First, thanks to every person who read, shared or commented on the first post in this series on depression and mental illness. I’m honored when anyone takes their most precious commodity–time–to read my work. Thank you.
As I begin writing this, it is 5:28AM on Sunday, June 22. I’m up early because I enjoy quiet. I need it. It strengthens me. I think quiet is beautiful.
It’s strange or maybe providence that over the last few weeks, I’ve come across several articles on depression and mental illness. On June 23, Chicago Magazine published an article titled The Voices in Josh Mark’s Head which recountedthe story of Josh Marks (age 26), who killed himself after a battle with schizophrenia. Marks, an inexperienced but gifted chef, was the runner up on season 3 of the show MasterChef. On June 19, Dwayne Johnson (AKA The Rock) opened up in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter about his experience with depression in a piece titled The Drive (and Despair) of the Rock.
On June 19, Ebony published an article titled Why Are Young Blacks Killing Themselves? From this article, I learned that suicide is the third leading cause of death in blacks ages 15-24.One of the people highlighted in the article was Lee Thompson Young. Young was best known for his teenage role as the title character on the Disney television series The Famous Jett Jackson. On August 19 of last year, Thompson was found dead in his apartment from a self-inflicted gunshot after he didn’t show up for work on the set of the TV series Rizzoli & Isles. Thompson also suffered from depression and was taking medication for bipolar disorder.
I remember Thompson best for his role as the character Agent Al Gough on the ABC series Flash Forward. Thompson had a presence that struck me, and I was excited to see a young, black, male actor doing good work. Ironically, in his last episode, Gough too commits suicide because he believes it is the only way to interrupt a course of events that will cause him to kill the mother of twin boys. I didn’t realize until re-watching but earlier in the same episode, Gough accepts a challenge to play Russian Roulette in order to gain access to a club he and his colleagues are investigating. The scenes leading up to Gough’s suicide were filmed in near quiet. As I watched, I kept thinking that Thompson no longer seemed to be just playing his character. It felt very personal…very real. I could see myself in every moment.
After Thompson’s death, peopled remarked that he “appeared okay”, which unarguably wasn’t the case. I think people managing tremendous amounts of responsibility and also dealing with depression have a propensity to think we have to be okay for the sake of those who are depending on us. We don’t believe anyone will understand; we don’t want to disappoint; we don’t want to be a burden.
Sometimes we pretend to be okay by masking. You know we put on our happy faces and use our smile as a barrier to keep people out. Then there are times we pretend to be okay by hiding. We withdraw and disconnect, forgetting or not caring or perhaps not fully understanding that isolation worsens depression. Masking and hiding are two of the many tricks of depression. I see them as types of quiet that represent a loss of hope. Hopelessness leads to despair, and despair is toxic. So even though I think quiet is beautiful and even though I need quiet, being quiet for too long about depression is dangerous. In this quiet, irrationality begins to drown out the voice of reason and eventually, the quiet things get lost.
As a man, I want to take a moment to speak to other men. Talking about depression and certain feelings continues to be difficult for me. In part , it is because the cultural expectations of men have not allowed us to talk freely about our deepest emotions without being mislabeled as weak. As a result, we find it necessary to hide and mask our feelings behind the acceptable “tough guy” facade, which I believe, contributes to the fact that we are four times more likely than women to commit suicide (Depression in Men). Quiet things get lost.
I’ve learned that I don’t always have to be okay. That’s not what the people who truly care for us need. They need us be honest because they may not always see our struggle, and they need us to trust and lean on them in our times of need; that’s family–that’s friendship–that’s love. Wouldn’t you want to know if someone you cared for was struggling with depression? You see at times, we will disappoint each other. At times, we are burdens to each other. At times, we don’t understand each other. That’s the truth of how it really is, but love bears all, believes all, hopes all and endures all.
No matter male or female, talk about your depression even if it means finding a therapist and beginning the process in secret. Please don’t stay quiet. Please don’t get lost.