Myra

Age at interview: 28
Age at diagnosis: 27
Gender: Female
Outline:

Myra (age 27), as a child was abused and bullied by peers, but her parents did not believe her. By age 14 she was seriously depressed. African American stigma about depression was a barrier to treatment. Medication and therapy since age 23, music, and her fiancé help.

Background:

Myra is a musician works as an aide to older adults. She lives with her fiancé. She is African American.

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As long as she can remember, Myra was anxious. She had separation anxiety and would burst into tears when she was dropped off at daycare. She was depressed, abused and bullied throughout her elementary and middle school years—being called out for acting White because she liked to learn. Her parents dismissed her complaints early on and so she stopped asking them for help. “Unfortunately”, says Myra, “in the black community there is this stigma that there is no such thing as depression. If you are depressed then you just need to turn to God and pray”. Myra’s depression and anxiety persisted through middle school despite her constant prayers. Her parents finally sought counseling for Myra when they found out that “I was dabbling in cutting myself”.

But the counselor “planted the idea in my parents’ head that I was a Satanist”. The next psychologist seemed to help. About that time Myra transferred to an arts high school, which was a somewhat “more understanding environment”, compared to the school where she had been bullied. But she soon found that people “didn’t focus so much on the art”, and thought that “science and math and just knowing how to take standardized tests was the most important thing”. Myra was again socially excluded; feelings of depression persisted. She notes, “Once again, I was silenced by my parents and by the stigma” Much of her high school years were spent alone making music and writing a “lot of sad poetry”.

Therapy combined with her introspective and inquiring nature have given Myra a keen insight into herself, the nature of her depression, and how to work with it. From therapy Myra learned that her tendency to ask questions is normal. “Part of the point of life is to question things and to forge your own way.” In that vein she has developed a sense of purpose. “If you’re just floating through life then there’s not really a point in living. …I feel like everyone…can do something that betters the world”. For Myra this translates break the stigma of depression in her community. She wants people to know, “Depression is not a white people thing. Depression is not necessarily something you can pray yourself out of. Depression is not something that you can think yourself. It’s not something that you can necessarily cure with diet and exercise and all these other strange theories”. I’m one of the people who’s tried them and they didn’t work. I needed something classic and solid to get to this point. And for Myra medications are part of the mix. “Zoloft helped me actually finish things and finish sentences”.

Depression, Myra says, is like laundry in the dryer, just tumbling and just tumbling and just tumbling …and it never finishes a cycle” But she finds it’s easier to “get out of a funk nowadays” Maturity plays a role in in this. “Now that I’m pushing 30 it’s easier to see that these problems are temporary. You know, this won’t last no matter how long it seems to be going on”. Myra “promotes music as therapy. It’s really helpful to pound on a tambourine or a drum or to just sing or scream if you need to. So um, yeah, I would ultimately turn to music a lot if you feel like no one is there for you or you feel like you can’t talk with anyone”. She has learned the hard way that “being prideful can really hurt you. …I suffered for so many years, partially because of pride and partially because of me thinking that I could handle it on my own. So if I had known that, that pride can kill you, then I would have kept speaking out. I would have been like, I need something”.

 

Only when her father was on his deathbed did Myra find out that there was depression on her father's side of the family, and that her father had his own struggles with depression.

Only when her father was on his deathbed did Myra find out that there was depression on her father's side of the family, and that her father had his own struggles with depression.

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We didn’t know, we didn’t know that he was, that his side of the family was prone to cancer and depression until he was on his deathbed, so.

Oh, so there was depression in his family then?

Yeah, we, we just had no idea.

But not him?

Yeah.

He wasn’t depressed, or was he?

He was, yeah. Mmm-hmm. After the back surgery, I noticed he — it was kind of just even less going out. It, even less just, you know, doing things that made him happy. It was more so just taking care of the family and just pushing forward and always, you know, always greeting us with a smile and always saying, well, why, why is it the people are giving in to, to, to what they, you know, what they feeling on the inside? Why, why can’t you just smile and be happy, you know?

Well, like I said, he was, he was really good at just, just putting on a happy face and as I got older, I noticed it was even less, you know, even less going out than he already was. It was just, it turned more so to just taking care of the family and, you know, hiding whatever, whatever pain he was going through, physical, emotional, things like that. So I mean, like I said earlier, we had no idea that cancer and depression ran on his side of the family until he was on his deathbed. So, yeah, it’s just sad and a shock to find out all around.

 

Only when her father was on his deathbed did Myra find out that there was depression on her father's side of the family, and that her father had his own struggles with depression.

Only when her father was on his deathbed did Myra find out that there was depression on her father's side of the family, and that her father had his own struggles with depression.

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We didn’t know, we didn’t know that he was, that his side of the family was prone to cancer and depression until he was on his deathbed, so.

