The Face of Depression

On my 28th birthday, I jumped out of a plane. I had been saving up for it and was really excited to cross it off my bucket list. (I had also been thoroughly researching the site for which I purchased the Groupon and realized I had only about a 2% chance of splattering to the ground, so I said f*ck it. Let’s roll.)

My pictures show my progression of thoughts:

You crazy.

Oh you real crazy.

Are you sure you want to do this?

Wait. Are they trying to make me jump? And therefore die?

I’m not doing this. You keep making me go forward like we finna do this.

We doing this?

We ahhhhhhhhh!!!!!!

It was the most thrilling few minutes of my life. The peace and serenity that came after the parachute opened were some of the most God-connected moments of my life – utterly beautiful and uninhibited freedoms.

Then, I landed.

All I wanted to do was drive back to my apartment and make it to my couch to sleep.
I was in the midst of a pretty serious depression. It wasn’t the first time and turned out not to be my last, but was happening in the prime of graduate study in clinical psychology.

It was when I should’ve known better, I thought. What’s worse, I was treating people WITH depression at a counseling center.

So I not only felt like a fraud, but was also struggling so noticeably that the directors considered not letting me see patients.

I needed help.

And thankfully, I enrolled in therapy and got great sustained care for the remainder of my graduate school hills and valleys.

Depression, which is the experience of five or more clinical symptoms (i.e., sad mood, change in eating, physiological symptoms, irritability, fatigue, hopelessness, change in sleep, loss of pleasure, trouble concentrating, and suicidal ideation) for a period of two weeks or more, impacts 10% of the American population every year. Black folks are thought to be 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems (given issues with access, utilization, and quality of care, not to mention social determinants of health like poverty, discrimination, and residential segregation), so that is probably an underestimation for our community.

We often think that there is a type of person who experiences depression – someone who isn’t strong enough. Someone without resources. Someone who just hasn’t prayed enough.

But sometimes, it’s the person who is sitting right next to you having experienced your same stressors. Someone with all the friends they could ask for. Someone who stayed in the pew or on their prayer mat a few minutes longer this week to ask for a breakthrough.

The combination of biological (genetic), psychological, and societal factors lend themselves to individuals differently and at different times. What was once a completely normal set of circumstances for you to manage may be incredibly difficult after a major transition or loss, or even after a perceived “good” stressor, like marriage or childbirth.

Would anyone who was at my 28th birthday party know that I was depressed? That my nap after sky-diving was the highlight of my day thus far? That the person smiling for pictures was really just too exhausted to be happy to celebrate another day, let alone year?

Likely not. My face didn’t give it away.

But often times, depressed faces don’t. And that’s why checking in on friends and family and asking, “How are you really doing?” can be helpful. If someone acknowledges the symptoms from the aforementioned list, offer a walk around the block. A coloring book. Turning on the lights. Blasting some of their favorite music. And, most importantly, when it appears to be too much for either you or a friend to handle, seek treatment.

Therapy is NOT for the weak. It is NOT just for White folks. And it surely does NOT mean that you are not connected with your higher power.

It means that a helping hand is warranted.

And, once that hand can help turn your face toward the light again, you will begin to see a brighter day.

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