Running From Crazy

Perspective
Perspective: Phuket, Thailand – November 2014

“Although I didn’t touch on it earlier there is something else that came with me to Jozi.  It impacted me tremendously and I think it’s time I shed some light on what that “something was…”

I ended my last post with the words above and I promised that my next post (this one) would be my most vulnerable and honest to date.  *Breaths deeply*.  Well…. *wipes sweaty palms*… Here it goes…

I was born a man!  OK, that’s not the truth.  Even when I try to be serious I resort to using my defense mechanism (humor) to deflect from the matter at hand.  Humor makes me feel comfortable and safe – which is exactly what I want (and NEED) to feel right now as I sit here with the spotlight on me.  Perhaps this spotlight moment will give someone else the courage,  strength, and/or insight that they need today.  Here it goes, my truth moment: That “something” that I bought with me to Jozi was something that I’ve tried to hide for years – I have been suffering from depression for well over ten years.

I’m not talking about “the blues” that usually go away after a few hours,  I’m talking about the kind of depression that lasts for days.  The kind of depression that makes you want to stay in bed and sleep the pain away.  The kind of depression that makes you spontaneously cry incessant tears (in the privacy of your own home or in public) but you can’t figure out why.  The kind of depression that makes you afraid to be vulnerable with people because you’re fearful that they’ll judge you.  The kind of depression that makes you calmly and strategically devise a plan to end your life.

Something Ain’t Right (in the Buttermilk)…

I knew my feelings were deeper than just “the blues” for quite some time, but didn’t do anything about it.  I simply let time go by and waited for those dismal feelings to subside.  However,  these deeply sad feelings came to a head when I was in my early twenties.  I was miserable in paradise – literally in paradise on my first trip abroad to Punta Cana, DR with my sister, our cousin, and her roommate.  There I was surrounded by turquoise waters, palm trees, friends & family, and beautiful views – but was extremely depressed.  I was in a funk that I couldn’t shake and I didn’t understand why and was unable to talk to my travel mates about because I was embarrassed.  Instead, I reached out to my mom and an older friend (via phone) for advice on coping and anxiously awaited my my return home.

What Does It Feel Like?

Fun-house-mirrorHow does depression feel?  Hmmm, this is usually a daunting task to describe to your friends and loved ones, so daunting that I seldom do it.  Describing how you feel is hard because you render yourself completely vulnerable and open to judgement from people that simply do not get it – trying to understand unwarranted deep dark feelings that leave you helpless is unfathomable to them.  While I cannot speak for everyone, I will describe how I personally feel – perhaps you can relate…

When I’m in a depressed state I am usually very reflective.  However, the mirrors that I look into are fun house mirrors; they reflect what I feel deep inside.  My perceptions are distorted and my biggest insecurities are exacerbated. “Why did I do this with my life? or “Why didn’t I do that with my life?”  are questions that I often ask.   I tend to focus on ALL of my failures in life instead of my many accomplishments and achievements.  In addition, the lethargy is extreme – I don’t have a desire to go out and do anything – even my once loved go to hobbies (writing, reading, listening to music) or recreational activities (exercising and socializing).

In this dark place I often do my best to isolate myself because it’s easier.  I don’t have to worry about explaining why I’m so quiet or glum to my friends, loved ones and colleagues.  On the flip side, if I attempt to socialize while in a depressed state,  I find that people often ask me “what’s wrong”, but in reality are seldom ready for the real response – “I’m depressed.  I can’t stop crying.  I’m afraid of my own thoughts. I’m suicidal…”  Instead of sharing how I really feel I try my best to “fake” my happiness, but it’s comes across as disingenuous and I stick out like a sore thumb.  I notice the uneasy looks from those around me as they look at my face for a cue to help them figure out what’s going on in my head.  Maybe these stares are because I don’t laugh as loudly as everyone else or maybe because I’m not as talkative as those around me – who knows.

