All Articles Tagged "depression"
If you know anything the school system in New York City, you’ve heard about the all important Common Core exam.
The standardized state test, like many across the country, serves not only as a [problematic] way to measure student learning, it also determines a school’s success rate and ultimately determines how much funding that school will receive from the state.
There is a lot of weight placed on this exam.
Sadly, it might have proved to be too much for one West Harlem principal to bear.
On April 17, the day after her students took the Common Core exam, Principal Jeanene Worrell-Breeden, jumped in front of a B train at the 135th street station on St. Nicholas Ave at 9:20 a.m.
According to the New York Post, Worrell-Breeden, a 49-year-old woman who served as principal at the Teachers College Community School, was pulled out from under the train and taken to Harlem Hospital where she died eight days later. The city Medical Examiner’s Office ruled her death a suicide.
Worrell-Breeden took her life after the school’s third graders took the English portion of the exam for the first time in the budding school’s history.
It was also the same day someone reported cheating at the school to the Department of Education.
Initially, students were not made aware of the circumstances surrounding her passing. In fact, many thought she had died in a car crash.
Later, in June parents learned the truth about the cheating scandal and were told that their students’ exams had all been “red-flagged’ and “invalidated.”
Superintendent Gale Reeves said during a meeting, “The children didn’t do anything wrong, and the teachers didn’t do anything wrong.” She refused to provide additional details.
For months, the DOE refused to provide clarification about what happened with the tests. Finally, this week, the acknowledged Worrell-Breeden’s role in the matter.
A spokeswoman for the department said, “Principal Worrell-Breeden was the subject of allegations of testing improprieties. An investigation substantiated these allegations and we closed the investigation following her tragic passing.”
The DOE still would not explain exactly what she had done to tamper with the results. And officials would not say whether or not Worrell-Breeden had been made aware of the investigation before she took her life.
Though all 47 third grade English exam scores were invalidated, they took the math exam later on April 22-24. Those scores will be released later this summer and the superintendent assured parents that all the children would graduate to the fourth grade.
The Post reports that the Common Core exams have caused anxiety for several educators with on 34.5 percent of city student passing the math tests and 29.4 percent passing the English tests in 2014.
One educator said, “A lot of people are getting sick and leaving the system because of the pressure the high-stakes tests are putting on them.”
But one parent, Diane Tinsley told The Post that Worrell-Breeden seemed to be confident and relaxed about the exams.
“She was reassuring us parents. Her whole attitude was that they’re going to breeze through this test, and that she had prepared them to ace any test.”
During the three day testing period, Worrell-Breeden served the students breakfasts and even held a pep rally.
“She had them run around the gym cheering to get rid of their nervousness.”
And while she was projecting one image to the school community, a family friend said Worrell-Breeden’s personal life was more bleak.
The unnamed friend said, “Her grandmother died last year. Her husband moved out last year. He had a child with another woman. She was under a lot of pressure at home.”
“The was the first principal at that school so she was trying to make…a good impression. Maybe all that pressure, added to what was going on at home, got to her.”
Teachers College Community School was opened in 2011 in partnership with Columbia University’s Teachers College. It boasted student access to Columbia facilities, student interns and researchers. The school, planning to grow, only served students from pre-K to third grade last school year.
I don’t know Ms. Worrell-Breeden’s character or intentions for that school, but this story seems to highlight two crucial, yet often overlooked issues, in our society.
One, the issue of mental health in the Black community. Every week, there seems to be another Black woman who is either coming forward opening up, discussing her life with this particular disease or, in the more tragic instances, we hear the story of a woman who died shockingly and unexpectedly, taking her life. We have to get to the place in our community where conversations about mental illness are so commonplace and normalized that people who are actually suffering with these type of diseases feel comfortable telling their Black friends, family members, teachers, preachers and licensed professionals that they are suffering and need help.
Secondly, this story tragically highlights the flaws in the American educational system. It seems very clear to me that standardized tests are a way to capitalize the school system. For some it might be a way to measure comprehension and achievement, but the fact that there is money tied to it, means that someone stands to gain from these exams. Furthermore, there have been countless studies have shown that the tests include racial bias that affect minority students.
At the end of the day, our country has to find a way to stop teaching for the test and start teaching for retention, however that may look for each individual student.
Pharmaceutical companies publicize the side effects of antidepressants that may affect a patient’s sex life. Most of their information focuses on how a loss of libido from certain antidepressants impacts sex and sexuality. But we all know that sex occurs in the brain and other body parts as much as it does our genitals. So before beginning a regimen it’s important to consider all the sex side effects of these drugs.
Some Antidepressant Side Effects Can Be Good For Your Sex Life
The classes of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are known to cause the greatest loss of libido for users. Serotonin is the “feel good” chemical in the brain that makes us happy, and it can be crucial for people suffering from depression or even for people in a general bad mood. The bad news is that those antidepressant side effects range from lower sex drive to complete loss of interest for many people. For women, this sexual side effect can translate into decreased feelings of arousal and decreased natural lubrication. Men experience low libido as lack of arousal and erectile dysfunction.
