WHERE MY DEPRESSION STARTED
My first bout of depression arrived in the first grade and I didn’t even know it.
On the first day of school, I remember my mother and I were running late. The entire car ride, I imagined the bell ringing and my teacher banishing me from the classroom Miss Trunchbull style like Matilda for being tardy. I felt overwhelmed at just the thought of being the last student to walk into class. Luckily, I was the next to last child to take my seat.
A few parents, including my mom, stuck around for a few minutes before leaving us to a full day with our teacher. I squeezed my mom very tight, confident in the upcoming school year. I went to my assigned table and my teacher instructed me to color a worksheet using the crayons with the box labeled “Tyler”. Little did I know, there were three other Tylers seated at my table. I was the only girl named Tyler.
Eager to begin my assignment in an attempt to catch up with my other peers who were close to finishing their page, I looked in front of me, saw the name “Tyler” neatly written on a crayon box and picked up a green crayon. Before I could get a grip on the crayon, I hear a stern voice beside me say, “Hey, that says Tyler Dettman, stupid.” He was half right. The box did read “Tyler Dettman” and not my name, “Tyler Young”. Simple mistake. My teacher had put my crayon box on the wrong desk. I remember taking a hard gulp as my mouth became dry, realizing that it was going to be a long day. I quickly returned the green crayon to Tyler’s box and safely secured my box.
WHY MY DEPRESSION STARTED
It’s funny how moments from our childhood ultimately seal our problem solving, thought processes, and how we compartmentalize feelings well into our adulthood.
Tyler called me dumb that day and for much of my life, I’ve second-guessed my decisions in fear of others labeling me as incompetent.
In photos as a child, I loved to smile showing off every tooth in my mouth, if the spaces from the ones that had fallen out. After Tyler’s insult, I could barely muster up a half smile to masquerade the tears that I eventually shed after school on the bus ride home. This photo was taken a few moments after the vibrancy of my spirit slowly diminished.
And the page, still uncolored.
MY DEPRESSION STARTED TO PROGRESS
My parents praised me at home for my intellect and to ability connect the dots at home. Extended relatives and members of our tight-knit community marveled at my wild imagination. But at school, my classmates and my teachers always reminded me that I was different. I was the only African-American in the classroom of about twenty-five students and looking back on it, I didn’t get called on to answer questions, never earned the gold star award, and was overlooked during reading time. In elementary school, I was one of 10 or less Black students in the entire building. Every day, during our 40-minute drive to school, my stomach was in knots. Nervousness and anxiety are often tied to stomach discomfort. I felt an urge to vomit before school and by the afternoon, I was in the nurse’s office complaining of abdominal discomfort.
School made me sick. I soon began to fake sick to get my mom to let me stay home.
In third grade, we had a guest speaker come to our classroom to talk about techniques for public speaking. You know the usual about making eye contact, breathing exercises, talking points, etc. But there was one piece of advice that stuck with me: comedy. The guy told us when all else fails, use a joke to win over the crowd. From there, I used my sense of humor to earn trust and likeability from my peers, giving them a few moments to forget about my skin color.
HIDING MY DEPRESSION
It worked..sometimes. Looking back on it, I used humor as a tool for dealing with depression. To be honest, I still do.
For the next 11 years, I endured a rollercoaster of schoolhouse drama. And if I’m being honest, I did bring some of the pain on myself. Everything reared an ugly head in the seventh grade, when I endured bullying from a few boys. Middle school is an awkward time because the adolescent body doesn’t know what the hell is going on. As my body went through changes and school turned into an utter nightmare, I began eating my feelings. Food became comfort. After a long day defending my dark-skinned 200lb body, I went home to indulge in sweet rolls, sodas, M&M, and every kind of fried delight to my pleasure. I felt ugly and many kids made it a point to tell me so.
I did my fair share of torment too. Middle school is survival of the fittest.
At night, I sobbed through my confusion about boys, my blackness, and why my parents couldn’t afford a ticket for me to attend an N’Sync concert. Yes, I’m still pissed about that. Once high school rolled around, I found my tribe in marching band. Another social situation where the kids, even their parents reminded me that I was the only Black child in the number. One band mom told me, “Tyler, wanna know how I know where to find my child on the field during a performance? I look for the black dot, that’s you, and know that my child is somewhere nearby.”
