Series I: The Woman, The Black, & The Mental

Compassionate, considerate and creative, Debbie has one of the most genuine souls I have encountered. She emits a gentle warmth, a beautiful dark-orange air being the best description of her aura. Maybe not as uplifting as the morning sunrise, but calming and soothing like the sunset. Full of emotion, which has at times proved detrimental, Debbie has grown considerably over the years whilst keeping many of her distinct characteristics, showing that she has and will always remain true to her foundations. Admirably, she has been able to adapt to the battles she has been thrown into. Dodging destructive friendships, weathering the storm of a heart-break, and emerging victorious from her war with depression, anxiety and self-harm, her past has made her strong enough to deal with her future.

It’s been two years since Debbie last self-harmed. Although she still has bouts of depression, her experience over the years means she is now able to accommodate for moments of extended melancholia, coping with it in ways she feels most comfortable. Most recently she has been slowly slipping back into depression after returning from an exciting journey in what was once known as the land of the flowers, off the Gulf of Mexico. Not being able to pinpoint why she has been feeling down, she has decided to just let it pass, speaking only to her boyfriend about how she feels. 

It’s understandable why she chooses not to speak much to her family or friends about her mental state. Not wanting to be a burden, she feels more comfortable dealing with it herself. She has seen where talking to her family about her mental health lands her. The controversy surrounding having a child with depression is one seen too many times in African households. Attempts to convince her family to take her to a therapist made it clear to Debbie what her family thought about mental health. She was initially told to “pray it away” as religion was an integral part of her upbringing. Trying to persuade her parents that there is more to mental health than what meets the eye was, and remains, a challenge. Ironically, it is what the eye could see that forced her family into organising counselling sessions. If the reason why she was finally able to get a therapist was because she showed her parents her scars, why should Debbie bother talking to people about a condition that is not always visible?

Having dealt with depression for more than 4 years, her isolated journey has been an arduous one. “They (her parents) swear they try to be as accommodating as they can but honestly they disappear whenever my depression becomes inconvenient in their eyes. They still don’t understand it and will just pass it off as being lazy and ungrateful a lot of the time.” She explains. The misconceptions surrounding mental health are an added burden. It’s uncomfortable enough speaking about it out loud, and it’s even worse having to explain to people that they have the wrong impression of you. So you turn to coping methods, for example picking up smoking and isolating yourself, like Debbie did at times, to ease the pain.

As a musician, I expected Debbie to use the art form as a way to help her deal with her problems. I was somewhat shocked when she said the complete opposite stating “I put a lot of pressure on myself when it comes to music, which leads to me not wanting to make it.” She continues “I listen to music less when I’m deeply depressed.” She then raises a point which made me see things from a new perspective arguing “the process (of writing) does tear me apart, it hurts to write about my negative experiences especially when they’re fresh – it’s almost like reliving them.”

Closing out our conversation on a positive note she states “I know how much potential I have and that I can probably make it in the music industry.” A sentiment that reminds me why I’m so happy to be Debbie’s friend. She’s extremely good at assessing herself and others. Many suffering from mental health conditions are incredibly talented but their condition prevents them from achieving their full potential. We need to stop thinking that they are constantly idle and are not working hard enough. Once we move past misconceptions, we can take further steps towards how we interact with each other, allowing ourselves to not judge, only to understand.

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