Diaspora Diaries, Chapter 9: Check On Your Strong Friend

“We have the same shrink” I remember her say casually, when she introduced me to her cousin. She was one of the most neurotic, anal retentive, tightly wound women I had ever met. Her apartment was immaculate, with only white surfaces and gold accents. It was beautiful, in a clinical way; a clear indication that my living there was not going to be for long.

My former roommate is just one of the many New York residents I’ve met who recognised that their mental health was a dire priority. They don’t treat their treatment with secrecy. Even those who have not been here their whole lives, seem shaken by the wavering energy of the city. Is it the inconsistency of the weather? The seemingly eternal hustle? Drugs? There is something about this place that drives people mad. And by “Mad”, I’m referring to a host of mental issues including depression, OCD, anxiety and suicide. It is not uncommon to see people on the train sans marbles. Walking through Harlem, I was told to keep my eyes to myself and not to make eye contact with “them”.

I watched a close friend of mine crumble and cry in front of me, angry at herself, crippled with nausea and anxiety. I saw another hold back tears while she told me she was tired of bearing the strain of other people’s problems. She needed a break from even my company. Days apart, we learned about the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, and it was a bold reminder to check on your strong friends, as the popular social media share instructs.

You see, I’m that strong friend. And while I am normally not scared of showing emotion, New York has hardened a facade around me. I’m often a voice of reason and empowerment to many women. I am rational and empathetic; a good listener and a cheer leader. But inside, I am battling my own madness.

Someone told me my life looked perfect. I keep thinking about it, and writing about it. Social Media is such rose coloured glasses. I know so many people whose images reflect the versions of themselves they cling to, because their reality is a lot dimmer. Depression does not look like what you think it looks like. Suicide does not come to mind only when you’re drugged up and panicked. These stigmas and stereotypes make it difficult for us to identify when someone needs help, because we don’t recognise what true symptoms are. Suicidal thoughts can seem like a very rational solution to someone looking for answers. .

In Trinidad and Tobago, mental health is not openly discussed. It worries me.

Back home, I had  seen three different therapists at different stages in my life. I also used to speak with an empowerment coach, to help with my self esteem. Until now, I struggle with the concept of my self worth. Me! Yes. A woman who daily gets messages from strangers about how much she inspires them to be authentic, and to believe in themselves. I pour myself into meditation to stay afloat, because I tend to sink when I don’t.

I wish we were more open about Postpartum depression. I wish we didn’t joke so much about St. Ann’s. I know people with Bi-polar disorder, and I see how it affects their families. I’ve witnessed the abuse of self-medication. Someone I considered very special to me aggressively pushed me away then came back weeks later, acting like everything was normal. This toxic cycle was perpetuated for months until I recognised it was rooted in psychological issues beyond my control. Issues we each had.

There are so many people I know who are struggling quietly because they are ashamed. Others who are hurting because they simply don’t understand what is wrong with them.

I’m writing this because my friend is mad at her body for shutting down and having anxiety attacks. She is furious with herself, as though she is the one to blame; as though she is doing this to herself intentionally. The only narrative she has ever heard when it comes to depression, is one of failure and weakness, things with which she has never identified. I watched this beautiful, strong, hard working woman cry like a baby because she was scared of her own body and mind. She is trying to convince herself this is not real. It is too common, and we only ever look for signs after it is too late. Check on your strong friend.

Stephanie Ramlogan is a NYC based Trinidadian Fashion Stylist and Writer, mostly known for her wildly popular blog NoMoreFashionVictims.com. You can reach her at writeme@stephanieramlogan.com or check her out at StephanieRamlogan.com

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