The good news, however, is that while SSRIs and SNRIs don’t play nice with our genitals, our brains may still be down for sex. After all, the best antidepressant side effect is boosted mood, and your mood is a part of sex. For both men and women, this can present itself as wanting to give a partner oral stimulation and engaging in other sex acts that require a mental, if not a physical, willingness. While my particular antidepressants have never had an impact on my sex drive — other than making me want to have sex because I was happy — I have been with a man whose drugs prevented him from getting an erection. He also didn’t care for oral sex. Let’s just say that I left that encounter feeling rather unsatisfied.
Antidepressants Left A Bad Taste In My Mouth, Literally
Dry mouth is a known side effect of SSRIs, SNRIs and other newer classes of antidepressants, and dry mouth can cause bad breath. I’ve always drunk a lot of water with my pills, and I walk around with a bottle of water at all times. I chew gum, and I carry mints. I never want to be faced with a potential sexual partner if I know I have dragon breath. My voluminous water intake means that I pretty much have to go to the bathroom all the time, including during sex, which can be something of a buzz kill, but I’ve never had any complaints. The positive side effects of drinking tons of water are clear skin, properly functioning organs, and healthy, lubricated vaginal tissue.
Lack of saliva can have an impact on kissing and other oral activities as well. A completely dry kiss is the opposite of a turn-on, and concerning oral sex, the only word I can think of is “drag,” both figuratively and literally. You may not associate sexual accessories and antidepressants, but several well-known bedroom enhancements, like ice cubes, mints, and flavored lubricants can add excitement to foreplay while stimulating saliva production. Personally, I like a sweet flavored lubricant. My flavor of choice is cinnamon. You can thank me later.
Shakes, Tremors, And Antidepressants
Some antidepressants and other classes of psychotropic drugs cause tremors, tics, and other muscular maladies. It actually sounds worse than it is. Most of these side effects are temporary, so they should disappear within weeks or months of use. But until that happens, a facial tic or hand tremor might make for an awkward interaction with a suitor.
Right now, I take a medication that causes muscle spasms that started in my face and moved to my hands and arms. The good news is that the facial spasm felt bigger than it looked, so I could get away with it. The hand and arm movements are a little bit harder to conceal. I’m single now, but I can just picture caressing a partner–and then my arm starts flailing around. Or I’m performing manual stimulation, and I can’t control my movements, so my partner loses interest. Those thoughts are unnecessarily negative though because there’s always a solution to every problem. I could use the tremors to my advantage and create a signature move when giving a hand job. Or the tremors could go away before any of this becomes an issue. Most likely, I’ll just focus on the positive aspects of my antidepressants and deal with the rest as it comes.
Tracey Lloyd lives in Harlem, where she fights her cat for access to the keyboard. You can find more of her experiences living with bipolar disorder on her personal blog, My Polar Opposite.
Breakup depression often feels like the end of the world. Your sweetie tells you goodbye, and you head for the tissues and your copy of Love Jones. But can you imagine going through your worst breakup depression when you’re already struggling with clinical depression? Adding the emotional turmoil of a breakup to an already fragile state of depression causes some deep pits of unhappiness. And while clinical depression and breakup depression manifest in similar ways, you want to be able to distinguish between typical post-breakup sadness and something more. Something serious.
Sad Thoughts Versus a Negative State of Being
Three years ago, the love of my life broke up with me; apparently he was seeing someone else while we were together. I was heartbroken, even though I’d suspected him of cheating but never asked. I was also going through a depressive episode before the breakup, so my existing state of depression increased exponentially. I took to my bed, the one we’d shared so many times, in tears. I watched Seinfeld, our favorite TV show, in tears. I walked around the apartment feeling emotionally devastated and empty, like a worthless dishrag. In truth, I’d been struggling with all of those feelings during my depression; the breakup only intensified my current state.
When you go through a breakup, you can question yourself, how attractive you are, and your behavior. Those aspects of your being are also challenged within a depressive episode. Instead of thinking, “Why didn’t he love me?” my depressed brain upped the ante to, “Nobody will ever love me again!” “I must have done something wrong to make him leave me” became “I always do the wrong thing!” During my breakup depression, my clinical depression made the typical thoughts more negative and, thus, more damaging.
Apathy Versus Lethargy
When my relationship ended, I spent a fair amount of time in front of the TV with a carton of ice cream. I know, I was enacting the stereotypical behavior of a woman who has just been dumped. But ice cream is soothing, and it doesn’t require much energy to eat, so that is the reason that was my go-to comfort food during my depression and after my breakup. But eating isn’t the only depressive symptom I felt. My energy and motivation became abysmal. I didn’t change out of my night clothes. I slept all of the time and didn’t want to leave the house. I’d experienced those symptoms when my clinical depression was most severe, and the breakup restarted my lethargic behaviors.
Physical pain is another symptom I experienced after my breakup. Not just the tightness in my chest accompanying my heartbreak, but also muscle aches, pains, and headaches. Sometimes these pains were caused by staying in bed, but other times they appeared without reason. Body pains are a well-known symptom of clinical depression and, like the emotional symptoms, they were brought about by my breakup.
