Why I’ve Never Written about My Battle with Depression — Until Now

By Javacia Harris Bowser 

(Editor’s Note: The following essay discusses depression and suicide and may be emotionally triggering for some readers.) 


The first celebrity suicide that shook me to my core happened in 1995. I was 14 and for years had struggled with what I now know is depression. But back then I didn’t call it that. I wouldn’t call it that. I just thought I was sad — really sad — all the time, but even that I kept a secret, masking my sadness with good grades and an overachiever attitude.

Many of the adults around me said that depression was something only white people had and that suicide was something only white people did. Then on June 30, 1995, R&B singer Phyllis Hyman — a black woman — committed suicide. I was confused. And I was scared because I then knew that the blood and strength of my ancestors that coursed through my veins would not be enough to save me.

On June 5 fans of famous fashion designer Kate Spade were shocked when news of her apparent suicide was released.  Three days later celebrity chef, author, and travel documentarian, and TV personality Anthony Bourdain was found dead of an apparent suicide, too.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 16.2 million Americans ages 18 or older had at least 1 episode of depression in 2016 and a 2016 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that suicide rates in the United States increased from 1999 to 2014 for everyone between the ages of 10 and 74.

“Depression, medically known as Major Depressive Disorder or MDD, is extremely common but often unrecognized and misunderstood,” says Dr. Leesha Ellis-Cox, a Birmingham-based, board-certified psychiatrist and author of the book Ditch the Mommy Guilt: A Blueprint for the Modern Mommy.

“Many erroneously believe that only individuals facing serious challenges such as unemployment, homelessness, medical illness, or other stressors get depressed; but those who seemingly have it all are, too, affected by depression,” Dr. Ellis-Cox says.

In my late teens and early 20s I sought comfort in Christianity but whenever the topic of depression came up with fellow church-going folks they declared the only prescription needed was prayer.

“Some believe that depression suggests you are weak and lack sufficient faith in God, but even the Holy Bible contains multiple scriptures that describe what we would now understand as clinical depression,” Dr. Ellis-Cox says, citing stories of Job, Elijah, and King Saul. “Unfortunately, many myths and mistruths about depression abound, especially in the Christian culture, and these lies keep believers from getting the help they need to fight this devastating, but very treatable, condition. Do both — pray and therapy. Jesus and treatment for depression go hand in hand.”

By the time I had reached adulthood I knew that depression didn’t care about your race or religion and could affect anyone. And as an adult, I’ve lost two family members to suicide. But I still wouldn’t talk about my own pain. I convinced myself that doing so would let people down. In my friend group and my family, I was the strong one that everyone came to with their problems. As a teacher, I was supposed to be a role model for my students. As the founder of an award-winning women’s writing organization, I thought I had to be a flawless example of how to go after your goals with gumption and grace.

“To some degree, we all possess the ability to hide the pain while smiling and laughing on the outside because we wish to shield our children, our co-workers, or even our friends and significant others from the reality of what we are facing,” Dr. Ellis-Cox says. “Living the ‘perfect life’ does not ensure an escape from depression or sometimes that perfect life simply camouflages unspoken troubles.”

Furthermore, Dr. Ellis-Cox believes the pursuit of perfection hurts many women, especially mothers, which is why she wrote her book  Ditch the Mommy Guilt: A Blueprint for the Modern Mommy.

“I wrote the book so that we can properly and permanently dispel the myth of the perfect parent and begin to embrace the realities of parenting — the good, the bad, and the ugly,” Dr. Ellis-Cox says. “This book is my manifesto of sorts to celebrating guilt-free parenting and doing motherhood unapologetically.”

For years I was seeking permission to admit that I was not OK and permission to get the help that I needed, which I finally did. I am writing this for any other woman searching for the same thing.

Depression could be affecting more people in your circle than you think.

“Check on that friend who has it all together but has started checking out, no longer makes social outings, doesn’t respond to your texts and phone calls, and is simply and quietly fading to the background,” Dr. Ellis-Cox says.

If you are struggling with depression please know that you have no reason to be ashamed. Getting help for your depression does not make you weak or “a bad Christian.” Depression can be managed with proper treatment and you can live a full life. And please know that you are not alone.

If you need help call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 for free, confidential crisis counseling.


2 Responses to “Why I’ve Never Written about My Battle with Depression — Until Now”

  1. Sheneka Payne says:

    Javacia – you are not alone. I connected to this so much so that I could’ve written it myself. Depression and anxiety is something that I also struggle with. I haven’t had the courage to speak about it due to fear of judgment. Thank you for using your platform and having the courage to speak on this issue.

    • Javacia says:

      Sheneka, thank you so much for reading my essay. I hope that you will get the help that you need in spite of the fear of judgment. Your well-being is more important than other people’s opinions. It took me a long time to learn this lesson, but I’m so glad I did.

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