Depressed While Black: an Exerpt

by Imade Nibokun

An excerpt of Depressed While Black originally appeared on The Conversation, an Al-Jazeera+series.

In 2012, I received a wake-up call as I sped on a Los Angeles highway wanting to die. A few days later, I walked into USC’s Student Counseling building, the same service I thought I didn’t need a few months before.

I was such an emotional wreck that I had not one, but two school counselors staring at me as if I was minutes from my demise. The room was eerily quiet with only the sound of my belabored breaths and murmured phrases revealing my fizzling will to live. I looked down into the wilting Kleenex in my hands, making my locs dangle in front of my face like broken curtains. My crumpled posture was my feeble attempt to escape from the world. But I couldn’t hide from myself, let alone my counselors.

I faced two USC counselors who told me I should have a police escort to the hospital.

“Do the police have to take me? Can I just go by myself?” I had no desire to be stuffed in the back of a cop car for feeling sad. NWA’s “F*** The Police” floated in the back of my mind like elevator music. I already hated the LAPD for making my South Central neighborhood feel more like a military zone than a community. On a monthly basis, the whirring noise of police helicopters shook the house like violent earthquake tremors. Powerful helicopter lights beamed through my bedroom window looking for crime suspects. I learned from a young age that the police protect whites and terrorize blacks. My family still talked about a neighbor who was killed over two decades ago by the police in his backyard and left outside for hours. Depression made me weak and vulnerable, and these are the people I was supposed to entrust myself to?

My counselors didn’t know two things: that I was afraid of the police, and that I couldn’t afford the $2,000 dollar hospital stay. They saw that I was depressed, but they didn’t see that I was black. At the lowest point of my life, I felt the most alone.

This is why I wrote my work-in-progress memoir, Depressed While Black. Mental wholeness requires community. Writing my story allowed many people to see their story reflected within my own.

When I first started writing, I didn’t realize Depressed While Black is more than just a story. I’ve been invited to speak at conferences and appear in videos, including one for Project UROK.

I’m learning that being okay is a journey. Being okay doesn’t mean announcing your depression is over and acting like your past never happened. And I know because I’ve done this many, many times. Even after becoming an outspoken mental health activist, I attempted suicide. My mental health needs didn’t go away with the entrance of public successes. Just as I embrace opportunities, I have to embrace my humanity. Being okay is about acceptance, that you are enough wherever you are in your mental health journey. And that means that even when you don’t feel okay, you are okay.