“I’m not depressed. I can’t be. I’m the ‘ray of sunshine’ friend.”
I kept telling myself this for months. Tbh, the depression crept up so subtly that I don’t really know how long it’s been.
(Before I continue, I want to stress that depression is very serious and should be treated as such. If you think you may have a depression disorder, then the best thing to do is to get evaluated and diagnosed by a medical professional. It can seem scary, but please do. I wrote this simply to share my experience, not diagnose you.)
At some point in 2018, I distinctly remember writing in my journal, “Am I depressed? Do depressed people feel happy sometimes?” and other questions that eluded to what I was feeling, but didn’t end up exploring until later.
As the ‘happy friend’, “depressed” wasn’t really a word in my vocabulary. It didn’t cross my mind as a possibility, and the stigma surrounding depression in the Black community certainly didn’t help either.
I always felt obligated to show up for my friends—with advice, words of encouragement or just a listening ear. After awhile, I noticed this was one-sided; not because they didn’t make room for me to express myself, but more so I wasn’t comfortable with being vulnerable.
I wanted to be their safe space, even when I desperately needed one of my own.
I didn’t check in with myself enough to know when I needed ‘me’ time, nor did I reach out for help from others. Needless to say, this cycle eventually became too much to bear.
In addition to a professional diagnosis, treatment, and going to therapy, here are some other steps I’ve been using to cope (and you can use them too):
Talk (or write) to yourself
Journaling is a great outlet for me to release my emotions without judgement. It’s really just me, my thoughts, and a pen which is very necessary at times.
The key to sorting through our feelings while journaling is to be honest, and know that confusion is ok (I was definitely confused in that entry from 2018, but I wouldn’t have made the realizations and progress I did if I wasn’t honest about it.)
Talk to someone you trust
While I am a big fan of journaling, sometimes you *do* need someone to talk to–someone who you trust.
Going to therapy is ideal and highly recommended, but I know that isn’t always the easiest or most accessible option for some. When we have healthy, honest conversations with someone we trust (who isn’t emotionally or mentally abusive), it allows us to release our feelings and make sense of them. I have a hard time trusting my thoughts at times, so being able to bounce ideas off of someone does wonders for me.
If you don’t have someone who you can trust, then call a hotline and speak to an operator who can help you and provide resources.
Whether we’re just upset, or actually in a depressive state, it’s important for us to implement and respect boundaries. Take the energy and emotions of others into consideration before we dump all of our feelings onto them.
On the flip side, it’s equally necessary to set boundaries as a listening ear. Being a “strong friend” is hard enough as is, and even they need space to step back and process things.
No, it’s not selfish; taking time to sort through your feelings is essential to getting out of a dark headspace.
When I stopped speculating and got past my fear, I finally reached out to a professional. I was in shock when I heard someone else confirm what I suspected.
For a few weeks, I wasn’t really sure how to move next; I knew that I was situationally depressed, meaning that my environment and life circumstances took a toll on me. So, I started making small changes to improve what I could at the moment.
It was important to remember that identifying my feelings was only one part of moving forward. I had to make peace with the fact that nothing would change overnight.
The other part was remembering that I won’t feel this way forever; it didn’t really matter how I got there, I was making the decision not to *stay* there.
Everyone’s situation is different, and we all won’t get to the same place in the same way. But if there’s one thing for certain, it’s that you’re not alone in feeling what you’re feeling.
Being labeled as the happy friend doesn’t exempt us from sadness; it doesn’t make us any less than to feel things more deeply than others—it makes us human. The more I realize that, the more it helps me endure the days that feel the darkest.
Like the old saying goes: It’s ok to not be ok. I hope you find the courage to push forward whenever you need, no matter what you’re going through. Hold on to the beacons of hope in your life to keep you going. *virtual hugs*
For more tips and details on how to cope with depression, tap into the Mental Health and Wellness Help Guide.