“Put a smile on your face” or “smile” are two phrases that make me cringe the most.  Why would anyone smile when they’re the opposite of happy?  Why would anyone smile when they feel like the weight of the world is on their shoulders and they can no longer carry it?  I’ve often felt that when someone tells me to smile it is said so that THEY can feel more comfortable – after all they don’t understand mental illness and the corresponding sad facial expressions that goes with it.  MY melancholy behavior is too much for THEM to bear.

When “faking it” becomes too tough and I’m no longer able to smile on cue, I resort to being very quiet and inadvertently appear uninterested.  The sadness is visible in my eyes (or so I’ve been told).  On the inside I’m begging and screaming to be understood, but no one hears me.  I feel lonely and afraid.  Friends and loved ones take notice of my sadness, but because they have no idea what to say or do to make things better ignoring becomes the easiest solution.  The invitations to go out become less and less frequent and I’ve noticed some friends pull away from me because no one wants to be around the “sad, ungrateful girl”.  My quietness and sadness is perceived as an “attitude” or “draining” – who wants to be bothered with that?

  What people don’t understand is that individuals with depression don’t choose sadness, SADNESS CHOOSES THEM.  It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, it barges into your room, apartment, house,  hostel, hotel room, or villa and disrupts your day.  Depression is an attention whore with one goal – to steal your joy and leave you in despair.  “Pay attention to me!  Nothing else matters, but ME!  I am the only thing that you will focus on now and I don’t care how much I hurt you, drain you, or distort your outlook on life.  I will command ALL of your attention and you can’t do anything about it.”

Aside from the exhaustion of depression, there’s another “whore” that I have to deal with – her friend, hypersensitivity.  I become hypersensitive to everything; the stares, the ignoring, the being misunderstood.   The stares feel like daggers, being misunderstood is a tangible pain that hurts to the core, and being ignored is the absolute worse – it feels like having a door slammed in your face when you’re locked outside in the middle of a torrential downpour.  Once I’ve spiraled into this dark abyss the only thing I can think about doing is planning an escape.

The Great Escape

The pain, my God – the pain is indescribable and unbearable.  You cry, cry, and then you cry some more; the tears are gut-wrenching and blinding.  Often times death feels like the only logical escape so, you devise a plan to end it all – a quick, painless death is most desirable after all – you don’t want to feel anymore pain.  Overdosing on pills (sleeping pills, heavy narcotics, and/or pain meds), hanging, jumping from a high building or bridge, gunshot to the head, slitting your wrists – they’re all on the other side of your tears as you think about which option you wish to take to end the pain.

You’re tormented.  You feverishly pray to God help, but often feel like He has forsaken you – after all it was Him that said that he wouldn’t give you more than you could bear.   However, in these dark times you feel like you CANNOT bear it and are mad at Him for not removing the burden of depression from your life.  The combination of having a glum outlook on life and being ignored by friends and loved ones makes the decision to commit suicide all the more realistic and easier.

  I remember when I thought I was ready to end it all.  Several months ago I put a multi-colored cotton neck scarf around my neck and tied it to one of my closet doorknobs.  I tightened it as I sat Indian style in the hallway of my brownstone apartment.  It would have to do because I didn’t have the means to suspend myself from my ceiling.  I leaned forward so I could feel the pressure – I needed to know that it would asphyxiate me and end my pain once and for all.  It was extremely tight, but I continued to lean forward because I was ready… or so I thought.   I wrote a letter and leaned forward then closed my eyes, then I opened them several seconds later.  I couldn’t do it because I was was too scared to go through with it.  Instead, I walked down the hall, blinded by my tears, and climbed into my bed to cry myself to sleep – I didn’t wake up until the next day, some 12 hours later.

How Can You Help?

You don’t tell someone with a physical illness to “snap out of it”, “cheer up”, or “smile” – yet these things are said over and over again to those with mental illness.  Stop telling individuals with mental illness to “snap out of it” because quite frankly, we can’t.  Mental illness is far more complex than ANY physical illness because it deals with the most intricate organ of the human body – the brain.  Despite many years of research, the intricacies of this organ are a mystery and still baffle the minds of scientists today.

