It started in middle school. I would become very sad for no specific reason I could pinpoint. I wasn’t bullied, home life proved to be fine, we all have our trauma. But, I would feel this overwhelming sadness for weeks and then it would reach its height, pop, and fizzle out. That was the cycle and I figured it was part of growing up. I told myself it was my period or that I was just over thinking.
But as time went on, nothing really changed. It was, however, the first time I thought about what life would be like if I wasn’t here anymore. It wasn’t an introspective or philosophical question either. My mind would touch on the subject the same way I’d occasionally think about my wedding dress or having a child. They were harmless ideas to me, because I never acted on them. I was more curious as to what it would feel like if the pain stopped and sleeping wasn’t enough anymore.
Some days are harder than others, but it’s less difficult to find the resources I need as an adult. However, I understand why the suicide rates for Black girls has grown by 182 percent between 2001 and 2017, according to a recent University of Toledo study. A second study released in October by the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research at New York University showed that between 1991 and 2017, instances of self-reported suicide attempts among Black high school-aged teens rose by 73 percent while the rates for white teens declined by 7.3 percent.
As a Black woman, who was once a Black girl, I know that the idea of seeking help outside of your family could be viewed as disrespectful.
Growing up, I felt like people were more concerned with preserving an image of strength and keeping their “business” private even at the expense of struggling youth. I’ve learned that childhood trauma has the power to bury adults and when you’re taught not to explain the heaviness in your heart out loud, you move differently through life than those that do.
I thought about seeing the counselor at my high school, but she wasn’t even a certified psychologist, which annoyed me deeply. My failed high school which received a D grade, was filled with low-income children and lacked the proper resources. And I know I wasn’t the only student who could have used the help. I thought about talking to my college counselor, but I liked her so much and I thought she would think less of me. I asked my sister once, if she ever felt sad and couldn’t explain why. When she said no, I almost broke down. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so alone.
For me, the culture and tradition has always pushed me toward Christ figures instead of clinical therapists. What do we say when the things that happen can’t be mentioned outside of the house? Who do we express ourselves to when our voices are locked inside a home full of secrets and we’re told that help doesn’t exists beyond the threshold?
According to a 2017 World Health Organization report, 300 million people around the world suffer from depression. When you think about how common it is for someone to feel like this, it makes you wonder why there’s so much stigma behind it. It makes me wonder why I still feel like such an outsider at times.
My depression is part of the reason I enjoy reading so much. So I guess that could be the silver lining in all this. The only way I could escape my thoughts was through books and so I consumed many during high school. I read in between classes, during class, on the way home and at home. It helped a bit. But there were evenings when I struggled to fall asleep. The despair I felt inside was so distracting and deep that some nights were spent sobbing. I remember saying out loud into the dark, I don’t want to feel like this.
But sometimes I still feel like that.
Everyone expects us to pull Black girl magic out of our bonnets when statistically, Black girls are having a lot of nightmares. To the Black women, who have never stopped, I’ve learned that it’s OK. However, it’s not OK to not seek help. It’s hard to find that strength, because finding your peace means looking for it everyday and some days I still have no idea where to start.
I do know, that for me, as corny as it may sound, dealing with my depression is like being forced to climb a staircase. Sometimes you get off on floors where there are people you want to see. Sometimes it’s people you don’t like or even know. And sometimes it’s just you. But above all, the goal is to keep moving upward.
I share this, to remind any black girls or women that if they’ve ever felt like me, they’re not crazy. You don’t have to feel trapped inside your own head. There are people on the outside willing to help. When I address my mental health, I do it for the culture and it’s clear we need to create a space for younger women to do so as well.