It would be better if I wasn’t alive.
This is the text message T-Kea Blackman sent her friend after her suicide attempt. And it’s the words that begin her powerful memoir Saved & Depressed: A Suicide Survivor’s Journey of Mental Health, Healing & Faith.
Blackman had struggled with suicidal thoughts since age 12, regularly triggered by witnessing drug addiction and domestic violence. At the time of her attempt, she was 24 years old. She felt “powerless and hopeless.”
For years, Blackman also struggled with depression and anxiety. “They both were beyond exhausting to the point I became numb,” she said. The depression was paralyzing, making her feel like bricks were laying on top of her.
Her anxiety led her to feel like she “was in the middle of an ocean in a constant state of panic, flapping my arms and kicking my legs to stay afloat but I never drowned.”
As Blackman writes in Saved & Depressed, before she was formally diagnosed, she “thought it was normal to walk around on edge all of the time. I had no clue that being ‘worked up’ and worried 24/7 was a problem. In fact, I thought everyone struggled with uncontrollable and racing thoughts to the point where they could not focus, sleep, or get daily activities completed…”
An hour after Blackman sent that text to her friend, two policemen showed up at her apartment. She was taken to the hospital, and then transported to the psychiatric unit. Days later, she’d attend a partial hospitalization program for 6 weeks. This included individual and group therapy, and involved spending 6 hours at the hospital and going home at night.
Initially, Blackman had zero desire to get better. “Depression felt like home—a warm blanket and it was comfortable,” she said. However, after being in the hospital and attending the outpatient program, she started to feel a glimmer of hope.
With more treatment and support, that glimmer widened and brightened.
Today, Blackman is a mental health advocate, speaker, writer, and host of the weekly podcast Fireflies Unite With Kea. In particular, she focuses her advocacy work on the African American community, shattering the stigma of mental illness and help-seeking, and sharing stories of people who live and thrive with different diagnoses.
“As an African American woman, I was taught to be strong and keep going because that’s what my ancestors did. But being strong was to my detriment because I felt weak for needing medication and therapy. And there are other women in my community who deal with those same thoughts and feelings.”
Many African Americans also are hesitant to seek treatment because they “were taught ‘what happens in this house stays in this house’ and going to therapy to talk about things happening in your home [means] that you are airing your business and dirty laundry,” Blackman said.
Some are taught that therapy is exclusively for white people, or that prayer is the only thing they need, she said.
“My goal for my advocacy is to inspire my community to own their truth and more importantly heal.”
Blackman further noted, “you can pray and see a therapist at the same time. Attending therapy does not mean that you lack faith in God or are weak; it means that you are a human working through challenges.”
She also pointed out that therapy isn’t about “airing your dirty laundry”; rather, it’s about discussing “things that make it hard for you to sleep and function at your best. Therapy will provide you a safe space to be the best version of yourself.”
Staying in Recovery
Today, what helps Blackman remain in recovery is her “awesome therapist” and the support of her family and friends. She also connected with groups at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). “I found people who could identify with me and support me.”
Most importantly, she said, her recovery resides in “living a self-directed life.”
“I have learned to define success and recovery for myself. As a peer support specialist and advocate, I have people who look up to me and I want to be the support I needed in my darkest days.”
Blackman also credits her strong faith in God and her hard work. “I believe God spared my life to do this work and help save others from suicide. Working on myself has been harder than both of my degrees combined but to see my growth brings tears to my eyes and helps me stay in recovery. I am amazed at how I went from wanting to die and attempting to end my life to being so full of life and excited about my future.”
If You’re Struggling, Too
If you’re struggling with depression or anxiety and feel hopeless and incredibly overwhelmed, Blackman wants you to know that even though right now everything seems dark and you’re convinced you won’t get better, you absolutely will “with the support of a therapist and if needed, medication.”
Blackman stressed the importance of identifying qualities or specialties in a therapist that are non-negotiable for you—and not to stop until you’ve found them. “When I was looking for a therapist, I wanted a black woman because that’s who I felt comfortable with. It took me a while but with the right therapist, I was able to make so much progress.”
“Also, do not feel ashamed if you need to go to the hospital; it could be the very thing that saves your life.”
In the moment, when you’re sick and feel awful, you can’t imagine a time when you’ll actually feel well. It’s similar to having the flu: You have a high fever. You are bed ridden. You feel weak. Even getting up to put a bowl of soup in the microwave feels impossible.
But then, as the treatment kicks in, your body starts to heal, your energy returns, your mind becomes clearer, and the days pass, you do start to feel better. And maybe you even get to a point where you don’t remember as much about those sick days, or they’re not as vivid and visceral. Because they felt permanent, but were not.
And even if you get the flu again, you’re better prepared. You have a good idea of what to do. You know what helps you. And you know it won’t last forever.
If you’re struggling, please know that with treatment you can thrive and live a satisfying, fulfilling life. Blackman’s story is proof of that. And it’s just one of millions of such stories.