Guests of the Inner Sanctum

Health: Millicent Hunter Shares Her Struggles With Depression & Singlehood Through the Holidays

By Millicent Hunter

Find and friend Millicent here.

Christmas is here. ‘Tis the season when everyone is supposed to be happy. It’s when we reflect on the blessings of the year and spend time with friends and family. For me as a single black woman, it’s also when I am reminded of what I have wanted most and do not have- my own family.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my sisters and cousins. But it gets old watching other people watch their children open gifts. And while I’m very pleased that my sister and my cousins are still happily married after more than 20 years, I’m also a bit jealous when I see them exchanging gifts with their hubbies. The logical side of me reminds myself that “the grass is always greener on the other side” but it doesn’t stop that small head of envy from raising its green head. As a single, black woman in my mid-40s who chose not to be a single mother, it’s also sometimes a bitter pill realizing the child-bearing years are pretty much done and with it, the dream of having my own kids. Opening gifts at Christmas-time with my extended family actually makes me depressed because it isn’t what I really want. So what to do?

Admit – First, I’m doing what many mental health professionals recommend. I’m acknowledging that I struggle with depression. There is no shame in admitting it. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) nearly 1 in 10 adults experience depression each year. Women experience twice the rate of depression as men. So in admitting that I struggle with depression, I know I am not alone.

Get help – Next, I’m seeking help. I’ve been under the care of a psychiatrist for my depression for a number of years now. I knew I needed professional help when I would wake up in the morning, sit on my staircase and cry for no good reason. That’s when I started my journey of finding the right medication to help me. I wish other women struggling like me would get some kind of help. According to NAMI, only 12 percent of African American women seek help and/or treatment. The reasons for not getting help are many. Many black women think:
• Just pray it away. The Lord is enough.
• I’m a strong, black woman. I can handle it.
• I’m just having the blues. It will get better.

Talk – For many years I went to therapy and it helped me greatly. It’s amazing how many issues we as human beings have. No one gets out of life unscathed. But after a few years, I realized the next step was I needed to spend time with people who were like me so we could talk. I would never claim to understand what it is like to be married, no matter how many books I read. In the same way, no one can understand what it is to be a single, professional woman, than other single, professional women. So I’ve made a conscious decision to build into my support system, women like me. I can’t just be surrounded by people who need to lean on me. I need to lean on others sometimes.

Keep busy – At least this is my solution for how to handle the holidays. It’s my coping mechanism. One Thanksgiving I went to Italy. This Christmas, two of my single girlfriends and I are heading to New York City to spend Christmas there. So while others are opening gifts, we’ll be having breakfast with Santa at a restaurant and then heading over to Radio City Music Hall to see the Rockettes. I realize not everyone has the resources to do this but there are other alternatives. Volunteer somewhere. Visit a retirement home.

Treat myself good – I have always been the one people come to when they have a problem or need a shoulder lean on. It’s all part of that strong black woman thing I guess. But after awhile, I realized that in trying to make everyone happy or helping others with their problems, I was slowly sinking further into depression. So now I have to draw healthy boundaries that respect me. No negativity around me. I do enough battle in my mind with it, no need to have it coming at me from others. I pace myself. I cannot be everywhere that people would like me to be. I’m choosing my activities and building in down time. Jesus went off to the garden to pray. I sit in my living room and read. I’ve also learned to say no. No, I’m can’t help you at this time. No, I can’t make it to your event. Finally, I buy myself a Christmas gift every year. I wrap it and put it under the tree because I know that I will have at least one gift and it will be what I want.

I’ve just told you about my ongoing battle with depression but I know it isn’t just single, women like me who may be struggling at this time of the year. There are single mothers, women in bad marriages, women dealing with health issues. Regardless of the reason, I encourage everyone to reach out and get the help you need and deserve. Especially during the holidays.

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