I literally looked at her like this:
I finished high school somewhat content, racking up awards, accolades, and scholarships. Even with a full-ride sealing the next four years of my education, still, underneath the surface I was discontent. I’ll skip the college years and tell you that my social skills didn’t improve. But, I had great sex. Unlike my years of binge-eating, I used sex as a tool to forget about my troubles. I’m lying. College is a buffet. I ate even more, drank alcohol like a fish with no liver, and gained 50lbs.
GETTING THE RIGHT HELP
A few weeks before I graduated college, my grandmother passed away and a series of other unfortunate events surfaced. I remained resilient, earning my degree and began hunting for my first job in television. A few days after graduation, I began seeing a counselor and found out that I had PTSD. As much as it hurt for her to tell me this, everything began to make sense. Looking back on my life, I never received or put forth any effort to deal with my depression. Everything reared an ugly head. I had to finally face my demons at age 21.
I felt accomplished laying all the cards on the table and learning tools to improve my mental state from an unbiased individual. I purged a lot of negative feelings that I had fostered. Three sessions in, I felt as though I was making progress. It was the mental and spiritual purge that I needed. She gave me an effective writing exercise, suggested meditation, and other coping mechanisms to clear my head. For once, I vocalized my experiences without fear of shame or judgment. My attitude was shifting and I gained 21 years worth of clarity.
Archive footage of me after each session:
Then a phone call changed it all. My counselor phoned to inform me that she was leaving the center and South Carolina for a new position and could no longer counsel me. Before her departure, she highly recommended another colleague to continue my sessions.
SINKING BACK TO DEPRESSION
I declined the offer and went back to my old ways of thinking. I couldn’t open up to another person. It was all too mentally taxing. Soon, I lost interest in certain activities and immersed myself in binge-watching television, isolating myself from my peers.
Three years passed by and I remained stagnant. I relationship hopped. Moved into three different apartments. Changed jobs. All in an attempt to hide from the troubles of my heart. In 2013 and 2014, I spent my weekends binge-eating and sleeping the weekend away in an attempt to cleanse my mind and spirit of the job that I grew to dislike.
I cried the years away and watched sad movies on my couch just like this.
One day, I got fed up and quit my job to transition into freelance writing. Even with a new career, I felt unfulfilled.
Twenty-three years is a long time to swim in feelings of overwhelming sadness. What’s really eating at me?
MY LAST STOP
As I meander my childhood memories and young adult life, my self-esteem and happiness are closely attached to how others respond to me. Their words and actions are remnants of the inner cracks that cause me to feel incomplete. And it all stems from similar feelings I felt the day in 1994 when I felt less important than the other kids in my class. A pattern that a child inadvertently began and I continued into my adult life. The root of my distress is often triggered by social situations and feelings of abandonment from early in my childhood.
This year, I took some time away from my blog, and people, to really do some soul-searching. I cannot continue to ignore my depression. I’ve assessed where I am in life and where I want to be. The truth is, I can’t get there if I continue to harbor negative feelings from the past. It’s time I close the curtain on this grand stage of internal angst and sadness. It’s time that I stop giving negative forces and harmful words control over my mood. The first item on my action plan is to resume counseling before the year ends.
Society can shame you for seeing a “shrink” or “head doctor” but I find it shameful not to make your mental and spiritual health a priority.
If you’re like me and constantly overwhelmed by depression or lingering feelings on the past, I strongly encourage you to talk it out with a professional. Your girlfriends can help, but their reach can only uplift you to a certain extent. Find someone trained to provide effective tools to renew your mind. Dealing with depression isn’t something you can “snap out of” or magically “be happy” in spite of it. It is what it is. It’s an empty feeling that’s hard to control. Depression isn’t a one size fits all ordeal. It looks different on every person that it clings tightly to. Until you are ready to open up to another person, do take time to focus on the things that are going right in life. Soon enough, you’ll find the clarity you need. You have to believe that the universe is working on your behalf despite your current circumstances.
This is my last stop for depression, how about you?
“Live life as if everything is rigged in your favor.” -Rumi