Sometimes it isn’t just the blues.

That’s what I thought I had shortly after my divorce became official in 2002. I thought if I just stayed busy, the blues couldn’t get me. I got a new job, moved cross country, and threw myself into my work. I joined a gym. I lost 20 lbs. I bought new clothes and told myself my life was great.

But it wasn’t. Nine months later I had to take two weeks off from work due to severe anxiety attacks. Two years after that, I was hospitalized for the first time for severe depression.

I wondered how could I be depressed? I had a great job, friends, and a loving family. And it had been two years since the divorce. How was it that every year I was getting worse emotionally rather than better?

Denial is a powerful thing,

I thought to be sad all the time was a personal weakness. I thought I could just will depression away, force myself to focus on work or happy thoughts, and those dark, scary moments couldn’t get me. What I didn’t understand was this was no longer an “emotional”  issue for me. It was chemical. I’d been depressed for so long that my brain no longer could make or receive the chemical serotonin in a normal capacity. You can’t will away a serotonin imbalance anymore than you can will away Diabetes. You have to fight it.

But the first step is realizing you have something to fight at all.

Only 12 percent of black women suffering from depression or other forms of mental illness seek help for it, usually because they think their case of the blues is temporary or a personal weakness, rather than a chemical imbalance or a disease. Depression is highly treatable, either through talk therapy or medication or some combination of both. But if left ignored, it could develop into physical health problems, like health complications from extreme weight gain or loss, high blood pressure, or even suicide if left untreated.

Being sad all the time is serious, so it’s important to know if you’re just a little down, or is it time to talk to a professional.

Here are some signs to look for:

1. Do you find you are no longer interested in things you traditionally have loved? For me, it was children. All my life, I’d loved kids and loved being around them. Even dreamed of having my own. But after my divorce, I couldn’t bring myself to hold a baby, let alone have a conversation with any child of any age. They made me feel uncertain, even annoyed.

2. Has your sleep pattern dramatically changed? Are you not getting enough sleep? Or maybe you’re sleeping more than usual. At different times I dealt with chronic insomnia and periods where all I wanted to do was sleep. Over sleeping is often a sign of wanting to escape from the reality you have to deal with when awake, and insomnia is usually a sign of stress or anxiety that can also lead to depression.

3. Do you have more bad days than good days? Feeling bad once or twice a week is one thing, but if day in, day out you’re not just unhappy, but miserable at work or school, this is a bad sign. For me, it was realizing that I no longer said hello to my friends and co-workers, but sort of grunted, or didn’t speak at all.

4. Do you suddenly get mad or irritated easy? Trying to deny your sadness when it’s still inside of you can make you difficult to be around because, even when you try to hold it in, sometimes you end up projecting that negativity on others – either by being rude or hyper-critical. Your anger may come from a place of pain, but to others, it just looks like straight-up hostility.

5. Does it all seem pointless or negative no matter what you do? Losing hope is never a good sign. If you’ve reached a point where you’re constantly thinking “what’s the point?” you have a problem. If you can’t make the negative thoughts stop no matter what you do, you have a problem. If your personal relationships are deteriorating because you don’t see the point in putting any energy into them, you have a problem. When I found that I didn’t care what happened to me anymore, I knew that couldn’t have been the right way to feel.

If you said yes to 1 or 2 of these, it’s time to seek help from someone who understands mental health better than you or your friends. Check out the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance group. They have information on everything, from local chapters and health professionals to group meetings, discussion forums, and advice. I utilized DBSA’s services during a time when I was without medical insurance; the group, health professionals, and volunteers associated with it helped me apply for prescription drug help, as well as found me a group to attend and a therapist within my budget.

It was a great first step in finally getting to the place of peace and stability where I am now. With hard work and good medicine, you can get there too.

Danielle Belton is the editor and creator of the blog blacksnob.com. She was diagnosed Depression in 2001 and with Type II Bipolar Disorder in 2005. She is currently writing a book about her decade long battle to get to contentment and stability. Read more about her experience with mental illness herehere and here.

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  • hugstoyouall

    I also meditate on Philippians 4:11 – Not that I speak in respect of want, for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.

