By: Donte Curtis – Ostara Resident and Board Rep.
I was 28 years old when I was told I was one of the 16 million Americans who have been diagnosed with many types of depression. We share this with 300 million people across the globe. Some of us are also one of the 50% of those who have also been medically diagnosed with one of the many types of anxiety combined with being diagnosed with depression or vice versa.
My experience with depression at its worst is so crippling that I’m only able to ensure my basic survival for the day. But on an average day, I’m using willpower just to seem happy. For me, anxiety at its worst prevents me from leaving my room because I can’t get out of my head. On an average day, when I am being social, it mostly presents a mostly manufactured and mentally crippling face. Enough to get by because my baseline is not a safe place to be in for social interactions. Remember, I suffer both of these at the same time.
I see a therapist, have friends, eat mostly healthy, stay fit, and ensure that I make others aware of my boundaries. These are the things that I do to keep my depression down. This is what I call “repair mode.” They are quick fixes that raise or stabilize my moods but don’t necessarily satisfy the deeper issues that plague me. I use them as patches as I dig deep and work at simply being ok with who I am and being comfortable sharing the gifts that I have to give. Doing that internal work is only half of what I’m finding is truly rewarding. The other half is fostering an environment in my community where everyone can feel empowered to be authentic. I love making a space where people have permission to choose themselves first.
If my home is to be a safe space, everyone needs to know that they have the freedom to be and express themselves in whatever way that comes up, so long as they aren’t physically, mentally, or spiritually abusing others. Each of us has differing cultural and ethical values. We have different ways of looking at things, we have different perspectives from life experiences, we have all lived lives that have gotten us to where we are. Having this mentality makes it less likely I will judge someone out of ignorance. What looks like a strange and angering behavior to one person may be a vulnerability. It may be manifested trauma. It may be completely unconscious.
If I’m one of the 7% Americans who openly reported my struggles to a medical doctor, doing so only at 28, how many people haven’t truly acknowledged the depth of their depression or anxiety? How many people have yet to realize it? How many people have kept saying they don’t need help or think the depression isn’t that bad? It’s empowering for me to shed light on this often neglected population. In the community, it tends to be that particular population that gets overlooked. I’ve asked myself many times as I’ve watched someone who struggled with mental health issues leave the community because it wasn’t a healthy environment for them. I’ve watched it many times. I have experienced moments where we have needed help but didn’t know how to ask or if we could trust — only to give up and decide that the community isn’t safe.
However, building a community is essential to having a successful co-op. These two are not mutually exclusive. The dishes will always be dirty. The food budget will always be a challenging discussion. Someone will find a way to disagree with you. Someone’s boundaries are always getting crossed. There will be times when you will feel unheard, alone, looked over, or, worst of all, unvalued in your community. Housemates will have moments where they find themselves out of their element and act out their character. There will always be challenges living with a diverse group of people cooperatively in an urban environment. We all look at the same reality yet tell different stories about how it looks. The opportunity that living in a community brings is that everyone can support each other in ways that we cannot get from our nuclear families or the rest of the world. It gives those who live with anxiety or depression or struggle with day-to-day living that can be tough on humans. What community does is offer the chance to feel connected to people you can trust. When you can take the mask off, opportunities for vulnerability open. Personally, I find it particularly rewarding to accept what I see in people instead of attaching stories to who they are, empowering them to be themselves, to feel confident about how their gifts can value the community’s value.
I find that human connection, required by evolution, is best fulfilled in a place where you feel accepted and where you can be the best and worst version of yourself. For those who may suffer from depression and anxiety and have never had the opportunity to experience this acceptance, living in community could provide it. The truth is I’m still dealing with my depression and anxiety. Still, it’s a lot easier when I allow myself to connect with my housemates by giving them permission to be them. I let my defenses down. Other people do too. I’ve found that the best pathway to growth is to do it with others. If you’re someone like me, struggling with their mental health, who dreads the days when you have to avoid people just to get relief, try leaning in with your community. You will be surprised by what you find when giving others the gift of love you are trying to find in yourself.