May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and all this week we have shared articles and resources highlighting the need for women of color to focus on mental health. We’ve all heard how our communities are the least likely to seek treatment for mental illness; according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one reason for that is a lack of information and a misunderstanding of mental illnesses. Some people believe mental illness doesn’t exist, dismissing and ignoring the pain of those who live with mental health issues.
In order to confront those biases and misconceptions, we talked to two women living with mental illness who were willing to share their stories. These are just two of countless stories out there—we hope their stories remind those who are living with mental illness that they are not alone.
Trigger warning: This article mentions sexual assault, severe depression, and suicidal thoughts.
Hi, my name is Magan Ancion. I am 24 years old and I have depression. Ever since I was maybe 11 or 12 years old I have always felt extremely sad and I never knew why. In elementary school I was bullied by my so-called friends and it took me a long time to tell my mother. When I finally told her, I was scolded. She asked me, “Why didn’t you tell anyone?” That made me feel worse actually. The principal got involved and they stopped, but it made me think if I have a issue, why tell people when all they’re going to do is make me feel bad?
Somebody told me I act the way I act because I was never validated as a child. I felt like all the other kids were loud and outspoken, and I wasn’t like that. I thought, Oh, there’s something wrong with me because I’m not talkative. I’m more of a listener. I felt like a freak and like none of the other students understood me. When I was younger and I would get mad, I would scratch my face.
At the age of 11, I got raped by my uncle on my dad’s side. I was raped more than once, but I didn’t tell anyone for a while. I felt scared because I was afraid of how my mom would react When I finally told my mom, of course she was very sad. But she scolded me again, asking why I didn’t tell anyone. She yelled at me. She said, “Why didn’t you come see me?” He never went to jail for what he did. When I learned about that, I think I just removed it from my memory to be honest.
I spend most of my days asleep so I won’t cry or have to feel sad.
In high school is when you could tell I was really depressed. I would cry and isolate myself for no reason at all. At random moments throughout high school, I would just start crying and the teachers would always ask me what’s wrong. I would get mad because I was like, “I don’t know!” I would never know what to say.
When I was a senior, I met my first boyfriend. He told me that I expressed myself better through writing, so he told me to write him a letter. I wrote him saying that I don’t like being alive and that sometimes I want to die. He wrote me a letter back saying not to kill myself. I left it in my room and my mom saw it. She asked and talked to me about it. It was very uncomfortable, but it was worth it because we both decided that I should start seeing a therapist.
Before I was diagnosed with depression in 2010, it felt weird. I didn’t know what to call it, I didn’t know what it was. After the diagnosis, it still feels the same. The only thing that changed was I had a name for it, and I could actually explain what I was feeling, why I was feeling this way—it made a lot more sense.
I don’t know if my rape sparked my depression. My therapist said the fact that I never talked about it, that I never questioned it, or asked “Why me, why did it happen to me?” is affecting me. I told her that after a certain point, I didn’t forget that it happened, but I didn’t let it control me. But sometimes it bothers me. Because I think if that never happened, the choices that I make with guys… I would never make those choices, I would never talk to certain guys, I wouldn’t have to talk to guys to feel validated about myself.
I’ve only had one boyfriend, but I have talked to maybe more than 10 guys. Most of the guys I’ve talked to just used me for sex. They took advantage of me having low self-esteem and being lonely. They saw me and got whatever they wanted and just left. I think some of it was my fault too because I knew deep down that these guys were not good for me but, I wanted the attention whether it was good or bad. For the longest time, I wanted any guy to come into my life and make me happy and forget about me being sad.
Going to a therapist actually helped me begin to address my depression. I’ve seen five different therapists over a couple years. The first person I remember was a black guy. I talked to him, but I didn’t like him because I felt like he was too aggressive. The other person I saw was an older white woman. I saw her for some time, and while I was seeing her, my insurance couldn’t pay for it. I was still in school and I found out I could see another therapist for free for six sessions. So I did that—I liked her. Seeing her really helped, but after those six sessions were up, I had to go to my other therapist. But she got sick so I couldn’t see her anymore.
I am now seeing a therapist that is actually helping me. Up until last April I wasn’t talking to any therapists, so last year I called my insurance and I asked for three therapists to see which one I liked the best. The therapist I like now is the third person I saw. She’s black and I liked her the best.
We talk about my depression and how it affects my life. I have been depressed for I feel like my whole life. Every day I wake up and I feel empty and numb inside. I think about how maybe if I wasn’t Magan then I would be happy. If I wasn’t me then my life would be different. I think about how unhappy I am all the time and how I want to take my own life so I won’t have to feel my emotions anymore.
…I will wake up one day, happy to just be alive and breathing.
Last October I was feeling really suicidal so I drove myself to the emergency room and they admitted me. I stayed there for 24 hours, and I wasn’t feeling suicidal anymore. But then they decided—even though I’m over 21—they would admit me to a psych hospital. When I went there, I couldn’t leave, which I didn’t really like because I wasn’t feeling suicidal anymore. I stayed there for two days because the guy there was like there’s no reason for me to stay for a week. When you’re there, you can’t really do anything—they take all your stuff away, they take your phone away, and I just felt trapped. I don’t want to be here. I wanted to be in my own bed and do whatever I want.
I thought I was going to be around people around my own age, but he put me with elderly people because he said I wasn’t a harm to myself and the people my age would’ve scared me. When I came back out, I told my therapist that I felt like I didn’t really belong there.
In December, my therapist and I talked about me taking medicine to treat my depression. The first one I took was Celexa, and that wasn’t really helping. And the second one was Wellbutrin. It was kind of helping, but it was giving me vertigo. That made me feel weird, so I stopped taking it. I don’t really like taking medicine because I feel like it masks the issues. Most of my treatment is talk therapy.
I spend most of my days asleep so I won’t cry or have to feel sad. I spend all my time in my room, and if I do go out, I go to open mics twice a month because I like poetry and I like to write poems, but other than that I’m just at home. At this point I am still depressed, but I think I am just numb now. I don’t know—I just want to wake up and not be sad anymore.
Other parts of my life have gotten a little better. Since I am older now I tell myself that when it comes to guys, I deserve better. I started to realize that a guy can’t make me happy at all and I really need to work on myself first. I try to tell myself that I am worthy and that I deserve better. And I am also seriously looking for a job.
I’m trying to work on myself more, but I still want to die. I haven’t killed myself yet because of my nephew. I love him so much; he makes me laugh, he’s a funny child. And also hope. I have tiny, tiny hope that my life will get better and I will wake up one day, happy to just be alive and breathing.
If you or someone you know needs help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for international resources to help.
This post is a part of our Mental Health Awareness week. Read on for more stories that address mental health in the Black community.