“Me and My Shadow: Tears, Fears, and Years of Living with Depression” by Hazel Thomas

Today has not been a good day, and that’s okay. In fact, the more times I have said that to myself when I’m not having a good day, the better it has made me feel. 

I mean who needs guilt for feeling crap on top of already feeling like crap right ? My mental health and I have not always had a relationship of co-existence, there are times I have felt exhausted battling and left utterly defeated by my depression and anxiety. It was acknowledging that I needed help and receiving it during the time I had reached breaking point that became a game changer in my relationship with the two. 

I lived with depression for a long time before I admitted it to myself and to others. I hit one of my lowest points during my last year of University but when I finally reached out, no one wanted to help me; they just wanted to quick fix me. Doctors overwhelmed me because they just wanted to hurry me out of the door with subscriptions I didn’t understand. No one wanted to talk through options, in fact no one wanted to talk to me about it full stop….so I stopped trying. It was during that time, I discovered poetry and was able to loose myself in words; words that I would struggle to vocalise were able to exist freely on the pages. Writing enabled me to free my thoughts from a caged mind, as well as giving me the strength to allow myself to be vulnerable with a friend. My best friend as she became, helped to get me through each day until I graduated without judgement and without expectations; it is an act of love I will never forget.

For the couple of years that followed Uni, I continued to manage day to day but I felt numb inside. I went to great lengths to justify my moods, downplayed struggles to appease others because I believed (as many black women are taught to), that our strength lies within our ability to hold our own burdens. It was a damaging concept so deeply ingrained in me, learnt at a very young age when I was scolded for crying. I was reminded to never show weakness and so my cries became muffled until they became buried deep inside myself. For a long time my tears only surfaced in solitude, their public outings were very rare and brief; usually appearing from built up anger but getting quickly blinked back for fear of drowning in them in front of others. 

Last year I cried in front of my therapist, and I mean no holding back snotty wails; not because I was angry but because I was sad, and that was a huge deal for me; to allow myself to be sad. I had been on auto pilot for so long and it was a turning point in my journey of self awareness. The expectation of strength from others and from myself defined me for a long time but I’m okay now with not being strong; being strong is what lead me to suffer in silence for so long. I find “strong” a well intentioned yet peculiar word, one one hand it is a belief in the ability to overcome difficulties which is great but by labelling people that way, we are setting a standard that it’s opposition of weakness is undesirable. The concept of strength I believe truly lies within the opposite, our vulnerabilities.

So my message to you is this, through a medium that continues to save me daily:

Try not to hide your fears and tears 

Nor carry them alone and heavy for years

Embrace yourself if you can, today

For you are loved in each and every single way.

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