Backtalk with Terrie M. Williams

It’s quite ironic that Terrie M. Williams, who is well known as the president of her own public relations agency, an author, and the founder of a youth empowerment organization called the Stay Strong Foundation, once studied to become a clinical social worker but never recognized the symptoms of depression that she herself had been battling for most of her life—until she finally crashed, falling into what she describes as a deep, dark pit. Her journey out has inspired her to share her story and to chronicle the despair and recovery of others who suffer with depression, many of whom were ashamed or afraid to seek help because of the stigma associated with mental illness in the black community. These candid reflections are included in Williams’ latest book, BLACK PAIN: It Only Looks Like We’re Not Hurting (Scribner; $24). Here, the 53-year-old advocate speaks with black enteprise about how our bravado is killing us.

How have you been impacted by your bouts with depression?
It’s a blessing in disguise. I know that sounds weird. It’s just that our trials and our tribulations tell us to whom we must turn. I am a much more compassionate person, because now I know what depression means. I feel like I lost months, years of my life, but I am better for it.
In your book, you share not only your personal journey but the stories of others. What inspired you to put this together?
I really wanted people to know they were not alone—that they were not standing on that ledge by themselves. So many of us are floundering and we don’t know where to go, we don’t know what to do, we don’t know how we got there. I also wanted us to be aware of what our pain looks like, literally: what it looks like, what it sounds like, what it feels like so that if you or your loved ones or your colleagues approach these symptoms, you would have an idea of what you’re dealing with. Because of the taboo in our community, everyone wears the game face and can’t dare show a kink in the armor, so we don’t really know.

You mention the game face, the armor. Is that to suppress deeper issues?
We are full of childhood emotional wounds, scars, and experiences. We have inherited the pain and secrets of our parents and our ancestors that were just never spoken about. So we’re full of all of that, and there’s never been a release. That stuff sits inside and turns into rage if there’s nowhere to go with it. If there’s no one to talk to then we just hold that rage in and it becomes illness, disease. And if we let it out, we hurt and kill; self-medicate through drugs, alcohol, food, and sex; we gamble; we work 24-7. This is the reason we are in such deep pain.

And how does this play out in our everyday lives?
We’re moving too quickly, or we can’t afford therapy to process it, or we

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