I Am Karyn Washington.

I Am Karyn Washington.

The story is all too common. There is the aftermath, the remarks of how much she was loved. How many lives she has touched. There is some remark about the legacy left behind – the value of the work, the family. And just like that, they’re gone. The names could be interchangeable, but last week, when news broke of motivational social blogger Karyn Washington passing, something shifted in me. I knew that there was a story, previously left untold, that I needed to get out. Somehow. Because I was Karyn. I still am Karyn. And unlike her, I still could tell my story in my own words.

This is how Karyn, in her death, woke me up and saved my life.

Karyn Washington was a social blogger, most noted for her work with starting the #DarkSkinRedLip project, after rapper A$AP Rocky was reported saying that dark-skinned women shouldn’t wear red lipstick. She launched her website in the hopes of giving women a space to reclaim their voices and to celebrate the beauty of Black women. But last week, she was found dead, at the age of 22.

From her pictures and online persona, one wouldn’t think that she would fit the social stigmas surrounding mentally ill individuals. She remains vibrant, her words and smile resonating through the computer screen. And yet, from hearing her passing, I became passionate about her story. Because there is always an untold part of her story – something that keeps the true lessons from being learned. And while I do not speak for Karyn or her family, I can only do justice in her death by becoming brave within my own story.

I will not go into details about when, or who, or why. But I am one of the countless individuals suffering in silence. And just like Karyn, I believe I would not fit the stigma of someone that was affected by this critical disease. And most of that comes from the fact that people of color, especially Black women, are consistently overlooked when it comes to talk of mental illness. We are expected to carry the burden of everyone else’s sadness without a hitch. We are expected to smile, to teach, to laugh and to weigh our losses in silence. And for a long time, I lived that lie. I would make sense of the almost indescribable suffering in my head alone. I would take out how I was feeling on others. But I would also want more than anything for someone to understand; to reach out their hand and remind me that I was not alone. Fortunately, someone I respected and cared for reached out and urged me to get help. Slowly but surely, I began talking. I found others that were like me. And I managed.

I felt like my personal story of recovery is one that is incomplete. I still have days where I feel the inconsolable weight of the world on my shoulders; so heavy that getting out of bed seems like an Olympic feat. There are other examples, depending on the person, but the underlying fact is that you can never know. I was one of the lucky ones. I have a support system in place, both in individuals and in activities that aid in keeping me on track if I feel triggered, or settling back into destructive habits. But there are people every day suffering alone, afraid, falling further and further from the point of being reached. Karyn’s death, while tragic, was preventable. And I am not pointing a finger to any one person in blame, but rather to a system that constantly demeans and devalues the feelings and identity of marginalized people to the point that only drastic action like suicide will spark conversation or action.

There are many resources online and at your local health counseling center in regards to managing depression or any other mental illness, or what to do if you suspect someone you love is suffering. But it goes farther than that. It is our regard for those with mental illness as a whole through movies like Silver Lining’s Playbook that tell us exactly how the “legitimacy” of the illness determines how a person is regarded. It is the mental health system in America today, and the outrageous correlation to homelessness and mentally ill individuals. Each day, we encounter people suffering in silence that could be smiling next to us in class, or listening to Pandora on the bus, or giving us change at a lunch counter. We are individuals, living lives and feeling just like others. But it could be the simple things – the asking if we are alright if you notice a behavioral change – that could potentially save a life.

I could have been Karyn a long time ago. There is a chance I could be Karyn in the future if I am not careful. But that is my reality. And it is completely preventable. Instead of believing mental illness cannot affect people that look like they have their lives together, let Karyn remind you that both suffering and recovery are possible.