I’m writing this for purely selfish reasons. I’m not a psychiatrist, a counselor or a healthcare professional, so I’m not speaking from that perspective. I’m writing what I wish someone else could have told me. Hopefully, this can help somebody out.
I distinctly remember being 6 years old and being incredibly upset that the way in which I wanted to kill myself wouldn’t work. What’s sadder is that I didn’t see anything wrong with that until I was about 20. This was all compounded (or maybe it was the depression and suicidal thoughts that did the compounding) by the fact that someone my family trusted began sexually abusing me when I was 4. It came to an end when I was 9 because I threatened to tell if it didn’t stop. Even now, there are days it’s still a struggle to talk about it because it hurt me so deeply and so profoundly. I spent my childhood, adolescence and young adulthood convinced that my life was worthless and that it would always be a place of perpetual deep darkness, sadness and death. I accepted this all as my identity and that there would be no way out. I think what made it harder is that I’m Nigerian and Christian and somewhere along the line it was indoctrinated into me that “black folk” and/or people who love Jesus are above depression and suicidal thoughts. That “mess” was for “weak people” who hadn’t known what a history of suffering could do and for people “without faith and hope”. So I became really good at acting like I was fine and happy when I wasn’t. No one could imagine that I was going through what I was. Thankfully, when I was 19, God was good enough to let me know that that’s absolute rubbish. When I couldn’t love myself or even consider the idea of being worth caring for, He stepped in and let me know I was worthy of good care and that it was okay to need help. I started looking for help when I was 19 and went to someone on and off for a bit. When I was 21, I started going to someone regularly and have been doing so for the last three years. I’d like to share 5 things I’ve learned/been learning during my journey of healing and recovery:
1.) NEEDING HELP DOESN’T MAKE YOU WEAK
I have never heard of a cancer patient being seen as “weak” for needing chemo or any treatment for their cancer. You know why? Because weakness has nothing to do with it. They are going through something very real and very serious that their body cannot fight on its own. That’s why they need medication and specialists to help them fight and get better. Now, if only we had that kind of understanding, grace and wherewithal with our emotional and psychological health. The things you may be dealing with may not have a “physical” manifestation, but they are still very real and it’s important that you get on the road to healing and recovery. Again, if it’s okay for some cancer patients to need chemo, it’s okay if what you need is medication. As with any health issue, just make sure you have a healthcare professional you can trust, who listens to you and who can help you get better. Find out what works for you and if you need medication, that’s totally okay. By the way, like cancer, abuse, depression and suicide don’t care about your race, culture, socio-economic background or faith. They are indiscriminate and ruthless. If you’re going through something, please know that though it’s very real and has the power to affect you deeply, it doesn’t have the power to define you. I learned that neither abuse, depression, suicidal thoughts or self-harm say a single thing about the person that I am. They only have that power if I give it to them.
2.) TALK TO THE RIGHT PEOPLE
The operative word being “talk”. At 19, when I first got hit with the idea that maybe, just maybe, I didn’t have to grin and bear it all and soldier on, I went to one of the head pastors of the church I was attending at the time to ask if she knew who I could speak to. She was excellent in recommending someone who I started seeing on and off, but had to stop due to scheduling conflicts. It took a while before I found the person I go to regularly (about a year), but during that time, when I had no idea where to start, I asked people I knew I could trust and who I knew could at least help point me in the right direction. Some situations didn’t work out and others were dead ends. But, for whatever crazy reason, I refused to keep quiet. Even before I started seeing someone regularly, I’d find myself reaching out to friends whenever I was going through a period of self-harm or suicidal thoughts. I wasn’t seeking them out to counsel me in the way a healthcare professional would. I just needed them to know what was going on. One of the biggest weapons depression, self-harm, suicide and abuse have is silence. Deep down, I knew that if I kept quiet, I wouldn’t be able to win against the overpowering desire to try to hurt or kill myself. There were friends who talked to me on the phone until I fell asleep, and others who answered the phone at 3AM when I needed to hear a friendly voice. Having trustworthy people to talk to was a huge deal because it was good to have the right people checking in with me to make sure I was taking care of myself. It was also important because not everyone you know can be there for you or should be there for you. It’s not because you’re horrible or they’re horrible; it’s just that we all have different capacities for different things. There are friends I can talk to about guy problems and friends I can talk to about work. Sometimes they overlap, sometimes they don’t. In the end, it’s about figuring out what’s healthiest for you. There’s also great power in talking to your doctor. As I continued with counseling, I found that there were physical health issues I had that were making things worse like food sensitivities, thyroid issues and having a low immune system. Getting those things checked and sorted has helped tremendously. And like I said before, try to find a counselor or therapist that you can trust, who listens to you and who can help you get better. I’ve been seeing mine for the last three years and I’m extremely grateful for her. She’s been incredibly instrumental on my journey of healing and recovery.