Choosing My Mood
After the requisite few weeks of crying at love songs and eating ice cream out of the container, I came out of the physical manifestations of my breakup. However, the negative thoughts about the breakup remained, along with the others I grappled with in my long-term depression. To reprogram the negative thoughts into positive ones and lift my mood, I worked to put more rational thoughts in their place. If I worried about never finding love again, I started thinking, “I am loveable. I have people in my life who love me.” Or better yet, “My ex is only one person; there are so many men I’ve never met who could love me.” Putting a more rational spin on my negative thoughts helped reduce their frequency and their impact on my mood.
Shaking off my breakup depression also helped me do other things to abate my clinical depression. Once my mood improved through positive thinking, I started taking better care of myself. Instead of depression junk food I ate fruits and vegetables. I felt good enough to put on clothes instead of wearing my pajamas and bathrobe all day. My tears didn’t disappear, but they lessened since I no longer spent my days laying in bed, caught up in a negative train of thought about my ex-boyfriend. Simply put, I had to choose to think differently about my romantic future in order to start taking steps toward manifesting it.
Tracey Lloyd lives in Harlem, where she fights her cat for access to the keyboard. You can find more of her experiences living with bipolar disorder on her personal blog, My Polar Opposite.
It started happening in my senior year of college. I began to feel nervous and anxious all of the time, but I just attributed it to my upcoming graduation and the stress of making career decisions. I would sit in class but wasn’t able to fully pay attention. I was lashing out at my friends on a whim. I hardly slept, and if I did, it would end after hours of tossing and turning. I would just lay in bed, staring at the ceiling until the alarm went off. I did this day after day, which rolled into month after month.
My mood had changed so drastically that my mother asked me if I was on drugs. It was at that point that I knew I needed to go and speak to someone. I had my first corporate gig by that time, and it was my co-workers who convinced me to go and sit on “the couch.”
I didn’t really know what to expect from therapy. Although not entirely familiar with it, it wasn’t a foreign concept in my household as I was privy to my mother’s therapy sessions through eavesdropping on her phone conversations from time to time. The sessions were helpful and very insightful, but still, I was embarrassed to admit to anyone that I was in therapy. I was a brown girl at an HBCU, and we were supposed to “pray away” our problems.
After deciding to receive treatment on the low, I realized that there was a deeper and more unsettling reason for my mood’s changes. During my third visit, I was diagnosed with depression. I was confused because I wasn’t really sure if this meant that I was “crazy.” That is, the type of crazy you see in the movies and read about in the news. I was relieved to be given some sort of explanation for the strange feelings I had been dealing with but still a little unsure about where I stood. I went back to campus that day and treated my diagnosis as a secret because of the stigma attached to depression at that time. I didn’t feel comfortable sharing this news with anyone; not even my line sisters. I needed time to digest everything by myself.
As everyone else was preparing for coronation, I was holed up in my room, researching depression. I learned that it was a very common thing and that there were several types.
Major depression is among the more common, but there’s also atypical depression, persistent depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, seasonal affective disorder, post-partum depression and situational depression. Depression can be brought on by life changes or a chemical imbalance in the brain.
There are many different paths one can take for treatment. Some people opt for medication in the form of anti-depressants, but this option did not work for me. I took medication for one week and felt like a zombie. I’m not sure if the right medication was prescribed to me initially, but it made me hesitant to try any other kind. Most doctors will tell you to keep trying different anti-depressants if the ones specified aren’t working. But if you’re taking the right medication you should see results within a month, once it’s well into your system.
Since my depression stemmed from lifestyle changes, I started paying attention to what my triggers were. Looking back on my life, I was able to pinpoint the exact situation that triggered a particular episode of depression and how. Making the connection between triggers and depression has been the best thing I could have ever done for myself as I am fully aware of what can send me into a downward spiral. I also practice a lot of self-care by tackling negative thoughts and replacing them with positive ones because I learned that negative thoughts could easily cause an episode. I’ve also read that exercise helps as it releases the chemical endorphins that are natural pain and stress fighters.
Nowadays, I’m very open and real about my condition as I am no longer that little girl that was hiding behind the negative stigma of depression. I’m also very proud to see more and more women of color come out and speak up regarding this issue. If you’re suffering in silence, it’s time to be vocal. You can’t get help if no one knows you’re hurting on the inside. Research your symptoms, make an appointment and start receiving the treatment that works best for you. Facing depression is the only way to defeat it.
Fitness Advocate Lita Lewis On How Getting Fit Helped Her Beat Depression And Her Beef With Waist Trainers
The evolution of effort. It is first a thought, then becomes a desire, then turns into a pursuit and then if you're disciplined enough it becomes a consistent part of your life and in time you start wearing it! Your efforts determine everything. Keep at it. Don't quit. Remain consistent. Change your life. #ThickFit #TBT // litalewis.com
At the insistence of one of my friends, I checked out the Body Blast Bootcamp of fitness advocate Lita Lewis. The Los Angeles-born, Australia-raised fitness juggernaut, who currently resides in Brooklyn but travels across the country to share her camps with hundreds of people, instructed everyone to meet at Fort Greene Park. After seeing her kick-a** body on her popular Instagram page, I knew I had to go and get my fitness on and be taught by Lewis and her killer thighs. But it wasn’t just your ordinary ol’ boot camp. I spent an hour doing froggy star jumps, jumping lunges, sprinting up and down stairs, doing high knees and squatting for my life. It was an excruciating 60 minutes, but damn if I didn’t feel amazing afterward!
