Honey, I’m Sad (On Mental Health, Depression, and Asking for Help). 2020.
Content Warning: Mental Illness, Suicide, 2020, and the Pandemic.
Hi there. I haven’t written in almost a month and hesitated on writing this piece. As a creative, that means I am supposed to write this because in doing so, I may help someone else. Writing is incredibly healing and a process of shedding the many layers of myself through vulnerability.
It was a Tuesday afternoon.
“Take all of your belongings out of your pockets,” she said to me.
I did as I was told. Same drill as the day before, three days before that. The nurse behind the counter handed me a metal token. I turned around and placed my items in the locker. Locker #7 was the locker I always used. Today it was taken so I chose #8.
“Do you have anything sharp on you?” she asked.
“No ma’am,” I told her.
She buzzed me in.
I visited someone I love 15 times. I paid $2.00 per hour at the parking deck where I parked on the second floor. It was a 13-minute drive from my apartment and took exactly four minutes to walk from the parking lot to the front door of the hospital.
No one prepares you to visit a psychiatric hospital. The movies depicted the place as people screaming, nurses and doctors rushing away patients, hallways of no return.
What I remember is that the walls were eggshell white. No paintings, no wires, a few gray tables near the couch and television. I can’t remember if there were any windows.
I played dominos with the person I love five of those 15 times. I held their hand and told them I loved them. That it was OK. That there was no judgement and that I loved them.
While you’re there, you don’t mind the person pacing the hallway. You get accustomed to the blaring television in the lobby. You realize which patient is newly admitted, memorize the visitation schedule, realize who had their medication adjusted, the friendly patients, and the one who doesn’t want to be bothered. It’s a place with structure and schedules and each time you visit, you ignore the fact that patients don’t wear shoelaces or have shower curtains in their bathrooms.
I visited someone I love at a psychiatric hospital 15 times. And each time I left, I wondered why no one realized the person I love needed just a little bit of help.
We don’t talk about mental health.
We don’t talk about sadness.
We don’t talk about the times when we don’t want to get out of bed in the morning or at night, when we don’t feel joy, the void and emptiness, when we have difficulty eating, getting dressed, or when the entire day is absolutely exhausting. Whatever it may be.
In November of last year, a family friend committed suicide. My brother and I got the call from our dad. After we hung up the phone, we sat there in shock.
It is incomprehensible to lose someone to suicide.
A week later I asked my brother- “What can I even write in this sympathy card?”
There are no words.
In American society, you learn early that we don’t use words like depression. Sadness. Mental Health. Suicide.
We push through. Women are encouraged to show emotion and take care of everyone else. Men are taught that they are weak when they display emotion and when they cannot provide financially. But is that fair? Why can’t we ask for help when we need it?
We maneuver a culture where it is uncomfortable to pull someone aside and ask if they are OK and how you can support them.
If someone asks you how you’re doing (regardless of how you feel), you have three options-
- I’m fine.
- I’m good.
- I’m well.
Sad feelings are uncomfortable and dismissed. We live in a culture of toxic positivity. Buy another book on being happy! Maybe if I write in my gratitude journal a little bit more, I’ll feel better? Yoga? But the sadness?
“How’s such and such dealing with you know,” he asks, tapping his right hand against his head.
“Are you referring to their depression?” I ask for clarification.
He changes the subject.
No one talks about sadness.
No one talks about grief. Mental illness. The heaviness some of us carry. How the car somehow doesn’t make us happier, the pay raise, the new job, the relationship, the partner/ spouse, the child/ children, the trip to Target, and on and on and on…
We don’t want to be seen as weak, struggling, or less than. We carry the weight alone, partially because of expectations from our society. When you look at the research, you find that you actually aren’t alone in how you feel.
Depression affects more than 16 million of American adults each year.
How many of us are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed? How many of us go without the resources we need?
When you have a capitalistic society that thrives on toxic individualism and the career ladder; a society that chains individuals in all forms of debt (medical, student loans, auto, etc) as the only option to reach the “American Dream,” it is almost impossible to prioritize wellness and mental health. In our twisted society, it feels like mental health and wellness are a privilege for those with resources and time.
It’s even more difficult when your job is directly linked to your health insurance. What about those of us who are disabled, poor, unemployed, young, undocumented, uninsured, and struggling? Throw systemic racism on top of that, a pandemic, recession, disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on African Americans and people of color, and white supremacists storming the Capitol, and man.
This is a lot of shit.
It’s okay to be sad. Depressed. Anxious. Exhausted.
There is so much going on in this world right now. This is your reminder that absolutely none of this is normal. The distraction we had before is gone and many of us are having to reevaluate our lives. This is your reminder to prioritize your mental health, spiritual, emotional, and physical health before your job.
This is your reminder that your employer will quickly repost your job description if you die.
During my time working at the State Department, I found a therapist who I worked with to talk through my feelings. It took me months to admit that I’d experienced trauma at the hands of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, that my dream job actually was not all it was cracked up to be, and that I needed to leave an extremely toxic environment.
