Disclaimer - This post contains references to suicide which some readers may find triggering.
Being African and depressed is a huge stigma. I should know, I have witness it first hand. I would like to hope that African parents out there realise this is an illness that doesn't only affect white people, it affects everyone.
Not many people understand what depression really is. I for one thought it just meant being sad with the world. I remember in my early days I had a friend who was depressed. Everyone would always say she was just 'sad' or 'unhappy'.
When I was younger I was frequently described as 'moody', or dismissed as 'angry'. I was classed as the black sheep in the family, the one who didn’t really fit in. I remembered hearing stories about people taking their own lives. It was viewed as a selfish way to die, and those who killed themselves were never going to heaven. Depression was never talked about in my house. Maybe because no-one had ever experienced it, or like others they didn't understand or believe it was real. To them it was something that happened to white people on television, not Africans and most definitely a young African girl. If you were upset, you found a way to make it better. If cried for what others would consider no reason, you were given something to cry about. This may not be a reflection of all African households but it was mine. Granted, I was lucky as I had parents who loved me. In fact I felt my childhood couldn’t have gone any better than it did. But my parents lacked something. It was the wiliness to understand me 'acting up' wasn’t because I was a teenager having mood swings, but because I was battling depression.
I loved punk music, and some of you can only imagine what that meant for a black girl growing up around others who considered my taste in music and fashion strange or quite simply too European. I would constantly hear things like "only depressed people listen to that crap!" or "only miserable people wear that rubbish!". In a bid to please everyone and be accepted, I gave up my love for punk music, threw away my dark clothes and tried to adopt behaviours and fashions that were typically considered 'Black'. And trust me, at the time it was more stressful than advanced algebra! I soon realised that stripping myself of what made me happy and essentially my identity was the beginning of my end.
In 2011, I had a major break down which ended in me trying to take my own life. I rummaged in the fridge for alcohol and also the drugs cabinet for anything I could find. I downed a bottle of white wine and consumed 67 tablets of paracetamol. I went to bed and prayed I didn't wake up. The next morning, my Mother found me. I was covered in my own vomit and unresponsive. I was rushed to A&E, luckily not a lot of damage was done. I couldn't care if I lived, as at that point I had given up on myself, my education and everything else around me.
Although I have overcome this period in my life, the response from my Father is one that will stay with me till my last days. “Get over it, you don’t have anything stressful in your life! Grow up and toughen up!”. Even after my suicide attempt and the professional advise I had been given by my psychiatrist, my Father persisted to tell me that I could not be depressed because I had A-Levels to finish and university was on the horizon.
I then met with another psychiatrist who referred me to a mental health service to seek further help. But my father stopped me, refusing to accept that I was suffering from depression. He put it down to being lazy, attention seeking and of course reminded me that black people, particularly Africans don't get depressed. And I believed him. I began to convince myself that we cannot be depressed as we are built to withstand anything. I started to see any episodes of depression as moment of unhappiness which could quickly be altered. Slowly, embedding in myself that I was 'healed'.
But how did I really cope? I will talk about finding the light in a pitch dark room in my next post! Thanks for reading!