Feeling motivated and uber impressed with my workout, I was interested in getting to know more about the woman who puts strength and muscles over simple bikini bodies with a side of a perched booty. I had the honor of chatting with Lewis, otherwise known as Follow the Lita and the woman behind the popular Body Blast Bootcamp, the Legs & Glutes Blaster training program, and the Abs Chiseler training program, about her fitness journey, her previous battle with depression, and how she became the sensation she is. And of course, she gave her two cents on everything from waist trainers to dealing with water weight and the right way to get some strong glutes. Find out what it means to be #ThickFit and get inspired to get it right and tight for the summer!
How Her Fitness Journey Started
After a relationship ended, it was a very unhealthy time. Now, in hindsight, I can look back and say that I did suffer from a deep depression. Life kind of felt not worth living. I found myself acting more like a robot. I would wake up, I would go to work, I would come home, and I would go to sleep. I would barely eat, and I would barely exist. I dropped a whole lot of weight in a short amount of time. Over three to four months I dropped close to 30 pounds, which is crazy right? It’s hard to shake five pounds off when I’m actively trying. So 30 pounds on somebody can have them looking drastically different. There’s a lot of people who would ask me if I was okay, and I found myself putting on this brave face, smiling and telling them everything was fine when I was truly suffering from depression.
One morning I woke up and I was getting up to get ready for work. I went to my bathroom and when I caught a glimpse of my reflection, I remember being terrified because I could barely recognize that person. I slumped to the ground and started weeping and crying. I thought to myself, “It’s time to move back to Australia.” At the time I had been living out here by myself and loving life, but when everything went bad I felt like I needed to go home and be around people who could support me and help me get healthy if I didn’t have the strength to do it on my own. But I also didn’t want to do that because my pride and my ego said no. I equated that to failure, and I don’t like to fail at anything. So I remember calling in sick and telling my boss I needed some time, which he was happy to give me because he too was recognizing my spiral down from being depressed. The one thing I could think of was going back to my track and field days. I thought, “I should go to the gym. I know a good workout would make me feel better.” I remember giving that workout everything I had. I was in the gym for three to four hours going HAM, looking stupid. But it was after that workout, I remember showering and going, “Oh my gosh, I’m hungry.” I hadn’t been hungry and had an appetite for months so I remember going out and eating like I was feasting for five men and eating really good food. That kind of stopped everything: Going to the gym and refueling my body became an addiction. And so I started doing this consistently and feeling a need to share it on social media. During that time, I just started on social media. I was just sharing the food I was eating, little workout things I was doing. During that time, I also took some time off from my job in the corporate world to travel. I was traveling by myself to different parts of the world. There were humbling things that really put everything into perspective. So here I was crying about heartbreak when I’m witnessing things like women who can’t afford to feed their children. I thought, “Oh wow, there’s actually real sh*t going on in the world.” It also sparked my interest in reading more. So not only was I working out consistently and feeding my physical health, but traveling, reading, meditation, prayer, these were feeding my mental and spiritual health, which was just as important. My mind was still dealing with the depression, dealing with all this other stuff. I wanted to start feeding my mind so I could get healthy mentally and spiritually. This all became something I shared on social media. That’s how it became what it is and evolved.
Why She’s For Strength Over Skinny
I posted a before and after picture and the before picture was me at maybe 135, the lightest I’ve ever been in my adult life. This was when I was unhealthy and depressed. I lacked strength and any sort of confidence. Then there was the picture of me today at 165 and 5’5″. I can sprint faster and squat 255 for reps, and people bashed me! They were like, “Well sh*t, I’m trying to get to your before picture. I can’t relate to this.” I said, that’s a misconception. I was unhealthy. It doesn’t matter what I looked like, my strength wasn’t there, nor was my mindset there. This is something I have to bring to the forefront because I think people are so caught up on what they see visually rather than what is really going on inside.
I don’t shame anybody’s personal goals. But I don’t care to be skinny. That’s not something esthetically I care for. And genetically, I’ll never be very skinny. I won’t ever be that. So instead of trying to fight my own genetics and molding my body into something that pleases everybody else, what does Lita want? that’s when I was like, “Oh, I want to be strong!” I want to be fast, I want to be powerful, and I want to give women another definition of what it means to be fit and beautiful. A good percentage of many women in the United States, especially women of color, will never be able to identify with the 5’11” very skinny white woman who graces the cover of your favorite fitness magazine talking about five-minute abs. I think it’s really unfair that media portrays these ideals, but instead of getting mad, I thought I’d take Ghandi’s lead and be the change I wanted to see in the world. I really move in a space of leading by example. I tell women to be the best versions of themselves. We’re all built and created very uniquely and perfectly, but perhaps, we are carrying 20 or 30 pounds more than we should or that makes us feel comfortable. So whatever it is for you, just aspire to be the best version of yourself. I’m a work in progress just as much as everyone else is.
What Does It Mean To Be Thick Fit?
