I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go to her funeral. I had never been to the funeral of a young person, or someone who had taken their life. I was use to funerals being sad, but also celebratory. Homegoings. Ones where it was believed that the person, at their ripe old age, had done the work they were meant to do on earth, and God had called them closer to Him. This wasn’t the situation, and I wasn’t sure how the church or those close to Sarah would handle it.
Some of my fears were affirmed. It was, to this day, the saddest funeral I’ve ever attended. There was no undercurrent of joy, or relief that the departed was free from pain, although we knew in a way, she was. When someone takes their own life, an interesting thing happens to the people who knew them, no matter how closely or remotely. Everyone tries to take responsibility in some way. “If only I had done___, maybe she wouldn’t have done it.” Maybe if I had called. Maybe if I had switched duty shifts with her. I had these thoughts as well. To this day, I wonder if I had told her about my own struggles with depression, if she would have taken her life.
I was first diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder when I was 16.
I try to tell people about my depression whenever I get a chance. Depression is a professional con artist, that fools 1 in 10 people in the U.S. every day, and which people are to ashamed to admit that they’ve been hit as well. Depression works by convincing you that the overwhelming and inappropriate feelings of guilt, sadness, anger, cloudiness and such are normal. Depression tells you that you shouldn’t reach out, because you are in a bad mood, and you’ll just make everyone else unhappy too. It tells you that people will not understand where you are coming from, and do not care about you or your pain. Depression puts the negative aspects of your live on center stage, under a magnifying glass, after it has tied up and gagged the positive aspects of your life and yourself backstage, where you can not see them, and may forget they exist at all. I too, have been conned, and I am not ashamed to say so.
My diagnosis put things into perspective, like the overwhelming guilt I would feel about minor situations, or how I would spiral down into negative thoughts, or how I would, on especially bad days, think about ways I could leave the earth and make it look accidental. Still, after a horrible week on anti-depressants, I resolved to manage my depression without medication. Just good old exercise, self-care and as many Omega-3s as I could down in one sitting.
One place I felt good was with my fellow Resident Advisors, including one named Sarah (I’ve changed her name in the story, out of respect to her family). Sarah was so incredibly giving and understanding, and was an amazing advocate for her floor of young freshman women. She was also a pre-med major, and very involved on campus, so naturally I’d see her very stressed-out at times. Looking back, I realized that Sarah’s eyes were almost always watery, either in a state of pre or post-tears. Even then, with depression having convinced me that I was alone, I never thought that Sarah too, might be depressed.
The night of our residence hall banquet, we were all dressed up and excited about being honored for our work, but we realized quickly that Sarah was late. We called and texted her, with no response. Through the first course, main course, and the presentation of our staff award, I wondered where Sarah could be. It felt wrong.
After heading back to the halls, another RA knocked on my door. I opened it, and she said, “You need to come downstairs now. It’s bad.”
I knew Sarah was gone. Even with that knowing, I prepared myself to hear about the tragic accident that took her from us. Without unnecessary details, she was found, in her room, and the cause of her death was self-inflicted.
A week later, at her funeral, the priest walked to the podium to give the final word. I braced myself. Suicide in every major world religious is a mortal sin. Some believe that people who take their own lives don’t have a right to the hereafter, whatever it is in their faith, no matter how amazingly kind, generous and honest they were on earth. No matter how Sarah-like they were.
The priest spoke about depression as a disease. It was no different from cancer, diabetes, any chronic illness you can die from if it is not treated, he said. Sarah, he explained, died from depression, and her passing shouldn’t be thought of any differently than someone who has succumbed to any other illness.
Something in me shook loose. The con man wasn’t a character defect, or a weakness. It was a disease. In my head I became indignant, belligerent towards this liar, this depression, the way people are when they say “FUCK CANCER!” “FUCK DEPRESSION!” Fuck the con man who is trying to take my life by convincing me that the goods are unimportant and the bads are permanent. Fuck him for taking Sarah away from us.
After the services I called my mom, and told her about the funeral, about Sarah, about what the priest said. Even though she didn’t say it, I knew my mom worried about me, about my mental state. I assured her that I would always fight the depression, the con man. No matter what he said, I would remember the hurt on the faces of Sarah’s loved ones, the words her priest spoke, and I promised my mom I wouldn’t die from this. She thanked me, and cried.
I am empowered by telling people about my experience with the con man, how he still gets over on me sometimes. For every three people I tell, one of them says “me too.” After my first negative experience with an anti-depressant when I was 18, 11 years later, I’ve decided to try again with a different formula. There may be side effects, I’m sure. But if I want to keep my promise to my mother, it’s what I have to do. Like any disease, each treatment isn’t for everyone. Take to your doctor, others who have experience with your condition, do research but take each study and article with a grain of salt. If you decide to manage your condition with medication, don’t judge yourself. You are treating a disease, just like any other. You are doing the work to stay here.
This post is my contribution to #NoShame Day, started by writer and mental health advocate Bassey Ikpi. Bassey founded The Siwe Project to promote mental health awareness and dialogue among people of color. She is doing important work, and I thank her for the opportunity to share my story.