For much of my life, I have not been a well woman. I have struggled with depression for as long as I can remember and recently developed a mean case of what my doctor thinks is anxiety. I didn’t get help for any of my mental issues until I was 26 and very afraid for myself. When I finally did begin to see a therapist, I wondered over and over and over again why I had waited so long and suffered so much.
I know this is trite and many writers have said this much more succinctly and eloquently than I am today, but we, black people, place too much (undue) value on being “OK.” We are afraid of admitting to any problem that we can’t pray away (depression, for the record, isn’t one of them) and we stigmatize those in our communities who dare to show that they lack OK-ness.
It’s not just us, of course. American culture in general, with its bootstrap mentalities and hyper-Christian proclivities, can be very skeptical of people who are openly not OK.
Donald Glover, an actor who also goes by his rap name, Childish Gambino, got a whiff of the stigma attached to admitting emotional vulnerability when he posted a series of Instagram photos about his fears. Hollywood Reporter called them “disturbing.” Folks on Facebook said they were “brave.” I say they were just truthful. There is nothing disturbing about admitting that you aren’t always OK.
Scribbled on hotel stationary, the “long list of dark admissions,” Hollywood Reporter said, included:
“I’m afraid my parents won’t live long enough to see my kids;” “I’m afraid people hate who I really am;” “I’m afraid people think I hate my race;” “I’m afraid people think I hate women” and “I’m afraid I’ll never grow out of bro rape,” an older comedy sketch of Glover’s.
I don’t think that Glover’s depressed (at least not according to anything he posted) or trapped in some sort of dark mental anguish. Any thinking, feeling person has thoughts that aren’t always happy, happy, joy, joy and, as an artist with a public following, it was appropriate for Glover to share those.
What’s not appropriate is so many aspersions cast on his mental health or allusions to some breakdown.
Being OK, being happy, even, doesn’t make you a better person than someone who is not. It doesn’t mean that they are missing some important component of character or that they lack the moral fiber to jump over life’s hurdles like everyone else. What I’ve realized in my two years as a person who admits freely that I am suffering is that everyone else is suffering, too.
The difference isn’t who’s happy and who’s not. It’s who’s getting help and who’s not.
Therapy isn’t for everyone and everyone isn’t clinically depressed, but I think that I’d be hard-pressed to find the person who’s had 20-plus years of living on this earth who couldn’t benefit from some sort of professional analysis or facilitated group discussions. We rack up a lot of experiences, hurts, grievances and everything else over the years. When there’s no outlet, we’re not OK. Even when we do have outlets, we sometimes aren’t OK. And that’s OK, too.
Glover explained his feelings to Hollywood Reporter:
He emphasized that he is not suffering from depression.
“I was just tired of telling people I was tired. It felt like every day someone would ask, ‘What’s wrong. Are you OK?’ ” says Glover. “And I would say, ‘I’m tired, I’m tired.’ I didn’t want to do that anymore. I guess sometimes not telling the truth is just as bad as telling a lie.”
Still, he said he’s glad he was able to get his thoughts off his chest.