I'm super geeked to launch my new Mind of Malaka STORE! Check out my latest products and creations!

Cart

Musings

Remembering A Friend For Whom The Rainbow Was Enuf

TW: This post discusses themes surrounding mental health issues, suicide and coping strategies to address each. If you or someone you love has considered therapy, there are numerous resources such as the American Psychiatric Association, Betterhelp.com or the AACC available to assist you.

A part of our modern human experience is to set – and publicly declare – themes that will serve as guiding principles in marked moments in our lives. These pledges generally happen during regenerative seasons in our lives, such as New Year (New year, new me!) or spring (Out with old, in with the new!) with the expectation of applause from our peers to follow.

The expressed intentions to lose weight, or finally gather the guts to go after (or drop) that job/guy/home are acceptable, if not expected goals to which to aspire. Far less often to do we hear about people making a public declaration to look after their mental health. It’s OK – admirable, even – to admit that you’ve beaten cancer. Not so much when the ailment that plagues you is “crazy”. No; crazy is something we have to keep under wraps.That is why I was so pleased to see a fair number of conversations about mental health and the commitment its pursuit dominate the first days of 2019.

Taraji P. Henson has been a leading voice in addressing the necessity of looking after one’s mental health, particularly in the Black community, where there is still so much stigma attached to a condition that manifests itself in myriad ways.

Among the most common types are:

Mood disorders – the most common are depression, bipolar disorder, and cyclothymic disorder.

Eating disorders – the most common Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder)

PTSD – a condition that can develop following a traumatic and/or terrifying event

Anxiety disorders

OCD – wherein plagued by constant thoughts or fears that cause them to perform certain rituals or routines.

*source WebMD

Each of these types of mental illness robs people – those who suffer from it and those who love them – of a full life every day that it goes unaddressed and untreated. Today I want to talk about depression, the one that has stolen the most from me over the years.

I’ve written extensively about my own battle with depression here on M.O.M. and on my personal social media platforms. I don’t know if depression is something one is ever “cured” from, but I’ve learned to manage it. I have been open about my two attempts at suicide, and the mocking and derision from ‘friends’ that followed. Now that I’m older, I don’t blame them for their cruel responses. Most of us have grown up shrouded in ignorance about depression, because there is no why to it. There’s just an is. There’s no reason that a well-liked child growing up in two-parent household, attending one of the most prestigious schools in the country and one whom had far better prospects than many kids could ever dream of should be depressed, and yet I tried to hang myself at 12 and swallowed a bottle of pills at 16 with the aim of ending my life. Likewise, there’s no discernible reason for a woman of 42 with an adoring husband, two high achieving kinds and a pleasant life in the suburbs of Atlanta to shoot herself in her back yard one autumn evening…but that’s exactly what my sweet friend Candice* did.

I met Candice when I was 25. I was the new admin at a small company and she was one of the sales reps. We were two of three Black women in the entire organization, and being ten years my senior and noticing certain work habits I’d begun to develop early, she quickly took me under her wing. She had a habit of sauntering into my office at will, and her unannounced visits from the sales floor were often the highlight of my day.

“Malaka, don’t you kill yourself workin’ for these white folks. They’ll kick your dead body out of that ergonomic office chair and put somebody else in it the next day.”

When she put it like that, I learned to temper my enthusiasm for my work with practicality. She showed me how I could still get accolades for my work and manage to have a life outside of work.

“The minimum, girl. Give them the minimum! But do it so well that they can’t say shit.” 

Candice was the life of every party. No event could begin in earnest until she had announced, arms always spread in that iconic Diana Ross fashion, that she was in the building.

I’m here!

She always had the best stories. She always had a particular way of making any and everyone feel as if they were her favorite person…we all wanted to be her favorite person. She had overcome so much: abandonment as a child, dropping out of school, obesity and other secrets she had not yet made known. Of all of those, I wish she had shared the grief and burden of the depression she had been shouldering and shielding. Maybe I might have done the same and maybe she’d still be here today. I will never know. The historical burden and birthright of being a “strong Black woman” means that we don’t shift weight; we simply bear it until we break. That or have it forcibly taken from us.

She always had the best stories. She always had a particular way of making any and everyone feel as if they were her favorite person…we all wanted to be her favorite person. She had overcome so much: abandonment as a child, dropping out of school, obesity and other secrets she had not yet made known. Of all of those, I wish she had shared the grief and burden of the depression she had been shouldering and shielding. Maybe I might have done the same and maybe she’d still be here today. I will never know. The historical burden and birthright of being a “strong Black woman” means that we don’t shift weight; we simply bear it until we break. That or have it forcibly taken from us.

The horrible thing about depression is how well it stays hidden. It can mask itself as a bad day, or fatigue or even the life of the party. The week before Candice took her own life, we had made plans to go watch a movie with our husbands. Our friendship had matured into a decade-long sisterhood, and her husband was the older brother with whom I shared crass jokes. So when his number showed up on my caller ID the night before we were supposed to go out, I greeted him with a surly, “Niggro, you better not be calling me to tell me that you’re cancelling the movie on me!”

He was quiet for so long I thought he’d hung up

“Rashaad?”

“I don’t know how to tell you this, but Candice killed herself.”

After my knees regained their strength, I asked the expected questions. When? Where? Are you and the kids ok? He answered each query with a tone that betrayed practice. Of the many people who loved Candice, I was just one in a lstring to whom he was compelled to relay this heart wrenching news. In her note, she’d told him not to blame himself…that the pain had just gotten too much to bear…that she couldn’t take it anymore.

My sister – a woman who colored this Earth with her charm and light – was in pain and I never knew. For her, the rainbow had become enuf.

In her death, Candice taught me one more lesson about Black womanhood; that is there is a toxicity that manifests itself as “strength”. The world sees us as hostile, angry, bitter and irrational, despite the masks of pleasantness and congeniality we put on every day. We try to combat these aspersions by hugging our enemies, holding on to broken relationships, serving in organizations that will honor us with plaques one day and then kick our corpses out whenever it suits them. Candice’s passing broke me…and you can’t see my tears but it breaks me still… but when she left this world she taught me that there is more damage in hiding your pain than there is sharing it. I think that’s the fear that many depressed people harbor: I can’t share this pain with anyone else. If it’s breaking me and it will certainly cause a crumble in their lives. And so because I love my beloveds so much, I’ll hold this alone and pretend it doesn’t hurt.

Except, this is not sustainable. Trying to battle through depression alone and without help is like trying to hold the ocean with a sieve.

I think about Candice (and the two other sister-friends in the years that have followed) I’ve lost to depression almost every day. I especially remember them during those seasons of regeneration I mentioned earlier. These were bright, brilliant women who had so much to offer the world, and I believe, so much to gain from it in return. That’s what keeps me going in my own struggle, though sometimes the sadness and fury threaten to consume me without warning. I’m grateful that we’re finally open to having real conversations about mental health.

If you know or suspect you are suffering from mental illness, you don’t have to go through it alone. Seek the aid of a therapist. Some employers offer a helpline that will link you to resources to address your specific needs. Find someone in your inner circle that you can trust to walk with you through this, even if it feels like an inconvenience. Give them a chance to be a friend.  

%d bloggers like this: