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 with no 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.
The news of Karyn Washington’s death graced my inbox 3 days ago when a dear friend and fellow social media maven forwarded a link to an article sharing the tragic news. I felt a pang of despair and pondered over this loss. I did not know the ForBrownGirls.com and #DarkGirlsRedLip project founder and was scarcely familiar with her wonderful work. Nevertheless, the fact that this generous and creative young spirit decided to take her own life was clearly a tragedy. Here is yet another opportunity to implore Black women…to implore all women of color to speak up and speak out about their battles with mood disorders and other mental illnesses.
Last weekend, I had the pleasure to participate as an exhibitor in Know Thyself, Love Thyself the 2nd Annual Health Expo hosted by the Potomac Chapter of The Links, Incorporated. I must say it is one of the best events I’ve worked this year. The focus of the panel discussion was the unique ways in which heart disease presents in black women, why disparities remain in the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease in our population. As a health educator, it’s my job is to stay informed and up to date on these issues, so I was surprised to discover how much I learned during this event.
Jennifer Donelan a broadcast journalist from WJLA (an ABC affiliate in the metropolitan Washington, DC market) stepped to the podium as the workshop’s facilitator to speak. Soon, she became a little tearful. Having suffered a heart attack while completing her workday in September 2010, she was the subject of the video health expo participants had just viewed. For Donelan, this cautionary tale to women, especially black woman of the importance of understanding the risk factors for heart disease and recognizing the warning signs for a heart attack was personal. It was her story. One that she was eager to share with other women with the hope that they might avoid the heart attack that she had not.