It was a particularly trying day at work, I mean every day was a trying day at work for me (like most work days for most working adults). Working in a high volume call center was mentally draining but working in a call center that is medical in nature added an emotional element that not many can take.
It was about 1 p.m. when I answered the phone and greeted a caller, from the tone of her voice I could tell that this call would be emotionally heavy. She told me her name was Pam, and she wanted to schedule an appointment to see her primary care practitioner to discuss some “issues” that she unsuccessfully ignored for the past few months. I explained to her that I would like to include a note to her doctor briefly explaining the nature of her “issues”. I asked if she felt comfortable allowing me to include that note, and she said: ”sure, no problem”. She sighed deeply and went on to explain that she was the primary caretaker in her family, but she had not been feeling herself for some time. She said that she had been overcome with sadness and many days were difficult for her to ”move.” She said, “ I don’t know if you understand what I mean but it’s a struggle to get out of bed and the things I enjoyed doing I don’t anymore”. I softly responded, “yes, I understand exactly how you feel”. She went on to say that she tried to convince herself that she was capable of managing, but it was time to speak with someone. With her voice almost breaking she told me that she felt ashamed because she was always the strong one in her family. Her mother, disabled sister and her children always depended on her for support. To that, I responded, “you need to make sure you are okay before you can make sure your family is okay.” I assisted her by booking an appointment to see her doctor and I concluded the call with words of encouragement that were said to me in the past, words that truly helped me.
Over the last two years, I have spoken with several people like Pam over the phone and in person. Many struggling silently because they were afraid of being judged and ashamed to seek help. Many of these people looked like me and shared many commonalities with me and my background. Many of them felt hopeless, ashamed and alone in their struggle. I wanted to help, but how? I wasn’t a qualified professional and I couldn’t afford to become qualified. I knew the one way I could help was by sharing my story and my struggle through writing. Yes, my struggle – My doctor diagnosed me as clinically depressed in the summer of 2017. Along with clinical depression came the diagnosis of anxiety. This wasn’t a surprising diagnosis for me since I knew something was always “off” but for the first time, I was forced to face my deteriorating mental health.
Throughout my life, I have experienced several sad moments but after moving to the US 4 years ago I experienced true moments of darkness that resulted in thoughts of self-harm and in the darkest moments those thoughts became reality. I grew up in the Caribbean where I never felt safe to speak about my emotions & the sadness I often experienced. I was taught from an early age to deal with life, pray about it and keep my business to myself. I grew up believing that admitting one was depressed was a sign of failure and weakness, therefore, I never wanted to admit that I was depressed. As a black, queer immigrant man, the last thing I wanted to be seen as is weak!
I often wondered why I was raised this way and why my community felt this way. I think it was ingrained in my parents and their parents that showing emotion and addressing mental illness was a sign of failure and weakness. Maybe it’s because history taught them that showing emotions meant weakness and the weak ones were left, they died and families were separated and broken. It took me to almost killing myself to see that I needed help. At that moment of being broken, I was able to prove my strength by admitting that I had a problem.
I hope that through my story someone is able to start the discussion surrounding mental health with their family and friends. If you are struggling or think you may have an issue, reach out! If you know someone who is struggling or may have an issue, be present! Sometimes advice or answers aren’t necessary but a present person makes the difference.