Today I will be featuring an awesome young lady who is no longer scared or silenced by her mental illness. I just want to thank Jessica from the bottom of my heart for helping me to bring awareness to mental illness, especially in the African American community. She’s a regular person who could be your friend, cousin, aunty, church member, or even you.
Here is her story:
I’m Jessica. I’m a serial entrepreneur and a divorced, homeschooling mom of three. I’ve always been pretty mellow, emotionally. I definitely am more on the rational side. And, like most black women, I had internalized that idea that “strong” means you don’t cry, and crying or expressing emotion was “out of control.”
So imagine my surprise when, after the birth of my first child, I often found myself crying in the shower, fantasizing suicide and cutting myself.
Yeah…It was a lot for me to process, too.
To make matters worse, I was in a toxic marriage at a time before people were even talking about Postpartum Depression. Neither he nor I knew what was wrong with me. We both thought I was “crazy,” “weak” and “losing it” and of course we thought it best if we don’t tell anyone. Without us explicitly discussing it, it was somehow obvious to me that it was something I needed to try to hide, something shameful. So I coped by cutting, because physical pain was easier to treat than the vague, suffocating, emotional pain that had no real source. And eventually got better. That is, until my second child was born.
In the wee hours of the night, while trying to breastfeed, I found myself crying again for no reason. This time, I knew better than to let my unsupportive husband know or see. I soothed myself by playing out the different ways I could end my life…trying to figure out the least messy, least melodramatic. However, this time, the topic of Postpartum Depression had just entered our cultural consciousness. I didn’t talk to my doctor about it because, y’know, shame…but I felt like it was something I should look into. When I got pregnant with my third child a few years later, for the first time a doctor just asked me outright “Do you struggle with any mental health issues? Any self-harm or anything like that in your childhood?”
“Uh, well. Yeah I was a cutter after I had my first child.”
The doctor’s eyes were full of concern. She questioned me further and we decided that what I was suffering from was Postpartum Depression. Together we made a plan to get ahead of it. I went to counseling throughout my pregnancy to develop behaviors to help when I felt myself slipping and I was giving and prescription to Cymbalta for after my daughter was born. And it worked, she was the only child who got me at 100% because this time I was healthy and had the support to deal.
That was ten years ago.
Since then I have had two bouts of depression. Only this time, I didn’t stay silent. I understand know that depression is not about personality, strength, or weakness…it’s about physiology. It’s science. This is something my “rational” mind can understand. If changes in my body can create illness in my lungs or stomach or heart, why not also the brain? It’s an organ like all the rest. No need to make it personal.
Now, I am very open about seeking counseling or therapy when I feel imbalanced, mentally. I am extremely more mindful of my diet and take self-care seriously. Especially now, juggling being a single, homeschooling mom and business owner, my self-care has never been more crucial. People often tell me I look like I have it all together, or that I make it look easy. I am very quick to tell them “well, that’s just because I unplug from Facebook during my bouts of depression!” I never ever want to hide that part of myself from people again because, hopefully, by being candid, I can show people that it’s okay to acknowledge that sometimes you can’t out-think your body’s chemistry.