It’s no secret that mental health is all too often an issue the black community shies away from, but all mental health battles don’t necessarily mean a person is destined for a life of antidepressants and therapy sessions (but even if that is the case, that’s OK too). In a recent interview with Vogue, Oprah, the mogul and woman who seems to have everything in the world, opened up about her struggles with depression and the part that food played in her mental well-being. The 63-year-old reveals her 1998 film Beloved was the beginning of some of her struggles:
“I shall never forget Saturday morning, October 17.”
“I got a call from someone at the studio, and they said, ‘It’s over. You got beat by Chucky.’ And I said, ‘Who’s Chucky? What do you mean it’s over? It’s just Saturday morning!’ I knew nothing about box-office projections or weekend openings. It was ten o’clock in the morning, and I said to Art, ‘I would like macaroni and cheese for breakfast.’”
“And soooo began my long plunge into food and depression and suppressing all my feelings.”
The producer, talk show host and force behind the OWN network which has produced hit shows such as Queen Sugar and Greanleaf talks about that day after the release of Beloved in which she sent that special request for comfort food to her chef at the time, Art Smith. It occurred after several years of success in which everything she promoted seemed to turn to gold. She was on her way to becoming one of the wealthiest African-American women in the world and suddenly some bad news about a project she had been so dedicated to and describes as “the happiest time I’ve ever spent on the planet” sent her on a tailspin into depression.
When she wasn’t able to immediately bounce back, she questioned if a few dark days were something much more serious:
“I actually started to think, Maybe I really am depressed. Because it’s more than ‘I feel bad about this.’ I felt like I was behind a veil. I felt like what many people had described over the years on my show, and I could never imagine it. What’s depression? Why don’t you just pick yourself up?”
She admits that after six weeks during which she went to different theaters buying blocks of tickets to try to boost box office sales, she made a decision to move on.
“That’s when the gratitude practice became really strong for me,”
“Because it’s hard to remain sad if you’re focused on what you have instead of what you don’t have.”
The one lesson the experience taught her? To never invest all of your hope and happiness into just one thing:
“It taught me to never again—never again, ever—put all of your hopes, expectations, eggs in the basket of box office. Do the work as an offering, and then whatever happens, happens.”
20-years-later, Winfrey also talks about how much she’s grown since she starred in Beloved at age 44:
“In your 40s, you’re coming into it, you’re intellectualizing things, and you kind of know it and you feel it.”
“But there is a deepening and a broadening and quickening of the knowing that happens in your 50s. Maya Angelou used to say to me, ‘The 50s are everything you’ve been meaning to be.’ She looks at me over the top of the nerd-chic glasses she favors these days. “You’d been meaning to be that person.”
“By the time you hit 60, there are just no . . . damn . . . apologies. And certainly not at 63. And the weight thing that was always such a physical, spiritual, emotional burden for me—no apologies for that either.”
Refinery 29 notes that what Winfrey probably experienced was situational depression which is depression triggered by loss or failure that doesn’t typically last long and is more of an adjustment disorder. Chris Iliades, MD, writes for Everyday Health that just because it’s temporary doesn’t mean it should be ignored and that situational depression can turn into clinical depression if ignored. However, situational depression is different from clinical depression which causes persistent feelings of fatigue, sadness and hopelessness. Iliades says situational depression can be overcome “by making changes in their attitudes, their daily behaviors, and their interpersonal functioning.”
After becoming a new mother and wife and losing my job all within two years, I can definitely say situational depression has touched my life recently and the past year or so has been a journey to overcome it. Oprah is a great example that regardless of how rich or successful we all appear to be, we are all works in progress. You can read her Vogue story in its entirety here.
Have you ever battled situational depression? What steps did you take to overcome it?