I was 5 years old when I first thought the world would be a better place without me. I was 5 years old when I decided that I did not want to be me anymore. I didn’t want the burden of being inside my own brain and I surely didn’t want anyone else to feel the burden of knowing me.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “As many as 2 to 3 percent of children ages 6 to 12, and 6 to 8 percent of teens may have serious depression, and an estimated 2.8 million adolescents (ages 12 to 17) in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in 2014. Furthermore, about 80 percent of kids with an anxiety disorder and 60 percent with depression are not getting treatment.”
For the first 18 years of my life, I was suffering severely without any type of treatment. I lived under the control of an invisible illness that existed within the walls of my skull yet manifested itself in all areas of my life. I became an overachiever. One success was never adequate enough; I could always do better. I was constantly trying to validate my place on this planet to everyone around me because I never felt good enough.
Black women are often told that we aren’t allowed to feel. We aren’t told that explicitly but instead we are told to be quiet when we’re happy, so as not to take up too much space in a room. We are told not to get too angry, so we aren’t feared. We are told not to have an attitude, because that is ghetto and unattractive. We are told by our own community that we must be strong and unshakeable in all circumstances. We are told to dim our light to make others comfortable, while at the same time we are told to be a beacon of light to give others strength. We are constantly torn between the angry black female narrative and the black superwoman expectations. Our emotions are always paradoxical.
For a person like me, a person whose light often shines too bright for those who aren’t ready, being a black woman was hard initially. I never wanted to be that angry black female who made people click their teeth when I walked by because my blackness was too hard to take in. On the other hand, I never wanted to let anyone down because I felt the burden of continuing the legacy that my ancestors left before me. Being depressed was never an option so, of course, seeking treatment was out of the question.
On the outside it seemed as if I had my life together: high GPA, loving boyfriend, motivated dancer with numerous friends and a loving family. But that’s only what I wanted people to see. Eventually, the flimsy house of cards that I called my life fell apart. My depression led to an eating disorder that left me at 115 pounds. I was stuck in an abusive relationship and was struggling to remain afloat.
It was only a matter of time before my situation became a matter of life or death. After a nearly fatal breakdown, it was time for me to get help. I was diagnosed with clinical depression, general anxiety disorder and anorexia. It was time for me to face the demons that were trying to kill me from the inside out.
Kevin Breel, a Canadian writer and comedian, described his journey with depression in a 2013 TED Talk. Breel said, “Real depression isn’t being sad when something in your life goes wrong, real depression is being sad when everything in your life is going right.”
My treatment began with months of therapy and what felt like endless conversations about the inner workings of my brain. I replayed moments from when I was five, when I wished to fall asleep and never wake up. I retold moments from when I was 17, and my boyfriend’s best friend took advantage of me. I let out everything; I let go of my albatross.
After the confirmation that I indeed had ineffective serotonin receptors, I was prescribed Prozac. I was not going through a depressing time in my life; I was biologically depressed. Like many people, I believed this was a death sentence; I assumed I would be a drugged zombie just going through the motions of life. But then I realized you would never advise a diabetic not to take insulin.
On the other hand, I had to learn that there is no magic pill to cure any illness. Just as a diabetic can’t take insulin and eat chocolate cake all day, I had to take control of my mental wellbeing. I began to meditate heavily. I began practicing yoga and journaling. I let go of toxic relationships and habits. I began a journey within myself. My depression is a part of me, but I will never allow it to define me.
“Life is about duality. There is happiness, there is sadness. There’s light, there’s dark. There’s hope there’s hurt,” said Breel when discussing coping with depression. “And I think that for me, nothing in my whole life has ever helped me understand more about myself, more about others, more about life than dealing with depression.”
Every morning I wake up and thank the universe for another day. I check in with myself and take note of my mental health that day. There will never be a time in my life when every day I wake up happy, but every day I will make a cup of coffee and take Prozac with my breakfast.
“The world I believe in is one where embracing your light doesn’t mean ignoring your dark.” – Kevin Breel
Editor’s note: Ile-Ife Okantah is the managing editor of Uhuru, one of Kent State’s student magazines. This content first appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of Uhuru. See some of the magazine’s content here.
This story is part of a student media project entitled "The Silent Struggle." See the whole project here.