By Dr. Peter Sealy
Oh sunless sky, how one wished they hadn’t seen your sullen face. Depression is happiness replaced by the pain of sadness. It is like a flowerless spring, a colorless rainbow, and a summer without sun.
The pain of depression is different for everyone. For some people, it is the crying, the sadness and wanting to sleep all of the time. Sleeping can allow you to temporary forget the pain until you wake up again.
Depression is wearing a mask at family functions, laughing with family members, but inside the pain hurts badly. Some people do not want family members to feel sorry for them, so they put on a front of pretenses.
Oh what a mask we wear, of bright smiling faces and gloomy aching hearts. The mask that we wear is as true as its lie. It is true that many people with depression wear a mask. But it is also true that the mask lies, just like depression.
Depression is real!
Many Black men and women go on for years, wearing a mask that lies and belies how they are really feeling. But all the while something bad is happening to them. It is the depression that begins to grow and take root.
Depression becomes extremely chronic as time goes by, to the point that its victims start to feel ugly. Suddenly they no longer want to talk to anyone and instead, tell themselves that they would be bothering them to talk about how they are feeling.
They soon begin to feel that there is no way out of this depression. But depression is similar to a person talking to you. A voice telling you that your life is a failure; that you are worthless and your life is not worth living.
Furthermore, that everyone would be better off without you. So you go into your room and close the door behind you, and stay in there. Depression tells you to take a drink, but not merely a glass, but the entire bottle.
Sadly, it also tells some of our Black men and women to commit suicide.
You have to change the faulty thinking because it is not the way to help yourself out of depression; rather it just reinforces and strengthens depression.
So now that you know depression is similar to a person, you have to find someone that you can talk to about how you are feeling on a regular basis. This is an important part of your recovery journey.
Depression can make you think about the painful past and make you collapse. You begin to cry out with pain and sadness.
Sandra, a young Black woman, said to me, recently, “I never had anyone that I could talk to, like how I am talking to you now. I couldn’t tell my family how I was feeling or that I experienced unsettled sleep with early morning waking.
“I didn’t want them to react negatively towards me. So I suffered in silence and let depression take its stronghold of the mind. I was good at hiding my depression at every contact with my family. I also allowed the pain of the past to direct my life.”
Yvonne, a Black woman, said that the way depression played out for her was through crying, sadness, sleeping a lot and low energy. She attended family events where everyone was happy, but she felt sad inside, even though she kept smiling. Yvonne lost interest in activities she once enjoyed.
Depression for Susan was keeping a painful secret, and daily internal struggle. She never knew when the gloomy days and nights of depression would arrive. She isolated herself into a dark room of pain and found it difficult to get out of bed, bathe and get dressed.
On the other hand, Tony a Black man, expressed his depression to me, by means of physical symptoms such as weight loss, weariness and backaches. He would say that he was vexed, rather than saying he felt depressed.
Tony said to me, that if any of his friends knew that he was talking to me about depression, they would call him a weak man.
When I first met Tony, he was on the verge of committing suicide. Family and friends had no idea because he wore the guise that masked his feelings. With my intervention, Tony, Sandra, Susan and Yvonne are now doing fine.
Generally, Black men tend to delay getting help for mental health problems. They have been socialized to be rugged, handle their pain and told to be a man. But this socialization that becomes a mindset, makes it hard for them to admit depression.
Some Black men, like men from other cultures, choose to deal with their depressive symptoms, through the use of alcohol and other drugs. This only works to mask the depressive symptoms.
Jermaine, a Black teenager, told me he wasn’t aware that depression was a medical disease. His acting out behaviour, due to depression, was unlike sadness and low energy, symptoms that are typically linked to depression.
Perhaps we need better measures for detecting depression in Black people.
One of the many ways, of laying the foundation for healthy mental health in Black children and all children for that matter, is to end the practice by some parents, of preventing the other parent from seeing the child.
A young child who suddenly cannot see a parent any longer, due to one parent’s displeasure regarding the relationship, may see it as the parent leaving because they don’t want to play with them anymore.
This can make them feel sad and impact negatively on many areas of their growing life. Children are people too and feel sadness, even if some adults don’t look at it this way.
Depression can feel like falling into a deep hole. You try to climb out but it almost seems useless. You try to hold on tighter and climb out of the hole but you start to feel exhausted. It is then that you feel that you may never see the sun again.
This is the “hell of depression”, where you may have conflicting feelings of wanting to die but wanting to live. Talking to depression here one could say, oh howling wind of stormy weather, where is thy let up?
Depression can be very isolating and like a person, very conceited and dishonest. The arrogance and dishonesty is evident, as the deceitful depression inflicts pain and walks with a swagger, telling you that you have lost the fight.
The arrogance and deceit is as deadly as a depressive night. The deadliness of a depressive night can make the moon weep. But open the windows of that dark room and watch the bright flowers dance in the calm breeze.
Don’t let the conceited and dishonest depression swallow you up alive. In the spirit of personification, let the strong arms of the sun lift you up and bring you out of the darkness and into the light.
Reflect on the short poem below as you talk back to depression:
Sitting on the couch and through tears I cry
But today is different hope comes with a sigh
Relief in knowing that I am loved up high
It’s never my call to tell the earth goodbye
I will not listen to depression the one who lies
Recovery is possible so I will wipe my eyes
Never giving up always being the one who tries
Depression I will defeat you and take off the guise
The thing about “the conceited one,” is that everything is always about him or her. But let me tell you something, you will get past the suffering of the conceited and deceitful depression and, one day, you will say that depression has made you a fighter and a survivor. A healthier and stronger you is right around the corner waiting.
Stop focusing on the past wrongs that people have done to you because it will keep you trapped in the “web of victimhood”. The people that you are worrying about are not worrying about you.
So step out of that tangled web and face your new world in a real way. Depression is a lonely experience but you are not alone. People from every culture suffer from depression.
Here are some things that you can do to help fight depression:
Become active again through exercising and attending family events.
Stop telling yourself that you will not recover because that is depression lying to you.
Don’t stay isolated, email, call or text a friend.
Take care of your appearance; it is not all about depression it is all about you.
Go outside and get some sun on your face and take some deep breaths.
Break the cycle of negativity, by not allowing all of your problems to constantly overflow your mind.
Recognize thoughts and behaviours that are not rational and find positive ways to deal with them. Being fretful is not a good thing as your Caribbean and African parents will tell you. Some people fret about almost everything. These people tend to focus constantly on what’s wrong with their lives. They beat themselves up and give up easily on hope.
Try walking and don’t look at it as some “unpleasant chore”, it can allow you to clear your thoughts. Use your imagination while walking, using the concept of simile (walking picks me up like the wings of a dove) and metaphor (when I walk, I am a diamond).
Healthy and imaginative thinking leads to a healthy brain which can decrease stress. During your depression, you may not be feeling motivated, but do something to help your recovery rather than doing nothing.
Surround yourself with true and caring friends and not the fake ones who pretend to care about you.
You are the sunshine of your life. If you have children, you are the sunshine of their lives. So let your presence truly brighten up the room, like the sun when they enter.
Things will get better but you have to take the small steps that include getting treatment. Refuse to wear the mask that lies, any longer, because recovery is possible; if you can only see the truth that lies beneath the mask.
You are the truth and never let the deceptive depression or anything make you feel any different. Your life is not meaningless and you are not worthless. Despite the pain of depression, your life is worth it.
Go ahead and take off that mask. Get well soon my friend.
Peter Sealy is an award-winning volunteer, Toronto sociologist and educator.