Growing up, I watched so many people battle various diseases. I saw many of them get support. I saw them get treated. Even the simple things like someone picking up the phone to check in on them. Someone offering to cook them a meal. Someone offering to take them to the emergency room when they were sure something was wrong.
With me, I got the cliché responses like
I can tell you that the pain of depression was very real, but the agony of being dismissed was far worse at times. Being the subject of jokes during holiday meals because I was too sensitive. Having everyone upset with me because I wasn’t feeling well…
It was the equivalent of getting reprimanded for having the flu, while your friends were told to stay home from school.
I didn’t quite understand why my feelings weren’t valid.
It actually sent a wave of panic whenever I would feel an episode coming. It was like fighting off the common cold—telling yourself you aren’t sick when you know that to be far from the truth.
I can’t be sick or everyone will be mad.
I can’t be sick because I still have so much to do.
I can’t be sick….
It was typical of growing up in the African-American community. No one had any recommendations for taking care of your mental health. All the remedies treated physical ailments. We had special broth for colds, sugar-free meals for diabetics, low sodium options for hypertension. Yet, the fact that depression couldn’t be treated with Tylenol and plenty of rest was baffling.
It was downright frustrating.
“Why aren’t you feeling better?!?! You took two Tylenol earlier.”
I grew into the habit of just telling everyone I was okay. It proved a much easier alternative.
You see, people cared. They loved me. They just didn’t know what to do. They didn’t know how to stop my pain. To those looking in on the outside, that was hard to endure. Therefore, in order to make everyone else comfortable, I decided to convince them I was fine. It worked (sort of).
Then I grew up and learned that society operated just the same. “I’m fine” is the correct response whether you had the greatest day ever or the crappiest week. It didn’t matter. That’s what people wanted to hear, and protocol tells us that you give people what they want to hear (not what they need to know).
Oddly enough, I started realizing that more people struggled with depression than I would like to imagine. The only difference is they had mastered the routine of:
“Hi, How are you?”
And that’s when I learned that it wasn’t my depression that was the problem.
It was the fact that I was horrible at denying it.
Now, I dedicate my life to mental health awareness so that no one else has to suffer in silence.
Trust me, I care. I understand if you aren’t fine. Believe me, it is okay not to be okay.
However, I’m here to let you know that there will come a day when you’ll say you are fine…
and actually mean it.