I couldn’t believe that where I found myself was in a place that made me so sick. Here I was, making $71,000/ year (the most money I’ve EVER made in my life) with health insurance and great benefits, retirement plan, free housing, and I was considering leaving it behind?! I felt conflicting emotions. I’d made it. I worked for the federal government. I was only 26 years old! Yet, I’ve never felt so lonely, depressed, and isolated in my entire life, on the brink of suicide.
It’s been over a year since I left. I have no regrets. While I haven’t yet recovered on a financial level, I’m finally at a point where I feel good on a spiritual, emotional, and physical level.
“If it costs you your peace it’s too expensive.”
Was earning $71,000 a year literally worth my life and my wellbeing?
It’s OK to be sad, to talk about your feelings, and to go to therapy. It’s OK to take medication. It’s OK to choose self-preservation and quit your job even if you worked very hard to get there. It’s OK to choose another path. It’s OK to not be OK.
I thought medication wasn’t necessary because I didn’t want to admit to myself that I needed it. So many of us pride ourselves on independence and strength. As a Black woman, you are expected to do it alone, to be Superwoman, and save the country from voting a white supremacist into office. “Educate white people on how to be anti-racist!” Plant a tree, cook dinner, and make sure you wake up at 5AM the next morning to exercise.
And it is fucking exhausting.
We think of therapy and medication for those who are down and out, but it actually is a great resource to learn skills to navigate through life. Talking about my feelings with close friends and/ or my therapist has been something that has positively impacted my life when I’m doing excellent in life and when I’m unemployed, depressed, and on food stamps. Sometimes shit just sucks. Sometimes it gets a lot better and a lot worse.
As my therapist tells me, “All you can do is the best you can with the resources you have at the time.”
The African-American community doesn’t talk about mental illness. At all. It’s sad because as I get older, it’s clear that mental illness does not discriminate. We are taught to put our trust in God and religion which yeah, faith is great, but you can’t pray away depression.
The first time I ever saw a Black man talk about therapy and mental health was on Hulu television show called A Million Little Things. Rome, a Black man, was extremely sad even though he was happily married with a well-paying job, beautiful apartment, group of friends, and nice car. He found the courage to seek out a therapist and start anti-depressants, despite confusion from his father and brother since he had a “good life.”
A week after watching the episode of Rome and his struggle with depression, I got a phone call.
“Tianna, I’ve been thinking about you. How are you? I think you should consider looking into anti-depressants,” my aunt says.
I sob on the other end of the line and realize that I can’t continue to do it alone.
And that is OK.
“What brings you in today?” the doctor asked me. Her mask is tightly wrapped around her ears, face shield and a pandemic separating us.
“I’m sad,” I say. “I’m having a hard time and I need help.”
“That’s completely understandable,” she says, nodding. “What’s going on?”
I taste salt and know better than to touch my face. “I miss my parents, my family, and my friends. I’ve lost a lot in the last year. I feel incredibly lonely. I’m struggling with my mental health. I’m just sad.”
“You aren’t the only one having a tough time right now. Please know that you aren’t alone,” the doctor says. “Are you working right now?”
“I’ve been unemployed for almost a year now. I haven’t been able to find a job,” I tell her.
“Gotcha.” She states. “How do you take care of your mental health?”
“I go to therapy weekly,” I tell her. “I try to exercise. I meditate. Journal. I think I take pretty good care of myself but I’m struggling.”
I pause. “Between unemployment, my financial and housing insecurity, police brutality, the pandemic, everything just feels like way too much.”
“I understand,” she says. “Do you have a history of mental illness?”
“I was diagnosed with PTSD, depression, and anxiety because of trauma I experienced at my last job,” I take a deep breath. “I’d like to get on anti-depressants.”
She nods and looks at me. “Tianna, you’ve been through a lot. I’m really sorry to hear that you experienced trauma in your last job. I’ll review your file and see what I recommend.”
She gets up to leave the room to grab my file and looks at me.
“I’m proud of you for coming in to seek help and find resources.”
20 minutes later I sit at the pharmacy to pick up anti-depressants and I start another journey.
It is more than okay to ask for help.
This is for you.
*Disclaimer- These are only recommendations. I am not a licensed professional.
Also, if there is a resource that has helped you, please feel free to comment below! Thank you.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
https://providers.therapyforblackgirls.com (Therapy Resources for Black Women) *how I found my therapist
https://www.psychologytoday.com/us *Great resource- allows you to search for therapist by zip code, insurance, type of therapy, ethnicity, faith, language, etc.
https://www.thecut.com/article/how-to-find-a-therapist.html (Tips on How To Find a Therapist)
www.therapyforblackmen.org (Therapy Resources for Black Men)
www.elfuturo-nc.org/services/ (Spanish Counseling Resource in Durham, NC)
https://www.crisistextline.org (Text a Crisis Counselor)
https://www.mhanational.org/finding-help (Mental Health America Resources)
National Domestic Violence Hotline
Family Violence Helpline
National Hopeline Network
TREVOR Crisis Hotline