SERIES I: THE WOMAN, THE BISEXUAL, & THE MENTAL (Published in 2016)
Wearing a dark-blue and white checked flannel shirt with blue jeans, suede boots and her shoulder-length curly hair bouncing as she sat down for our interview, Joanne’s bubbly attitude is mildly infectious. In a cheerful start to the conversation, she begins by expanding on how her day was, fidgeting and swinging on her chair.
Possibly nervous, or out of habit, Joanne kept her replies quite brief, brushing over some topics. So when I asked what she had been (self-) diagnosed with, I was unsure of how much she would reveal to me. She began: “depression and a few other things that maybe spun out of depression, so as a result of that self-harm and stuff around that really” was her abrupt reply to my question.
I probed further.
“I would say my worst experience with depression was probably February. When I knew I felt ok it was probably mid-September…I felt like it wasn’t as much of a burden waking up every day. I kind of knew that I had enough to approach each day whereas before I didn’t feel that way, or less so perhaps.”
Her battle with depression, triggered by circumstances at home, began last year. Her decision to briefly leave university in order to support her family as best as she could, had a severe effect on her.
“Reminiscing I just realised I didn’t recognise myself and my situation” she explains as her eyes dart around the room. “I didn’t recognise what was going on and who I was anymore. And that lack of understanding familiarity with my person and my circumstance really shook me and I just really struggled with that for a period of time.” She then stops speaking.
At this point I reassure her before we go on, I went on to let her know it’s fine to speak as much as she would like.
4:27pm. It’s cold, the sun has nearly set (we’re in the U.K.), and Joanne needs to head off to a meeting in 20 minutes. But before we move our discussion to the topic of sexuality, Joanne expands further on the cause of her depression.
“I think in terms of what started. I was very worried about my mum because there was a lot of stress that was put on her with my dad’s illness, my uncle had passed in the same space of time. There was a period of eight days I thought my mum would just fall. I was just very very worried for her, I wanted to maintain a form of strength whenever I’d speak to her. That was the only thing I really cared about. So if I was having the worst day, if mummy called me, whatever I did have left I would give it to that phone conversation so that she would know that it would be fine, because I knew that her burden, her cross was a lot heavier than mine.”
Touching on a sensitive topic most people dealing with mental health face, I asked her if she had ever spoken to her mum about her mental state. Joanne replied: “no, no, no, no, mummy (after noticing the changes in Joanne’s behaviour) said I was giving myself depression and I shouldn’t do that and it will affect me in the future.”
“Do you feel like that was helpful?” I asked. “No and I left and I didn’t speak to her for a period of time.” She said plainly. Joanne went on to confer that no one in her immediate family has helped at home, with the exception of her aunt. Dealing with a mental health illness and being sectioned, whilst coming from the same cultural background, her aunt understood the difficulties that come from speaking of such issues in an African household and has thus been of great help to Joanne.
Not feeling as though her sexuality has improved or worsened her ability to deal with depression, Joanne accepts this was another issue she could not raise easily around her family and friends. Her lack of encounters with queer black people, along with some of the strong views held by many in the Afro-Caribbean community at her university, has meant that Joanne has had to keep a cork on certain things. Most black people do not raise sexuality in conversation; a lack of discussion made even worse by the ignorance maintained by many. Although, very comfortable with her sexual orientation, Joanne rarely raises the subject.
Having initially become friends with a large number of black people, she admits at times she felt she would be ostracised if they were completely aware.
Being black, a woman, and bisexual is a stress inducing triple threat.
With that being said, it’s understandable why she would feel as though the topic is not her war to wage, even though it does bother her a lot. Bearing in mind the number of problems she has to tackle, thinking about the influence her sexuality may have on her mental health does not help, hence her decision to refuse to recognise a possible link between the two.
“There are certain things you know you know, but there are certain things you don’t want to know you know” was how Joanne chose to summarise her decision to ignore the stress her sexuality places on her mental health.
Most recently, Joanne has been gradually slipping back into a state of depression. Not yet wanting to address exactly how she feels, she has been masking her true emotions both from herself and from others. Although more capable of approaching each day, by forcing herself to do things, compared to when she was severely depressed, she has been increasingly closing herself off.
Isolating herself from friends, and battling between her desire to not waste time but her inability to be productive. Ironically, Joanne continues to keep a smile on her face as we speak. Many like Joanne her walk around depressed, but because there are not many, if any, visible scars, no one takes time to help or simply talk to them.
I hope we can all begin having a true conversation with both our friends and a new person on a daily basis. Let’s go further than small talk. Let’s learn about each other. Let’s help each other.