of fear and doubt convinced me that I shouldn’t leave. I told myself my bed was safer and that nobody would care if I didn’t go. I think this was the first time I realised that what I was going through was an actual problem and not just intense laziness.
There were many reasons why I didn’t initially get help, the main one being; I didn’t want people to think I was mad. There is such a stigma surrounding mental health and so much people have yet to understand, myself included. Even now, whenever I feel a dark day coming, I have to convince myself that it’s not happening. Facing the fact that I am not in control and something is wrong with me, means people will see me as weak. Mental health within African society is something that is not discussed and when it is, is usually the result of witchcraft. Being raised within a culture that literally demonises the mentally ill makes it extremely hard to seek help. I’m not singling out Africa or black culture as a whole. However, I’d say from my experience, my background and upbringing had a direct effect on the way I handled my depression. There is this ever constant pressure of having to be strong as a black woman, that any sign of weakness is deeply internalised. The same can be said for black men. It’s as if we are only limited to one type of emotion and that is anger. We are not allowed to feel sad, because that is weak. It’s almost as if we’re not entitled to be depressed because that defies the stereotype of the strong black woman. I cannot imagine how many women are suffering, have suffered and will suffer in silence because of this ‘empowering’ yet damaging stereotype. I feel there definitely needs to be more frank and open discussions about depression and mental health within the black diaspora as a whole. We need to move on from seeing depression as a ‘White people issue’ because it is not. It is killing and destroying us, but we don’t want to talk about it.
‘‘Just pray it all away.’’
Believe it or not, I am a Christian. I always have been. I know my previous musings will make you think otherwise, but this is what I am. I believe in the power of prayer and I do believe that having some sort of belief system can and does help in situations. However, time and time again the automatic response to people’s suffering is just to pray it all away. If you’re gay, pray it away. If bailifs are knocking on your door, pray it away. If immigration is coming for you, pray it away. It is such a lazy and hazadous response to actual suffering. If the bible has taught me anything, it’s that prayer doesn’t work alone, there needs to be a physical action. (Except for being gay, you cannot and should not change that) This pray it away mentality is a sentiment echoed throughought modern evangelical christianty. I personally know of many people who have left church because of it. I remember spending hours on my knees praying and praying for it all to end. I thought maybe I wasn’t praying hard enough, maybe my faith is lacking, maybe all of this is punishment for my sins. This is how I was conditioned to feel and whenever I spoke to my christian friends, this was basically what they were saying. Very few actually offered practical solutions, such as going to see a doctor, go to therapy, meditate etc. So many christians do not talk about mental health and wellbeing for the mere fact that mental suffering is somehow in direct correlation with your standing with God. Now I’m not saying prayer doesn’t work, because I believe it does but; most of the time prayer will lead you to practical solutions. I prayed and the answer I got was not to go to church, but to reach out and talk to someone, actually physically let someone know that I need help. That doesn’t mean to say I’m relagating God to the backseat of my life, it’s just that I believe medication and Doctors and therapy and counselling etc are here for a reason.
‘‘One day it will all make sense’’
Although I was prescribed anti-depressants, I have yet to take them. It’s not because I don’t think they will work or that I am giving in to depression, I just feel at this moment in time, I don’t think it’s the best course of treatment for me. I’ve found that therapy has been the most effective way of managing my mental health and wellbeing. Just talking to someone who doesn’t know me is a very cathartic and almost thrilling thing to do. Although things haven’t been as bad as they were 3 years ago, there are still times when I find myself spiralling back into those thought patterns and behaviours. It takes a wealth of discipline to stop myself from laying in bed all day and losing interest in everything. When I sense this is happening I meditate or I just move or listen to a song or tell my family this is what is happening please encourage me to not do this. It’s hard; I won’t lie. I feel like since that first serious bout of depression, something in me has changed. I can’t say if I’ll ever be like how I was and I’m not necessarily sure I want to be. I’m finally realising that, what I’ve been through is just a small piece in the complex puzzle that is my life. Although I won’t be tattooing ‘DEPRESSED’ on my forehead, I’m not ashamed to say that this is what happened. I’m not ashamed to say I got help and most of all; I’m not ashamed to be Melissa. If this piece of writing can even inspire one person to go and get help, then I know the lack of sleep and propper punctuation is all worth it.