CW: Self-harm, abuse
When I first came out to my mum, asking her to send me to some form of therapy, she looked at me like I was crazy.
When I showed her the cuts on my arm, she rolled her eyes and said: “stop being so attention-seeking, you have everything already.”
I never thought I would be treated that way.
I was 11 when I first realised that I was mostly sad, empty and angry inside.
I couldn’t cry, in fact, I hadn't cried in years.
I was yearning for affection like crazy but I would never open up to anyone; not friends nor family. I started relying on self-harming to make me feel something. My arms were filled with cuts, deep and shallow from my wrists to my elbows, sometimes on my tummy and thighs too. I hated the way I looked, and I felt that I couldn't be loved. I felt disgusted with myself, like I was never going to become anyone and that I would be better off dead. I felt that everyone would be happier, because according to me, I was a burden on anyone I met.
One day, after doing some research, I bumped across the word: Depression.
Suddenly, I wanted to know more about it. All the symptoms that were listed described how I felt. So I did what any 11 or 12 year old would do: I turned to my mother.
Now, I come from an Indian Muslim family where reputation was everything: women were expected to be quiet, swallow their emotions, stay obedient to their parents and stay in the kitchen, while happily serving their family. There was no such thing as depression in my family, because according to them, if you were depressed, you were 'emo' and 'going through a phase'.
So when I told my mum, she called my aunts, told them everything I said and in the span of a week, I'd been ridiculed by my cousins and reprimanded by my aunts for making my mother’s life difficult (being the cause of her heart pains). They called me "a spoilt little brat who couldn't see how much she had". An aunt even dragged me to see a hypnotherapist in a small town in Malaysia. She left me there with him, every day, for an hour. I was terrified and alone. I didn’t know this man and I was supposed to go to sleep and let him into my mind. So, I faked it but I could tell my aunty knew. She would spend every car journey putting me down, calling me names and telling me how disgusting I was. She would say I didn’t even understand what real pain was, what real hurt was.
I would curl up in a ball, behind the seat, and cry.
I was also dragged to see religious men who’d pray over me and pray for me because they said my depression had to do with my lack of faith in God.
But no one asked me if I was okay. No one asked me what was wrong. All they saw was this 'crazy' girl who wanted attention.
I grew up with an abusive father and a mother who worked 12 hours a day. The only friends that I had were my dolls, my grandmother and the maids working for us. My parents fought every night and somehow, I’d be the cause of the fight. I'd hear every word while hiding in my room and watch my father hit my mother.
He almost killed me once.
He almost killed my younger sister.
And my mother.
He was clever, because after every bad night, he’d buy me my favourite sweets and tell me how much he loved me, and that no one else in this world loved me except for him. He'd tell me everyone in my family were liars and that they never loved me. In fact, he said they laughed about me behind my back.
The psychological damage that does to a 6 year old child is terrifying. It went on for years and because of it all, I grew up so isolated, angry and lost inside.
I started getting bullied in school and I couldn't trust anyone. I didn’t know what love was, or how to handle friendships and relationships. Thus, my descent into depression.
By 15, when I became bulimic and attempted suicide twice, my mother finally decided that it was time to get me help. It took four years of self-harming and crying for my mother to say, “okay, you’ve got a real problem, let’s get you help.”
When I did get help, my therapist was amazing. I was diagnosed with Borderline Bipolar Disorder but after every session my mother would look at me and ask, “so are you better already? Can I stop wasting my money on this?” No one was supposed to find out that my mother’s daughter had to go for therapy. God forbid anyone knows! What would people say, what would people think? Who’d want to marry a depressed crazy girl who had scars on her arms?
Brown families and their reputation (the families reputation) meant more than getting me help and saving my life.
If you are brown and have depression, you may know what I am talking about. Your family may try and hide you and downplay what you are going through. They may outright refuse to believe you. They may tell you to “grow up and deal with life.” and that “it’s just a phase, you’ll grow out of it.” Sometimes it's because you don't pray enough, sometimes it’s the friends you’re mixing with.
They say you’re just seeking attention, and it’s all in your head: just work harder. To them, mental health issues are not possible because it's for people who have nothing in life. But depression amongst brown children is very real, especially with pressures to conform to colourism and sexism.
I know that if my mother had not gotten me the help I needed at that point, she would've lost me. I would have killed myself. At 17, my mother took me out of school because the bullying got so bad, I attempted suicide again. At this point, my mother had done her research, and read books, educating herself on depression and mental illness. So this time, she stuck by me. And that support? That’s what got me through. It wasn’t easy for her, especially since she didn't know this could happen but what mattered was, she was willing to learn and help me. That's why it’s so important to raise awareness, especially in a society where it’s so taboo and receives so much negativity. Being depressed doesn’t mean I'm crazy, it doesn’t mean I'm emo or overly-dramatic. It is a real and raw issue.
Parents: stop making us feel like we have to swallow our emotions just to please you. It can and has killed us.
So this is me, brown and depressed.
And it is okay.
It is okay.
If you are brown and depressed, know that you are not alone. You are worthy of help and support. It isn’t your fault, none of it is, no matter who says what. You are loved, wanted and needed. Keep going.
And I am here, rooting for you. All the way. Always.
If you want someone to speak to (in the UK), and find your family or friends are not open to this discussion, you can contact: