A Trail of Bodies
I've been mulling over writing about this because it requires me to go back to a place I've for the time being, escaped. For that reason this is the most terrifying thing I've written. If what I'm about to write can help even one person, then I've done something worthwhile that makes it all worth it.
I don't know how often you get to hear about depression or other mental health issues from a black male perspective... from someone going through it or having gone through it but my guess is not often. That makes this piece that much more important to write because while the world fears our strength, a strength our communities and families expect us to uphold, we too aren't infallible when it comes to mental health. We too are brought to our knees and forced to bend to the will of depression... and we aren't taught how to survive it.
For more than a year I've been battling depression but it was about 5 or 6 months before I realized it. I didn't know until I saw a therapist who ran a test that showed I scored off the meeter on the highest level of depression. Having been in relationships with people who suffered from it as well as friends who go through it, I was so afraid to say I was depressed because I wanted to be respectful of their plight. I knew something was wrong because I felt different. I didn't know if I was just lazy or if it was depression or something else. I just needed someone to tell me one way or the other. I no longer wanted to work... I no longer wanted to do anything. I felt cold. A coldness that waved out from the center of my chest and out to my extremities and back again... constantly. All I wanted to do was lay in bed wrapped in a blanket. I was numb to everything. I sought the blanket because it was something I could feel on my fingertips and know that something was there. My fingertips were the only place I could feel the blanket and that may have just been a function of my brain seeing my fingers touch it. You see, while I knew I was wrapped in the blanket, I couldn't "feel" it. Picture what its like to put on two jackets. You feel the first jacket on your skin but you can't feel the second jacket because its on top of the second jacket. But you know its there because you feel its weight. Well thats how it was for me only the first jacket was my skin. I would attempt to be functional. I would attempt to work. Be productive. Get out and do something. I couldn't. I would leave the house and just couldn't maintain the motivation to continue on. I KNEW I had bills that needed to be paid. I KNEW the consequences of not working. You'd be hard pressed to find a harder worker than me. Yet, here I am unable to do so. I only wanted to go home and sleep. And so I did.
I'm introverted. So in general I enjoy my alone time. Social interactions drain me and solitude recharges me. Socially, I feel that going through this depression caused me to leave a trail of bodies. There were people who reached out to check on me, people who expressed their affections, people who just wanted to have conversations and in each of those instances I was unable to return the sentiment. I couldn't bring myself to reach out to anyone. I was unable to hold a conversation. If someone spoke to me I would return the proper response... some of the time. Other times I might not say anything. It's something I still feel terrible about and have to figure out a way to reconcile that within me. I lost friendships, I lost connections, I lost the affections of those who wanted mine. I was numb to the world and those in it. I didn't want to be bothered beyond a certain point because I felt like something was missing within me... I felt like something was broken. I was dealing with the ending of a relationship, the loss of a job, and the death of my brother. All happened at difference points of the year, but were having to be dealt with all the same.
My health started declining rapidly. Several times I thought I was going to die. This is among the worst things you want to feel when you're depressed. I'd had an invasive procedure where it was necessary to go into my heart to check its health and for any blockages. I was unable to heal properly because I couldn't rest. I'd be up all day and all night. Sleep was luxury. A rare one. I could feel myself get sleepy but my body would not allow sleep to happen. My body would literally fight me to not sleep. if I would lay down to even try to sleep, my body would tell my brain I couldn't breathe and I would jump up gasping for air every time. There was never a threat of not breathing because breathing is an involuntary response that you don't need to command for it to happen. However my body responded all the same. I would literally have to repeat to myself aloud "You can breathe Corey, you are fine. you are breathing right now." My libido went from superstar to practically nonexistent. I was unable to perform sexually. For the first time ever, I felt shame. I was ashamed that I couldn't perform. I was ashamed I couldn't walk a few feet without getting winded. I was ashamed that I couldn't hold a conversation. I was ashamed that I couldn't work. I was ashamed that I couldn't be productive. I was ashamed I was still alive. Taking my own life was never something I'd consider. Not even during a depressive episode. However, I did start trying to picture what a world would be like without me in it. I was already feeling empty... hollow. I thought doing this would let me feel alive by attempting to feel what life would be like without me through the lens of someone else.
I didn't know how to combat depression. I only learned how to function within it. What I did know however is I didn't need certain "encouragements". Mental Illness is a real thing. The elders in your family may try to tell you that its the devil or that you need to pray about it. They may tell you that mental illness is the "white man's" disease and blacks can't get it. Or they may tell you some other bullshit. I didn't need anyone trying to pray away my depression. I needed someone to acknowledge it. I needed someone to know it was real. I needed someone to know it was present. I do believe in the power of prayer. But after I got through praying, I still needed to go back and deal with my depression. It hadn't gone anywhere. The God I serve does answer prayers and I know sometimes the answer is no. So in the event the answer was no, I needed to figure something else out. I didn't need someone trying to make it out to be something else. "Maybe you just need to get some fresh air" "Maybe you just need to eat something" "Maybe you just need to go out" "You're not depressed, you're too young to be depressed" I didn't need any of that. I purposely didn't even bring this up to certain people because after dealing with a very real thing in depression, I would have lost all my marbles and blew my top if someone tried to make it out to not be real.
I cannot tell you how I've healed because I'm not sure I have. I wish I could give you a step by step list of what to do to whisk depression away forever. I can't. This isn't a heroic tale. I don't even know if this is a tale of triumph. I do know that time has a way to mellowing things out if even for a season. Here is what I CAN tell you that has worked for me. I took the time to really examine my depression every chance I got to see if I'd ever felt this way in the past. I now remember feeling this way as far back as 15 at some points. This was encouraging because it showed one thing. I survived. I use my findings from having 1st hand examined to help recognize when depression is trying to creep back in. I may not always be successful in the future, but for the time being, I am able to remain one step ahead of it. And it helps me see it in others too. Being respectful of the power depression wields and those of us who are still currently in need of care, I dare not say I am cured... I don't know if such a thing exists. All I know is I am functional again and currently experiencing more good days than bad.