Shattering the mental illness stigma
Tinesha Longley wakes up every day and asks herself a series of questions: Where are you today? How do you feel? What are your thoughts? She answers those questions honestly because her life depends on it. Asking and answering these questions extends beyond her waking moments – she sometimes has to ask these questions of herself every moment of the day, or periodically throughout the day to gauge where she’s at and how she’s feeling.
Longley, 33, has been diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD) or clinical depression as well as anxiety disorder – Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
Sadness is natural for humans, and happens with the death of a loved one, or when they’re going through a challenge such as an illness or divorce – but the feelings are normally short-lived. Experiencing persistent and intense feelings of sadness for extended periods of time is MDD.
“Major depressive disorder is something that I don’t have control of. So, I can be normal and then a misfire can happen and then I slip into a state of depression. So, even when I feel it come on, I have to be honest that I’m not in a good place, so I would either message my therapist or somebody like my best friend and say ‘I’m not good – this is how I’m feeling right now, these are the thoughts I’m having’. And I just make sure that I use my support team that I have.”
Longley describes herself as having been introverted all her life.
“I lived in the world of my thoughts,” she said.
What she didn’t realize was that introversion hid layers of internalized pain and covered up traumatic experiences in her childhood that went unacknowledged or overlooked by the people around her.
“Growing up in a very toxic and abusive home, I struggled with depression and anxiety all my life but didn’t realize it as mental illness. The struggle was always present internally so the discovery never really happened,” said Longley.
She found release from her pain with cutting, which she started at age 11, shortly after she was raped by her brother’s friend.
“Basically, that’s how I dealt with a lot of pain in my life growing up. I would just cut to suppress the feeling. I would just cut instead of saying anything to anybody … just to take away the pain and be able to cope throughout the day.”
Over the years, she said the cutting was off and on as she matured into adulthood and the pressures that come with daily life. She vividly recalls her first miscarriage and the emotional pain that came with it, and her commencing cutting on a regular basis.
“When the pain was too much, I would cut,” she said.
It all came to a head at work one day when her boss at the time saw the blood seeping through her clothes.
“I would usually wrap it up really good that people wouldn’t see, but I didn’t realize it was coming out. I guess I didn’t put enough wrapping on it and he saw, and that’s when he made me get help.”
It was a nervous breakdown episode, while attempting to commit suicide in 2010, which led to an evaluation by a psychiatrist and her diagnosis.
“At the time, the free treatment with Sandilands Rehabilitation Centre was too stigmatized and not an option I was willing to explore,” she explained. “It was a challenge to even maintain the necessary help I needed to get better. Treatment and medication in The Bahamas without insurance is very costly, nearly impossible. For me, it was like no way was I going to Sandilands. This had to stay quiet. So, yes, I did not want to seek further help than beyond there.”
She was placed on medications. But in the same token, she said what wasn’t fully explained to her at the time was that the medications can do more harm than good when you’re first placed on them, and that until a person’s system gets adjusted to them, sometimes it gets worse before it gets better. It got worse for her. Longley said the suicidal thoughts became extreme and she took herself off her meds. The result, she said, was that she began cutting deeper and she started taking pills. She tried to deal with it on her own by attending church and doing her best to remain positive.
In January 2019, Longley had a major relapse with depression and anxiety, and was hospitalized for two weeks in the psych ward of a Washington, D.C., hospital. She was again placed on medication.
The episode was triggered by her second miscarriage.
“I constantly time my episodes to know how long I’m in a depressed state. I realized the episode was extremely long because it was going on more than a month. I usually come out of a depressed state within three weeks, but going on more than a month I realized I was spiraling. I literally was sitting in my front room and had a knife to my wrist … that was the end of the road for me. At the same time I was about to do that, my best friend rang my phone and said she was outside my gate. With that, I just said ‘okay I cannot do this on my own, I need help’, and that’s what I did. I didn’t realize how bad I was,” she said.
She credits the medication she was put on the second time with saving her life.
“My best treatment through this whole process and being a woman of faith was medication,” she said.
Longley found herself in hospital again at home just last week after another episode.
With the encouragement of God, along with her husband David Jermaine Longley, family and medical support team, Longley put pen to paper and has written the book “Silent Cries” – a book focused on breaking the stigma and silence attached to mental health in The Bahamas.
“For every person who reads this book, it is my desire that they are enlightened and will begin to join the conversation by speaking up and speaking out,” she said. “For those struggling with mental illnesses to know that even when there are dark days, it’s okay not to be okay. However, ultimately, they will realize that they are not alone and hope is found on these pages, which will illuminate a path of transformation and purpose,” she said.
Through her book, Longley hopes to increase public knowledge and awareness of mental illness and encourage people to seek help.
“It’s a mental illness,” she said. “If you have a cold, if you’re coughing, if your chest hurts, you go to the doctor to figure out what’s going on, so now that you’re knowledgeable and aware that it’s an illness, that’s how you have to look at it, and realize you have an illness and figure out the best treatment to get better.”
Along with her supportive husband, Longley also credits her mother, who lives in Guyana, a cousin who is a psych nurse, and the friends she refers to as her ‘drafted family’, with helping her through the tough times.
“They have literally been journeying with me through this past year to where I am now. Family has been the biggest support to get me through this, even in the rough days and the down moments and the hard trials like last week with the episode that I had.”
It is Longley’s hope that people read her book and take away the knowledge and understanding that there is still life with and after a mental illness diagnosis.
“Knowledge is power and when you are aware of these things you know what they are, what is actually happening, how they affect you and how they can be treated. You are able to see the symptoms, then you can better assist yourself and ask for help. A lot of people don’t have knowledge on the different mental illnesses that people struggle with and I want them to know that it’s treatable, and you still can lead a successful and productive life, even though you struggle with a mental illness. I’ve struggled with it for years, but in that time, I’ve been successful and I still live a productive life,” she said.
During her research for her book, Longley discovered that in many pockets of society, especially in the Caribbean, discussions on mental illness remain taboo.
“For decades, people in our society would silently struggle with different conditions unaware of what is truly happening to them not knowing treatment is available and they can still live a productive life.”
From her discovery and her own painful process, SUSO (Speak Up Speak Out) Transformational Organization, a non-profit, was birthed.
“SUSO uses the arts, seminars, workshops and coaching/counseling sessions to bring a wider awareness, assistance and support to mental and physical illnesses that are usually overlooked, not spoken of, or ignored in our society,” she said. “Are you willing to risk the fear and pain of total transformation to live the life you were meant to live? Then SUSO is the place for you. SUSO shines a light on different mental and physical illnesses by also enhancing awareness to possible personal roadblocks while providing insights and tools to change individuals’ perspectives.”
“For every person who reads this book, it is my desire that they are enlightened and will begin to join the conversation by speaking up and speaking out.”
Longley will launch her Bahamas Islands Book Tour on Saturday, January 18 at Global Outreach Ministries International in James Cistern, Eleuthera at 5 p.m.
She will continue to create a platform for awareness, education and breaking the silence with a “Talk with the Author” event on Friday, January 24 at Wild Thyme Restaurant with Dr. Edrica Richardson at 6:30 p.m.
In recognition of Mental Health Month in May, Longley will direct and produce “Silent Cries: The Musical”, which, creatively, will unfold her relapse, depression and anxiety struggles as well as her healing journey.
Longley’s book is available on Amazon.com. Tinesha Longley can be contacted at email@example.com, telephone (242) 814-4573 or on social media Facebook: @speakupspeakoutbeavoicenotanecho Instagram: @susotransformation.