What No One Told a Lil’ Black ‘Ting About Depression and Suicide
By Apollonia De-Sai, contributor
I had grown up during a time that mental illness and suicide wasn’t thought of something that affected black people. I’m originally from Trinidad and Tobago and I have a thick West Indian skin. I don’t know what it was like for other young women growing up in the United States, but in TNT, if you complained about depression, you may be branded as crazy or that you needed to pray more.
I didn’t know that I had started getting depression in my early 20s right after I gave birth back to back to my daughters, Reagan and Kennedey. My mistake was that I believed it started then, but really when I thought back to my teen years, there were times I felt immense sadness, but I often expressed myself through anger and intimidation.
If someone would’ve told me that I was depressed, I would have laughed at them and told them to get the hell out of my face. I never thought of myself as being mentally weak. I believed depression and mental illness only affected pathetic people, losers, and quitters. My family knew me as hot-headed diva that was quick to anger and never held back when it was time for a fight or argument.
My husband, Raymond received the worse of my wrath during our marriage. I blamed him for where I was in life; married with two babies, no job, and no degree. I got knocked up with my oldest, Reagan in college and had to drop. But not before I had to get married, as my father had demanded I do. I never wanted kids and I hated my life. Of course, I feel differently now and I love my girls and grandbabies more than anything.
You would think that the first time I ended up in a mental hospital, that it would wake me up and push me to get my life together. This was in New York City and by this time, I had already run away and left my family. I didn’t think I’d miss my kids so much or that I would be such a failure at trying to start a dance career once I left Miami.
One evening, I was very low; feeling down on myself. I didn’t “actively” make a plan to commit suicide that night. But I drank nearly a whole bottle of Vodka and popped my Oxycontin and Soma like candy. I kept on. I kept on. The details are still foggy in my head, but I remember going to the bathroom and getting sick. I don’t think the thought of committing suicide ever entered my mind. I never told anyone that I wanted to die, I never had any suicidal ideations. But there I was, on that particular night, whether it was conscious or sub-conscious, I consumed a lot of substances that surely could have killed me had my neighbor not found me passed out on my living room floor.
Reagan and Kennedey were extremely upset when I told them about this incident years later after we had reunited. Reagan was a bit skeptical that I had suffered from depression all those years while she was growing up. Like many people mistakenly believe that depressed persons are quiet and mostly withdrawn. Yes, there were many times I was withdrawn, but Reagan didn’t understand that one could have intense mood swings and fits of anger, especially if there are other underlying causes. It wrecked me to the core to think that my life should have ended that night. I never said to myself: Apollonia, you’re going to kill yourself. I just talked to God; I prayed that He let me not wake up the next day. Praying wasn’t something I often did; mostly because my mother was overzealous and tried to beat you down with her beliefs without ever really listening.
The next thing I remembered was waking up in a behavioral health hospital the next day. I had officially sunk bottom at that point. Not because I was too good to end up in a mental hospital, but because I still refused to believe anything was wrong with me.
I cursed the nurse out when she asked me if I had any “suicidal thoughts” that day or thoughts of self-harm. “Good morning, Apollonia. How are you feeling today? Any thoughts of harming yourself?” asked the Nurse “Excuse me? What the fuck kind of question is that? You don’t know me!” She looked confused and said they were required to ask those questions. “Of course not! Why would you ask me that?” I demanded to know at that time. “Well, Apollonia, we are required to ask the patients questions about their symptoms, what brought them here. You came in because you tried to harm yourself. Now, again, I need to know if you have any of those thoughts right now. Also, how is your depression and anxiety today?” she asked. I shook my head, still unable to understand what these questions could possibly have to do with me.
I thought the doctor assigned to my case was an idiot as well. I hated him because he was the key to my freedom. He decided when I would get discharged.
The entire experience of being in that hospital was awful. The group therapy sessions were no better. Some of the other patients there had mental illnesses I could not even fathom. When someone said they heard voices and cut themselves, I thought: What the fuck? I don’t belong here! I am not crazy!
I cussed out the group leader too and told him I was not here for any American Psych 101 bullshit.
I learned years later that no mental illness is better than the other. I was no better than anyone else at that hospital. We were all broke, we were all sick, and we all needed help. It just took me several years to recognize that. But I did. Eventually, I began seeing Dr. Ambrose, a very good psychiatrist. She helped me to understand why I felt so much anger towards my husband and father. They were both my head and ultimately controlled where my life ended up. I was not a wimpy woman nor was I submissive. But Raymond was the breadwinner, that meant his word was law. My father is the one who demanded that Raymond and I get married once we told my parents I was pregnant. I couldn’t fight him on that and I agreed.
Dr. Ambrose also showed me that I could not continue blaming Raymond and my father for how my life turned out. I could not change the past nor could I change the fact that I left my girls and husband without a word and they knew nothing of my whereabouts. Through her training and analysis, I was able to find the courage to seek forgiveness and acceptance from Reagan and Kennedey, which I did. It was not an easy task my any means, but I had to see my kids and my new grandbaby, Marseille. It got to the point where it felt like I couldn’t breathe at times knowing my children were out there and I could not see them or talk to them.
Eventually, that did change. I moved to Isla Paradiso and made amends with Reagan, Kennedey, and Raymond. We ended up getting divorced, which is something I still regret to this day, but I gained my family back, including my little grandbaby.
Depression has been a lifelong struggle for me. I wish I could tell you that it goes away, but for most of us, it doesn’t. It’s a real illness and you must treat it like any other and realize it takes care, understanding, proper treatment, and patience. Aside from running a chain of successful dance studios, I am a mental health advocate and I frequently go back to Trinidad and Tobago and talk to young girls about depression and other psychological issues. For anyone out there reading this article, I just want to say, please hold on. Don’t end your life because you haven’t found the right solution yet, believe me, it is out there; we just need to find it together.
*Author’s Note: You can read Apollonia’s entire POV in chapter 39 of Reagan Leeds: Run The World. Although I used my Sim to tell this story, it comes from a very real place and many of my experiences with depression.