ESSENCE: What made you write Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting (Scribner)?
Terrie Williams: My love for Black people. I received thousands of letters and e-mails after my ESSENCE article appeared. These people’s best friends didn’t know they were in pain. Their families didn’t know. How do you tell someone, “I feel like I’m dying inside, and I don’t know what to do about it”? People didn’t know how to begin the conversation. This book can help them do that. The other part of it is that so many of us have no idea that we’re in so much pain. We don’t know what our pain looks like, sounds like, or feels like.
ESSENCE: So what does depression sound like for Black people? Which phrases resonate most with women?
T.W.: “I’m tired.” “I’m really not a people person.” “I don’t feel like it.” “Can you supersize that?” “Nothing good ever happens to me.”
ESSENCE: Why don’t we realize we’re in pain?
T.W.: Because we’re moving so quickly in our lives that we don’t take the time to process what happens to us. That you have to work ten times harder than your White counterparts. That someone clutched her purse when you got on the elevator. That you’re underappreciated by your family. I also believe we all harbor deep-seated scars from our childhood. When we don’t talk about any of that stuff and don’t process it, it sits inside and festers. And when it does come out, it’s uncontrolled rage, the violence we witness every day, self-medication, working 24/7, shopping, gambling. Those are the ways our pain manifests itself. Even those who achieve great things in corporate America—their spirits or souls may be dead because so many people drain their lives.
ESSENCE: What’s the most common reason women hide their pain?
T.W.: I think it’s that we’re afraid to seem weak. We’re afraid to show a chink in the armor. Some of us think, I’m already coming in the door perhaps not as valued as I should be, so to show a chink in the armor would be death. What’s interesting to me is that the person right next to you is more than likely dealing with the same thing.
ESSENCE: What’s the best way to help someone who’s depressed?
T.W.: Say in a caring, gentle way, “You don’t seem like yourself lately.” You could use the book or the ESSENCE article to get them talking. Depression is something that’s treatable through diet, exercise, medication, strengthening your relationship with God, getting toxic people out of your life. It’s something you can master on many levels.
ESSENCE: What about people who get frustrated trying to find a good doctor to talk to?
T.W.: I’ve heard people say, “I tried a therapist once.” But when you go to the shoe store to find a pair of shoes, if the first one doesn’t fit, you keep trying until you find one that works, right?
ESSENCE: What else should we know about depression?
T.W.: We all have challenges that we go through. They exist so we can come out on the other side and share the experience with someone else, so people don’t think they’re standing on a ledge by themselves. Some of us have had very, very difficult lives. But there’s glory and joy on the other side— there’s no question about that.
Credit: Barron Claiborne