Daniel, January 31, 2018

My gruelling battle with depression has been somewhat of a pilgrimage, without the heavenly resolution at the end of the journey. The experience could be described as a paradox. I savour the essence of being alone. However, that idealism is detrimental to my mental health.

I have a condition called albinism, which meant I was born with a severe lack of skin pigmentation. This was never fully explained to me, which meant I had to navigate being ashamed of my appearance, bullying and ridicule without understanding why. The cruelty I endured caused me to harbour a large amount of insecurity and lack of self-worth. I started to contemplate thoughts of suicide, because I could not comprehend why every time I left my house I was subjected to looks of disgust that I could do nothing to change.

Unfortunately, I was unable to open up to those around me. In an attempt to deflect attention from the elephant in the room, which was my skin condition, I endeavoured to please those around me. I spent the majority of my upbringing being something I was not. Unstable mental health can easily be exacerbated in an environment of isolation. Loneliness fuels the fire of recluse and fans the flame of unhealthy seclusion.

My mental health eventually spiralled out of control when my dear father passed away. His death ripped me apart, and there was not one human being on the planet who had the ability to put me back together again. The pain I felt, and still do, wasn’t just based on his death. To know that no matter what I did, I would never be able to make my dad proud, broke me into pieces. I was able to portray a figure that looked strong, because I despised showing weakness. On the surface, I would smile and project this character of joy. But deep down, my sadness was eating me alive and my mental state was taking a turn for the worse.

My social surroundings were not adequately equipped to handle my broken mental health, particularly in the black male community. It had always been taught that a man must hold in their feelings, avoid being emotionally available and never show signs of weakness. This was the attitude I had adopted and it meant I was bottling up emotions that urgently needed an outlet. Sadly, I was never encouraged to discuss my mental health within my community and instead I became ashamed, even more ashamed of my struggle.

There came a point in my life when I became overwhelmed with putting on this facade. I came to a crossroads, where I had to decide between sheltering this pain in the dark or choosing to bring the issue to light. I felt as if I was at the end of my tether and I began to think even more of suicide, because the idea of ending it all felt more appealing than continuing to live with such agony.

The pivotal moment that instigated my journey toward recovery was rather unexpected. During a random conversation with my family, out of nowhere, I began to break down in tears. It was then that I eventually started to come to terms with my unstable mental health. I was lost, hurt and carrying an unbearable pain, but I finally came to the point where I was able to open up. The reaction from those close to me was mostly positive, and while they may not have been able to completely understand, their support was unwavering and played a major role in my recovery. Truthfully, not every conversation will be positive, but it’s vital you don’t let that deter you.

While many would see being diagnosed with depression as a negative point, it was in fact the best thing that could happen to me, because I finally came to terms with who I was. My voyage with mental health has caused me to face a whirlwind of emotions. It has been filled with joy, sadness, regret and hopelessness. I’ve come to realise that keeping your feelings hidden could ultimately do more damage to your mental state. If you know someone who is struggling, it’s imperative that you create a dialogue with them, and help them realise they are not alone. If there was ever a time to talk about mental health, it is now.

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