My name is Neesha and I have No Shame. I am not ashamed to write that for the majority of my life, I didn’t like myself. Although I was not diagnosed until age 23, I’m confident that I have been clinically depressed for most of my life. I grew up being told that I wasn’t good enough, which inevitably led to negative self-talk. Even though they didn’t hurt me on purpose, the only things I remember being noticed for in my family are my flaws. At school, every single one of my attributes was fair game for teasing. My lazy eye, my bifocals, my damaged relaxed hair, my voice that sounded “white.” In high school, nasty rumors plagued me because a football player who I had never even met accused me of performing a certain sex act on him (while I was in the midst of a long-term relationship). Unsurprisingly, I regard my K-12 years as my Vietnam.
For many years, I found my refuge in books. Reading was the cheapest way to transport myself to a world far better than my own. However, as I got older, I began to turn to television for comfort. Watching television was a part of my family’s culture, so it was an inescapable activity. On any given day, I could expect to be bombarded by images that provided temporary amusement, but ultimately led me to feel even worse about myself.
Even channels such as BET that guaranteed black and brown people on my TV screen did little to boost my self-esteem. The station (incorrectly) taught me what being a black woman should entail. According to the laws of BET, a black woman should be: adorned with weave, curvy, deliberately sexy, heterosexual, and superficial. There was nobody present to tell me that TV is not reality. Since my single mother was busy paying the bills, I really didn’t have anyone around to tell me that I should not judge myself by television’s standards.
I believe that being told by most people in my life, as well as the media, that I was inadequate, along with genetics, led to my struggles with depression and anxiety. My response for years was self-denial. I ignored my symptoms, cried often, self-medicated, and looked for love in all the wrong places. When I realized I couldn’t function anymore, I finally sought professional help. My life is still not perfect, and it’s easy to fall back into old habits. One way that I cope with my illness is writing, a hobby that is therapeutic for me and helps me accept my diagnosis.
I watch TV less and less these days, but I am certain that black women’s mental health is rarely addressed. I would like to charge the media, especially black media, with the task of creating programming that touches on mental health in the black community. Fortunately, a few resources do exist for people of African descent struggling with mental illness, such as The Siwe Project. To share your stories or to hear others’ accounts of their battles with mental illness, visit http://www.thesiweproject.org and follow @TheSiweProject on Twitter (hashtag #NoShame). Always remember that no matter what anyone says, you are not alone in your mental illness, and you should never feel ashamed.