3.) GOOD FRIENDS ARE WORTH MORE THAN THEIR WEIGHT IN GOLD
This point is also for people who have loved ones and friends who are going through a hard time. I had the worse bouts of depression I’d ever experienced during the late spring of 2012 that lasted through the summer. It came after a really great time in my life and it came with a vengeance. I was seeing my counselor (excruciatingly difficult as it was) and seeing a psychiatrist who was evaluating me to see if I needed to be put on medication. Super important, but it wasn’t enough. I still struggled with loneliness and isolation (another set of weapons abuse, depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts thrive on). You know what helped? Having great friends who had no idea how to help me, but made it plain that they were committed to being my friends. They didn’t try to “fix” me or say the right things. They were just present. One friend would come over and watch Bollywood movies with me, another would visit and sometimes nap alongside me, one, all the way in Australia, would constantly check in on me, one wrote me a letter telling me how valuable I am, one would text, another would call, and yet another kept me accountable and made sure I was doing things that I enjoyed that would get me out of the house (like learning how to ride a bike and taking an Instagram photo a day outside). I’m actually crying while I think about it because it was so good to just have people be there. They couldn’t be my healthcare professionals, but they offered me something my counselor and psychiatrist couldn’t: love through friendship.
4.) GETTING HELP CAN BE INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT, BUT IT’S WORTH IT
I remember when I got bunion surgery on both my feet, specifically my left foot. For days I could feel where the bone had been sawed off and where the screws had been drilled in. The pain was maddening and I cried a lot. But I needed that surgery in order to be able to walk properly, to be able to stand without wanting to saw my feet off and to actually enjoy wearing cute, regular shoes. Some days (especially rainy ones), the surgery areas get stiff and I feel like a character from “The Golden Girls”. But it’s okay because I have the tools to get rid of the stiffness and it’s nowhere as bad as it could be without having had surgery. Recovery has been a lot like that. There are days that are too difficult for words. Some days it hurts to unearth things that I wish I could pretend aren’t there. (But that’s the thing about pretending, isn’t it? It isn’t living.) There are also days when I can clearly see why it’s worth it. A breakthrough after months of giving my counselor the death stare that screams “Why are you doing this to me?!”, learning something new to help me along the way. Please understand, this isn’t a one size fits all situation. What’s worked for me may not work for you. I’m still on my journey, there are still things I’m figuring out, there are still obstacles to get over, but I find that I don’t have to fake being okay or happy anymore. I can now mourn for Miriam who was abused from 4 through 9 and believed she had to carry her pain by herself, Miriam at 6 who was more concerned about ending her life than enjoying her childhood, Miriam the teenager who blamed herself for everything and believed she was a screw up, and Miriam the young adult who had no idea how to live freely and was resigned to a life of misery and depression. I have fewer and fewer harmful and unhealthy thoughts and habits and if I find myself regressing, I have tools and people to help me get back on track. I’ve started giving myself permission to feel without judging myself. I’ve started learning how to love life and, most of all, love myself. If you’re a survivor of abuse, if you struggle with depression, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, whatever it is, you’ve got to try for you because you are worth it, even if you can’t see it. Especially when you can’t see it.
5.) THERE ARE RESOURCES
Whether you’ve been abused, battling depression, self-harm or suicidal thoughts, there are resources out there:
- Committed to Freedom, a Christian non-for-profit organization that specializes in abuse recovery solutions: committedtofreedom.org
- IM ALIVE, an online crisis network: https://www.imalive.org
- National Organization for People of Color Against Suicide: http://www.nopcas.com
- To Write Love On Her Arms, “an American non-profit organization which aims to present hope for people struggling with addiction, depression, self injury, and thoughts of suicide while also investing directly into treatment and recovery”: http://twloha.com
- Redeemer Counseling: http://www.redeemer.com/care/counseling/
These are literally a handful of what I’ve come across. The good news? There are more resources out there. Reach out and if you don’t find one that works for you, that’s okay. Just keep going until you find one that works for you.
A Special Note For My Fellow Christians
God loves you. I mean really loves you. The kind of love that scares you because it isn’t looking for anything, it’s just there to give. He absolutely and utterly doesn’t think less of you because you’re struggling with something bigger than you. If anything, that’s what He specializes in. During that awful bout of depression last year, I sat on my bed and I heard God ask me, “Why is it so hard for you to let me in to this place?” I began to violently cry and I said, “Because I don’t know if this will always be my life. I don’t know if this will ever end and I don’t know if this will always be who I am or if I’ll even ever get better.” And in the stillness of my tears, He said, “I have absolutely no problem staying with you and going through the ugliness of this all with you. Even if you have a problem with it and even when you don’t want to be around yourself.” That revelation changed so much for me. If God was okay with my humanity, why couldn’t I be? I mean, Christ died for our humanity, didn’t He? If He could have grace, love and patience for where I was, why couldn’t I do it for myself? I go back to that day every time I need to be reminded that it’s okay that I’m flesh and bones, especially on the days that the healing process is harder than I’d like it to be. It’s made a huge difference between just existing between birth and death and actually living and experiencing and, dare I say, enjoying life. And I’m crying again. I’m crying because I’m able to wrap childhood Miriam in my arms and say that there’s a really good chance that we’re going to be more than okay in this life of ours.