For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide (Part II)
Diagnosis and Decline
Unlike Karyn, at age 22 I was just getting a formal diagnosis of major depressive disorder. In retrospect, I realize that I experienced my first depressive episode when I was 19 but it was not until age 22, that my ability to function completely broke down. Over the next two years, I became increasingly isolated while a pain that I can only describe as what I imagined it would feel like to be outside in a hail storm without any skin pervaded my entire being. My ability to envision a future ceased and then slowly, slowly entered those early suicidal thoughts. The idea that death would be a relief (from all this pain) became a common refrain. By age 25, I had moved to another city to get my life back in order, but the new internal monologue had become, “I wish I was dead.” But by the time, I actually tried to take my life one Sunday afternoon in November, it felt like a completely natural progression. Rather than approach this desire to be dead methodically and with planning which had been my normal way of doing things before the depression took hold, I acted impulsively and made use of the resources that happened to be available at the time (a cocktail of prescription and non-prescription drugs). This probably saved my life.
I speak of these things with candor because I want women of color battling mood disorders to take comfort in knowing that your depression (or anxiety) does not require a major life event as its antecedent. Yes, developing depression while grieving over the death of a loved one can and does happen. In truth, however people suffering from mood disorders need no more specific reason for its onset than a person suffering from diabetes or hypertension would be expected to provide. Seeking medical help is not only acceptable, it is responsible. While we may have enough self-awareness to understand that we ate that entire half-gallon of ice cream for comfort and drank that 4th or 5th cocktail to soothe the anxiety, resorting only to self-medication is irresponsible. There are treatments to manage mood disorders (not all of them pharmacological) and we cannot continue to neglect ourselves by refusing to use them. Taking advantage of medical and psychological treatments does not mean we have to forsake the comfort and empathy that comes from the listening ear of a pastor or a close confident or the prayer circle in bible study. Yet, just as prayer is not enough to maintain your blood pressure or your HA1c (for your diabetes) it may not be enough to stabilize your mood disorder or relieve you anxiety.
That’s An Understatement
I don’t know if Ty Alexander or Karyn Washington understated their condition or their circumstance. I do know that it has become part of our cultural make-up as women of color to understate the challenges we face (and overcome).
While hospitalized after my suicide attempt, a close friend called to check on me and asked, “What happened?”
My reply to her was glib and matter-of-fact “I had a bad day.”
“No, Alisa. This is MORE than a bad day!” she challenged. And she was right. (There is a reason the law requires a mandatory inpatient hospitalization after you try to harm yourself.)
A Plan for Care
While Ty Alexander may still be looking for ways to articulate the “comforting rhythm” she uses to live through the pain, I feel an urgency to share what has been working for me. It has been a regimen of :
- Drugs (including experimental ones available only through clinical trials)
- Psycho-therapies (of several different varieties)
- Peer-support group (through the Depression Bipolar Support Alliance)
- Bible Study
- Creative and artistic outlets (like poetry and painting)
- Community activism and volunteerism.
Perhaps, what has been most therapeutic is redefining those issues that have been the source of the greatest pain in my life to complement rather than defeat me and the goals I have set for myself. For example, advocating for advance planning and organ donation allows me to honor and celebrate my late brother rather than obsess in anger over the sick person who killed him. Finally, openly identifying myself as living with a mood disorder has freed me from the fear that used to haunt me as I worried what would happen once people found out about my illness (and they always did).
These things will not work for everyone but in sharing what works for me, I’m charging all women of color managing a mood disorder (and anxiety) to get up, get out and go find your regimen. For those of you who have, I’m curious to know what has worked for you? Leave a comment below to let me know.
I’m charging all women of color managing a mood disorder to stop denying it’s existence. Learn to manage your chronic illness. Go reclaim your health. Silence kills.