Black woman's face covered by shadows
Mental Health

Wear Yourself to a Shadow

Country of Origin: United States of America

It is always difficult for me to explain what depression is and how it makes me feel. I’ve seen and read people describing it as a big black dog, or drowning. The two metaphors that stick out to me are shadows and Sisyphus.

In Greek Mythology, Sisyphus is punished by Zeus to push a boulder up a hill for all eternity due to cheating death twice. Whenever he gets close to the top, the boulder rolls back down to the bottom.

Is the giant boulder my depression or my happiness? Or is the top of the hill my happiness?

As an African American woman, I’m viewed as strong and successful. I’m able to hold down two jobs, one of which gained me four promotions in seven years. I’m able to be caring to friends and assist with their troubles and plight. I have all my ducks in a row and push my feelings down deep enough to be able to be productive at work. But My Shadow peers around every corner, waiting to find its time to invade. Its cold grip on my heart scares away my sense of success and pride, forcing me to re-play every conversation I had to have, making me worry if I offended someone who laughed with me at a joke I made. My Shadow feeds on my self-doubt, and pushes my perfectionist tendencies into negative spaces, where I work myself to the limits of my health and stretch myself too thin.

It is always lurking and no matter how much I try to outrun it; it finds a way to appear.

In fact, not feeling like myself gave me my first inkling I was depressed. I was working in a retail job after graduating college. My paid internship had also ended. In some ways I liked my job, with the bright, eye-catching decorations. 

But then there were the managers. 

I worked at that job for two to two and a half years, and in those years, I had four to five different managers. I was overworked and overlooked. 

I was reliable, I was responsible, I was punctual, and I was a team player. I was taken advantage of. 

I was named Safety Captain – a position I was supposed to have held for one month. I held the title for a year and a half. I worked markdowns Tuesday mornings with two to three people. Soon, it became just me. I’d be the first person to ask if someone needed a shift covered or if I could pick up an extra shift. I was told I was being looked at for a seasonal managerial position only to have a new hire work for two weeks and then become the new manager. I had to work during a Category 2 hurricane (which resulted in a fear of driving during storms as the car I was driving to go home after that shift almost tipped over twice). 

Yet I had to beg someone to switch shifts with me or cover for me to attend a friend’s memorial service because my manager “forgot” my leave request. 

Throughout all of this, I had a short temper. I would lose it over something as small as a stapler not put back in the right place. In turn, I would feel nothing while working at my library job which I loved and used to be excited to go to every day. I was angry all the time but had to pretend I was normal so no one would catch on. There was a swift change in my personality and mood which I thought I was doing a great job of hiding, until one of my retail managers left. I was excited for this manager to leave due to how horribly she was managing and running the store. I ran all the way from the parking lot to my apartment, burst through the door, and loudly declared “She’s gone!”

 My sister saw me and said, “Wow, I haven’t seen you this happy in a long time.”

Or is my depression My Shadow, making me feel like a lesser version of myself? 

My sisters and I all have dark brown hair and dark brown eyes. We all like to write, read, play video games, eat good food, watch movies, watch anime, and read manga. We don’t all have depression and anxiety. With my depression, I feel as if I’m part of another world and it’s one I hope they don’t ever gain access to. A world where your shadow is its own body and lifeforce, instead of trailing behind, one step at a time out of sight and rarely making itself known unless you choose to see it.

One day I will conquer that boulder, and My Shadow will just be a figment of my imagination. Right now, he’s sitting on my shoulder, watching as I type, waiting for his moment to take over, which I shoo him away to stay in his rightful place behind me.

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Stephanie Jackson is an ambivert and a self-proclaimed greenaholic. In her free time, Stephanie likes to collect hobbies such as hiking and geocaching, roller skating, juggling writing, and drawing. She has been a mental health content writer and advocate, especially for the African American community, since 2016.

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