How I Managed My Depression After the Shootings of African Americans and Policemen
I have struggled with insidious depression for at least 39 of my nearly 54 years of living. At this point, I have lived with depression long enough to know I’m extremely sensitive to human suffering and trauma. Like many people around the world, I have been deeply affected by last month’s senseless and horrific murders of African American men and police officers, the majority of whom were white. Let me quickly state I was not privileged to know these men and recognize that my grief is nothing compared to that experienced by their families. That said, last month’s ongoing drumbeat of murder mixed with the vitriol spewed across social media has left me beaten, bereft and broken. In short, I am now ripe for a depression crisis and must take extraordinary measures to avoid it.
I have watched the video of Alton Sterling’s murder multiple times. It is gut-wrenching. Then the piercing and painful soul cry of Cameron Sterling, Alton Sterling’s oldest son, sent me reeling. My heart ached for Cameron because nothing could be done to ease or erase his pain. Oddly it was Quinyetta McMillon’s ability to maintain her composure in the midst of Cameron’s suffering that kept me from coming completely undone.
Philando Castile was murdered before I could regain my emotional footing. Until Mr. Castile’s murder, I had somehow managed to absorb the biting injustice associated with the murders of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Jordan Davis, Walter Scott, Sandra Bland, John Crawford, LaQuan McDonald, Tamir Rice, and the nine innocent men and women in Charleston, South Carolina who welcomed hatred into their church’s sanctuary. Mr. Castile’s murder was my tipping point. I realized I was overly saturated with sorrow and no longer had the capacity to absorb another senseless murder. I have always been conscious of myself first as a Negro, Black, and then African American person living in the United States. But, for the first time in my life I felt completely unsafe and helpless in the only country I have called home.
It is as if my children and I had become unwilling participants in a real life “Hunger Games” without the tools needed to protect ourselves from being killed. This is such a powerless and vulnerable space in which to live. At that point, I could feel my depression simmering just beneath the surface of my skin. Without thinking, I started towards my rabbit hole I call depression all while knowing that the safety and security I desperately craved could not be found there. By the Thursday after Mr. Castille’s death, I was nearly at the end of myself. To protect my mental health, I unplugged from social media and started binge watching old episodes of the “West Wing.” I asked my friends to message me if another African American man was killed.
I watched “West Wing” episodes until around 10 p.m. when I checked my Facebook feed and saw posts from different friends who live in Dallas warning about a sniper shooting. Words are simply insufficient to describe the murders of Dart Officer Brent Thompson, and Dallas Police Officers Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Lorne Ahrens and Michael Smith. These men were simply doing what they swore to do: serve and protect. Now they were dead and would never return home to their families again. It was all too much for me to fathom. I was transfixed by television news reports and social media feeds until long past midnight. Eventually or fortunately, I fell asleep.
When I awoke a few hours later, I felt like I had spent the entire night standing underneath a hail shower.
Now, you may be questioning the point of such a detailed introspection about my personal journey through another extended period of unspeakable tragedy. Mine is but one of hundreds of stories and thus, my introspection is not the point. I am not the only person whose mental health has been pushed to the brink over the last several weeks. African Americans from across the United States have been especially traumatized by the endless spate of murders without consequence that started with Trayvon Martin and have continued with increasing frequency until the present day. There are those who seem to think African Americans are not entitled to grieve in response to our individual and collective trauma. It seems as if we are expected to quickly get over it, forgive and move on.
But African Americans, like anyone else, must be given the space, time, and grace to resolve the trauma we are experiencing.
In addition to unplugging, quiet time, regular spiritual practice, laughter and therapy, I believe African Americans can use other self-care techniques like those detailed in “Understanding Depression,” a Harvard University Health Publication. These mental health self-care techniques include: regular exercise; a diet rich in olive oil, fish, fruit, vegetables, nuts and beans; eliminating or restricting processed, sugary, salty, and fatty foods; dietary supplements; mindfulness practice such as meditation or practicing awareness in daily life; music, dance, or art; and journaling or expressive writing.
In my own case, I took deliberate steps to care for my mental health in the days following the murders of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the slayings of the Dallas police officers. On the Friday after the Dallas slayings I struggled to keep my depression under control. My depression wanted me to stay in bed all day and consume excessive quantities of sugar, fatty foods, television and Twitter. Depression wanted the party to continue on Saturday and Sunday. But, I refused to go out like that. I had come too far in my recovery to rely upon coping skills that only fed my depression. So I got up, showered and dressed. I unplugged from everything connected to the seven murders that occurred over that three day period. I then spent that Friday refocusing my mind and meditating on what I know to be true, authentic and compelling. I refocused by listening to music that feed my soul, praying and meditating on the Word of God. This practice comforts and strengthens me. Drawing closer to God reminds me to treat myself and others with kindness, gentleness and compassion instead of reacting in bitterness and anger.
Unresolved trauma does not evaporate. It is toxic and infects our mental and physical health. To that end, I believe African Americans must be encouraged to openly acknowledge our trauma and protect our mental health through self-care.
Editor’s note: This post is based off an individual’s experience and should not be taken as medical advice. Please see a medical professional before starting or stopping any medication.
A version of this post originally appeared here in The Huffington Post