Guest Blog by Rowana Abbensetts of Spoken Black Girl
Mental illness is not always the obvious, over the top examples that we see in popular media. In fact, more often than not, it’s the complete opposite. People who struggle with mental illness are often masters of disguise, doing everything in their power to hide their pain from the world. Every smile is summoned from a need to belong, a need to be okay, even when you might know deep inside that you’re not. Even those closest to someone suffering might not know.
I know this from my own firsthand experiences with depression. You put so much effort into trying to belong that, exhausted, you become lonely. You feel so lonely that you decide that maybe you deserve to be alone, wrapping yourself up in your own dark thoughts to the point of isolation. That final place of isolation is like some kind of upside down world. Things you never thought you would consider become viable options.
Like taking your own life. I tried one time.
What can I say about that night? I took a chance.
This was a time in my life where my greatest flaw was my naiveté. I thought that candor and honesty were the languages of love, that by revealing my true feelings, my fears, anxieties, and vulnerabilities, I could manage to experience a real connection. I made that mistake so many times. But was it really a mistake at all? In the world that I wanted to live in, it was okay for this Black girl to speak her mind, be vulnerable, honest, ambitious – all of the qualities that I love in myself now. I’ve been learning to value myself enough to connect with those who deserve me and shake off anyone who doesn’t see my worth.
But a few years ago, the same positive qualities felt like a scourge. I’m nearly six feet tall, but I’d never felt smaller. It was as if I had been folding in on myself slowly, becoming a ruin of my old self. At a certain point, I really began to think that my life was worthless and disposable.
I’ve always hated taking pills, but that night I decided to find out how many sleeping pills I could take. The pills were chalky and I didn’t have much water in my room. I remember even then being disappointed in myself for being so bad at committing suicide. I figured, what was the worst that could happen? It would either work, or I’d be asleep for a long time. At this time, sleep was my favorite escape from reality. So I did it, and I woke up twelve hours later. I was groggy, raw with the pure misery that I had been through the night before, scared of myself because of the actions I had taken. Worst of all, I was disappointed.
When someone commits suicide, everyone wonders “Why? How did it come to this?” and I understand that. It’s hard to conceive of a pain so great that it makes you not want to live anymore, but whether you’ve ever been there or not, it’s important to know that this place exists. It’s real and to judge a person who has been there as “weak” or “selfish” just shows that the level of judgment and hate that sent the person to that dark place to begin with is real and extremely problematic. Minimizing mental illness, ignoring it or dismissing it only serves to amplify the stigma that might prevent someone that you love from seeking professional help.
Stigma has very real and very life threatening consequences, and we all need to do a better job at breaking mental health stigma down. Choose love over stigma. Choose empathy and support. It can save a life.
That night, before I found myself alone in my room with a bottle of pills, I had been crying in a friend’s room. She was one of the few friends that I had at the time. Looking back, I was having a full on anxiety attack, but she stayed with me, tried to calm me down and even had the good sense to walk me back to my room, not wanting me to wander off alone. Other so-called-friends were content to leave it at “Just chill out.” Or “Did you take your anxiety meds?”
Sometimes I think that this friend’s actions might have saved my life. I hated myself in that moment, but at least I knew that one other person cared, one other person saw my pain. I truly believe that her actions did something to lessen my misery, making my attempt less drastic than it could have been. Talk about power. We all have the ability to save a life just by being there for each other, leaving judgment at the door and practicing true compassion.
So that’s my takeaway this #SuicidePreventionWeek. Hold your friends and loved one’s close – don’t ignore their pain because it makes you uncomfortable. No person can ever truly know the thoughts that are racing through another person’s mind. You can never truly know another person’s pain, so don’t pretend to know what they should be able to tolerate.
Be the friend who sees another person’s pain, acknowledges their suffering and loves them through it. Be the voice that urges them to seek professional help with no tone of judgment or shame. Suicide is preventable. Don’t let stigma stop you from reaching out and loving someone who truly needs it.
If you or a loved one is contemplating suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Spoken Black Girl is a blog focusing on the various issues of race, sex, growth and mental health as it pertains to black women.
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