The Valley of the Shadow of Death

This post was originally written by me and posted on Band Back Together, an amazing blog with resources for those dealing with mental disorders.

Depression is a bitch of a disease.

I’m sure this could be said about any number of illnesses, but depression has proven to be the thorn in my side. I fully embrace that I suffer from depression and anxiety.

This wasn’t always the case.

I always knew that something was… off… not quite right… hovering just beneath the surface. My anxiety showed itself at a very early age, through my need to be perfect, organized, neat, clean and…you name it. I was obsessed with anything outside of myself.

I’m sure this had some root in my biological parents separation, my mother and step-father’s divorce. It probably had something to do with the incest and other taboo behavior that occurred within my family. All of these traumas, coupled with genetic leanings I’m sure, led to anxiety and depression.

My depression revealed itself in other ways.

The mind is a powerful thing. I never felt like I was good enough. In fact, I knew that I was inherently bad, which I know is simply ridiculous. I never felt like I fit in or belonged – I looked for meaning in other ways. I felt like an outsider.

There were times I can vividly recall being so sad for no tangible reason. The sadness overwhelmed me. In middle school, I fantasized about killing myself. I considered slitting my wrist, but the anxiety wouldn’t let me do it:

Think of the mess it would make! Would I really be missed? Who would care? The men in my life didn’t seem to value me and life would go on.

So why not end my life?

I’m not sure why I never attempted suicide. I like to think that fear and anxiety got the best of me. Maybe it was God. That explanation brings up all sorts of other questions: why would God save me but not others who have committed suicide?

Looking back, I see that I’ve cycled; times when my depression took over. The first time I was seriously depressed was when I realized that the sexual child play and molestation was a reality; that I perpetuated this cycle within my family. I came to the realization that this was wrong during 4th or 5th grade. Then guilt took over and I lived with self-loathing, shame and anger at myself until the summer of 2010.

The next major depressive episode came about during my junior year of college. My plans and college career hadn’t gone as planned. I attended school I hated and living with a friend. This arrangement eventually led to the demise of our relationship and I couldn’t seem to get myself to go to class.

My life was falling apart.

This was the year of 2001, and September 11 hit hard. A younger cousin, who happened to be the same age as my younger brother, committed suicide.

My grandmother was sick again. Alcohol, sex and marijuana became my refuge. I flunked out of school and began a journey of wandering through the wilderness.

I moved home, unsure of what I was going to do with my life. I should’ve sought professional help as I’m sure that my mental illnesses would have been formally diagnosed. I could’ve begun the process of learning, healing, while learning to live with my mental illness.

I didn’t do that.

It took me two years to get back to feeling like myself.

In 2007-2008, I think that I had a mini depressive episode. I moved to Philadelphia for grad school and be with the man I would eventually marry and divorce.

Life was extremely difficult. I loved school and my community of friends but I hated being so far from my family. I hated the city. I hated certain aspects of my relationship and I grew resentful.

Once again, the dark cloud began to overwhelm me. But I sucked it up. I threw myself into activities, into my marriage, into school and refused to give in.

My health paid the price.

I gained 30 pounds. My blood pressure shot up. Things weren’t going well even though I’d convinced myself that I was handling it so well. The one bright spot was that I did enter counseling. Initially, it was for my marriage but it became very apparent that there were some things I needed to confront that were literally killing me.

In the summer of 2010, I moved from Philadelphia to Atlanta, having decided to separate from my husband. In August of 2011, I moved out of our apartment. In October, my grandmother died. In November, I found out my father was sick, going on disability and in need of a lung transplant that, at the time, he refused to get. My work situation was becoming untenable.

I was crushed by the weight of it all. I couldn’t get out of bed. I began to isolate myself. I slept all the time, telling people I was working from home. I didn’t clean, eat or bathe. I hit the bottom below the bottom.

That’s when it all began…

My friends recognized that something wasn’t right with me.

I was called out and surrounded by a loving community that wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. My boss gave me time off to get better. My colleagues helped develop a plan of care that included finding a therapist that specialized in depression in women and helping me pay for her services. My physician, working with my therapist, put me on course of closely monitored medications.

I came clean with my family, letting them know how I’d struggled and what was going on with my mental health. My friend, who I lovingly refer to as my “sponsor” made me a part of her family, even relinquishing her guest bedroom so that I didn’t have to be alone. She made it possible for me to put one foot in front of the other. I had a virtual community of friends that intentionally checked in on me and allowed me to share my thoughts in ways that I didn’t realize were possible. I began to take care of myself physically.

Things slowly progressed.

I embraced my reality of being a young, single black woman who struggles with depression and anxiety. Instead of hiding it or running from it or ignoring it, I embraced it. It’s a part of me. I won’t lie and say that things are all better now, but I am probably the healthiest I’ve been in a long time. I know that mental illness will be a part of my life. But it’s not all of my life.

The best thing I can do for myself is to be honest about my struggles and share my life with those who have committed to love and care for me. They’ve been with me in the valley and have showed me what it means to go from death to life.

For me, prayer, meditation, therapy, medication and other forms of self-care have created my healing. It’s my hope that others like me will know that they are not alone and though all seems hopeless to remember that someone made it.

And that means? So can you.


17 thoughts on “The Valley of the Shadow of Death

  1. Kris Franke Hill says:

    Rozella, thanks for sharing your story so candidly. My husband and I both struggle with depression. Years of therapy, and proper medication, have helped immensely. Now I struggle with how to approach youth in the congregation who I suspect also suffer from depression. I’m not sure what to say that will get past the barriers, the “I’ve got it together and I’m fine” facade. God bless you and be near you in your walk.

  2. holyroze says:

    Hey Kris! Thanks so much for the comment. I find that the more I share my story the more that young people and adults in general share with me. I have a few young people in my former youth group that I am still in touch with, some of whom suffer with a variety of disorders. I’m realizing it’s part of my call to care for God’s people to help bust the stigmas and help them see that they are not alone. People in general put up the facade but I find when we keep talking about it, much like anything else, people begin to think about it differently.

  3. andrena says:

    Indeed! Thank you for “embracing the totality of the whole!” And thank you for sharing! I suffer with depression and anxiety as well. Is it no wonder, after listening to my story? In my own path of healing I find that ’embracing’ all that life presents to me, makes the ‘struggle’ less painful…and if I can just “sit” with it for awhile, and process it (with the special people in my life), I can make it through. I’ve been depressed as long as I can remember, but the anxiety attacks didn’t present themselves until about two years ago. Medication, therapy, being still, and not being an active participant in other people’s agendas on my life, has paved the way for on-going healing, peace and learning to accept God’s grace, and being comfortable in my “strangeness”. No…you are not alone…we are not alone…and yes…it is part of our call to care and bust the stigmas…with whatever ‘gift’ God has bestowed upon us. God bless our journey. God bless you. You are my sister ❤

    • holyroze says:

      Thank you so much Andrena! I need to learn from you, particularly the “not being an active participant in other people’s agendas on my life…” Peace and blessings to you…

      • andrena says:

        Peace to you as well! I have had to learn to say ‘no’ and not feel guilty about it. It was a process and it’s a discipline: No. No. and No! lol (pick up knitting…that way you can literally do as my mentor tells me “tend to your own knitting” – and take your knitting wherever you go! :-)… love you!

  4. Kaycee says:

    This entry especially just spoke to my soul. May you forever be blessed.

  5. Hey Rozella, I’m glad you are telling your story. Your entries are powerful. Thanks for sharing this part of you with me, with all of us.

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