Thick Fit really isn’t about a physical form. I’m using the word thick. It’s what I identify myself with, but it really speaks to not just a physical thing, but a mentality that says I totally and proudly accept who I am. I’m a thick girl, I’m always going to be thick. I train in a certain way and style to maintain my thickness. But just because I’m thick, that does not mean that I can’t be fit. So I combined the two, which is funny because I just randomly started doing it. It wasn’t like, “I want to start hashtagging Thick Fit on everything.” People just started seeing that in my hashtags and it became its own brand, which I was super proud to support and be the engine behind. People ask me, “What about the skinny fit?” and I’m like, Skinny Fits are part of this too. It’s just about the mentality of being proud of your curves and the body type that you carry.
We have some interesting news to report.
According to a brand new study, 69% of people taking antidepressants don’t fit the criteria for clinical depression or major depressive disorder (MDD).
Yes, you heard that right. They DO NOT FIT the criteria.
Instead, research says, the individuals are simply suffering from normal, everyday sadness.
The shocking reports claim that, “38 percent have never in their lifetime met the criteria for MDD, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder, social phobia, or generalized anxiety disorder, yet still take the pills that accompany them.”
The interesting statistics come in a day and age where depression statistics are slowly decreasing. Many physicians believe people are self diagnosing and medicating themselves.
Reports also go on to say,
Between 1988 and 2008, antidepressant use increased a staggering 400 percent. Today, 1 in 10, or roughly 23 million people, in America are taking a regular antidepressant, mostly selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
All of these statistics make you question how well our healthcare system was run in the past.
However, Mailone points out that the guidelines to diagnose depression are pretty interesting.
“In the U.S, official guidelines say clinical depression should be diagnosed if a person has five or more depressive symptoms over a two week period, most of the day, nearly every day.”
“The symptoms include a depressed mood; a loss of interest or pleasure in activities; weight loss, weight gain or changes in appetite; insomnia or increased desire to sleep.”
“Other symptoms include restlessness or slowed behaviour; fatigue or loss of energy; feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt; difficulty making decisions or trouble concentrating, and thoughts of death or suicide.”
So, what do you guys think? Are the new reports surprising to you?
The first time I tried to kill myself I was around 15 years old.
I took a steak knife from the kitchen drawer and pushed the tip into my wrist. I held the handle firmly and thrust the knife into my skin with what I thought would be enough force to make a cut; but the tip of the knife didn’t pierce the flesh. It barely even left a mark.
I didn’t press the knife any further. Instead, I rinsed it off, put it back in the drawer, splashed water on my face and started doing my homework at the kitchen table.
And that was the end of that.
Except it wasn’t.
There was the steak knife when I was 15, and then there were the handfuls of Tylenol nine months ago.
I was sitting on my couch when I swallowed a couple handfuls of extra strength acetaminophen. I didn’t puke or anything. No stomach pumping happened or any of that. All I ended up with was a terrible stomach ache that kept me up most of the night.
Total amateur hour, I thought.
But it was serious business.
Or at least “serious” was the word my psychiatrist kept using the next day.
I took the handfuls of Tylenol on Wednesday night and I just so happened to have therapy on Thursday. I have therapy every Thursday in fact.
I showed up for my appointment that morning, not intending to say a thing about the pills. But my psychiatrist started asking me some particularly frank personal questions in a way that made me think I could talk about what I did the night before without raising any professional eyebrows. So I reported some sparse details about my actions and his eyebrows raised.
They raised like hell.
“This is serious,” he said.
He beat that damn “this is serious” horse to death. But he had to beat it to death, because I was in denial.
“I’m fine! I didn’t really want to die! I was just experimenting,” I said. “I didn’t even take that many pills! There were still like three left in the bottle!”
But my psychiatrist didn’t believe that I was fine: “Tylenol can cause liver damage. And you can feel fine, but totally not be fine.”
I protested some more, but then he hit me with the bottom line and gave me two options: I could walk to the ER voluntarily with him or I could keep protesting while he alerted security. They would barricade the doors to the building before briskly escorting me to the ER.
So, fine. I went.
But as we were sitting with the nurse in the intake room, I had a change of heart and said, “Forget this. I’m going home.”
I started walking away. And then I started screaming.
“Stop! Get off me! Get the f**k off meeeee!! Let me go! F**k you! F**k you!”
That’s what I was yelling at the three guys in uniform who grabbed me by my limbs and dragged me to a hospital bed. I sat on that bed for five or six hours under police surveillance before I was admitted to the hospital’s psychiatric ward. It was there that I stayed overnight before I was admitted the next day to an inpatient psych facility that I stayed at for another eight nights and nine days. Or maybe it was nine nights and 10 days. I honestly don’t remember.
And I honestly don’t even remember what specific events led up to my swallowing so many pills in the first place. I don’t remember the specific moment when a suicidal notion became a suicidal action.
Like many folks, I live on an “I’m OK”/”I’m not OK” emotional spectrum.
But even my best “I’m OK” days bring some thought (or more than one thought) about how I might end my life.
So consider this tally: There were approximately 8,030 days between the time my 15-year-old self held a steak knife to her wrist, and the time my 37-year-old self swallowed handfuls of Tylenol.
Exactly 8,030 days, and I probably contemplated suicide on every single one of them.
I’m almost 40 years old and I’ve spent more than half of my life not actually wanting to be alive.
To Live Or Not To Live? That Is The Question
The language of suicide is tricky.
