By: Nidja Muldrow, a SHE Team ExKlusive
As I was taking my first celebratory walk across the auditorium stage as a newly crowned queen of one of the most prestigious Greek Lettered Fraternities at my university, I was confident in my future. Ironically enough, my platform was entitled “Getcha Mind Right” and was focused on spreading awareness on mental health in the millennial African-American. Little did I know, I would soon be a walking example for why spreading awareness and developing resources that promote mental wellness was so necessary.
Since I entered college, I was alone. Yes, I had friends and was fairly well-known and liked on campus. I even embarked on what would become a long-term relationship. I was almost over-involved on my campus and often found myself mentoring other students. Even though, I was shy, I purposely put myself in the spotlight on to push myself out of my comfort zone, and I soon became known for participating in pageants and performing spoken word. I even joined a sorority. From the outside looking in, I was thriving. Still, I was alone.
Though the fruit which would eventually rot into my depression took a long while to appear, the seeds were being planted and taking root even before I was preparing for my pageant, so diligently planning out exactly how I would bring attention to my chosen cause. I didn’t have my mom a step away anymore to talk about my fears and pains or to calm me when my hypersensitivity reared her head, and I felt weak being vulnerable with my friends. So I wasn’t. I took it all alone; every bad grade, harsh word from a teacher, challenge with a mentee, issue in my relationship, problem with friends. All normal things every student goes through, right? Except I wasn’t dealing with any of it. I simply added another activity; busied myself with something “more important”. I didn’t have time to take care of MYSELF! I could wait, I thought.
I never did fulfill my queenly duties. I had to ask my fellow queen to step up and attend a follow-up pageant in my place. I missed events first. Soon, I was missing class, missing assignments. I was fired from my job after continuously showing up late. Everything was catching up to me, but I still “didn’t have time” because now I was focused on proving that I was okay; on getting back to the “old Nidja”. “As soon as I fix this problem, I will be okay,” I thought. I wasn’t okay though. On the first night of my university’s homecoming, I got all dolled up for the concert being held. I rode to the gym with my friends seemingly happy, until we got there. I was putting on my shoes while my friends, excited to see the rapper performing, went ahead leaving me alone. In that moment, right then, I broke. I stayed in the car all night wallowing. Listening to my own mind telling me that I didn’t matter, that no one cared. I never went inside. When the concert had ended and my friends came back, I told them that I had fallen asleep and was ready to go home. That night, alone in my bathroom, I suffered my first of what would be many panic attacks and cut myself for the first time. This routine continued and worsened for a full year as everything around me suffered.
The light that FINALLY woke me up was a conversation. After an especially destructive episode, I found myself speaking to my friend’s mother. I expressed myself to her. I told how I wanted to die but that I was terrified of dying. I told her of my pains and fears and she asked simply “What are you doing to feed your soul? What are you doing to take care of you?” I had no answer. I realized that my fearful obsession with death came because I wasn’t living. I wasn’t feeding the parts of me that will never die. I was making earthly duties more important than my soul/spirit duties. I was making time for everything temporary and no time for me! From then on, I resolved to try. To try to do something to care for myself and feed the parts of me that were most necessary. Though it’s been a very slow process with many black slides, I’m proud to say that every day is more fulfilling and joyful than the last.
A few months before my pageant, I was shocked with the knowledge that a close friend had been secretly battling Bipolar Depression. Selfishly, the first thing I thought to do was instigate an argument about why they hadn’t told me sooner; first, even. After them educating me, and encouraging me to do independent research into their condition, I wondered why on my college campus this knowledge wasn’t made readily available. I wondered how many like my friend had suffered silently before getting help or worse, never got the chance to. Thinking of that now leaves me both relieved that I wasn’t a part of the “never got a chance to”, yet terrified that I almost was.
While I am not still in the thick of my battle with Depression, I sometimes still feel shame about it. It hurts to know that this thing almost ruined my life; that it almost ended my life. It hurts me to tell my story (especially when I talk about self-harm) and see my family and friends’ hearts break as they blame and question themselves. Even still, with all the pain that my story may bring, I know that it also brings freedom and displays triumph. My most painful scar, the deepest cuts I ever inflicted on myself, serve as a stinging reminder to take care of the best parts of me first before trying to save the world. (Sorry in advance to everyone who reads this who I told that the scars on my thigh was the result of a burn.) I just hope that my story encourages everyone ,especially the person who feels constant pressure to be “happy” and “good”, to take care of themselves.