I met Shara back in 2006 when I worked as the Senior Museum Educator at the African American Museum in Philadelphia. She was one of our trusted docents who was beginning her graduate studies at UPENN. Rocking her regal Afro and a big, beautiful smile, she would enlighten visitors with her knowledge and passion for African American history and art. She is currently a research analyst at the Tennessee Housing Development Agency. Several years ago, Shara opened up about her struggle with depression and I wanted to run her original post today in light of the recent tragic loss of the beautiful and talented blogger, Karyn Washington of For Brown Girls. Depression is real. It’s something that I’ve wrestled with myself. Shara’s story so mirrors many of ours that my prayer is that her willingness to be so authentic and transparent will bless some of you who might also be struggling.
Depression and Me (2009)
By Shara D. Taylor
“You don’t want ‘em to hear you/You just wish it was a door that would appear that you can go disappear through/Well I’m feeling your pain/I was feeling the same/But I said I’d never feel that again.” -Lupe Fiasco, “Fighters”
I’m battling depression and anxiety. I have been for at least the last year-and-a-half. You probably didn’t know it. That’s because I didn’t want you to. The narrative that follows gives you a tiny glimpse into what it’s been like for me over the last few months. I’m not writing this to gain pity from you. My hope is that you will seek help for yourself or a loved one if you recognize any of these symptoms.
My life reached a point where I had to force myself out of bed every day and internally fight to complete simple household tasks, such as washing dishes or taking out the trash. I avoided people every chance I could. I’d just tell them that I had to handle something for one of my many activities. It provided the perfect cover because no one would ever question me. In actuality, I’d go home and sleep for hours at a time. At one point, I estimate that I slept an average of 12-15 hours a day without really resting. My concentration and memory became greatly impaired, and my class work felt like an unrelenting burden that only compounded my anxiousness.
I knew something was wrong, but my upbringing had informed me that seeking professional help was reserved for crazy, rich white people who had nothing better to do with their time or money. I was always taught that Black folks call on Jesus when life gets to be too much. Any other remedy was inadequate and wholly unacceptable. Hold it in. People are watching you. You’re the strong one in the family. If you show any signs that you need help, you must be weak or crazy or both. Our ancestors went through way more than you could ever imagine, so there’s no room for you to feel the way you do. There are other people who have much worse circumstances, so get over it. No matter how well-intentioned the messenger may have been, these proclamations didn’t change my situation. Most of the time, I didn’t even see the relevance. Could I appreciate the fact that I’ve lived a pretty good life? Yes. Did I feel any better after hearing these axioms? No.
For a long time, I accepted that train of thought. Watching many of my family members wallow in their bitterness and emotional stagnation was just a normal way life, as I imagine it is for so many others. However, after experiencing the deaths of my Aunt Lou and Philip, my absentee father, within a year of each other, all of those suppressed emotions took residence at the forefront of my psyche. They both left me with unresolved issues stemming from unaddressed childhood pain and unacknowledged (possibly unconscious) adult resentment.
Eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore. One day, I had an unexpected emotional meltdown in front of two of my professors. I sat in one of their offices and cried uncontrollably for what seemed like an hour. Only recently have I been able to verbalize what I’ve been going through for months. Even my mom and closest friends had no idea about the anger, frustration, hurt, and sadness I was feeling. Actually, I preferred it that way. It allowed me to hide behind a flimsily constructed tough exterior. If nobody else knew, I wouldn’t have to own up to it. I could just go through life pretending nothing was wrong and nobody would be the wiser. Except me.
When I finally confided in my friends what was happening to me, their reactions ranged from sincere concern to cold indifference to personal revelations. I wouldn’t say that I was too surprised by the responses I received. However, some of them did catch me off guard, but by that point I really didn’t care. I knew I had to stop hiding my problems from everybody because it was suffocating me emotionally.
Since February, I’ve been attending regular counseling sessions and taking an anti-depressant that helps even out my mood. I’m still not 100% Shara D. Taylor, but I’m much closer than I was a year ago. I still have days when I feel like sleeping until we achieve world peace. Luckily, they occur less often now. Every day presents a new challenge and more evidence that I’m stronger than I thought.
I have only one request of you: If you think you need help, reach out to somebody. If somebody reveals to you that they want to get help for their “issues,” lend an ear or a shoulder to them. It could make all the difference in their world.