This past week on facebook, my timeline was flooded with news about the death of Karyn Washington, the blogger behind For Brown Girls. As I clicked on the different links reading about how this one soul touched so many, my heart sunk as I learned about her depression after the death of her mother and how she ended her life at 22, a milestone that I’ll be reaching in 2 months. Letting her story really sink in, what saddened me was that such a beautiful person was lost so early…and I wondered how many other women could relate to her story. How many of us beautiful, brown girls have lost something so dear, or felt so low that we’ve contemplated the worst? And as much as it scares me to admit it, I am one of those girls.
Growing up, I always struggled with self-confidence. A black girl going to a predominantly white private school, I battled with so many different complexes: I wasn’t “white” enough for my white friends and wasn’t “black” enough for my black ones, All the boys I was interested in never liked me back, I wasn’t filthy rich but my family was by no means poor. I wasn’t a straight A student, but I didn’t need extra help either. I was ugly, average and invisible as far as I could tell; not special in any discernable way. My presence didn’t seem to make a difference. I had mentally degraded myself to the point where I had no concept of self love or value. Sophomore year of high school was my lowest point, I was playing at normality while on the inside screaming to be noticed. While battling anxiety and depression, I denied those feelings, scolding myself because I had no reason to feel the way I did. I had two parents and a stable, middle class upbringing, I had friends, I had privilege…what the hell was I crying about? So on top of my depression was self-hate for feeling depressed. I felt like I was losing my mind.
I had convinced myself that this would be the easiest way. I had planned what I was going to do…had even started planning when would be “a good time.” But one night sitting on the couch with my mom, paying more attention to the swirl of thoughts in my head rather than the movie we were supposed to be watching, on an impulse I whispered “I need help.” Of course caught off guard, my mom turned to me and asked what I had said. It took me a few minutes to gather up the courage to say it aloud again. But I looked her in the eye and told her I had thought about killing myself. Some might say it was bravery or strength, reaching out to her. But in that moment, I would call it desperation more than anything.
I was exhausted. Not all mental illness is visible, especially when you’re trying your hardest to suppress it. I had friends, I went to school everyday, I was “functioning.” But it was a front. Everyday was a battle to keep this facade together. No one was supposed to know about my depression because I wasn’t so supposed to feel that way. I didn’t have the right. But the best thing I did was finally own it. Acknowledge it but not surrender to it. My mom immediately found a therapist for me to go to. And she encouraged me to start a journal. And I started talking to the people closest to me about it. And the more I wrote and spoke, the more reflective I became. About my feelings, my triggers and my insecurities; I had to realize the things about myself that I should accept and embrace and take control of the things that I could change.
And the first thing that I had to accept, was that there was no overnight fix. It was constant work, through the rest of high school and into college, I still battled with bouts of depression. And 6 years later as I’m finishing my last year of college, I can’t say that the battle is done. There are still days or even weeks at a time where my mood sinks and I feel like I’m reverting back to the “old me.” But the key difference between the Me then and the Me now, is that those feelings don’t scare me anymore. They’ll come, but then they’ll go. Depression does not have to be permanent. And today I can say that I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been: physically, mentally and spiritually because I reached out and asked for help.
In January, the theme for the blog was Emotional Health and in my piece “The Myth of the Strong Black Woman,” I wrote about how many black women are socialized to equate emotionality with weakness. Feelings of anxiety and depression are not problems that black people are supposed to face. But we do. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, what you have or who you’re supposed to be, you are perfectly validated in your feelings, both the positive and negative ones. I know this month is dedicated to Black Musicians, but I wanted to make a post dedicated to Karyn Washington. Herself and her loved ones are all in my thoughts and prayers and I can only hope to reach as many people as she did. After reading her story and sharing my own, I hope that anyone who sees either of them realizes that they are not wrong, they are not crazy, and they are not alone. That reaching out can be the best thing you could ever do for yourself and that there is a future that can be very, very bright.