Oh, so there was depression in his family then?

Yeah, we, we just had no idea.

But not him?

Yeah.

He wasn’t depressed, or was he?

He was, yeah. Mmm-hmm. After the back surgery, I noticed he — it was kind of just even less going out. It, even less just, you know, doing things that made him happy. It was more so just taking care of the family and just pushing forward and always, you know, always greeting us with a smile and always saying, well, why, why is it the people are giving in to, to, to what they, you know, what they feeling on the inside? Why, why can’t you just smile and be happy, you know?

Well, like I said, he was, he was really good at just, just putting on a happy face and as I got older, I noticed it was even less, you know, even less going out than he already was. It was just, it turned more so to just taking care of the family and, you know, hiding whatever, whatever pain he was going through, physical, emotional, things like that. So I mean, like I said earlier, we had no idea that cancer and depression ran on his side of the family until he was on his deathbed. So, yeah, it’s just sad and a shock to find out all around.

 

Only when her father was on his deathbed did Myra find out that there was depression on her father's side of the family, and that her father had his own struggles with depression.

Only when her father was on his deathbed did Myra find out that there was depression on her father's side of the family, and that her father had his own struggles with depression.

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We didn’t know, we didn’t know that he was, that his side of the family was prone to cancer and depression until he was on his deathbed, so.

Oh, so there was depression in his family then?

Yeah, we, we just had no idea.

But not him?

Yeah.

He wasn’t depressed, or was he?

He was, yeah. Mmm-hmm. After the back surgery, I noticed he — it was kind of just even less going out. It, even less just, you know, doing things that made him happy. It was more so just taking care of the family and just pushing forward and always, you know, always greeting us with a smile and always saying, well, why, why is it the people are giving in to, to, to what they, you know, what they feeling on the inside? Why, why can’t you just smile and be happy, you know?

Well, like I said, he was, he was really good at just, just putting on a happy face and as I got older, I noticed it was even less, you know, even less going out than he already was. It was just, it turned more so to just taking care of the family and, you know, hiding whatever, whatever pain he was going through, physical, emotional, things like that. So I mean, like I said earlier, we had no idea that cancer and depression ran on his side of the family until he was on his deathbed. So, yeah, it’s just sad and a shock to find out all around.

 

Myra imagines other possibilities to the situation that she's facing and is able to cope with her feelings of nervousness.

Myra imagines other possibilities to the situation that she's facing and is able to cope with her feelings of nervousness.

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Sometimes it, it, it is really helpful. Like I’ll picture that or sometimes if I’ve, my thoughts are racing, I’ll just picture a big, fat stop sign. That’s been really helpful to me as well. And from there, I can say, wait a minute, you’re at the stop sign, there are these other possibilities with this situation. Or it can work out this way, you know?

Not a lot of people, not a lot of people tend to do that. Not — and I actually had to train myself to do that. Like I think I just read about just how to stop an anxiety attack and that I think that was one of the, one of the coping mechanisms to picture a big stop sign and consider other options. So that, that’s a big one for me.

Now, was that something you, you invented yourself? Did you, where did you learn about that, the stop sign?

I don’t remember what article it was in.

Yeah, uh-huh.

I think it was in a magazine or something.

Uh-huh.

But, but and I tried it a few times and now it just comes like second nature. Yeah, if, if I’m, if I’m just feeling kind of down or my thoughts are racing, then I’ll try picturing the big fat stop sign and that helps a lot.

 

Myra was relieved when she observed her church begin to acknowledge depression and regard it as an issue that required medical treatment.

Myra was relieved when she observed her church begin to acknowledge depression and regard it as an issue that required medical treatment.

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Well I notice that, that people didn’t really start acknowledging depression until I was maybe 18. That, that was the same time that I found the whole [inaudible] and everything. And I kind of think the two are related because that’s when I noticed a general acceptance of depression rather than just being like, you ain’t depressed about nothing. All you got to do is pray and find your joy in the Lord and yada, yada, yada. Our church choir had a song about that, let’s see, I don’t remember the name of it, but the lyrics were, “I almost let go. I felt like I just couldn’t take life anymore”. I don’t remember the lyrics after that, but that was like the first acknowledgement of depression in the church that I’d ever heard of. And it’s like whoa, they actually think this is an illness. They actually realize that this probably isn’t something that you can just pray away, you know?

 

Myra notices that there is a little less stigma than before in the African American church and media.

Myra notices that there is a little less stigma than before in the African American church and media.

