Posted on December 19 2014
I let out a gasp as I scrolled through Facebook and saw a post about the death of Titi Branch, the co-owner of Miss Jessie's. As the day continued my emotions swayed. I was disturbed that everyones response was focused on how beautiful and successful she was. I felt uneasy about posting about her death on my social media platforms because I wanted to respect her family and her legacy. I was angered at the conversation around her death, comments like:
She should've prayed about it, because God will pull it through it.
It's too bad she didn't get the help she needed.
I know people who post these comments think that these one line solutions would've have changed the outcome but we don't know that. We don't know who she was or wasn't consulting with to address her medical issues and to assume we do is just plain disrespectful to her and her family.
Depression is a serious medical mental health issue. It appears in multiple ways and can take a toll on the person and the person's family and friends. Depression can be a lifelong battle and many people who have depression have battled it for years. It surfaces in multiple ways and can be an introduction to other conditions like bipolar disorder and substance abuse. I know this because one of my best friends has been diagnosed with depression. I've never shared this with anyone and I'm always afraid that if I tell my friend it'll only upset her more and push her further into depression. This week I've been inspired to share a small part of her story or our story in hopes that it will help you understand the life of someone struggling with mental health.
Karla has called me every name in the book, disrespected me numerous times only to turn around and tell me how much she loves me. It's an endless cycle of hurt and love. I know Karla loves me. I know that hurt people hurt people. I know that it's the illness speaking but it doesn't make it hurt any less. At least now, I've become so use to it that most of the time it rolls of my back. I moved away from Karla 15 years ago and I've only returned to visit. For many years I blamed myself for her depression. I felt that I contributed to Karla's depression because I wasn't there. I wasn't there and she got lonely and it was my fault. I'm a mother of two, I have two jobs, a partner, family obligations, friendships to maintain and I have to find time for myself. How can I be there for Karla the way I think she needs me to be when I have so little time. I want to be a better friend to her but what more can I do when we're so far apart. I call and text regularly but it's difficult to make a person feel loved from so far away. One minute she can okay with our relationship and the next day she tells me how disappointed she is in me for not being there when she needed me. So how do I balance. How do I show a person love when they don't always feel the love I give?
It's taken me a long time to realize that Karla's depression extends far beyond anything I can say or do. She has received treatment and continues to do so. She sees a therapist, she takes her medication but she has her highs and lows. Somedays are better than others. What I now know is it's my job to be supportive and find ways to show my love & hope that it's received. I can be a shoulder to lean on. I can be a friend. Last month Karla thanked me. She said I gave her life. I think she was trying to say I was part of the reason she carried on. I am the reason why she fought to maintain a 'normal' life. It's those moments that make it all worthwhile.
Sometimes, medical help doesn't fix the problem. Many of the medications used to treat depression and various mental health issues have side effects that can cause a person to have suicidal thoughts. Crazy huh!?! Imagine going to the doctor to treat an illness only to be treated with a medication that may make the illness worse before they get better. So who are we to assume that just because someone committed suicide they weren't seeking treatment?
Talking with a therapist (psychologist or psychiatrist) may help and medication may help but we need to entertain the idea that sometimes even with medical intervention mental illness is beyond what we consider manageable and for that person, suicide may feel like the only solution. It's not that different than a person with an incurable illness that is in constant pain who decides they no longer want to fight. How is it different than signing a DNR (do not resuscitate) and refusing life saving medication. When someone has tried therapy and medication and the pain is intolerable then what? Who are we to say that the mental and emotional pain is any less than physical pain? Sometimes people just get tired. I personally feel it's selfish to expect someone to live in pain when they are ready to end the pain. Why, should we expect them to?? I may not agree with the way a person decides to end their life but I don't feel it's my place to judge them.
I guess what I'm saying is before you pass judgement on a person and assume they aren't seeking treatment stop. Just stop because you can't possibly begin to understand how their life is. You can begin to understand the struggles of their life. You can't possibly understand how negative comments and assumptions don't help the situation. When a person is in a deep depression they may not want to call someone. They may not have the mental strength to pick up the phone and attempt to express how they are feeling to a suicide hotline. They may be withdrawn and may not answer your calls or knocks on the door. They may not be able to get dressed that day let alone go see a doctor. Each day is a struggle and all I ask is that you respect the struggle. Be careful of the words you use online and offline. You never know what a person is going through and your words can either build them up or break them down.
I personally believe we toss the word depression around too loosely. Depression is not something to be taken lightly. You don't get depressed today because you missed your hair appointment and suddenly return back to normal the next day. It's not a passing feeling it's serious. Sometimes it's triggered by an event and other times there is no specific event to point to.
In the natural hair world we focus a lot on healthy hair and beauty. Many women are inspired to lead a healthier and more active lifestyle after embracing their natural hair. I challenge you to not only focus on healthy hair and body but also on mental health. Mental health is just as important if not more important that physical health. Don't go another day without caring for yourself.
To the Branch family and others who have lost someone to an illness, my condolences are with you.