Art by Nicolette Schultz
What would you do if a friend told you they didn’t want to live anymore? That they were actively considering suicide and probably would commit suicide if a significant other or parent were no longer in their lives?
What if they told you repeatedly that they were unhappy, and no matter how much they exercised and ate healthy foods, they still felt miserable? What if they told you they drank plenty of water and got plenty of sleep?
What if they had already moved cities and quit a stressful job to work at a less stressful job?
What if they were already seeing a therapist twice a week?
Every couple months, my friend who lives in D.C. calls, telling me she feels like she’s at the bottom of a black pit. She feels like she’s treading water, kicking as hard as she can and struggling to stay afloat. She feels hopeless, and even though her job pays well, and she’s in a field she loves, she thinks about suicide at least once a week.
“I would do it if my grandma weren’t still living,” she told me about her grandma– who is 90-years-old.
I suggested a different therapist, but she’s already tried several, and they all say the same thing. She needs to see a psychiatrist and find the right medication.
She doesn’t want to be on anti-depressants.
“What if I lose my creativity? I heard that is a side effect.” She’s a writer.
“What if I become a different person?”
“What if it makes it worse?”
I understand and I sympathize with all of these worries. And I cringe when I tell her it could make her depression worse. It could have nasty side effects. There is no one cure-all anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication. You just have to work closely with your therapist and psychiatrist to find the right one.
She doesn’t like that answer.
When I first began seeking anti-anxiety medication, I had the same questions. Will I be a different person? Will it make it worse? I told my SO to watch for extreme changes in my personality and mood.
The first medication made my anxiety worse. I felt like I couldn’t breathe every time I took it, and it would make me have panic attacks all the time… especially at work.
The second medication gave me horrible headaches, so I stopped taking that.
The third medication worked because it would make me so drowsy, I would be asleep within 30 minutes. Can’t have a panic attack if you’re in a mild coma!
I was honestly happy with the third medication for a while, but it sucked if I ever needed to take it in the day time. I could say goodbye to whatever I was doing for the rest of the day.
So, I went back to my doctor again. I’m no physician, so I can’t repeat exactly what she said, but here’s how I understood it. She told me that the other medications represented certain types of anti-anxiety medications, and because we had tried those already, she wouldn’t give me any more in that category of medication.
Through process of elimination, we tried my fourth medication. My panic attacks didn’t halt immediately, but with therapy, exercise, and some lifestyle changes, I have not had a panic attack I couldn’t handle since I’ve been on the medication. I’ve been able to talk myself down from the proverbial ledge. All of the advice my therapist gives me is way more helpful.
So, yes, I admit to my friend, taking medication can produce unwanted effects, but the results can be well worth it.
I don’t have headaches anymore because I’m not clenching my jaw subconsciously every day and night. My chest doesn’t feel like a 20 pound weight is on it because I can relax my torso even when I’m awake. I don’t have weird sensations in my arms and legs anymore. No nausea or random numbness. I actually have control over my life again thanks to my efforts and medication.
Still, there’s a stigma against anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medication in the Black community.
“Just pray about it,” her mother told her, convincing her to throw away the medication she was considering taking.
There’s fear surrounding it.
People will take pain medication, cold & flu medication, blood pressure medication all they want, but when it comes to mental health medication, suddenly, God and a health diet are the only answers.
I believe it stems from the idea that mental illness isn’t real—that it can go away if you just exercise, eat healthy, and pray.
I can tell you, my friend has been a devout Christian since I’ve known her. She’s been praying and trusting God. And I can tell you, I still get that call every few months.
It’s time for all of us, especially in the Black community to begin taking mental illness seriously. My friend in D.C. doesn’t exist, but her thoughts and feelings are real. She is a representation of the very real conversations I have had with several of my friends this year.
If some of you don’t start taking mental health seriously, you could lose someone close to you. Don’t be another person who makes them feel like they’re making it up or they’re weak. They will already convince themselves of that and cry themselves to sleep at night. Tell them that their feeling are valid, and encourage them to seek professional help.
Lives may depend on it.