A few weeks ago, in a panic, I called my cousin Morgan, a social worker specializing in mental health issues. I’d been feeling like something wasn’t right for a long while and wanted to ask if she knew if there was any history of mental illness in our family. Mental health issues are not as discussed as they should be, particularly in black households. “Tell me what’s wrong,” she asked. I said that I often feel completely paralyzed, useless, and unable to handle even the most basic responsibilities. The metaphor I used to describe how I feel is that I’m in a room that is on fire. I’m staring right at the flames and smell the smoke and can see that everything around me is being burnt to the ground. But instead of screaming and calling for help, instead of being proactive, I just stare at it, immobilized.
The worst part is that my lack of action and feelings of paralysis end up hurting everyone I care about, including myself, which makes the feelings of spiraling downward much worse. When I’m paralyzed I sulk into my own world, surrounding myself in an impenetrable fortress of isolation. I communicate with virtually no one, don’t respond to emails or chat messages, disappear from social media (not necessarily a bad thing), don’t finish deadlines or projects, and give no one a heads-up on anything so they know, hey, something’s wrong. I know I need to speak up for myself and tell folks that something’s up, that I’m not okay. But then I feel terrified at the prospect of telling people something’s wrong because I assume they’ll leave me. So instead, I vanish, thinking it’s the best way.
It’s not. And what I need to realize is that I don’t need to fear anybody leaving me because I’m pushing them away all by myself. The trick is that, intellectually, I understand all of this. I get it. I get it. I’m invested in doing the work to change but it’s hard and I don’t know how.
We live in a social media-saturated world of status updates, Instagram videos and selfies—which I love and will slowly get back to after taking a long hiatus—and that means everything can look glamorous with the right filter. But as we take fabulous selfies and use pictures and videos to lie and tell the world we’re doing great, we also need to pay attention to and nurture our personal struggles.
I tried to explain this depression to my grandmother the last time I spoke to her and she told me to lift my head up, and not feel sorry for myself. That’s one of the things she used to always say to me as a kid: “Stop feeling sorry for yourself!” And really, that’s how I know these feelings didn’t just pop up in my 30s, that they’re deep-seated demons I have to work through and deal with constantly. But as anyone who has depression knows, it’s not as easy as just putting on a smile, lifting your head up, or deciding to be happy, joyous, uplifting and animated.
One thing that did lift me up was meeting a friend for drinks last Sunday, another black queen, and I told him what was going on. Then, slowly, more black and brown queer people showed up and we spent seven hours in this bar eating, drinking, talking, laughing, and that was the most uplifted I’d felt in a long time.