For instance, I keep re-reading that very first sentence, the one where I said, “the first time I tried to kill myself,” and wonder if I should’ve put it another way.
I generally loathe the word “try” in any context. Maybe my strong feelings about it are a consequence of watching Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back; specifically the scene where Yoda tells Luke Skywalker, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”
I sort of subscribe to the “there is no try” school of thought. I believe that trying is for people who don’t mean business; if you really want to do something, you just do it. You don’t try to do it. You figure out a way to make it happen, then you just f**king do it.
So I think that trying to kill myself and not actually killing myself kind of negates itself, so it’s really not trying at all.
Either you do. Or you don’t. There is no try.
Look, I’ll save you the trouble of calling me out here: I know that this is my own bulls**t thinking, and that this thinking is especially dangerous when it comes to contemplating suicide. But when I say, “I tried to kill myself” about that day in the kitchen when I was 15 or that night on my couch last year, I feel like the word “try” suggests that I was unsuccessful somehow.
Yes, I absolutely did not die that day. But I’m not so sure that death, specifically, was what I was really after.
The Unbearable Light(less)ness of Being
In her memoir, The Prisoner’s Wife, Asha Bandele describes her suicide attempt this way:
I didn’t really know another way to leave except by dying. But it didn’t mean that that’s what I wanted, to die, only that I didn’t want to live in emptiness. That’s the difference between wanting to die and not wanting to live.
I was 23 years old when I first read Bandele’s book and I clung ferociously to that line, The difference between wanting to die and not wanting to live.
I parsed those two phrases over and over again.
Wanting to die….
Not wanting to live.…
Hot damn if there wasn’t a fine line between the two!
I had spent most of my young adult life tiptoeing around that line.
I had longed like hell to be absent from the world. Yet, with all that desperate longing, I had also been a little reluctant to completely and irrevocably leave the world by means of death.
But there are other ways to die besides death. Any person who’s ever been seriously depressed will tell you that. So over the years I’ve left the land of the living a lot, without actually dying: disappearing from social media; completely withdrawing from friends and family; not answering calls or text messages for weeks; not showering or leaving the house for days; unceremoniously and unapologetically bowing out of all work obligations; and cutting myself off from anything that had to do with writing or my career. Those were just some of the metaphorical suicides I chose to commit when I had otherwise mixed feelings about not wanting to live, but also not wanting to die.
And those mixed-feelings I’m referring to, therapists call it ambivalence. It’s not exactly a desirable emotional state.
Feeling ambivalence about whether you want to live or die casts a murkiness and lowness around your days. On many days, ambivalence was all that I managed to hold on to when I couldn’t muster up anything as confident as faith or hope. I say all that to say that I think ambivalence kept my a** alive.
Where there’s ambivalence and mixed feelings, there’s indecision. And where there’s indecision, there’s indifference. And where there’s indifference, there’s inaction.
Think about it: What would you do if a hamburger and a cheese steak are the only two things on a menu, but you really don’t want a hamburger and you also really don’t want a cheese steak? You’d do nothing, that’s what you would do. At some point, you might take your appetite to another restaurant, but for a little while or a long while, you’d just feel stuck. You’d glance back and forth between those two lone options and you’d never make up your mind, because you don’t want either one.
Well, I am very often (and very intently–sometimes incessantly) weighing the following two menu options: do I want to live or do I want to die? And to be honest, I typically don’t want either one. So I get stuck. And stuck sucks. But stuck is still alive.
So people can say what they will about ambivalence. I know it gets a bad rap in these goal-driven, go-getting times of ours. But I could get real Madea up in here and do a saved and sanctified “Hallelujah!” Holy Ghost shout about ambivalence.
I’m mighty grateful for ambivalence. I’m also grateful for ambivalence’s little ashy-elbowed cousin: apathy.
Ambivalence and apathy might not be at the mountaintop, but they’re a step up from that dirty, dogged, downright gutter of a feeling: despair.
Despair is eager, clawing, forthright and aggressive. Despair is the nightmare creature that wants to run me down and wrestle me to the ground. Despair chases me right out of my skin, if merely by chasing me out of my soul.
Remember when I described ambivalence as “murkiness”? Well, if ambivalence is murkiness, then despair is dark as hell. Despair is utter darkness. No, it’s even darker than that. Multiply all that darkness to the gazillionth degree, multiply that by infinity, add one hundred thousand million, and then multiply that by infinity again.
Then multiply everything by π. And solve for x.
That’s how dark despair is.
I am not sure about you, but I get a major case of the sads during the winter. Just last Sunday, I was watching Akeelah and the Bee and found myself bawling deep belly tears. And I couldn’t stop myself.
I didn’t understand why I was crying, but luckily I’ve learned that part of my journey as a brown girl trying to make sense of this world is that I don’t always have to have the answers. I’ve also learned that asking questions isn’t always helpful. Sometimes all my spirit needs from my intellect is space and acceptance.
Well, in the middle of the last snowstorm when I was locked in my house for two days on my second bout of uncontrollable crying, I heard a small voice say, “Chick, you can’t make it. You need something. You are fading.”
Right there, I went to LivingSocial and searched for an escape. After a few minutes, I found one.
