I have suffered from insidious depression for at least 39 of my nearly 54 years of living. At this point, I have lived with depression long enough to know that I am extremely sensitive to human suffering and trauma. Like many people around the world I have been deeply affected by last week’s senseless and horrific murders of seven men. Let me quickly state that I was not privileged to know these men and recognize that my grief is nothing compared to that experienced by their families. That said last week’s constant drum beat of murder mixed with the hate spewed across social media has left me beaten, bereft, and broken. In short, I am now ripe for a depression crisis and must take extraordinary measures to avoid it.
Last Tuesday, I watched video footage of Alton Sterling’s murder multiple times. The video was gut-wrenching. Then the piercing and painful soul cry of Cameron Sterling, Alton Sterling’s oldest son, sent me reeling. My heart ached for Cameron because nothing could be done to ease or erase his pain. Oddly it was Quinyetta McMillon’s ability to maintain her composure in the midst of Cameron’s suffering that kept me from coming completely undone.
Philando Castile was murdered before I could regain my emotional composure. Until Mr. Castile’s murder, I had managed to absorb the biting injustice associated with the murders of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Jordan Davis, Sandra Bland, John Crawford, Freddie Gray, LaQuan McDonald, and Tamir Rice. Mr. Castile’s murder was my tipping point. I realized that I was overly saturated with sorrow and no longer had the capacity to absorb another senseless murder. I have always been conscious of myself first as a Negro, Black, and then African American person living in the United States. But, for the first time in my life I felt completely unsafe and helpless in the only country that I have called home. It was as if my children and I had become unwilling participants in a real life Hunger Games without the tools needed to protect ourselves from being killed. That is such a powerless and vulnerable space in which to live. At that point, I could feel my depression simmering just beneath the surface of my skin. Without thinking I started towards my rabbit hole called depression all while knowing that the safety and security I desperately craved could not be found there. By last Thursday afternoon, I was nearly at the end of myself. To protect my mental health, I unplugged from social media and started binge watching old episodes of the West Wing. I asked my friends to message me if another African American man was killed.
I watched West Wing episodes until around 10:00 p.m. when I checked my Facebook feed and saw posts from different friends who live in Dallas warning about a sniper shooting. Words are simply insufficient to describe the murders of Dart Officer Brent Thompson, and Dallas Police Officers Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Lorne Ahrens, and Michael Smith. These men were simply doing what they swore to do: serve and protect. Now they were dead and would never return home to their families again. It was all too much for me to fathom. I was transfixed by television news reports and social media feeds until long past midnight. Eventually or fortunately, I fell asleep. When I awoke a few hours later, I felt like I had spent the last several hours in a hail shower. Throughout the day I struggled to hold my depression in check.
Now you may be questioning the point of such detailed introspection about my personal journey through another week of unspeakable tragedy. Mine is but one of hundreds of stories and thus, my introspection is not the point. I am not the only person whose mental health was pushed to the brink last week. On Friday morning my depression wanted me to stay in bed all day and consume excessive quantities of sugar, fatty foods, television, and Twitter. Depression wanted the party to continue on Saturday and Sunday. But, I refused to go out like that. I had come too far in my recovery to rely upon coping skills that only fed my depression. So I got up, showered, and dressed. I unplugged from everything connected to the seven murders and spent Friday filling my mind and meditating on what I know to be true, authentic, and compelling. I made the deliberate choice in the midst of tragedy and fear to focus on the best rather than the worst of humanity; to look upon the beautiful as opposed to the ugly parts of mankind. I chose to extend kindness, gentleness, and compassion to others instead of succumbing to bitterness and hatred. Won’t you join me.
According to the Harvard Health Publication Understanding Depression self care strategies for managing depression include:
Diet rich in olive oil, fish, fruit, vegetables, nuts and beans. Eliminating or restricting processed, sugary, salty, and fatty foods.
Mindfulness practice which may include meditation, prayer or other spiritual practice
Above all be kind to and never apologize for taking care of yourself.
For depression support contact:
NAMI Help Line (800) 950-6264
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (800) 826-3632
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