Terrie Williams knows that Black people are hurting. She knows because she's one of them.
Terrie had made it: she had launched her own public relations company with such clients as Eddie Murphy and Johnnie Cochran. Yet she was in constant pain, waking up in terror, overeating in search of relief. For thirty years she kept on her game face of success, exhausting herself daily to satisfy her clients' needs while neglecting her own.
Terrie finally collapsed, staying in bed for days. She had no clue what was wrong or if there was a way out. She had hit rock bottom and she needed and got help.
She learned her problem had a name -- depression -- and that many suffered from it, limping through their days, hiding their hurt. As she healed, her mission became clear: break the silence of this crippling taboo and help those who suffer.
Black Pain identifies emotional pain -- which uniquely and profoundly affects the Black experience -- as the root of lashing out through desperate acts of crime, violence, drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, workaholism, and addiction to shopping, gambling, and sex. Few realize these destructive acts are symptoms of our inner sorrow.
Black people are dying. Everywhere we turn, in the faces we see and the headlines we read, we feel in our gut that something is wrong, but we don't know what it is. It's time to recognize it and work through our trauma.
In Black Pain, Terrie has inspired the famous and the ordinary to speak out and mental health professionals to offer solutions. The book is a mirror turned on you. Do you see yourself and your loved ones here? Do the descriptions of how the pain looks, feels, and sounds seem far too familiar? Now you can do something about it.
Stop suffering. The help the community needs is here: a clear explanation of our troubles and a guide to finding relief through faith, therapy, diet, and exercise, as well as through building a supportive network (and eliminating toxic people).
Black Pain encourages us to face the truth about the issue that plunges our spirits into darkness, so that we can step into the healing light.
You are not on the ledge alone.
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January 07, 2008
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Excerpt from Black Pain by Terrie M. Williams
Not Killing Us Softly
I'm Coming Out, I Want the World to Know It's not just what we say, but what we don't say...
In June 2005 I wrote an article about my depression for Essence magazine. I was not prepared for the reaction it generated. I received over 10,000 letters, over half of them from people "coming out" for the first time about their pain and depression. Complete strangers wrote to me because I was the safest person they could share with. Not friends, not family members, but me -- someone they didn't know! I also wasn't prepared for the intensity of my frustration as I came to understand how many Black women and men are suffering silently.
The folks who wrote to me were scared -- some of them terrified -- to breathe a word to anyone; they were paralyzed by the fear that no one would understand or accept them. Their fear was echoed in conversation upon conversation I had while traveling across the country giving talks about how we are doing -- about waking up in pain each day -- to audiences that ranged from CEOs to regular churchgoers. After my talks, person after person would come to me to confide that they, too, were "going through it."
Sometimes I would come home from these trips totally drained in my heart and soul, having heard stories like the one I heard from a man whose two sisters are home suffering from major depression. He can't talk about it, nor can his family, even though he's a respected physician and his brother is a well-regarded man of the cloth!
If I'm honest with myself, and with you, the fact is that I'm more like these folks than I care to admit. If then Essence editor in chief Diane Weathers hadn't sensed what I was going through and asked me to write the piece, I don't know how much longer it would have taken before I really told someone I was depressed -- or if I would ever have told anyone before the point where there was no hiding it anymore.
In fact, my mom, dad, and sister didn't know what I was going through until I mailed them a draft of the article and wrote a kind of offhand note saying, "I wanted you to see this before it came out." I didn't even ask for their responses!
My mom called immediately. "I'm so sad you didn't feel like you could come to me. Maybe there was something I could have done!" And my sister told me that she, too, had been through the fire. But I was so used to handling things on my own that I believed telling them would only make them worry. I knew I wasn't suicidal, even though I was dying on the inside. The pain I feel is so hard to talk about that my closest family still hears more about it when I'm in front of large groups than one-on-one.
These days I use my visibility to talk about pain and how we mask it. Every time I step up to the microphone I "out" myself as someone in pain. I do it because I know that by sharing my story, my fragility, insecurity, frailty, and woundedness, I liberate someone else to do the same.
Sometimes the liberation comes through humor. In the months after the Essence piece came out, people would see me at events and shyly come over to me. I knew they wanted to mention the article and talk about depression, but didn't know how, so I would break the ice. "I can tell you read the Essence article," I would say. "Don't worry. I took my medication today. Everything's okay -- and you don't have to whisper the word 'depression'!" That little bit of humor, that easy laugh, was usually all it took to open the gates to honest talk about something we think is shameful. And I'm telling you, there is not one among us who has not been touched by this!
This book is as much about identifying depression as it is about the power of testimony. Some of the people whose stories are in this book were willing to bare their souls for the record, in the name of a cause bigger than themselves -- and that includes some of the most well-known names here. Others were willing and even eager to share their stories, but feared that giving their names could jeopardize their livelihoods or hurt their families, especially their young children; these are not famous people and I have respected their requests for anonymity because I believe their stories are the most valuable thing they have to offer. Finally, I have drawn on magazine and television interviews from a handful of famous people who have spoken publicly about their struggles with depression.
More important than anything else is that the thousands of people who have communicated with me about this in person, in writing, or on the phone have broken the silence that makes depression so lethal. In the passages below Set Shakur, Mama DeBarge, Joyce Walker Joseph, and Diane Weathers come out to me about their depression.