There are many things I have heard in reference to depression/PTSD. Many people still believe that depression is a sign of weakness. Others offer housewife tales for prescriptions on depression. Until you have lived with depression, PTSD, or anxiety you will never understand the underlying struggles that a patient goes through. And in all of them, non points to a weak self. Depression, PTSD, anxiety have nothing to do with weakness.
Let me share my personal journey. I was 25, I had graduated with an MBA and secured a full-time position sponsoring my work visa in the United States. Anyone will tell you, it is no mean feat for an African girl navigating the saturated American market.
Yet I found myself on the street, during my lunch break, crying to my mom on the phone. I was overwhelmed with panic and fear. I was drowning with fear of death on the horizon and didn’t know why. I had been depressed before but this was different. I started remembering things long suppressed. You can read some of it here
I started reliving events so vividly I would react as if I was in that moment. I would run into the bathroom and try to lock the door so that my attacker wouldn’t be able to get to me. But there was no lock on the door. So, I would pull the door to keep it shut, wrestling with the attacker.
I know this is not real, there is no one on the other side of the door but at that moment, every fibre in me believed he was there and I had to protect myself. Other times I would be drunk with happiness then just as quickly drowning in sorrow. I give myself credit for recognising that something was terribly wrong and I needed help.
‘Finding a Therapist is Like Finding a Husband’
…. You have to date the frogs to find the one made for you. My first therapist wasn’t a good fit. She imposed her beliefs on me instead of listening. I was uncomfortable with her.
My next therapist was a wonderful man who listened. He asked me thought-provoking questions that made me examine why I am how I am and how my trauma has shaped the person I am. You also realise that there are behaviours that are a part of your nature not caused by your trauma. Most of all, he helped me to stop blaming myself for what happened and work towards healing. You don’t get over it, you learn to live a better life despite it.
Since my original diagnosis with PTSD, I have had two relapses. I have learned to recognize the symptoms much earlier. The earlier I am aware, the lower the likelihood of taking medication. Talk therapy is an amazing tool. Only if I feel that I am at a risk of harming myself or spiralling down really fast do I opt for medication.
I opted to take medication during my last relapse. I started seeing the symptoms from when I had PTSD. I no longer enjoyed things I once did e.g. watching movies and dancing. I would come home from work on a Friday, not shower, not brush my teeth, finish bags of Oreo cookies until Monday morning when I would get ready for work. During the weekday, I would enter my bed right after work and not leave until the next morning.
I remembered how difficult it was to recover the last time. I was desperate not to go through that again. Many people have asked how I was able to function. Realize that some of the happiest and funniest people can mask depression really well.
We hide it due to the shame and judgement. No one at work knew I had PTSD.
I had seen someone who disclosed their illness to HR get ridiculed by their boss and peers. I would never disclose it so I didn’t take any time off. My job was everything. It was my vehicle to remaining in the country legally so I couldn’t afford to lose it.
It was how I fed myself and helped my mother and siblings. What kept motivating me was the fact that I had to provide for my mother and siblings. Knowing how deeply I would hurt my family if I was to give in and give up kept me going.
I came very close many years ago and it was that vision that stopped me. For the longest time, I felt damaged; that song by TLC “Damaged” was written especially for me. I would be plagued with thoughts of “who wants a wife that suffers from depression”. “Will my children inherit my depression gene?” “Do I have a depression gene?” These thoughts kept me from a wonderful man (sorry Jereon).
I now can share my experience with people who I sense may need help.
What Not To Say To Someone With Depression/PTSD
- “Africans have a hard life anyway so why would you be depressed?” No one is immune to depression. Just because we have it harder doesn’t mean we cannot get depression.
- Don’t say “all you need to do is come out and hang with us. You’ll feel better”. Depression is not a switch that you can turn on and off at will.
- Do not compare my depression to yours. It’s not a competition of who was molested more than the other
- If you walk into anything with a hint of inappropriate behaviour between a child and an adult, STOP IT! No child “enjoys” being molested. Our reactions are not “typical” so please protect us
- Never, never, never say “it happened long ago, just get over it!” In my case, I thank my ex-boyfriend for saying that. It was a re-awakening of sorts. It broke whatever hold he had over me. I sobered up really quick to see the love of my life didn’t love me let alone like me
- Be patient. It is not easy loving someone with clinical depression or PTSD. It will take a toll on you, break your heart. My advice is to seek therapy for your own healing.
- Just hang out with us; no questions or advice. Thank you Isha for all the wine, pizza and Japanese dramas (Buchooooooooo!)
- To parents with children who suffer from PTSD or depression, it’s not your fault. Especially to my mother. Depression let alone PTSD is not something discussed in an African household. How were you to wrap your head around your child’s PTSD and what brought it about? How were you to know that 10 years later my mind would be ready to process what it could not as it happened? I thank you for acknowledging my pain and confronting the person who caused it. No matter the age of your child, knowing that mommy will protect you gives you comfort and peace.
- Just listen. Thank you Helda, Sam, Noldo, Swiga and June
- You will quickly learn how insensitive and cruel some friends can be. I had always been a very thin girl but when I went through depression, I started adding weight. Some “friends” spread rumours that I was pregnant, had an abortion and I had been hiding it. It is a sad and sobering realization but I am grateful to have learned what true friends are
- Lastly, if you suffer from depression, you are not weak! Remember you are stronger than you think you are. You will not feel it or see it now but know you are