Despite how powerful God and your faith in Him are you cannot “pray depression away”.   Instead of suggesting that a depressed loved one go to church for a cure, point them in the direction of professional for help.  Sometimes we need more than “the word”. Hugs Don’t ignore a depressed loved and leave them in isolation (to their own devices) because nothing good becomes of it.  Instead, embrace them, hug them, smile at them, and tell them that you love them.  Hold their hand.  Reassure them.  Tell them that you’re there to listen when they’re ready to talk and sit there in silence.  Knowing that we’re not alone makes a world of a difference for someone suffering from depression.

 Light at the End of the Tunnel

I found the light at the end of my dark tunnel in September of 2013.  I had been struggling with extreme melancholy and suicidal thoughts for several days.  On this particular day, I took my lunch break (outside of the office) and proceeded to go down the list of mental health professionals that I received from my company’s EAP (Employee Assistance Program – an employee benefits program offered by many employers).  I specifically requested a Black woman because I knew that she would understand me.   Therapist after therapist told me that they didn’t have evening hours and things started to look bleak.  Would I be able to find someone to help me?  Before arriving on the absolute last name on the list of more than ten therapists, I prayed.  When the therapist answered she told me that she not only had evening hours, but that she would see me that night because she could sense the urgency and desperation in my voice.

I made my way to the East Village and entered her office.  Upon entrance the levy broke and my tears flowed haphazardly from my eyes.  The therapist gave me tissues while simultaneously telling me that I was in a safe space.  I sat on her couch and told her that I needed her to help me figure out if I was crazy.  I will never forget her response – it was the response that made me decide she was the one for me – “I don’t know if you’re crazy, but I’m going to help you figure it out.”  She exuded a genuine calmness and soothing energy that I was immediately drawn to.

I needed help getting through a plethora of issues from learning how to be vulnerable with men, to getting over mistreatment as a young girl, to coping with a mom that also suffers from mental illness (and being fearful that I would have the same experience that she had with her illness).  After several months of therapy that included rational talk and restructuring my thought process (I didn’t need pills, because talk therapy is what my depression responds to) I’ve been on a steady road to recovery.  Do I still have my bouts with depression?  Of course I do, but they’re don’t last as long and aren’t devastating as they used to be.  Taking a chance and talking to loved ones has also been extremely helpful for me.  I no longer feel like I have to carry the burden alone.  I no longer have to “fake it” – I can just be me and talk about my feelings without the fear of being misunderstood or ignored.

Will I ever stop therapy, probably not.  Therapy has been life-changing for me.  It’s good to talk about things instead of bottling them up and letting them corrode my mind.  While I have been able to go weeks without it, I find myself needing it now and again and I am not ashamed to admit that.  Finding this light at the end of the tunnel has been a long time coming and I embrace it.

Talk About It!

Start the conversation, it’s high time that mental illness in the African-American community no longer be a badge of shame and dishonor.  You are NOT alone, there are so many out there suffering – especially in our community.  As you talk about it you will discover this and that alone will give you solace in your depressed state.  If you suffer from depression, start with your company’s EAP for assistance or talk candidly to your friends and loved ones so you’re not suffering in silence.  There is light at the end of the tunnel and you deserve to bask in that light with me.

Thai

***

Until Next Time Friends!

XO,

~Pennie Penz

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35 thoughts on “Running From Crazy

  1. Wow!! thanks for sharing your experience it is very touching and definitely sheds light on a topic that we ALL should know about. While reading there were some things I can personally relate to and you right this is something that it would be extremely difficult to explain to others. Everyone has different experiences but this my dear is a wonderful read and I know it will help someone else with their own personal struggles with depression.

  2. Wonderful read. I have spent over 20 years battling the Darkness, and this last bout required a return to therapy. We have to recognize our symptoms and train our loved ones in how to effectively communicate with us in this hard season. Your story will help many! *hugs*

    1. Many thanks Momowilly! Indeed, we must speak openly and candidly as much as possible! I surely hope that my story helps and I am sending you big hugs as well as you get back to the light! XO!