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Well, I notice that, that, people didn’t really start acknowledging depression until I was maybe 18. That, that was the same time that I found the whole afropunk field and everything, and I kind of think the two are related because that’s when I noticed a general acceptance of depression rather than just being like, “You ain’t depressed about nothing. All you got to do is pray and find your joy in the Lord and yada, yada, yada.” Our church choir had a song about that, let’s see, I don’t remember the name of it, but the lyrics were, “I almost let go. I felt like I just couldn’t take life anymore.” I don’t remember the lyrics after that, but that was like the first acknowledgement of depression in the church that I’d ever heard of. And it’s like “Whoa, they actually think this is an illness. They actually realize that this probably isn’t something that you can just pray away,” you know? But, I, I’ve noticed in the media a lot, a lot more, especially African American oriented publications, there’s more of an acknowledgement of depression and mental illness than as opposed to, like, 10 years ago, honestly, you’d barely see a blip of it. You’d only see it maybe once or twice every, gosh, hundred couple of articles, something like that? So, I am noticing more of an acknowledgement, which is great, I just kind of wish the whole prayer thing would be done away with, [laughs].

 

Myra describes how she was bullied and her parents did not respond to her calls for help. Later she dabbled in cutting and had suicidal thoughts.

Myra describes how she was bullied and her parents did not respond to her calls for help. Later she dabbled in cutting and had suicidal thoughts.

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Then I got to Kindergarten and unfortunately I had a classmate who thought that it would be fun to repeatedly sexually assault me (sigh). Yeah, I had tried telling my parents once and they didn’t believe me. They were like, oh, this person isn’t messing with you, they figured I didn’t know what I was talking about because I was so young, but I was, you, you know, I had, I had that intellect and I was like this isn’t right, I need to tell someone. So I tried telling them and they basically said that I needed to tell the person to leave me alone and I’d been doing that but she, unfortunately, would not stop and that went on for an entire year and, I seemed to adjust to school otherwise pretty well because all of this depression stuff didn’t come up again for about ten years afterwards.

I went through most of middle school being, being picked on for speaking in, you know for speaking with such intellect. Again, the stigma in the black community is you’re supposed to, you’re supposed to use simple words, you’re supposed to just accept where you are, and usually that’s in a bad neighborhood, or a ghetto so to say. I, and I’d been raised to want better for myself. I’d been reading by the time I was 3 and I loved learning and education so I got poked at fun, I got poked fun at a lot for that. It started out as, oh you’re such an oreo, you, you wanna be white girl, don’t you know you’re black, and kids just went on from there and went from that to, oh she must be gay…

Then I got to my sophomore year of high school and out, out of nowhere it was just like you know what, I don’t care anymore, I stopped doing my homework, I started letting things slide, I, I kind of tried to chase after a few boys and it didn’t work out…

Suicide was crossing my mind and I was dabbling with cutting myself so I should have spoken out about that but, once again the stigma, the stigma it just I, the one time that I tried to talk to my parents I remember telling my mom when I was like 12, I was like, you know I’m kinda feeling suicidal, I’m kinda feeling like there’s no point in me being here and I remember she just gave me a big hug and was like, you’re not suicidal, you’re, no, yeah that’s not happening, so, but that’s kind of why I stopped just saying anything.

 

Myra says over time her mother came to accept her depression and offered increased support.

Myra says over time her mother came to accept her depression and offered increased support.

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She accepts that that I have depression now. She accepts that I have it. And she doesn’t tell me what to do about it. She’ll, like she’ll just say, I pray for you on a daily basis. I check up on you whenever I can, like I’ll call or something, you know? And that’s, that’s kind of how she seems to be dealing with it which I appreciate.

 

Myra describes how her commitment to making up for the stress she had put her mother through keeps her away from her old self-destructive behaviors.

Myra describes how her commitment to making up for the stress she had put her mother through keeps her away from her old self-destructive behaviors.

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And another thing that’s helped, for me, is thinking of my mom actually. You know, she’s, she has especially had it hard since my dad passed from cancer 6 years ago. And just, I think of all the drama I put her through when I first moved out and then I really don’t want to put that through her again. Or, or I don’t really want to put her through that again. I mean, she’s already worried enough about me. I mean, she trusts that I’m stable and she trusts that my fiancé takes care of me and vice versa. But I don’t need her stressing like that again.

 

Myra's music gives her strength and makes her depression instantly better.

Myra's music gives her strength and makes her depression instantly better.

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Even if no one’s listening. It, even if it just seems like no one cares, it, it’s just so helpful. I can’t explain the power I feel when I, when I’m singing or if I have a tambourine or something in my hand, you know. It’s just, wow. Like I said, I can’t really explain it. I just love it.

What happens when you’re in a really, really down spot and you, you perform or you jam or you, you get together with your, your group, your band?

I’m just instantly better. And I can come in and I can be upset, I can be crying, you know. And I just throw myself into it and I’m just instantly so much better. It’s just instantly like I have this strength to rely on. The, this is helping me see that there — that tomorrow is another day. And that, you know, I need to stick around to see what’s going to happen, you know?