Black Girl Breaks Down
I wrote the title of this piece then got on Facebook because I was afraid to tell the truth. Let me start from the beginning, though. Maybe it will help. Maybe you’ll understand. Maybe I’ll understand.
Seven years ago my hurt was given a name: depression. Two years later anxiety jumped on board. Monday I had a mental breakdown.
That Sunday before I sat in church, almost in a daze (that’s hard to do because there is never a dull moment in our service.) I texted my mom and asked her to start checking on me more often because I wasn’t feeling right.
Monday morning I got up, went to work, and checked things off of my to-do list one by one. Then the thoughts started happening.
I want to go home.
If I just had five minutes to myself I could make it.
Count your breaths; you can’t stop breathing right now.
I’m so tired. Why doesn’t anyone see that I’m tired?
I called my mom, and she prayed. But the thoughts kept coming, the breathing got harder. Can I just disappear now? If I could just go to sleep forever I would be just fine…
“Baby, you’re scaring me. Call your doctor.” My mom was 100 miles away and being as supportive as possible, but I was too far gone and everything around me was crumbling. Everything around me was crumbling, and I was imploding. I texted the school counselor, she called my doctor. I crawled into myself and cried.
I’d had panic attacks before. I knew how to do breathing techniques, think of happy places, pray and get back to normal. But this one, this one was different.
Panic attacks normally last around 10 minutes. This one went on for over 45. The entire time, I felt like I was sitting on a perch, watching myself dissolve into fear. It was the most terrifying and painful thing I have ever experienced.
I went home early, tried to rest and couldn’t. My mom checked on me several times, my doctor called me back, concerned coworkers texted. I kept saying I was ok, but I wasn’t. Then around 11:00 that night it happened again. I was alone, and I felt as if I were floating and crashing at the same time. I called a hotline, texted a friend, and went to the emergency room.
The doctor ordered an X-Ray of my chest, an EKG, gave me muscle relaxers. I cried and tried to breathe. Tried to tell him what was wrong, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t hear, couldn’t see, and I didn’t know what I was saying.
Everything came back “normal” and I questioned whether or not I was creating this terror, and that did nothing but scare me more. I went home and fell into a trance-like sleep from the medication.
The next day I woke up, heavy. I went to my doctor. He checked some things and said “Well, you’re in the middle of a mental breakdown.” That’s all I heard. I cried more, I hurt more, and by now my entire body ached because of the tension underneath my skin. I felt like I was going to die.
Beyond that — and this is still scaring me as I type this — I felt like I was letting everybody down.
I thought of my mommy and how she sacrifices daily for me. I thought of my grandmothers, one I know well and one I wish I knew well, and how they would not understand. I thought of my students who trust me to be their English teacher every day, and how every minute I’m not there is a minute that I have to rebuild their trust in me. I thought of my faith, and tried to make this make sense through the eyes of a believer. I thought of my family and how proud they are of me, and how telling them that something is wrong — something that they can’t see — would be difficult.
That’s what high functioning depression does to you. Even at your lowest point, you think about what you’re supposed to be doing and how your pain inconveniences others. In the midst of the pain of forgetting about yourself, you forget about yourself.
Then I went into survival mode. I filled prescriptions, bought groceries, made substitute plans, called therapists, told my daddy I was okay, responded to emails… it was if I was on auto pilot. But that’s what I do. I take care of everything and everybody but myself, and I crash each time. But this crash was different. This crash took me to a place that I’d never been before, and one that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
Wednesday, I couldn’t move. The room never stopped spinning, my heart beat 10x faster than it should, and I cried until I couldn’t stop. I was supposed to go back to work the next day, but I turned on my computer to create a powerpoint — a powerpoint, y’all — and the feeling I felt at that moment was indescribable; I couldn’t do it. At that point I just wanted it, whatever it was, to take me out.
My daddy called, and I couldn’t make it through a sentence without crying. My mommy said she was coming to get me. Coworkers kept texting, students sent emails, and I was continuously talking to someone who loved me, but I sat in the middle of my living room floor and felt more alone than I had ever felt in my life.
Fighting depression and anxiety is already hard to do, but when you’re used to being the strong one, the one everybody goes to, the one who makes others laugh or always has it together, the one who doesn’t let her faith falter, fighting becomes almost impossible.
How do you fight a battle that you can’t see? How do you reach out for help when you look “normal?”
I have never been vulnerable. I have never felt comfortable sharing the “other” parts of me, even with those that I know love me. Part of it is because I’m ashamed. The other part is I don’t want to let anybody down. I have always tried to be perfect in everything — at school, in my career, in front of others — and because of that when I do need to feel vulnerable, when I do need to ask for help, I don’t even know where to begin. Knowing that the ones that love me are hurting because of my hurt is one of the worst feelings imaginable.
I take on too much. I literally have five job descriptions at work, go to church three times a week, try to have a personal life (emphasis on try), run a blog, and a whole heap of other things. I don’t have time to be depressed.
And that, that is what pisses me off the most.
I was doing so well; my stress levels were low, I felt a sense of peace, I smiled more often, I was able to check off a task or say no to some things and not feel guilty — I thought I’d found my balance. But that balance made me try it. I got too comfortable, stopped checking on myself and stopped taking care of myself. I began to act as if depression and anxiety never existed for me, and that was a mistake.
The truth of the matter is, depression and anxiety are mental. That means that there is a wire loose, or mixed, or something, up in my brain that causes me to have these highs and lows. When I’m high, I’m high, and when I’m low I’m low. But the issue is that in my highs, I forget that lows are possible. In my highs I try to make up for the times that I’m not productive, not nice to others, not “normal.” I extend myself way too far, and when I hit a low I’m often there by myself.
Let me say this — the being alone thing is a part of it all. I know for a fact that I have family and friends that are there for me 24/7, but I have to make myself reach out because, once again, I tell myself that everybody else has something to worry about on their own, that my problems are in my head, and that I don’t have the right to “bother” others. I am learning that this is untrue, but old habits die hard.
My mommy came to get me. She allowed me the space to try my best to work through it, even though it hurt her to see me that way, but when it became unbearable she put on her superwoman cape and saved her baby.
That was all the bad news. You ready for the good?
Through all of this, I have learned so much about myself, about others, about my goals and aspirations, about my limits, about telling the truth.
My truth is simple: I’m not okay. But, I will be. After coming home and being loved on, taking some much needed time to reevaluate who I am and where I am, and being selfish for once in my life (not responding to emails is heavenly), I am learning what I need in order to be okay, then better than ok. I am learning how to find my peace and my joy.
It is Friday night and I feel better. I went in public for the first time since Monday, and I survived. I opened my computer and didn’t break down because I saw my to-do list.
I wrote this piece, which probably should’ve gone in my journal but WHATEVER.
I am not going to talk about how I refuse to let depression or anxiety get me down. I am not going to say that I wish things were different or that the break down could have been prevented. I am simply going to say that I’ll be okay, and I’m okay with that.
Dear Black Girl, your all is all you have to give, but don’t forget to save as much, or as little, as you need of yourself for yourself. You are your first priority.