I Am Sad And That's Okay
I have been clinically depressed for 30 years.
At first, I didn’t know what it was. I mean, I was a teenager and being a teenager is hard. Hormonal and body changes, shitty classmates. And I was a Black girl, so I had all the racist, sexist bullshit thrown at me. I was sexualized before I was ready, but I also assertively managed my sexual encounters as best I could. I was aware enough to know shit wasn’t right but didn’t have the language to articulate it until over a decade later. I don’t think back on middle school and high school too often because it makes me want to cry.
College was better than high school but during my sophomore year, I had an existential moment that almost caused me to drop out of school. I was sitting in my friend’s dorm room trying to figure out how to be self-sufficient and not reliant on “the system” when I realized that even opting out of the system was part of the system and that I was stuck, regardless of what I did. I remember sitting there, staring into that bleak realization and thinking “fuck it. Why bother?” I lost all interest in everything and even called my dad to tell him not to waste his money on my education cuz there wasn’t any point.
It was a rough conversation. He challenged me on everything and tried to change my mind but in the end, the best he could do was appeal to my pragmatism. He told me I if I dropped out, I’d get a low paying job where I’d struggle all the time and that my degree would help ease that. “You’re alive,” he told me, “and while you’re alive, you needed to be able to take care of yourself and give yourself the freedom to do things you enjoy. A well-paying job would do that, and a degree would help you do it faster.”
So, I thought about it. I thought about what he said, and I remember thinking that if I killed myself, I wouldn’t have to worry about it anymore. Then I thought about my parents and how my death would affect them. That was enough to get me to choose option B – stay in school, get my degree, gain my independence from my parents, and just keep moving.
And while I wasn’t satisfied or happy, it was enough. Then my dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer and I had to wrestle with his mortality and what that would mean. I didn’t handle it well. I almost flunked out at that point, but my father was always willing to use every tool in his arsenal to motivate me. This time he used guilt. So, I graduated, he recovered, and all was…tolerable.
The year after I graduated, he was diagnosed with a second cancer, multiple myeloma, and given less than a year to live. I decided to move back home to be near him and found myself sucked into a depression that was all encompassing. I started drinking and smoking daily. I got reckless with strangers. I could feel myself drowning and I couldn’t figure out how to stop. I had a shit job with a health insurance company denying treatments and diagnostic testing – I literally would have doctors begging me to approve a test for their patients and it was my job to tell them why our doctor on staff said no. Every day I wanted to die. My father was sick. My mom was tired from doing her best, and I rapidly lost the will to live. Within months, I knew I couldn’t stay and be emotionally healthy, but I felt so guilty about it that I stayed anyway…until my survival instincts kicked in and I moved away.
It was a hard decision, one for which I felt massive guilt, but my parents were wonderful about it. My dad told me that I needed to live my life and that he knew I loved him and cared for him and wanted him to be well but that this was his life and that I had to go live my life. And even though he said what I needed to hear, it wasn’t always enough. I wrestled with my guilt and a fear of losing him that lasted more than ten years. Ten years of trying to live, knowing that my father was dying. Ten years of having only enough strength to maintain my relationship with him. Even after moving, I struggled to find reasons to keep waking up every day. I’d fantasize about driving off overpasses or taking too many pills. I hurt all the time and couldn’t figure out how to make it stop so I looked for little distractions in the form of random sex with men I didn’t need to care about, constantly looking for the next person who could make me forget how much everything hurt for a few hours. I had three modes – rage, sex, or numb – and I stayed that way for years.
It was about six years into that ten-year period that I was diagnosed with high blood pressure. It was a surprising diagnosis that caused me to really look at my life. My doctor prescribed an anti-depressant to help me quit smoking. I remember sitting with the prescription, worried that it would change me. Not that I loved who I was, but I wasn’t ready to admit that. I hesitated for a few weeks, but then I started taking them and my life began to change.
I quit smoking immediately and I stopped feeling everything so much. It wasn’t numbness…not even close. My emotions had always been screaming inside me, so much so that I couldn’t process what I was feeling. I’d grown up knowing emotions weren’t safe. I can remember distinct times when I was told through words or actions that either my emotions were unwanted or would be weaponized against me. People would exploit my need for companionship and steal from me or use me. Jobs constantly exploit our need to feel valued as they use us up and toss us away when we finally break. I’d learned the price of vulnerability but now I was an adult. I had the authority to set boundaries. Sometimes, many times I’d be punished for it, but I’d gotten to a place where I was better able to manage my life. My anti-depressants dropped the volume of my emotions so that instead of feeling overwhelmed and drowned out by them, I could sit with them and process what I was feeling. I could give myself the space to learn about myself and my reactions and then develop better ways to manage my actions. My anti-depressants gave me much needed space which I used to better understand myself and how I relate to those around me.
There were missteps – times where I compromised to keep a job or a relationship. The world isn’t kind to Black women and I was still navigating that shit mostly ignorant…aware, but very ignorant. And my medication helped me better understand myself and what I felt so that I could continue to live in this world. It didn’t make the pain go away. Nothing does that. But it did give me breathing room, which I so desperately needed.
It’s 2018 and I’ve been on anti-depressants for 15 years. During that time, I’ve started and quit smoking. I lost my father to a third cancer. I’ve lost and gained weight, friends, jobs, hopes, dreams, and aspirations. I’ve lost and found my way and become a person who love and accept, flaws and all. I work to change the things I can and try to manage my disappointment with the things I cannot. I’m learning and growing constantly, and I continue to live with and monitor my depression. I have a good life. It’s not without struggle or problems and it’s not without fear. It’s pretty much with almost constant fear, but the pragmatic side of me continues to work towards a better tomorrow while the realist knows it won’t happen in my lifetime and the pessimist kinda hopes we all die soon. It's one of the reasons I choose the characters I cosplay - I fantasize about having the power to change the world, and in my fantasies, if I can't improve it, I can make it burn. These are the facets of who I am and it’s a struggle I’ve decided to live with for as long as I can.
Aware enough to see the problem, empowered enough to try to fix it, yet knowledgeable enough to know I’m not enough.
Welcome to my life.