I don’t believe in telling people my business. I’m not secretive or deceitful, I just don’t want those who don’t know me to use my personal details to unfairly evaluate me. But I also believe in storytelling and the power of personal narratives. Recently, these two beliefs came into conflict, and I found myself exposing deeply personal truths—in a very public way—for the sake of a story told right.
As a journalist, I want every story I write to include the voice of a person who has a lived experience related to the topic. When I got the assignment from SELF to write about mental health in the black community I knew it would be difficult to find a black person to openly talk on the record about dealing with depression or a personal history of mental distress. After all, the article was about how we don’t talk about mental health in the black community. Some contacts told me they could put me in touch with black people who would speak to me about their mental health struggles, but only on the condition of anonymity. I didn’t want to write a story using an anonymous source, or someone hiding behind a pseudonym. I felt like doing so would only help uphold the stigma around mental health among my people and I didn’t want to do that.
With a deadline looming, I thought, “Too bad I can’t use myself as a source.” I’ve struggled with depression, sometimes very seriously, through every decade of my life starting when I was 8 years old and I’ve had some good and bad experiences with therapists. I’ve lived through the very things I wanted to write about. But I couldn’t expose my experiences—myself—that way. How could I? And why would I?
Why open myself up to potential ridicule and judgment? As I move into a second career in education, I was reluctant to write the story in first person because I worried that publicly admitting that I have a history of depression could affect future job prospects. When employers Google me I didn’t want my name and depression to be the first thing that popped up. What kind of impression would that leave? I am already a woman who is black and overweight. I know that when I walk into a job interview, centuries of stereotypes that are lumped onto my body walk into the room with me. Moreover, there’s a ton of research about how black people, women, and overweight people experience higher rates of workplace discrimination. I am all of those things. So why would I disclose something about myself that could stigmatize me even more professionally and perhaps, I thought, possibly make it difficult for me to make a living? Why would I take that chance?
Discrimination in the workplace is bad enough as it is. Sometimes it’s too much to bear. There’s a term, “calling in black,” for when some black folks call in sick for work because they are psychologically and emotionally exhausted and need a mental health break from the consistent prejudice they experience at work.
My black friends and relatives have spoken to me about bone-deep pain, unaddressed trauma, consistent stress, and unrelenting anxiety. We talk about relatives and neighbors who were “touched in the head” or had prolonged cases of “the blues.” In small hushed circles some of us were having discussions about our mental health. But why weren’t we having these discussions more openly? Why wasn’t I talking about my mental health history publicly? Could I really be part of the solution if I wrote the article but didn’t put my thesis into practice myself?
I had a short window to find a black person to speak on the record about experiencing mental distress, so I started to think seriously about incorporating my own experience into the story. I talked to a half dozen friends and relatives about the potential fallout of revealing my depression so publicly. I explained my concerns, deadline pressure, journalistic dilemma, and how I’d use my narrative in the story. I asked all them if this could have a negative impact on my life and if I should do it. All of them said I should. They assured me that I shouldn’t be concerned about career backlash. I also thought about other black women who publicly talked about dealing with depression. If Terrie Williams and Susan Taylor, two black women I admire, who’ve worked in media for decades, can openly talk about their struggles with depression and have their careers survive, then maybe I could too.
But I was still reluctant to share my story and be vulnerable. For years people told me they saw me as a strong black woman. I always hated being associated with the strong black woman archetype because it’s an unhealthy and unrealistic myth that forces black women to carry the world on our backs while crumbling inside and not being allowed to talk about it. Yet at the same time, I hesitated to include my depression in the story because I didn’t want to be perceived as weak. I know that experiencing depression or any kind of mental distress isn’t weak, it’s part of being human. But we live in a society that doesn’t allow black people to be human, vulnerable or have emotions. For me, writing this story about black people and mental health, writing my story, is important because acknowledging the range of feelings that black people experience also recognizes our humanity and resists ideas about us being devoid of emotions.
While considering if I would share my story I thought about how many of us in the black community are suffering in silence. I thought about Gabriel Taye, a third grader who committed suicide early this year at age 8—the same age I was when I seriously thought about ending my life. Karyn Washington also crossed my mind. The 22-year-old created the online platform For Brown Girls and the #DarkSkinRedLip project to uplift black women. She took her life in 2014. I also thought about one of my idols, Phyllis Hyman. In 1995, the supremely gifted singer and Broadway actress committed suicide at age 45. She died when I was 23 and moving through a bout of depression.
Thinking of all of the brilliant black people we lost to suicide and the countless others who are still suffering in silence pushed me to tell my story because we have to start addressing mental health in the black community. Our lives depend on it. So while wading through tears and years of painful memories I started writing about my history of depression for SELF.
Writing about my depression for the story was cathartic for me. I reflected on the progress I made, negative coping skills I reversed, and work I still have to do to manage depression. Throughout this process I also had important conversations with friends about their experiences with depression and anxiety. Some revealed episodes of mental distress I never knew about. The story wasn’t even written yet, and already it was helping people open up. I knew I was doing the right thing, no matter how hard or scary it was. I hope that more black people start having conversations about mental health so we all can start healing.
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Source Article from http://www.self.com/story/talking-about-dealing-with-depression