The second time I contemplated suicide, I thought of Minnie Riperton’s words: “I don’t want to leave my babies.” She was diagnosed with breast cancer and didn’t have much choice of whether she would live or die; her fate was sealed. And here I was choosing to leave my baby behind.
I packed her bag so she could spend the weekend with her dad. As she hugged me goodbye, she looked me right in the eye and said, “I miss you, already.” She had no idea I was drowning in depression and wanted to take my life. She only believed it would be two days before she saw me again.
The first time I thought of suicide, I was twenty-two. I sat in my bedroom alone one Sunday afternoon going over the reasons I should end my life. I had never used a gun before, but I grabbed my boyfriend's silver revolver and sat it in front of me. I felt terribly disgusted with myself for not having the courage to just pull the trigger.
I had a full-time job, I was on the brink of receiving my first degree, and I was in a relationship with a man I loved. By all accounts, I was living my life on the right path. But underneath all that rightness, there were tears. My mother, who had raised me to be an independent woman, recoiled at my wanting to live on my own. She didn’t believe I was ready. The day before I moved out, I told her I had already signed the lease and that I was packing to leave. She slammed her bedroom door in my face and it would be nearly a week before she spoke to me again.
The night I moved into my new apartment, it was cold and the streets were strewn with patches of black ice. My boyfriend and I piled our few belongings into a small U-Haul truck and slid through the streets avoiding accidents and near spinouts. When we were through unloading, he one-arm hugged me and told me it was going to be all right. But it wasn’t and I knew it.
My father died when I was fifteen, so the years after his death left me leaning on my mother for support. I leaned so hard on her at times it was almost suffocating. I bypassed having a social life so that I could always be near her. I would wake up in the middle of the night and go to her room so that I could make sure she was there. I would lie at the foot of her bed until she woke up, or if she was awake, I would tell her about a dream I had; most of the dreams involved my father being alive again. When she slammed her door on me, something within me went cold.
That coldness remained for several years.
I didn’t have the emotional support of my mother any more, so I began looking for it in my boyfriend whose capacity for dealing with emotions was low in comparison to anyone I’d ever met. The close proximity of our lives began to reveal the nuances that had not been present before. He would often say, “Just let it go,” without first trying to understand what it was. I felt like I was drowning in the misunderstanding of others towards my feelings and what I needed.
When news came to me of a friend who had committed suicide, I felt anger and jealousy at his courage to follow through. I also felt sadness. I knew he was dealing with struggles, but I had no idea it would amount to him taking his life. I had convinced myself that I could reconcile the relationship with my mother and that would help me up from my daily depressive thoughts, but it didn’t.
When I found out I was pregnant, I felt it was a clear sign that I was entering a new phase in my life that would garner more joy, and again I convinced myself that it would alleviate my depressive state.
I was delirious with joy when my daughter was born. My relationship with my mother grew stronger at that point. She showed me how to breastfeed and made herbal remedies to help heal my cesarean scar. Still, I felt the tears beneath the surface growing. There were times when I was alone with my daughter and I felt like a fraud. I didn’t feel like she deserved a mother who didn’t have the propensity to deal with her own emotional wounds. I felt she would one day know the real me and may also slam a door in my face when the truth was revealed.
I was scared and in a sense my fear isolated me from other people. By this time, I had hid my depression for years and no one was able to help me out of it. There was one time I sought the help of a therapist. It worked for a while, but even with her I felt a distance because she could never remember my name.
In the black community, we are taught to pray away the evils around us; mental illness is one of those evils. When someone is depressed or mentally distant they are deemed as someone who “can’t get right.” I never wanted to believe that about myself, but it was true: I was at a point where I couldn’t get right.
During my second episode, I called my baby sister and said, “I want to kill myself.”
“Where is the baby?” she asked. “She’s gone. I’m alone,” I managed to say through deep sobs. She was at my door in less than 20 minutes. That night I unloaded everything. I was sad. I hadn’t felt good in a long time. I didn’t feel I was worthy of motherhood. I don’t know how to come out of this.
As I purged my feelings, I felt lighter. I felt like a pipe that had finally been able to release build up pressures. My depression was no longer a secret. My sister had few words to help, but her presence spoke volumes.
It has been nearly a month since that last episode. I can’t proclaim to feel better, but previously where those tears were, is now a small growing lightness that I haven’t experienced before.
My relationship with my mother is still in need of much work, but I take from it the knowing that shutting my own daughter out isn’t the way. Mothers are supposed to be strong, but our strength can’t come from hiding the parts of us that need attention.