Mental Health Awareness Day was earlier this month, or so I was informed by social media, and I saw several posts encouraging people to reach out if they are ever feeling down or like they may want to hurt themselves. I’ve always waffled with whether I want to share this information publicly partially because as progressive as we’ve gotten there is still a stigma, especially in the Black community surrounding mental health issues so I feel some shame and embarrassment around it. And partially because I don’t want to be seen like I’m begging for attention. But in the spirit of visibility/awareness/prevention of it all I’d like to share a bit of what it’s like from the inside for some of us, and offer some potentially more proactive options for those who want to support their friends with mental health struggles.
I have a cute little cocktail of mental health issues but for the sake of brevity, we’ll just say depression and anxiety. A lot of my anxiety manifests in my social life. I find specific examples are often more helpful than generalized feelings, so I’ll share about a day earlier this summer that should have been a good day. I started off the day with a lunch date with one of my best friends and her mom (who treated so I didn’t have to pay 🤗). From there I went on a search for cooking lavender to plan a special treat I was excited about for my cast. I found it easily with time to spare before my show, so I went to spend time on my friend’s terrace and enjoy the sun while I caught up on the phone with a friend on the west coast before going down to my show. I was performing so I got to make money that night doing the thing that I love and then I came on home. Great day right? Except for that every moment of that day I was inexplicably fighting back tears. I was randomly Eeyore with a massive storm cloud above my head that I could see was completely illogical.
I tried a few affirmations and mantras. I repeatedly tried to remind myself of the things I had to be grateful for that day and in life. I probably had such a “great day” because I was running from the inevitable break down, so I kept trying to find things to do that I enjoyed in order to lift my spirits because there was no reason to be sad, but i couldn’t seem to shake my mood. I was one earnest person looking in my eyes asking how I was doing away from releasing the floodgates. Which fortunately nobody did, but was probably what I needed.
That’s what depression feels like, or rather, that’s what that particular depressive episode felt like that day. Where social anxiety kicks in is when I get home and I can tell I’m not ok, and I’ve promised my therapist that I will start asking for support. But when I call my mom, I tell her I’m kinda blue but I blame it on my period and say I’ll get over it, and shift the conversation to be about her. I compose about a dozen text messages to friends that all they say is something along the lines of “woof, rough day” or “I could really use a drink” all to delete them and retype them and shuffle friends and ultimately never send any of them. All because I don’t want to be a burden. I don’t want to bring my friends down or annoy them. I don’t want to force people to be around me.
And on top of that, I don’t even know what’s wrong! I don’t even know what I’m upset about. At least if I had a concrete worry, I can say, “hey I’m disappointed about this audition”, and then my friends have some semblance of how to comfort me or what to say. But if I don’t know what’s wrong, I certainly don’t know what I need to feel better and why would I want to subject my friends or loved ones to that kind of frustration. So I go in my room, lest my roommate hears my crying because at this point I’m full-on snotting and hyperventilating for no apparent reason, and I don’t want her to feel uncomfortable or think I’m weird and needy.
And I’m finally able to write an email to my therapist, which I was only able to get comfortable writing because I pay her, and even that I had to send before my inner critic started telling me about how I’m an annoying client and how I need to just get over it and get better, and why am I bothering her outside of office hours that’s not what she gets paid for and she’s gonna drop me as a client and so on and so forth. After I send the email I start to berate myself for how pathetic I am that I can’t just call a friend and say hey, cause I can’t be mad at them if they don’t know I need them…etc.
I’m now feeling super naked about sharing all of that and I definitely have my huge inner critic telling me not to share this, but I think there is a gap of misunderstanding sometimes about what it looks or feels like to have a mental disorder. And this is just my personal experience, but I have talked to several other people with similar diagnoses to me that experience their depressive episodes in a similar way, there are even memes about it lol.
Not reaching out is never really about not knowing that you are there for us. I knew exactly who to reach out to. And they have made it clear that they have my back and love me and want to support me. And logically I know that, which is why it infuriates me even more when I need them and can’t ask for support. Because my *stuff* mutes my ability to ask for support. My *stuff* convinces me that I’m a burden, I’m too needy, I’m too messed up. My *stuff* convinces me that I don’t even have anything really to be depressed about, and other people have it way worse and I need to just be grateful and quit expecting people to feel sorry for me.
Don’t get me wrong by no means am I saying that it is all on the friends to become secret mind readers and psychotherapists to be able to automatically tell what is going on in the lives and heads of all your friends, because I didn’t send any of those text messages so none of my friends knew I needed them. I am actively working on myself to be able to establish my worthiness and quiet my harsh inner critic who has been lying to me about what I deserve in the support arena.
But I am saying it takes a little bit more than a post on Facebook with a hotline number when a celebrity dies, or because Zuckerberg declared it an awareness or prevention day. It takes a little bit of nuance and paying attention, and it takes a little bit of reaching out. Very rarely will I say “Hey, I’m having a depressive episode and I could use your support” and sometimes it’s not even that deep. But I might say, “want to go out for a drink or 2?” or “we should have a yoga date” or “we really need to catch up soon”. That much can be me reaching out because sometimes all you need is some social interaction because your depression is making you feel isolated. But I won’t ask twice, because…you know, burden and all that. So if you waffle around or don’t follow up or seem uninterested, I don’t want to force you. Or maybe I can’t even ask that much because my inner critic has convinced me that I’m too much, too hard to be friends with, so what I need is for my friends to reach out. If you have friends that you know struggle with their mental health, or particularly if you have a *strong* friend or a friend that has gone a little radio silent, reach out to them. Suggest an easy, low effort activity. Maybe meet for drinks close to their job or their house, go over for pizza and Netflix. I have a good friend who lives far away that we watch movies at the same time and text about the movie. Depression can drain your energy sometimes, so a high effort activity like traveling a far distance or going to a party with people they don’t know may not be the best bet. But most importantly follow through, don’t blow them off. Maybe they truly need their space but they want to know that you care, so send a meme or funny YouTube video you think will make them laugh. Remind them of a random memory you have in common. Send them a potato in the mail, I don’t know. Show up. Be there. Reinforce the idea that you enjoy having them in your life and that not only are they not a burden, but that they are loved and appreciated. Obviously you don’t wanna be creepy and just flip the script and fling mashed potatoes through the window, but if you’ve been a little preoccupied at work, or with a new relationship, maybe carve some extra time out. I’m most likely to share what’s going on with me if I’m already with someone I care about, but that requires them to be around y’know?
Imari is an Atlanta born and bred girl, duking it out in the Big Apple. Carnegie Mellon University musical theatre grad and proud member of the Actor’s Equity Association. In her spare time Imari likes to eat cheese, wear pink, teach Zumba, and belt Disney Princess tunes. She just closed the Off-Broadway Production of the Tony Award-Winning Musical, Avenue Q as the female swing. Other favorite credits include Amanda in Because of Winn-Dixie(originated role), Dionne in Hair, Angel in Angels in America, and Crystal in Little Shop. Imari is so thankful for her supportive family, friends, teachers and pets.
And check out her new web series, It Be Like That Sometimes!!