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This Black Girl’s Recovery Guide to Mental Illness

Writing and photographs by Dejah Greene

Writing and photographs by Dejah Greene

Some of us utilize different vices to overcome the feelings of loneliness and hopelessness that comes from depression. I’d like to share a few of mine and how some of them helped me and how some of them did not. I wanted to share this small project to show that recovery comes in many different forms and that you are not alone in your journey to recovery.

I am a black woman and I have Bipolar II disorder. Over the last several years I have experimented with different ways to relieve the hopelessness and loneliness I feel most of the time. For the longest time I did not understand why I would feel so sad and anxious for a period of days and on top of the world the next. It can be exhausting to deal with mood swings all the time and I am still learning to deal with it in a healthier way. I decided to create a small photo project that depicts some of the things that I have utilized over the years to help relieve the emotional pain. Some of the things I used gave me lasting positive results that I would recommend to others. And some of the things I used gave me positive results that I would not recommend to others because it can lead to unhealthy habits. I also chose to create this project because there is a huge stigma in the black community surrounding mental illness and a lot of times those who are suffering from depression are told to suck it up, man up, or pray about it. Stereotypes tell us that Black women aren’t allowed to feel depressed, and that it’s a sign of weakness. Stereotypes tell us that we are supposed to always be strong and hold everything down. Having this mindset can really stress black women out and can do a lot of harm on their mental health. There are many black women who suffer from depression and anxiety but are discouraged from seeking help. I’m big on awareness and I just want those suffering out there to know that you’re not alone, especially to the black girls out there. This project is for myself because I want to see how far I have come from when I first realized I was depressed in tenth grade. Now that I have a diagnosis for how I’ve been feeling I want to continue to use healthier ways to feel better. I also want to try and help any other souls out there who has been hurting. I know the phrase “You are not alone” may seem cliche and redundant but it is the absolute truth. You may feel alone but you are not, there is someone out there worried about you and willing to listen.

Diaries. Writing has always been one of my favorite things to pass the time. I have kept diaries since I was in the second grade. Writing has helped me to relieve some of the dark thoughts that swirl around in my head all day. Sometimes when I feel like I can’t tell anyone what I’m going through, I turn to the pages in my diary. I also enjoy writing poems and short stories about musings in my life. I think writing in a diary can definitely help those who suffer from depression because the diary becomes a non-judgemental entity you can be completely candid with. There is no one to invalidate your feelings or try to fix your problems for you.

Books. One of my all-time favorite books was Harry Potter and the Prisoners of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling. The entire Harry Potter series was a wonderful universe I could escape to and live through if I was feeling sad. I remember as a little girl I would spend hours creating my own personal Hogwarts universe and pretending I was as smart a witch as Hermione. Even now as a 22-year-old young woman, Harry Potter still brings me so much joy. When my depressive episodes hit me really hard I always knew I could count on the Harry Potter series to bring me a little light. I recommend girls to find a book they could lose themselves in. Sometimes it is a wonderful feeling to be so involved in a book you almost feel like one of the characters. Give your mind a break from the negative thoughts and let your imagination have an adventure.

Painting. Painting became a really fun way to express the feelings I did not know how to express verbally. It also became a way to express positive feelings I felt. My grandfather and father both used to paint so I figured maybe there is still some of that skill left for me. My favorite things to paint are flowers because you can make them look any shape you want them to. Painting allows me to have a chance at nonconformity expression.

Marijuana. I started experimenting with marijuana when I was 18 years old. For the longest time I thought marijuana was as bad a substance as heroin or cocaine. In my own personal experiences, it is not and it actually relieves some of the anxiety I feel almost all the time. For me, marijuana slows down my compulsive thoughts and allows me to take things one at a time. It actually allows me to give my mind a break. I enjoy the light and easy feeling I get after I smoke. However, I realize marijuana isn’t for everyone. I actually wouldn’t recommend it for people with anxiety because it could potentially make it worse. There are alternative ways to feel a natural high such as exercising which releases endorphins.

Cutting. Using sharp objects to harm myself has become a very bad habit. The urge to cut comes from my depressive and impulsive feelings to punish myself for feeling so hopeless and alone. Sometimes it can be a surreal experience because the second a blade slices your skin you can actually feel a tinge of relief. But once the blood starts to trickle down my arm, the disappointment sets in. The reality of me not being okay sets in. The scars that I’ve created have become silent reminders of some of my darkest moments. However, I have created a new system of relieving this kind of pain. When I feel my hands reaching for my knife, I start counting to ten. As I’m counting to ten, I begin to think of which one of my family or friends I can call or send a text to because I know they are willing to help me through a bad episode. This allows me to divert my attention from anything sharp and minimize my impulsiveness. I would never recommend self-harming to anyone who is suffering from mental illness. Cutting leaves wounds that could potentially need to be treated with stitches. Cutting could also potentially lead to extreme blood loss. I’m still learning to be kinder to my body and myself and you should always be kind to your body as it is your only one. If you are self-harming or thinking about it, please seek help immediately.

Pets. My parents allowed my sister and I to finally have a dog three years ago. My dog Zulu has taught me a lot about unconditional love as well as responsibility. I can always count on Zulu to listen to me when I rant or lay with me when I’m crying. It feels good to know that dogs are always happy to see you. It makes me feel loved even at my darkest moments.

Plants. I realized caring for plants gives me a sense of joy when I bought this snake plant. It is a lot less maintenance to care for plants than my dog Zulu, even though I enjoy caring for them both. I used to think talking to plants was silly but I now find myself talking to my snake plant and succulents when I have something bothering me. I think caring for my plants and dog helps me get up and out of my dark thoughts because I’m responsible for them. When I’m fatigued, mentally exhausted and stuck in bed, my plants and dog gives me a reason to get up. I also enjoy caring for plants because as they grow, I want it to symbolize my own growth.

Alcohol. I’m actually not a big fan of drinking alcohol but a few years ago, I used alcohol to mask the bad feelings that would build up inside of me. I thought altering my state of mind would make my depressive episodes a little less intense to deal with. And they did, for a very brief moment. After the alcohol set in I realized my compulsive thoughts got worse and so did my decision making. Some of the things I did under the influence of alcohol were things I was not proud of but I do not regret. I don’t regret them because it became a reality check for me to go get proper help. I personally would not recommend anyone drinking alcohol as a way to escape their depressive episodes because it could lead to an addiction.

Even though I still have very bad days, I can honestly say I have felt better than I have in a long time. I have learned better ways to release the feelings of hopelessness and loneliness from my doctors, family and friends. We all go through trying times but we do not have to let those bad times control us. We do not have to give in to the bad thoughts. We are more than our bad thoughts and bad habits.

If you or someone you know needs to speak to someone about your mental illness, please check out this guide of international hotlines.

Dejah Greene

Dejah Greene is a 22-year-old semi-self taught photographer from Maryland. Dejah has been shooting photographs for about seven years and focuses on appreciating the beauty in simplicity. Along with shooting portraiture, Dejah also enjoys documenting life through photographs. Follow Dejah on Instagram @greeneuphorias, Tumblr, Facebook, and her website.

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