Depression and The Continued Fight Against the Stigma

Posted on June 18, 2012

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Writer Erica Kennedy

In the wake of learning about fellow writer Erica Kennedy’s death, I struggled in finding some voice about it or even I should voice anything at all. I didn’t know Kennedy and I must say I do feel a sense of sadness that I didn’t get to know her as it is being known she connected a collage of women of color writers that seems to have a wonderful network. I didn’t follow her on the social media highway, but every now and then someone would re-tweet a witty comment or two from Kennedy. I know of Kennedy’s work from her books Bling and Feminista. That’s it. Yet, I can’t help but feel that she and I may have had similar struggles with depression.

Though no official cause of death has been reported as yet, folks close to her have acknowledged that Kennedy struggled with depression and are hinting that this may be a contributing factor. In past online journals I’ve spoken on my own struggles. I chronicled the events that led me to seek help from a therapist. Some entries were private, but a majority of them were very open, but written under a different pseudonym. I was still uncomfortable about what those that know me would actually say should they have found my online journal. I was doing this at a very unpopular time.

In this space I don’t talk about it much as I focus on where my journalism and creative writing journey is taking me. Yet, my post Life After Therapy, does give some insight on how I’ve been handling depression since I last saw my therapist nearly seven years ago. Though my therapist deemed me “healthy,” there are still triggers; events or situations that can “trigger” a depressive mood. As I often muse, my freelance lifestyle is stressful at best, because I’m constantly on the hunt for income until I land something stable.

One of the reflections I read on Kennedy is by journalist Denene Millner on her blog site My Brown Baby. Just like the rest of us with Kennedy on our radar, she expressed shock at the sudden lost. While Millner acknowledged that she can not comprehend Kennedy’s issue with depression, she can certainly sympathize with the pressures, creative struggles and the fight to maintain one’s voice and integrity as a black female writer in an industry that still under represents and often undermines us; with depression in the mix this is a potential dangerous combination.

“Erica was ridiculously gifted; her deftness with the written word is legendary, as is her beautiful mind. Her turns of phrase, her style, her fresh perspective—each of these things demanded time and thought and consideration from readers because they challenged and questioned and made us stretch and dig deep to the meat.

This is not an easy proposition. The majority of that work is done inside of your head, and that creative heavy lifting requires a certain amount of solitude and struggle—struggle to be respected, to find work, to be able to sustain yourself with a craft that, especially if you’re a black female writer, requires much, pays pennies and gains you little respect in an industry that continues to be dominated by people who do not look like us. Suppression of that creativity sears. Add mental illness to the mix and the combination can have devastating effects.” – Denene Millner

Millner’s words could not ring any more true for me at this moment. I thank her for expressing all that I’ve been feeling as of late. Essence writer Vanessa K. Bush posted a plea – from one sister to others, from one woman to another – to drop our superwoman armor and seek help from a therapist if need be. Bush also feels that perhaps there are those wanting help but too afraid from any backlash. In her Essence Magazine post – Erica Kennedy: What Her Passing Teaches Us - Bush writes:

“My plea to anyone who is hurting like this: don’t let someone else’s snap judgments prevent you from getting the help you need to get over this hurdle. You are too important to this world. God put each one of us here for a purpose. Your light is precious. And important.” – Vanessa K. Bush

I don’t consider myself a mental health awareness advocate, but one of my goals in my writing journey is to bring to light stories, the faces behind them and awareness to issues that hinder adequate help and funding for resources. My first and main focus has been zeroed in on the Def Poetry Jam veteran Bassey Ikpi, who knew Kennedy on a personal level and whose personal story I dove into as she has shared it on social media, through poetry and blogging. I’ve met(in person) and spoken to her (via email) a few times expressing interest in bringing her story to a national platform. Sadly I’ve been hitting brick walls, but I haven’t given up. There’s an outlet for her story, as well as others – like Kennedy and mine –  to tell somewhere.

I do feel this is part of my mission in life (per se’). Based on my own struggles, listening and reading about other black women who have depression, I’ve always felt this need to bring this to light. I’m glad that some black women, such as myself, Ikpi and countless others are willing to shed layers to show that there is no shame in dealing with the mental health issues . It’s okay to see a therapist. It’s okay to breakdown before trying to collect yourself and resuming life.

If anything Erica Kennedy has taught me, is the importance for a healthy balanced life…mentally. We’ve got to want it like air.

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