  3. I admire your strength and courage. Everything you said hit home. While I always thought therapy was a yet another task I didn’t feel like doing because of the effort it took and being depressed for me makes me not want to talk but reading your blog encourages me to try again. Thank you for making me feel ” normal” again.

    1. Aww Martine, you have no idea how much of a smile you put on my face. Thank you for your kind words and for YOUR honesty. I have no doubt that taking the first step to talk to someone about how you’re feeling will be a positive more in the right direction. *Big hugs!*

  4. This is so powerful…the description of what depression feels like, perceptions, the cry for help, the desire to end it all, the DNA factor, the it doesn’t go away with a smile factor, the you can’t snap out of it factor, the you can pray it away myth, and the seek professional help reality. I’m so grateful that you took the time to share this intimate look at a mental health issue plaguing the African-American female population. Thank you for that. And thank you for courageously letting us know we are not alone, we can get through it (depression), and we can heal. Kudos dear sister!

  5. Beautiful article. Thank you for sharing. I know a lot of people will benefit from your article as well as you.

    Love you 😙😙😙

  6. Hi Pennie Penz, thanks for shedding some light on this situation! My daughter highlighted this Article on Facebook and it brought some light to wh,y she behaves the way she does. I know she believes, I think she should be “Superwoman” and can deal with her situations alone. That is not what I think, in fact, it is the opposite. I think she tries to show she is strong and as a result, she comes off as such and lashes out at me and others. She thinks I want her to be like me, who smile and hide my problems but everyone is made up differently. I wish she would acknowledge her problems and get the right help. The assistances she is having, is helping somewhat but I think more effort is needed on a regular pace. I am trying not to lose patience when she lashes out because I am her wipping board. I think your Article would help us both. I can tell, it is a cry for help from her and I am willing 100% to be there for her as a Woman and as her Mother. Thanks you for sharing and explaining in details on a much needed subject!

    1. Hello Ms. Janice. I am truly grateful for your kind words! Ohhh yes – the lashing out. That is something that I used to do because being misunderstood left me frustrated; I expected everyone to understand my personal battles. However, I soon realized that the ones I was lashing out at didn’t deserve it because I wasn’t being upfront with them. I can also relate to the “superwoman” and “strong black woman” rhetoric – I thought that I was supposed to carry it ALL without complaining, boy was I wrong. I know that things must be tough in your shoes because you’re dealing with someone that hasn’t found the courage to share her issues with you. Try your best to speak to her and let her know that you will always be there for her no matter what. Let her know that she isn’t crazy and that even the strongest people get help. I would suggest buying her a card and writing a personalized note – perhaps touching on certain points from my article and letting her know that it’s OK to talk about things. I sincerely hope that things go well and that you and your daughter are able to make some much needed headway. Take care!

  7. This article is so important as you gave us readers a real encounter of what the day to day is like. It can be hard for other’s to really understand what is going on, but you really gave a well-written insight into the matter. Thank you for sharing your experience and I wish you the best in continuing to “bask in the light.”

    1. Greetings KnitbyWhit. I am happy that you were able to find insight in my personal story. I truly appreciate your kind words and the much needed encouragement!

  8. Marissa! I soooooo needed this! I can totally relate to some of signs of symptoms that you have mentioned. I’ve always wanted to seek professional help just to talk about issues I was dealing with but never went through with it. Thank you for the encouragment!

    1. Awww Doria, you are very, very welcome. As you can see I am a huge advocate for therapy because it has helped me so much. I implore you to look into it and start the process of healing dear friend! Thank you for reading 🙂

  9. this was super brave missy and I’m proud of your for sharing something that only a small few know. Still simetimes those closest to you don’t realize how serious or dark it can be…Nonetheless im happy you shared it and I KNOW this article will continue to shed light to those both battling depression and those who simply love someone who is. Love you!!! And I like cake.