I pulled out my credit card and booked a trip to Bermuda. Four days, three nights, airfare, and hotel. It cost $549 with taxes included.
Though I’ve been familiar with this strategy for close to nine years, 2015 was the first year my seasonal depression got so bad that I needed to get away. During one of our many sessions, my mentor and counselor Mrs. P. told me that she kept a carry-on packed for weekends when she needed to get the hell out of the city. Her particular destination wasn’t Bermuda, but it was Puerto Rico for the weekend.
Booking a flight to Bermuda for me was far from an impulse. My spirit was responding to the emotional emergency that was occurring in my soul.
As a personal finance coach, I encourage my Black girl clients to stash away money for emergencies like these, so they can swiftly respond to what Mama Oprah likes to call the “whispers” in their lives, without going into debt and feeling guilty.
If you know yourself well enough to know that you may need a getaway to help ward off seasonal blues, begin with as little as $20 a week. You won’t regret it.
Connect with Kara @frugalfeminista. Learn more about The Frugal Feminista at www.thefrugalfeminista.com Download her free ebook The 5-Day Financial Reset Plan: Eliminate Debt, Know Your Worth, and Heal Your Relationship with Money in Just 5 Days. Join Kara’s closed $20 Cash Crash Diet Facebook Group to get some sistergirl support and accountability for reaching your savings goals.
In the last year we have heard more and more about Black women committing suicide. The first person that shocked us was Karyn Washington the creator of ForBrownGirls.com committed suicide at age 22. Then a few months ago Simone Battle committed suicide at age 25, she was on “X Factor” and in the pop group G.R.L. And then December 4, Titi Branch committed suicide at age 45, she was one half of the Miss Jessie’s hair empire. Although details of this most recent incident have not been released, it is important to know that mental illness is real and should not be ignored. It is very important if you are feeling down for an extended period of time that you seek help. Let’s admit we all get down for a day or two but if that turns into a week or more you need to seek professional help.
This time of year can be particularly hard for people who are single, have recently lost a loved one, or perhaps they are having financial hardships this holiday season. It is very important, if you can, to check on someone who you know may be alone this holiday season. Another suggestion would be invite any people you know are without family this season, to your family for the weekend to make certain they are not alone during the holidays. Here are some more tips to help prevent the holiday blues.
It is always best to prevent stress and depression in the first place, especially if the holidays have taken an emotional toll on you in the past. If that is not possible please try some of these helpful tips.
Express your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season. But try to set a time limit on those tears. If you try to find one thing to be grateful a day more things will come and you will one day realize you are no longer sad.
Help others: If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships. It is amazing how helping others will help you in return and maybe even more than the people you were helping.
Be Realistic: The holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. For example, if your adult children can’t come to your house, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos. Be open to change and realize that it is inevitable.
Love your family: Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all of your expectations. Set aside any arguments, differences until a more appropriate time for discussion. The dinner table is not the time to bring up conflict in the family nor verbally attack a family member. Be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.
Don’t overspend. Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Don’t try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts.
Try these alternatives:
• Donate to a charity in someone’s name.
• Give homemade gifts. (cookies, cakes, bath soaps etc.)
• Start a family gift exchange.
Make a list and check it twice. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities. Plan your menus and then make your shopping list. That’ll help prevent last-minute scrambling to buy forgotten ingredients. And make sure to line up help for party prep and cleanup.
Don’t be a people pleaser. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity. If it’s not possible to say no when your boss asks you to work overtime, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time.
Stay healthy, don’t forget to workout. Don’t let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt.
Try these suggestions:
• Have a healthy snack before holiday parties so that you don’t go overboard on sweets, cheese or drinks.
• Get plenty of sleep.
• Incorporate regular physical activity into each day.
Relax, relate, release. Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.
Some options may include:
• Taking a walk at night and stargazing.
• Listening to soothing music.
• Getting a massage.
• Reading a book.
Seek professional help if you need it. You may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. Please never be ashamed to seek help. The Crisis Call Center is available 24 hours a day (800)273-8255.
Dr. Renee Matthews has appeared on television shows such as “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and WGN’s “People to People” where she discussed different health topics. She started her media career with her own radio show on ReachMD, a programming source for health professionals. In addition Dr. Renee has been a featured medical correspondent on Sirius XM’s “Sway in the Morning.”
Dr. Renee earned her undergraduate degree in 1999 and her Medical Doctorate in 2005. She spent the early part of her medical career as an educator for numerous hospitals and attending staff on cord blood.
You can’t always look at a person and tell they’re depressed, just ask Lissa Alicia. The 23-year old writer and PR specialist from Philadelphia said most people she meets and interacts with at the various social functions she attends for business would probably describe her as happy; only her closest friends know that she suffers from the often debilitating disease known as depression.
“I’m really good at not showing my feelings,” Alicia said about the mask she wears in public. “Me and my mom didn’t have the closest relationship. And I was able to try to pretend that I was fine and okay. I don’t like people to know how I feel all the time. I feel like it makes me feel weak. And I really don’t want to be perceived as weak.”
