When blogger Karyn Washington died of depression (I put it this way because depression is a disease that can kill, suicide is just the way it happens), the sadness I felt was stifling. The tragedy created an opportunity to talk about how depression affects young women of color, but I was overwhelmed by the inaccurate and potentially harmful information and opinions about suicide and depression that were being spread. I had reservations about exposing my personal struggle with depression in TheRoot.com, but I decided to for three reasons:
1. “Shame Needs Silence to Grow” (c) Brené Brown. I realized that I still had some shame about my experience with depression when I had second thoughts about using my real name, as opposed the “Freedom” moniker I blog under. I realized that if the purpose of the piece was to reduce the stigma around depression, I had to use my real name. Hiding behind a pen name would reinforce the idea that depression was something to be ashamed of. I had fears about what it would mean for people to Google my name and see the article, but anyone who would reject me based on my honesty about the help I sought to stay alive is doing me a favor.
2. To Save a Life. When I wrote my first post about depression for #NoShameDay, dozens of people reached out to me saying they had similar feelings to the ones I described, and a few people asked me how to find a therapist. After losing my friend Sarah*, I vowed to never keep my experience with depression secret. To this day, I wonder if Sarah would have killed herself if we’d had a chance to talk about it.
3. To Honor The Lives I Couldn’t Save. I wrote TheRoot.com piece the same week as the 10th anniversary of the night my friend took her life. The Thursday before the piece went live, I was still going back and forth about whether to reveal so much and use my real name. As I mulled over a draft of the piece, I got a Facebook Message from a friend who was on my RA staff in college, the same one Sarah was on. As the initial pleasantry-filled blue bubbles appeared on my screen, I got the same sinking feeling that I had that night, ten years before.
“I hate that you have to find out this way…” he typed.
Before he finished typing, I knew. It was another member of our staff. Another friend. He was dead, and I knew what killed him. I threw my iPad on the couch and wept.
I tried to imagine the pain our friend must have been in to take his life, knowing how horrible it is to lose someone this way, and was strangely relieved that I struggled to empathize. The night I called the suicide hotline in 2012 was the last time I had suicidal thoughts. Even when I had them that night, Sarah’s passing was my totem. Never, no, too far, I said to myself. Why wasn’t that image of Sarah’s funeral, the one that is basically seared to the roof of my skull, enough to deter our friend? Even as someone who has been in those dark places, it’s hard not to feel cheated and angry, and even indignant when those places claim someone you love.
I hope that the piece I wrote for TheRoot.com will pull back the curtain so people could see how Depression, the con artist, works. It amplifies the bad and clouds the good. It can make you take drastic measure to relieve the numbness. But, most importantly, it’s always wrong.
*Names in the post have been changed.