The Real Face of Depression by Lateefah Fleming This is the face of depression. A gorgeous smile. The pearly whites showing. The head tilted back in laughter. The “boss babe” look. The face of someone who really does love life but doesn’t always feel like she can make it through life. I am a wellness motivator, coach and professional. After 20 years in the business, I have covered a lot of ground: I have mentored, held managerial positions and taught others how to run their businesses. I love the process of helping women find their voices and to reach for their own power. It is an honor, and I am here for anyone who needs me. Despite the abundance of personal successes and fulfilling work, depression is a constant in my life. It feels like a continuous knocking on my door — a soft but persistent knocking, always letting me know that it is still there. Eventually, it gets a little louder, and I cannot ignore it anymore. I try my best to be busy: to go out, to talk on the phone — sometimes, I drink — to avoid that gnawing feeling, that incessant knocking. Then that level knocking turns into a steady pounding, and I have to fight even harder to get it under control. The fight is an all-out battle raging within me all while carrying on like a “normal” person. Sometimes, I feel like I can’t function. I will have bouts of shortness of breath, moments where I’m fighting back tears and days where it takes every ounce of life within me to get out of bed. It irritates me when I tell someone about my depression, and they shrug and say, “hey, everyone gets depressed, no big deal.” And then, there’s the well-intentioned, “you’ll feel better,” as if there is one thing that made you feel a little low. My depression is not situational — it is not something triggered by the day-to-day disappointments. I have had dealt with tremendous setbacks and survived some horrible trauma, and my battle is more complicated than feeling a little down. Thankfully, I am not doing this alone. It took me some time to seek help, but I eventually found a wonderful therapist who has given me tools to cope and provides a space for me to be raw, honest and vulnerable. She witnesses with my ups and downs while remaining caring and honest. And I need that. I also have my yoga and meditation, a healthy lifestyle and, perhaps most importantly, time with friends. With the help of my therapist, I am learning to be honest with them about what I am feeling. No longer do I feel ashamed, embarrassed or even weak. Depression is a part of me but not the definition of who I am — and it is not something to keep from my loved ones. I still feel vulnerable when sharing my story and welcoming an audience behind the “veil” of happiness and success. In fact, this was difficult for me to write. But I want to emphasize the importance of taking mental health issues seriously, particularly in the Black community. Thankfully, I can do this with the support of my amazing community. They have empowered me to be a warrior, a proud Black woman and a global citizen. Ultimately, I want to be an example to anyone fighting a similar battle. Lately, I have chosen to believe in myself and focused on the triumphs — my ability to speak up when I am not well, to identify and honor both "good" and "bad" days. Knowing I am not alone and finding strength in those who fight the same fight is empowering.