by Obehi Janice
I used to hate the sun. Specifically, the way it streamed through my window blinds on a Friday morning. The color that hit my floor, desk, and face would always accompany the fervent sounds of a bustling college campus and the combination of color and life would sadden me. It was like my senses would be on overload, all of my atoms hitting one another and making my body to shake and shiver. I would only leave the dank sweat of my comforter to leave my bed, steady the heels of my feet to glimpse outside the window, and close those damn shutters.
Depression bit me like a snake.
When people ask me, “What did it feel like?” I always tell them, “It felt like I was consistently blacking out.” I should research how fast venom works but all I can think of is how a victim resorts to closing their eyes and seeing darkness from their shut eyelids to quell the pain.
That was depression for me.
The spell lasted for about five years. The worst was the fourth year. My senior year of college, my modus operandi involved skipping classes, avoiding calls from my Mother, crying in bed, hiding under my covers, and hitting repeat on all these actions over and over again. I was afraid of spending time alone, though. So when I wasn’t doing that, I was publicly happy. I was jovial and supportive to my fellow classmates, and outspoken in class and extracurriculars. But the only engine working in my body was a cruise control that simply shuffled my feet from this location to that, grinding the gears of my jaw to smile at this face and that.
I hated the sun.
Days before my 21st birthday, the shakes came on like an attack.
It was a gorgeous November day and I mean gorgeous. The campus was buzzing with pre-election day jitters and it was a good week to be Black and Democrat. The energy was palpable and unavoidable. A nervous joy, you know?
But where was I five days before Election Day?
On the carpeted floor of my single capacity dorm room, grabbing one of the legs of my bed frame, and crying out to God.
What is wrong with me
My head hurts so bad
I feel so fucking ugly
Why did you make me like this
What the HELL is wrong with me
God, please Lord, help me
I hadn’t showered in two days and I hadn’t eaten in four.
I remember thinking: if I just figure out how to do it, then my head will stop hurting.
I remember thinking: it’s best I don’t live anymore.
My cellphone was on my bed and I quickly called a friend of mine. She came to my door and she stood outside my room begging me to let her in. It took a good fifteen minutes before she entered and begged me to call my Mom.
In two days, I was on a Southwest flight home to Lowell and before I knew it, it was election night.
While my classmates stormed the White House after Obama’s victory, I was in and out of delirium, sweating beneath my Mother’s covers, watching Anderson Cooper’s silver fox hair swing left to right in enthusiasm. I was so pissed off that I had pushed myself to this level of despair, so frustrated that I could never say, “I celebrated Obama’s victory.”
The next day I flew back to school in D.C. and put on my act again. I joined a celebratory rally in the center of campus with other Black students. I wore black clothing in solidarity and even spoke off the cuff about how proud I was to be a Black woman in this time. It’s hard to remember if I was lying or not.
Feigning happiness was my greatest acting role to date.
I eventually prayed and cried my way into a therapist’s office, was diagnosed with clinical depression, and started taking Celexa.
And it helped. (How exactly will be explored in a future post.)
On July 9, The Washington Post published an article titled “Therapists say African Americans are increasingly seeking help for mental illness”. I scoured the entirety of the piece, just happy that I could identify with these women in the article. There was this interesting emphasis on the “strong Black woman” stereotype and the inability for traditional Black churches to accept the need for medication and therapy. I just read the article thinking, “I’m one of them.”
But when I read articles like these I also feel embarrassed that I suffered from a disease.
Is depression really a disease? Am I just bat-sh#! crazy?
One thing I’ve learned is that God speaks through doctors and He blesses people with the capacity to create medicine to HELP. To heal.
I still suffer from anxiety. Depression set off little traumas in my being that peek through at least once a day. Being in my twenties, single, the eldest daughter, and an artist, I keep my heart busy with preoccupations. The main engine of the anxiety is worth. “Am I enough?” Indeed. And because God lives and Jesus reigns, I have more than enough. I keep a homemade poster of Philippians 4:6-8, what I call a “cliche verse” near my bed to remind me that I can’t do this alone.
Three years after my last major episode, I live in a bedroom with an unusual amount of sunlight. My neighborhood is noisy and full of life. I wake up from my covers not sweating, but expectant. I call my Mother, I pray to my Heavenly Father, I sing and dance a little. I ward away the depression bit by bit.
And I’m sort of obsessed with the sun now.
It streams in, wakes me up, and invites me to leave my bed to start the day.
Obehi is the creator/performer of the one-woman show “FUFU & OREOS”, a play about her personal experience with clinical depression and self-identity. It’s currently running in The Berkshire Fringe Festival through August 4.
Last month (July) was National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. Raise awareness, lift each other up in prayer, and take action.