Weighty Confessions of a Depressed Black Woman
Did you know that 4 out of 5 African-American women are overweight? A little over 7 months ago, I was one of those women. But after two years of trying and failing to lose weight, I became serious about wanting to live a healthy lifestyle. Since last Thanksgiving, I have lost 48 pounds and recently ran two 5ks. Currently, I am training for the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in October.
I’ve been very open about my weight loss journey. In November, I wrote an article vowing to become a “fit mom” and I’ve been successful. I’ve written extensively about my journey on my blog, I tweet and Facebook my workouts and ask readers, “have you exercised today?” I took photos of my progress that are available for the world to see on Flickr and I have numerous YouTube videos about my journey too.
Many people have asked how I’ve done it; how I stay motivated and remain consistent with my healthy diet and exercise and this is where the grey area begins. You see, before I wrote about being a fit mom, I wrote an article about being a “depressed mom.” And although writing for BlogHer is very public, it was easier to reveal my “secret” depression here because few of my friends and family read my posts. As I explained in my article, there is a stigma in the African-American community associated with depression (or any other mental illness, for that matter). And although the precise number of African-American women suffering from depression is difficult to determine, it is believed that we suffer more than any other group as noted by Barbara Warren, R.N., M.S., PHD:
I also have found that African-American women may be reticent to participate in research studies because they are uncertain as to how research data will be disseminated or are afraid that data will be misinterpreted. In addition, there are few available culturally competent researchers who are knowledgeable regarding the phenomenon of depression in African-American women. Subsequently, African-American women may not be available to participate in depression research studies. Available published statistics concur with what I have seen in my practice: that African-American women report more depressive symptoms than African-American men or European-American women or men, and that these women have a depression rate twice that of European-American women (Brown, 1990; Kessler et al., 1994).
Personally, I've made the connection between my weight gain and my mental state. This has been a life-long challenge for me, and if you watch closely, you can tell my mental state by the movement of the scale. Leslie J. Ansley, writer for The Root who has shed 100 of her own pounds, also made the connection and inspired this post. She writes,
As someone always known for her strength, it was excruciatingly difficult for me to subjugate my ego and admit (to an older, white, male doctor) that maybe I needed a little help. Still, I gave him full-frontal attitude: No freakin’ way was I going to try antidepressants. Drugs are for losers. Talk to someone? Not the kid.
What’s funny to me today is how many women I’ve spoken with since starting this blog that have not only lost a great deal of weight, but who are also meeting with therapists, or take antidepressants, or both. Turns out I’m just not as special as I thought I was.
I totally understand Leslie. After writing about my depression and suffering for over 2 years, I finally saw a therapist and was diagnosed with dysthymia - chronic, long-term depression. Although this was the first time I learned the clinical name of my disorder, going in, I knew I was depressed enough to be medicated. I didn’t want be medicated because, like Leslie, I felt it was a sign of weakness.
The reality is that my weight was simply a symptom of the larger mental problems that I, and many overweight African American women, experience. I still struggle with accepting that I may need to be medicated for the rest of my life. With the combination of exercise and my medication I feel great, and lately, I’ve started slipping. With a false sense of being “normal” again, I stopped taking my medication consistently and started slipping into old bad habits -- binge eating, sleepless nights, and general lethargy and malaise.
Initially, I didn’t recognize these symptoms because I was still active. However, the past few weeks have been rough, and as I recovered from an injury, I didn't take my medications or exercise. There has been a noticeable difference in the way I feel. I’m happy to report that I finally made the connection and started taking my medication again consistently this week. I realize that although I feel good as a result of exercise, I am not cured of dysthymia and I have to stay on track.
As important as weight loss is to my overall health and well-being, attending to my depression is just as important. I need to be here 100% for my son, my family, and for myself. I have a treatable illness that requires medication, and I am going to deal with it head on. It is my hope that my story inspires other African-American women to get treated and look at their weight as a symptom of a larger problem. I recognize that it is difficult because I continue to struggle with the idea that my depression is a sign of weakness, when really, it is a chemical imbalance.
I wish we could all see depression for what it is, a chronic illness that is treatable, similar to hypertension. There is no stigma for hypertension treatment, so why should there be a stigma for depression? The question remains, will I share this article with all of those that have been inspired by my weight loss. After several days of contemplation, I’ve come to the conclusion that I have to share this with everyone. Perhaps I will encourage someone else to get treatment and feel better both mentally and physically. I admit I’m scared, but this time, if I can help just one other person, I am willing to expose myself -- warts and all.
Renee is a BlogHer Contributing Editor and author of the blog Cutie Booty Cakes.