In the beginning stage of her career as a PR rep and journalist, Alicia believes her image is very important to her success. As such, her work often means presenting a face to the world which may not necessarily reflect how she feels on the inside. She calls it “professional happy.” And it’s the societal adherence to this cultural normal, she said, which can make us feel like we have no choice but to suffer in silence, perhaps like Titi Branch, co-founder of Miss Jessie’s hair care products, who took her own life earlier this month. Or even legendary funny man Robin Williams.
“There is lots of pressure to maintain an identity when there is so much other stuff happening inside of you,” Alicia said.
Although not officially diagnosed with clinical depression, Alicia said she first became aware that there was a name and label for what she was feeling after suffering a breakdown in high school. As a teen she had always felt frustrated, hopeless and like an outcast; however it was a terrible breakup with a boyfriend that left Alicia feeling abandoned by even her closest friends. It was a counselor who told her that she was extremely depressed and needed counseling.
Thankfully, she survived that particular incident. And though right now Alicia maintains that she’s emotionally fine, depression comes in horrible waves and when she’s in thick of it, she feels extremely helpless, alone and unimportant. Alicia likened being in a depressive state to an internal war where one side of your mind is telling you that you are worthless, while the other side is telling you that you must fight it. At times suicidal thoughts run rampant and Alicia admitted she has felt as though it would be better if she didn’t exist.
“When it’s really overwhelming. When it’s really too much, I don’t have the best techniques. I usually practice self-harm (scratching the back of her hand) or I withdraw from everyone,” she confessed. “But its not very often that it gets overwhelming. Like I said, it usually comes in cycles but I try to remind myself that it will get better.”
Despite how hard it can get for her, Alicia said she’s not interested in any type of professional therapy. “I’m not into Western medication and I just don’t feel like Western means of fixing things always work.”
Rosalyn Pitts, a child psychologist with a small private practice in Philadelphia and years of experiencing working with patients diagnosed with depression, said resistance to therapy and other supportive services within the Black community is not uncommon. In fact, while 1 in 10 people report clinical depression, it’s hard to pinpoint an actual percentage of those suffering in the Black community because we’re the least likely to report our mental health needs to medical professionals.
Pitts attributed four main reasons for this reluctance: first, there’s the stigma that surrounds mental health illnesses in general. Second is our reliance on the church and religious community, which has many believing they can pray the blues away. Third, the cost of therapy can be expensive if you don’t have insurance or have access to free counseling services. And lastly is the deeply ingrained mistrust of the medical community among African Americans thanks in part to the long history of unethical medical testing on Black people.
This resistance to therapy can also manifest itself particularly among Black women, who are often forced by society to perpetrate facades which tell the world we’re abnormally strong. “The first step and the bravest step is to admit that you can’t handle the situation on your own,” said Pitts. “You really have to take that first step to lift that veil of shame and move forward because I think one of the things that holds us hostage to these feelings is that we don’t know anybody else and we feel like we’re the only one.”
Pitts said there is a role the larger Black community can play in helping to make it easier for sufferers to seek out help, including normalizing the disease (and mental health discussions in general) and talking more openly and honestly about our feelings. “We have to instill in our kids in a young age that it is okay to seek help; that it is not a form of weakness,” she said.
The holiday season can be particularly tough for depression sufferers. Not only does the season become an awful reminder of loneliness for those who aren’t close with friends or family, it also wears on others who are mourning the loss of recently deceased loved ones. Pitts advises sufferers to avoid triggers and minimize stress, even if it means staying clear of certain family members or, if it’s too painful, the holidays altogether, and seek out people who are supportive and full of good energy. She also suggests exercise, which she says can act as a major anti-depressant.
If one’s depression gets to the point where he or she is incapable of maintaining daily activities, Pitts strongly suggests folks seek professional help. Thanks in part to the shifting public attitudes about mental health, Pitts said there are a number of easy ways for someone to access counseling services.
If a has insurance, she advises first checking with the health insurance provider to see what’s covered in network. Primary care providers are also good sources for getting references to reliable counselors who can match your comfort level. Likewise, many churches are realizing the value in supportive services and are now offering counseling in addition to their other ministries. Other traditional supportive service centers also offer free to low-cost counseling for those who are under-and unemployed.
“Our mental health is absolutely key to everything else that goes on in our lives. If we are not mentally healthy, we can’t give to and provide to for others,” Pitts said. “So just like how we want to watch our weight or what we eat or if we get enough sleep. We want to make sure we take the time to focus on our mental health too.”
Although Alicia is resistant to westernized counseling services, she said she does take time out daily to focus on her mental wellness, including engaging in activities and with people who truly make her happy. “Being around people who I am friends with; eating food that I love, things like that [are what get me through]. Most importantly, telling myself that this is not going to last. That this is just a phase.”
And despite her personal objection, she does advise people who are suffering to seek professional help if needed. For her own mental health care, Alicia has also taken up video blogging and most recently produced an entry dedicated to her depression, which she said has brought her closer to strangers and friends alike who, unbeknownst to her, also suffer from depression.
“They tell me that I really helped them and that makes me feel good. I know that people may feel like they are alone in this situation. But there are other people out there who are also experiencing it alone,” she said.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed and suicidal, Pitts advises that you don’t wait or suffer in silence any longer. Instead, call the National Suicide Prevention hotline, which is available 24 hours, seven days a week at 1 (800) 273-8255.