Serenity Sunday: Low-Grade Depression

Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama recently opened up about her mental health stating that she is suffering from low-grade depression…What does this mean? When an amazing historical figure– an indelible woman who has left the most beautiful mark on our world, admits the current health crisis and ongoing racial strife (particularly the killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Rayshard Brooks) have left her feeling overwhelmed and depleted.

What does this mean for “regular” women? What does it mean for black women? …It means that we can be clothed in strength and dignity and still be sad and suffering.

According to Harvard Medical School, symptoms of low-grade depression include overeating or loss of appetite, insomnia or sleeping too much, tiredness or lack of energy, low self-esteem, trouble concentrating or making decisions, and feelings of hopelessness.

Even people of great faith who have been taught to cast their cares and be anxious for nothing are worrying more these days; and we know how standard anxiety can easily lead to depression.

After she opened up, I thought: is she self-diagnosing? Underdiagnosing? The average person may see a woman’s natural response to pandemic turmoil and race relations; while those of us in Mrs. Robinson-Obama’s affinity group are picking up on more intricate signals.

The pressure and emotional labor besetting black women in America is real. The historical narrative that we can do it all and be everything to everybody– that we have to stay strong in the face of everything– has become such a paradox that our beloved forever first lady calls her condition “low-grade”. By emphasizing “low-grade”, she is still able to assert, show strength, maintain control, and reign as a strong black woman. 

Sister Michelle does understand the power of vulnerability. By allowing herself to be weak, she is showing strength; but was her admission raw enough? Honest enough? Is she constantly worrying about her daughters? Does she prefer to be alone? Does she cry after disagreements with her husband? In her darkest moment, does she yearn for her mother? Is she critical towards her reflection? Does she personalize harsh reviews? Has she, too, become a compulsive online buyer to help ease mental distress?

Our battles can still belong to God. God can still bear our burdens. But trapped air is agonizing. Sometimes just admitting that you’re feeling off can offer personal relief and a line of connection for others.

Above all, it’s important that we acknowledge during this time of uncertainty, the enormous cloud hovering over all of us— creating an overcast, making us feel small and powerless.

Bereavement and loss, prejudice and hate, recession, bare pantries, financial woes, poor national leadership, and social ills can make us paralyzed.

We have to get up and move our bodies– go for a ride or on a walk, put on a mask and grab fresh fruit or ice cream from the store.

I’ve also learned that showing gratitude and respect helps in combating any form of depression:

Help others. Prepare meals. Pray for someone. Say I love you. Say I’m sorry. Buy a greeting card or write a thoughtful note. Listen attentively (no hand-held devices). Unlearn something… 

Let’s all fight depression and create space for people to experience weakness as a form of bravery.

And dear black women, let’s build a more healthier narrative. For once let the juggling cease before all the plates in the air come crashing down.

And the plates will come down...

Should all the things get broken, may we find peace in knowing that while each day has a new set of circumstances, God has and will always be constant.

God and Amazon.

Clinnesha is a wife, mom, daughter/sister/auntie, literary artist, humanities scholar, and social entrepreneur. Her advocacy work is at the intersection of black/feminist thought, arts, culture, and community.

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