I stand looking at my reflection in the mirror as I fasten the clasp on my mother's strand pearls; one of the few things I still have to remind me of her. I smooth the pleats on my already perfectly pressed dress. I look at my reflection one last time before I exit the bathroom in my apartment. I slide into my flats and pull on my coat. "Phone, keys, wallet" I mumble as I walk to the door. "Phone, keys, wallet" I mutter as I touch each item. I open the door and hold it as I check to make sure I have my keys, phone and wallet. I jingle the keys in my hand and heave a sigh of relief as I allow the door to close and I lock it. I begin to walk down the stairs and I panic as I check my purse for my wallet. I say a short prayer as I walk to the train station and panic when I reach into my bag and I don't immediately feel my wallet, even though I've already touched it six or seven times.
This is my morning ritual. This is OCD. This is a form of mental illness. Mental illness is not a drooling, cocked eyed, wild haired person screaming obscenities, as many believe. Mental illness can be impeccably dressed and walking into the office with her head high while wondering if today is the day her mask will crack and her secrets will be exposed; If her emotional and mental instability will rise to the surface, instead of remaining hidden, behind closed doors, where only she knows about it. I'm a "strong black woman" who juggles working a 9-5 while going to school and planning events and writing articles and going to brunch. Who the hell has time to be "crazy" or depressed? NOT ME! I have an amazing life to live, people to meet, fun to have. This is what I tell myself, until I realize I've been in bed, in darkness, for two days and haven't eaten.
I struggled with the decision to publish these words. I'm the attractive, intelligent, socialite who has it all together. I'm the face of a brand making a name for itself with amazingly fun and modern, curated events. I'm the life of the party! No one wants to know that the young woman who never lets anyone close enough to see the cracks in her armor is fighting a war in her mind or that mental health issues run in her family. I don't talk about it and If I do it's made as a joke. I hide behind smiles and positive quotes, meditation and alcohol. I hold it together just long enough to get behind the safety of the closed doors of my apartment.
This is my life. I'm not crazy! I'm not.
It's unfortunate that there is a stigma attached to mental illness and depression and because of it there are so many people suffering in silence, afraid to seek the care that they need, going about life undiagnosed. So many black people are told, "Pray about it" or "You'll be alright" and my favourite, "Get over it." People, mainly black women, saw their mothers handle everything, cooking, cleaning, taking care of the kids and working and they did it all in stride so we believe we have to be strong and all powerful and handle everything on our own. Even as I type this I am fearful of how people will handle me henceforth. Will they treat me as some fragile porcelain doll that needs to be handled or coddled? Will they continue to take me seriously or will I be a laughing stock? As I pondered whether to keep my mouth shut and continue to keep my secrets hidden, a force stronger than me compelled me to write because I recognize that there are millions of people who are suffering in silence who need to know it's ok to talk about it and it's ok to seek help.
It's funny how the universe works and how the stars align and situations, people, and messages cross your path. Months ago I was told to check out the album, "You Should Be Here" by Kehlani. I liked her sound. I wasn't wowed, I mean, she sounded like most of the young girls now-a-days. She was put into my music library and occasionally I hear one of her songs play. This particular night in March, a song played. I stopped in my tracks. Q-tip, my dog, pulled his leash urging me to hurry so he could do his business. I replayed the short track as tears slid down my cheeks. I listened, "Scars that will never heel...and every girl needs a mother. Dammit I needed you!" Every single feeling of abandonment and hurt and anger rolled down my cheeks as I listened to her sing. I pulled myself together and finished walking the dog and headed back home to get ready for bed. For days the words of the song haunted me but I continued to push those emotions down and ignore them. As I sat at my desk weeks later, the words played over and over in my mind and I began to wonder about the person singing them. "And every girl needs a mother. Dammit, I needed you." Had her mom committed suicide? What did these words mean? I needed answers. I searched online and found that her father had died when she was just nine years old and that her mother had never really been in her life, as she was in and out of jail. I immediately felt a connection to her as I do with most "orphans." I wondered what her life had been like and if she'd had anyone she was close to growing up to help her deal with the loss of her parents. I too lost both of my parents when I was not much older than Kehlani is now. I know and understand the pain and uncertainty of trying to navigate life without the proper tools that are supposed to be handed down from your parents. I know about wondering what could have been. What lessons could have been taught, conversations that were missed and the depression that comes in waves and steals days, even weeks of life.
Imagine my surprise when I go online and the internet is buzzing about my new little sister (in my head.) She cheated on her boyfriend? Ok. AND? The onslaught of insults and memes and comments seem a bit excessive. I shook my head and continued about my day. The next morning, again, the internet is humming about Kehlani. She attempted suicide?! What?! I'm brought back to the day I decided to end my life; the tears, the pills, the pain, the fear. What followed Kehlani's attempt was far worse. The insults, the posts, comments, memes, the callous remarks about her being stupid and attention seeking, the utter disregard for her mental state. I was disgusted by the morally corrupt Chris Brown, taking to twitter as if he has any right to speak on ANYTHING. The insensitive video Kyrie Irving posted. I was worried for her. I wanted to hug her and tell her everything will be ok because I remember feeling overwhelmed, like life was too far out of control for me to handle. I remember the many times I thought about it and the day I actually sat in my apartment alone with the bottles of pills in my hands with tears streaming down my face.
Please understand, I don't pretend to be privy to her innermost thoughts and feelings. For all I know, this WAS a stunt to get attention and win back her boyfriend. Maybe she IS just a girl who did a bad thing and wants everyone to feel sorry for her.
But what if she's not? What if she is a girl who never received counseling after losing her dad. What if she's a girl who has never been able to cope with the feelings of abandonment felt because of a mother who left her? What if she's been suffering all these years in silence and looking to fill an empty space with the love of a boy? What if this public onslaught of disparaging comments and hate was a breaking point to the already fragile mental state of a young girl trying to make it as a star? We watched both Amy Winehouse and Whitney Houston self-medicate with drugs and alcohol trying to suppress the demons that haunted them. Let's not allow the same to happen to this young girl.
Kehlani, know that you are a beautiful girl with so much life ahead of you. Know that you are loved and deserving of all of life's blessings. Know that your mom's choices are her own and with or without her you have the ability and the tools to be as amazing as you see fit. Your past does not and will not define your future. It's up to you to make the right choices and learn from your mistakes.
Allow your light to shine. Allow your story to be heard. You never know who you may touch along the way.
You were placed here in this life, on this earth, for a purpose. You are a woman of destiny. Recognize your purpose and walk in it.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.