In honor of The Siwe Project’s #NoShame day, I thought I’d pay tribute to my dear friend Dee who suffered from depression. It’s hard to know where to start: Dee was one of the smartest, most vivacious people I know. She was an out Black lesbian, and was a great comfort to me when I was going through the process of coming out with my own family. We’d talk for hours, and many a night we’d stay up until the wee hours of the night with our other friends drinking coffee, playing spades, and talking shit. Dee thought I was smart as a whip, and encouraged me to finish my B.A., even though at the time I was working a full-time corporate job and raising my young daughter as a single parent. She believed I could do anything I set my mind to, and I dare say she had me convinced too.
But Dee could “act the fool” too. More times than I care to remember I’d get a call from another dear friend (he lived across the street from Dee and her partner), telling me that there had been an “incident” and he’d had to go over and try to help out. Dee was notorious for her sharp wit and even sharper tongue. None of us ever wanted to get on her bad side, because we’d seen the havoc she could wreak on the uninitiated and we also knew that there was more to Dee than met the eye. What I didn’t realize until later was that Dee’s “acting the fool” was linked to her depression and to the periods of time when she’d be off of her medication, and that sometimes resulted in erratic behavior.
When I met Dee, she was on disability, she had been diagnosed with clinical depression, and was on a couple of different medications, whose names I cannot now recall. All I remember is that at some point, Dee talked to me about how the depression made her feel and how she hated it. I couldn’t understand it at the time, I just knew that when she took her meds she was ok, and when she didn’t, she wasn’t. For me it was a no-brainer. However, I now realize it was so much more complicated than that. Dee’s depression was debilitating; some day’s she just couldn’t get off the couch. The meds she was taking didn’t always help, she said they made her feel like a zombie, which made it even harder for her to function.
My friend was suffering, suffering from demons I cannot hope to describe in this blog post, but I know that at some point it all got to be too much. The meds, the doctor’s visits, and grappling with memories of emotional and physical abuse, had gotten to be more than Dee could handle and she suffered a nervous breakdown. After a 48-hour hold in a local state mental hospital, we hoped that Dee would get treatment that would help to stabilize her and help her to function as “normally” as possible. For a while things seemed to be getting better: she enrolled in our local university, bought a new car, and seemed to be doing well. Then, four months later, another, harder crash. Dee was hospitalized for an extended period of time, but this time, in a private facility with a more treatment options, and we hoped, a better outlook for her future.
In early January, 2004, my friend went out to her storage shed, put a gun in her mouth, and pulled the trigger. The initial gunshot wound didn’t kill her, but five days later her family took her off life support. Her partner of ten years was not allowed to have any say in the decision. In fact, after the shooting, they ran her out of her own house and treated her like a criminal.
Dee planned her death carefully: She made sure that her son would not find her body, and she had even laid out the clothes she wanted to be buried in. She had left a note for her partner in the bathroom, she knew that would be the first place “A.” would go when she came in from work. Our friend “T.” from across the street found her in the shed; her son “M.” wandered over there looking for her as he often did after school, since Dee would sometimes walk over for coffee and a chat in the afternoon.
I’ll never forget the impact that Dee had on my life; she’s one of the reasons I decided to pursue the Ph.D.; she believed I had something to contribute even when I wasn’t so sure myself. She also helped me to understand the impact that depression and mental illness have on a person’s life, and that no, you can’t just get over it. Related to this are the ways in which Dee’s lesbian identity and same-sex relationship impacted her family’s reaction to her depression. They refused to help Dee when she reached out to them, and they made medical and other legal decisions that rightfully should have been left to her partner. She left instructions for “A.” that her family simply ignored because they weren’t legally married and because they didn’t “approve” of her relationship. I know that Dee would be pleased to know that same-sex marriage has been made legal in some states, and that people are working to eradicate the second-class citizenship status that many LGBT persons still experience everyday.
Dee was my friend and I miss her terribly. I like to think that she would be proud of me; she’s one of the reasons that I’m committed to writing about Black lesbian experiences. No blog post could ever do her justice, but I hope that in sharing a little of her story, I can help raise awareness about mental illness in our communities.