Not many people are aware that October 4th-10th is Mental Illness Awareness Week. And in all honesty this week meant very little to me for so long; not that mental illness awareness didn’t apply or resonate with me, but I was too ashamed and embarrassed to admit to anyone but those closest to me that I struggled with a mental illness-- clinical depression. But as I embarked on this journey to help empower others (specifically young African American females) to lead mentally healthy lives, it kind of went without saying that I needed to be more open all around about my own mental health journey.
I was first diagnosed with clinical depression at the age of 15. Such a young age I know, but when I was finally diagnosed I also found out that depression runs in my family. After that initial diagnosis, I personally struggled to understand WHY ME. And since depression and mental illness not only affect the individual, my family also struggled to understand WHY, and how best to support me. And I struggled, they struggled, we struggled. But, in time we also triumphed.
This isn’t to say that I don’t still have difficult days, weeks, and even months. Depression is an illness that I will have to manage ---just like hypertension, diabetes, high blood pressure, and any other chronic disease. But in the beloved words of the late great Maya Angelou, “I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be defined by it.” Depression changed my life in more ways that I can ever express but I REFUSE to be defined by my mental illness.
This week is not just about individuals peeping around a corner to voice their personal stories surrounding mental illness--- it is also a time to reflect on the triumphs, the victories along our mental health journey.