  10. I am extremely proud of you my friend. You dont know how many people you will touch and help with this exquisitely well written piece.
    I thank you for them, for sharing such a personal and serious struggle that is a part of someones everyday life.

    Love you booski…

    1. You know I love you girl. You have been nothing short of amazing throughout it all and I thank you for your kind words, support, and encouragement! XO 😉

  11. As someone who can personally relate to this, I really appreciate you sharing your story:) Thanks for being brave & open enough to write this. I found that when I started talking about what I went through, more people were willing to share their experiences which helped to ease some of the loneliness that haunted us. This will help more people than you’ll ever know:)
    P.s-Love the title!!!!

  12. Mental health is definitely an important topic for discussion, thank you for sharing darling! Wishing you continued strength!

  13. I just had to shut the office door and shed a tear. It’s so weird that you can be dying on the inside and keep it together to others. People think I’m this glam, fun “chick” and honestly there have been times when 3 of the seven days of the week have been spent in darkness. I know what the problem is and exactly where it stems from. Being emotionally abused by my mother for the duration of my childhood and well into my twenties. As well as being disowned by my father who was never really around anyways. All of that later turned into anger and aggression which lead to me to kicking ass all of my life. I have tried loads of times to break free on my own which has worked at times but temporarily and just a little bit. Anyways, this touched me and long story short I promised myself around the New Year that when the summer time arrived and my son was out of school that I would try therapy. I have a great life and I want to be in the mental space to truly be thankful and truly enjoy it. Thank you much for sharing!! (rant over) 🙂

    1. First and foremost, I want to thank you for taking the time to read this article! Secondly, I want to send you huge cyber hugs because I know how it feels (firsthand) to need one! I’m proud of you for taking the first step and seeking out therapy. You will feel SOOOOO much better after it becomes a part of your regiment. You don’t have to be strong on your own. There is strength in knowing when you cannot do it on your own and there is relief when you find the person to help you along the way. Come bask in the light with me, you deserve it! 😉

  14. I am giving you a standing ovation right now. I am proud of you, and love you. It is a hard thing to open up to people about an issue that the black community still ignores. I am appreciative that you have started this conversation. I am happy that you were able to find the right therapist and that you spoke on the need for something other than religion in the “crisis” moment. It is my hope that the suicide rate can be lowered because people are more aware (and maybe more compassionate) of what their fellow human beings go through. I am glad you were able to stay with us. This article is proof that you have sooo much to offer this world. Continued blessings on your journey.

    1. XO 😘 Nae! You know I love you to pieces. Thank you for your kind words of encouragement, support, and love! I agree, I hope that one day mental illness will no longer be taboo, but normalized so that people will not feel ashamed to get the help that can literally save their life.

  15. I wish I had known before reading this awhile ago. I think you know I would have protected you. This of course was all I wanted to do. And I wanted you to feel the same. You are my soul sista, we were in sync like nobody’s business. And I loved that earlier stage before doubt and fear started settling in. There is no one like you, lady. I wanna apologize for my role in everything but I can ONLY hope you understand that I’d never loved anyone as HARD as I loved you, totally forgiving you for locking me out when I could have been killed. I think I needed a deep sincere apology for that. Had I done the same, and had you experienced the same, no person would ever forgive me. I hope you are finishing your teacher certification, as I know you will be great either in Dubai or South Korea. Love conquers all, and I just want to always prove that in how I deal with you. I’ve made mistakes in my anger, and learned lessons. This is a white flag. I just came here to see a pic of you. it’s like that. And you know it. All I needed was for you to feel the same way and to forget your pain but I failed. you sharpened my iron. I want to honor that, despite however you may feel about me. And I hope you never let fear get in the way of anything you do. EVER. Don’t ever doubt how brilliant you are, how beautiful you are, but also how much you should always strive for those things…being kind, loving and lovable. Hope all is well. These pics and your site look great. PEACE

  16. I know I’m late in leaving a comment, but it’s mostly because I couldn’t find the words to tell you how much this post touched me…..

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