  • Bee

    I’ve appreciated reading these comments. It is one of the best comment threads I’ve seen on this site. I don’t know if I suffer from depression – I’ve always (since my teens) wondered if I do because I have so many periods of deep loneliness and unhappiness and emptiness, but those periods come and go. I’ve done individual therapy and group therapy/counseling a couple of times, and I find that it helps a little but not enough. My sleep patterns are god-awful. I’m too lazy and unmotivated to cook myself a decent meal half the time, so my health takes a nose dive. I wake up and immediately think about all the stuff I have to do, about how much I hate my town, about how lonely I feel. I’m no longer as interested in things that I once loved (in doing things that I once thought I loved doing more than anything else), such as writing. I just don’t get a desire to write anymore, and I detest nearly every novel or such that I pick up. I isolate myself because I find so few people that I can be myself around and have decent conversations with, because I hate the city I live in and I’m biding my time until I graduate and (universe-willing) leave in a year’s time, because I’m so tired of feeling rejected and unappreciated. I have little to no relationship with my only sister, and I’m just beginning to revisit and rebuild (or perhaps build) my relationship with my brother. I think my alienation from my siblings fuels my depressive feelings because I often think about how truly alone I will be in this world once my mom is gone, despite the one or two very close friends I have.

    To compensate for these feelings of loneliness, I immerse myself in the lives of others – via the news and sporadic volunteer work – because I want to make this world less horrible and less lonely for at least one other person, if I do nothing else in my adult life. This is what I tell myself. This is how I conduct my life generally. Oddly, my depressive nature fuels my activist spirit and is likely somewhat fueled by my activist spirit (e.g. my depressive nature is possible fueled by all the horrible, terrible things I see in the news everyday and hear from students I tutor, even as these things encourage the activist in me). I wonder if most activists, like so many writers and creative types who see the world as it really is (through all the thick layers of bullsh*t), battle with depression.

    I find that taking up new interests helps me (at least fleetingly) overcome some of my feelings of loneliness, unhappiness, and emptiness. Particularly new interests that are not heady and intellectual – since all of my life revolves around work that is heady and analytical and intellectual. So, when I’m feeling particularly down, I’ll just go through my closet, dig out my yarn and crochet needles and spend hours making something, anything to just get me out of my head. Or I’ll sew something. Or paint something. Anything to get out of my head for a while. I spend too much time in my own head – but I guess that’s the way of writers, activists, and creative types.

    *Sorry about the long ramble, but it felt good to get this out*

    • Lady P

      @ Bee

      Find it not strange, everybody battles with something. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, your looks, where you live, or who you know. God has the “blueprint” for our lives. In addition, he helps those who help themselves. So keep doing what you are doing. If you have to ramble by writing long articles, run in the park or scream from a top of a building; well then I’ll be darn. ..”DO IT”! Do what helps YOU retain YOUR happiness. You owe it to yourself and your loved ones. You may have episodes of depression, but don’t ever forget that more people love you than you think (the devil attacks the mind first – so watch your thoughts). On those days when you are facing loneliness, unhappiness, and emptiness; remember you are not alone and pray. Talk to someone. You never know they may be waiting to hear your voice.

      My gift is to edify others. But whenever it concerns me, sometimes I struggle. So I just wanted to encourage you to don’t give up and better days are coming. In the meantime, know that you are loved and not forgotten. May heaven smile upon you! God Bless!

  • iQgraphics

    When I went to seek help, I lost friends.
    It’s an ongoing struggle.

    I have nothing to offer because I do not choose to share my journey in this way.
    But I offer support to all those who need it and seek it

    google me. I’m not hard to find.

  • C

    Is it always depression or just the human condition?

    • anontoo

      idk. but this comment thread is very depressing

      either focus on all that is frucked up, or find the few things that give you pleasure and roll with them.

  • Treece

    Thank you Clutch for posting this article. Depression among Blacks is very overlooked and our community is often quick to downplay the seriousness of it and offer quick fixes for a very serious mental illness. I have been recently diagnosed with depression after several years of trying to deal with it myself (pray it away, just “cheer up”, etc.). Its not that simple as some of the comments have suggested. Depression may start with an event (or sometimes not) and if its not handled by a professional it will just get worse. Trust me. I have it, and I have studied it. I majored in Psych in undergrad and I am currently studying to be a therapist in grad school. Yes, even mental health professionals can be stricken with depression too.

    I have been dealing with depression since I was 13 and it had been over 15 years of suffering in silence before I decided to get help. Suicidal thoughts, fears of death, extreme loneliness, faking happiness in front of my friends and family. It wasn’t until I actually found myself on my knees crying, praying to God to stop me from swallowing a whole bottle of Vicodin that I decided to call a therapist. Don’t let it get that far. Please get help, and for those of you who can’t relate, at least try to understand and be supportive. Don’t be judgmental. You never know whose life you could save with a kind word…