After being diagnosed with a neurological disorder as a teen, depression took over my life. My battle with depression caused me to be insecure and it has really felt like I’ve constantly played an internal game of tug of war, having to battle between outward appearances and how I truly dark I felt inside. Coping with a neurological disorder as a teen was extremely difficult but being misdiagnosed for years made it nearly impossible.
The neurological disorder that has taken precedence in my life are cluster headaches. Cluster headaches are very severe and are often referred to as suicide headaches because sufferers have said that the pain is so severe that they would rather die than to continue to live with the debilitating pain. The majority of sufferers are men and that is why so many women go misdiagnosed and undertreated, but the women who do suffer from cluster headaches have said in the support groups that I frequent, that the pain is worse than child birth. In my case, during my cluster season I get severe headaches every day in twenty minute intervals from the moment I wake up until I go back asleep. When a headache strikes my right eye usually swells shut and begins to droop, and in many cases I pass out. For sufferers the first attack usually takes place between the ages of 20 and 40 but my first attack occurred at age 12. I went misdiagnosed for years. But when I finally found a neurologist that was dedicated to helping me he told my mom and me that I was his youngest patient, his only patient that experienced nearly all of the textbook symptoms, and that I was the only patient that he had that was a Black female. It took years before we found the treatment that worked for me and now I have to be sure that I have my injections on me at all times.
Constantly in fear of being judged about my illness I would bottle my feelings and constantly try to conform to the unrealistic beauty standards that are forced upon young women. My low self-esteem played a major role in me staying in unhealthy relationships and friendships just because I feared being alone. When I reflect on those dark years it is so clear to me now that I never did anything for myself or that I truly wanted. I always conformed to the ideas of others in an attempt to fit in or to feel accepted. I kept my depression a secret because I was ashamed and embarrassed of the feelings that I tried so hard to bury. Many people didn’t and still don’t know the internal struggles that I face because of my outward appearance and the facade that I’ve mastered.
A few months ago life hit me pretty hard and I felt as if everything was crumbling around me. Internally, I hit rock bottom but as a young woman I’ve been taught that the show must go on, so I bottled my feelings up to keep up appearances as if nothing happened. Of course, I reached out to my loved ones but they did not truly understand how I felt. Depression and mental health are many times taboo topics in the Black community so I felt forced to continue on my battle silently. There were many days that I spent in complete darkness and had to give myself pep talks in the bathroom at work just to make it through the day.
I honestly felt as if I was losing my grip and I knew that I had to make a change to save my life. I had to take control of my depression and ultimately regain control of my life. It was clear that I needed to seek outside help and together my counselor and I created an action plan. The first step I took was to disconnect. I disconnected from anyone and everything that I considered to be negative. I took a break from social media because I couldn’t stomach the constant flow of tragic news stories and I took a break from anyone that did not put positive energy in my life and instead I leaned on my faith. The second step I took was to write a list of all the things that I wanted to do in life but were always too afraid to do. The first bullet point on my list was to shave my head. I’ve always found women who shaved their heads to be brave and powerful. They don’t care about the opinions of others and they live life on their terms. As a young woman the power behind a woman who is free of restraints is inspiring.
My hair was already in a low cut but I took the next step to shave it myself. I didn’t tell anyone what I planned on doing because this was something solely for me. As each patch dropped I felt free and the person that looked back at me in the mirror was renewed. I felt unashamed and empowered. I urge every woman to write a list of things that she has always wanted to do but was always too afraid to. Step out of your comfort zone and shave your head or book a trip so that you can see the world. Break free of the social constraints that are forced down upon us as women and take control of your life. To truly be happy you have to live freely on your own terms.
For once I am not afraid to speak on my battle with a neurological disorder that will affect me for the rest of my life and my battle with depression that will probably always linger in the background. And as a Black woman I felt motivated to speak out about depression and mental health in a hope to dampen the stigma that is attached to it. At times life really sucks and depression can attack anybody. You should never feel ashamed to seek help and guidance when life hits you hard because you have to do whatever it takes to put your best foot forward. As I still work through my own obstacles I feel a little more at ease because I know that I will be a stronger woman at the end of this storm and most importantly because I am learning to live on my own terms.
The third step on the action plan for my life is to find peace and happiness in my solitude. Learning to be happy on my own is how I’ll find myself. I plan on doing everything on my list, with the next bullet point being my first solo trip, which will happen next month! Shaving my head was the first step in learning to live on my own terms. For me, this simple step has changed my perceptive and ultimately saved my life.
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