In October 2015, during a pickup basketball game, I experienced an uncharacteristic amount of built up anger, animosity and sadness. I remember shouting at one of my homeboys for not passing me the ball after I managed to get free for a wide open three-point shot. It didn’t matter that he scored on an easy drive to the basket. I still lit into his ass. I yelled and berated the living shit out of him over the next three games (somehow we kept winning, and he managed to refrain from kicking my ass). It was a colossal overreaction (but he should’ve passed me the ball dammit).
A few hours later, after downing a six-pack of Cayman Jack’s margaritas, I found myself crying in the parking deck of an emergency room with thoughts of suicide. This is the story of my battle with depression.
I can’t recall what catapulted me into this dire state of mental agony. I suppose it’s important to understand the source of what caused this downward spiral, but honestly, I can’t pinpoint a single scenario.
It could have been work-related stress and the pressure to live up to the gaudy expectations of others (back then I’d recently received a promotion and felt I needed to out-work my self-inflicted, exaggerated hype). It could have been anxiety over my place in society and the growing desire to have a bigger impact on those around me (I wanted to do more than peddle t-shirts and sneakers). I could even attribute my feelings of despair to the unnecessary racism and unwarranted police attention that I encountered on a daily basis while living in Birmingham, Alabama. (How many times do you have to be called a nigger before it starts to bother you?) In retrospect, it was probably all of it, and then some.
An actual text message from an unknown associate.
I tried to talk to a few people about my head space (my fiancé, close family, and friends) but they brushed it off as simply being down. They all made a concerted effort to draw my attention to the many great things that were present in my life. If I even dared to mention the dreaded “S” word I was condemned as being a poor Christian, or worst, over dramatic. They simply couldn’t understand how a decent looking, intelligent, funny, father of two, with a great job, a clean bill of health and an impressive sneaker collection could be sad, let alone depressed.
They told me to pray and offered their prayers as reinforcement. They showered me with text messages containing Bible verses and positive quotes. It was hard for me not to channel my inner Hannibal Buress in response to this outpour of support. “So you ain’t gon’ do shit for me then,” I remember thinking (an anecdote from one of Hannibal’s stand-up routines). “You just gon’ sit there and send some fucking memes and Jesus quotes, huh?”
It’s not that I didn’t appreciate their concern. Deep down, I genuinely did. They were all doing what they thought would help, providing their best form of encouragement. Unfortunately, their lack of understanding, coupled with my deteriorating mental state, only made the situation worse.
I found myself becoming increasingly estranged from the very people who cared the most. In some instances, I stopped communicating altogether. I bottled everything up, put on a faux smile and went about my business. I may not have felt better, but I was going to put on a facade as if I were. Fake it ’til you make it, right?
After all, I am a Black male. Melanin-rich, penis having motherfuckers, are not allowed to be depressed. This was reserved for Kevin Spacey-like dudes from American Beauty. Or spoiled, pretentious suburbanites who can’t come to terms with their vast entitlement.
Moreover, I wasn’t a victim of abuse, I didn’t experience a grave loss, and I didn’t suffer from a traumatic brain injury. Frankly, I was just overwhelmed and extremely stressed. Given the current climate of our society, I wasn’t experiencing anything unusual.
As you might expect, internalizing the struggle only exacerbated things. Soon everything became a laborious chore. I suffered from severe bouts of insomnia and didn’t sleep for days at a time. I drudged through simple, monotonous tasks at work. I had trouble focusing, and on occasion, became completely detached in intimate settings – mostly, in the presence of my beautiful infant son.
Soon my mental problems began to manifest into “real” physical issues. First, I began to suffer from chronic migraines and extreme sensitivity to light. Then came the increasingly frequent lash outs against others. That was followed by excessive weight gain and erratic weight loss, various gastrointestinal illnesses that flared up without warning and finally short-term memory loss. I was losing mind to the point where I had become unrecognizable to myself and those around me.
I once visited with a psychiatrist who was determined to assist me in recognizing my illness. She said to me, “If there were a zombie apocalypse that occurred right now you’d probably just walk out there and let them eat you. Your adrenaline has declined so much that your innate will to survive doesn’t exist. This isn’t a bad dream or some dark fairytale. Depression is real. It doesn’t discriminate based on gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or even socioeconomic status. It infects your mind and leaves you in doubt. It robs you of your character and your best intentions. And if you’re not careful, it will kill you.You need help.”
I’d like to say that my point of awakening came shortly after this conversation, or following some other life altering event. I had certainly experienced my fair share of them. Over the course of a year, I saw my romantic relationship deteriorate, put on 50 pounds, developed an unhealthy drinking habit, was in jeopardy of losing my job and tragically lost a friend to a car accident caused by a drunk driver. Any of these should have woke me the fuck up. But they didn’t. My struggle persisted.
Oddly enough, my personal reflection didn’t come until about two months ago following an episode of Game of Thrones. In it, there is a scene in which Tyrion Lannister (played by Peter Dinklage) is speaking with his brother, Jaimie, and says, “Death is so final whereas life is full of possibilities.” For some reason, the line resonated and stuck with me. Its simplicity was incredibly jarring.
Though I’ve pursued counseling as a means to slay my personal demons, I found my greatest refuge comes in talking and reading about the struggles of others with similar problems. One author, in particular, is Alexandra L. Smith (more commonly known as Alex Elle). Her book, ‘Words From A Wanderer”, gave me some perspective. There was also my close friend who had experienced the same depths of hell I was enduring.
I’d like to think that everything is better now, and I’m completely cured. But I’m not. I still have good days and bad days. Some are worse than others, but they’re few and far between. I find that my faith helps, and I still have a strong support system to rely on should I desperately need them. Most importantly, I feel like myself again. I find joy and happiness in everyday activities, like giving my son a bath or playing a frustrating round of golf.
I’m not penning this to seek any pity or support. Frankly, this isn’t for me. I’m writing this because along this journey I’ve discovered that there are other people out there, just like me, fighting this internal battle every single day. The age of social media has made it difficult to see the warning signs. Everyone seems to have their shit together. But beneath this digital veil, deep down inside, a lot of us don’t.
Some of us are wrangling with the darkest inner thoughts, aimlessly clinging to any glimmer of hope. If this is you, I implore you to get some help. Seek out what works for you and come to terms with your battle. You don’t have to endure this pain alone. I hate to sound cliche, but there really is a light at the end of the tunnel, even if it feels pitch black. After all “Death is so final whereas life is full of possibilities.”