People look for outlets of many kinds – alcohol, sex, drugs, music, fitness, food, relationships, religion as their remedy to what ails them…. for others it’s Carnival.

Not just Carnival, but the process/lifestyle of being a Carnival Chaser/Masquerader/Feteran has been the medicine for many people with various ailments, including me.  Carnival is our antidote. 

The full gamut of emotions is often experienced by all Carnival Junkies over the course of pre, during & post-carnival.   The difference is for many this scale is part of normal adrenaline rushes, normal highs and lows of day to day, month to month, year to year life --- and for others, it serves as our lifeline.

The stigmas of society have often caused the delay and general acceptance of so many issues – religion, race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.  Well, there’s another that still remains a topic that almost no one wants to discuss & leaves people feeling uncomfortable seeking out help, never mind come to terms with their internal struggles – it’s the topic of mental health

So, as we head into the “Tabanca Season/Post Carnival Depression” I’d ask you to take it a bit easy on the melodramatic posts about how you can’t take it anymore  --- please understand in the U.S. for every 2 homicides there are 3 suicides ….. Clinical Depression is real & it’s a problem that has been swept under the rug for far too long.

It’s amazing when you think about it, people spend hours upon hours in the gym on a daily basis, buy magazines, pay for trainers, buy specially prepared meals, others will go under the knife to help achieve their physical goals ……. yet 95%+ of the general population will not even spend 15 minutes a day working on their mental health and wellness.

There are many forms of mental health issues, yet the one most often stigmatized, ignored and leaving people embarrassed to address is Clinical Depression.  This isn’t the “I got a bad grade on an exam”, “my dog died”, “I just got a massive bill I can’t afford to pay”, or “my boyfriend/girlfriend broke up with me” blues or even the common “Post Carnival Depression” / “Carnival Tabanca” – those are all situational & temporary cycles of life.  Definitely not suggesting “don’t feel how you feel”, just keep it in perspective compared to the broader world that be.  It’s natural to have a lull/down cycle, reminisce & wish the euphoric high was still happening – yet Carnival will always come again.

Clinical Depression is not just “a lull”, it is a chemical imbalance that essentially puts a massive weight on someone’s head, shoulders, and then more on their chest & heart weighing them down each day to the point that it can often take every ounce of energy after several hours of struggling to just get out of bed & it feels suffocating  (people lose jobs, relationships, skip meals for days not coping with it/being paralyzed by it) – with periods of more  severe  symptoms that last weeks, months or years where it feels like a ton of bricks is pulling them down & every morning they wake up – no matter how good or even amazing things may temporarily be around them – their perspective is on the omnipresent weight upon their mind.  How do I know? ……. Because I’m one of them and I’ve done a pretty damn good job of hiding it from most people for the last 20+ years. 

For those who suffer from Depression - Carnival can serve as our emergency oxygen tank in terms of supplying happiness/joy in a world that often feels as though someone has stolen our ability to find even the most modest level happiness on a daily basis.  Some people are born with diabetes, some with sickle cell anemia, others clinical depression – all of which can be treated yet never truly disappear – they linger in the background, like an invisible backpack that others often will never notice weighing someone down and unfortunately, can end in death.

Why is this even being written up? Why does this even matter?

The fact is things need to be brought out of the darkness & into the light to be fully examined, understood & accepted.  Chances are that if you have a decent size group of friends someone is fighting this battle most likely without you knowing it, as roughly 1 in every 12 adults suffers from major depression.  The numbers are significantly higher among women (particularly postpartum), those with significant physical ailments, members of the LGBT community, and those who are alcoholics/use drugs ...... so chances are members of your Carnival Crew could use a shoulder, listening ear, or just a bit more compassion/understanding as they work through their clinical depression.

People become addicted to the release, the euphoria, the endorphins ..... which is why so many of us chase Carnival not just across the Caribbean but around the world.  Hearing of people who have had their best Carnival experiences soon after the death of loved ones or a traumatic event (think post 9/11 for 1st responders or military members returning from a warzone) is quite understandable as Carnival gives you a break from reality – a window in time where you can hit the pause button on all your stresses & get to experience love, joy, acceptance, sun, music, dance & culture – when you go from one polar extreme to another it can feel utterly Heavenly.

Truly, I came to grasp the severity of my own situation with 1 question & 1 specific event.  The question was posed to me “when have you truly been happy for an extended period of time with no weight on your shoulders/head?” ...... I sat there and thought back – I literally couldn’t think of a time/period of my adult years except for my 1st Trinidad Carnival where I truly felt like I was walking on cloud 9 for a week straight easily.  So, my response was to book as many carnivals in my schedule as possible and this would serve as my self-medication ......until it wasn’t enough anymore.

Vividly, I remember the day that the Mecca of all Carnivals was no longer even enough.  I’d just left A.M.Bush was on my way to Soca Brainwash and stopped at the Hyatt.  As I finished up posing for photos & greeting a few people (people showing me love & dapping me up for what I do – yet it was empty/meaningless to me at that point) I went to the corner and sat down alone ...... that’s when it hit me.  Like an ocean wave crashing down over me I suddenly began to break down in tears, uncontrollably. 

How could this be?

I’d just came from my favorite thing in the world – J’ouvert & I was headed to the best fete of the week and I was in “my happy place”, Carnival.  That’s when I knew, my battle with clinical depression was no longer something I could deny, ignore, sweep under the rug, or address on my own --- I needed professional help.

Others scratch their heads and say “I don’t get it – you’re so happy & live life to the fullest?”  Um, realize that you “see me” when I’m coming up for air/oxygen at Carnival. That represents maybe 5% of my time on a yearly basis.  And while I’m definitely one for keeping it real (possibly a little too real on my IG account), like many others battling depression we often operate in silence or retreat from society when the truly heavy stuff hits and don’t tell anyone.  So, we make up a laundry list of excuses as to why we aren’t available.  It’s a common occurrence for those with depression to be loners and avoid/have challenges maintaining long-term intimate relationships as the “low-lows” are too heavy a burden to hide & we don’t want to drag others down with us.

So – where do we go from here?

#1 -  Those who may be suffering from PCD/Tabanca start with a bit of empathy and a filter on what you say/post on the topic, the fact is you probably had a great time – there’s a natural letdown & desire to hold on to that moment, yet chances are you’ve got beautiful memories, a few pics or maybe even some video to remind you of the legendary time you had.

#2 -  If you know someone is having an especially hard time or concerned someone is possibly struggling – express it in a supportive way & be persistent/consistent in checking in on them, they may resist yet they’ll thank you in the long run.

#3 – If you personally feel that a lot of the above resonates with your personal circumstances I’d encourage you to seek out professional help in the form of a therapist/counselor, or at least seek out a support group (whether in person or online), heck drop me a message and I’ll look to be a sounding board & point you in the right direction.

#4 -  For those suffering from PCD and/or Clinical Depression …… book another trip – “It’s always Carnival somewhere”. Sun, exercise, smiles, hugs, and dancing all serve as natural “medicines” to help improve mental health – just don’t look at Chasing Carnival as your only remedy.

#5 – Let’s shed the stigma & bring the topic to the forefront for discussion.  Talking, listening & understanding are always a great place to begin on any difficult topic.  Life isn’t perfect yet when we come together in love & unity it gets that much easier to make it a beautiful experience. --- Here's a suggestion on how to initiate the conversation & show support for your loved ones, without having to be concerned about "self-identifying" or having anything attached to you except the idea you are a supportive friend .... on your own social media pages pose the question "I had no idea clinical depression impacted this many people, did you? For those in my lift impacted I'm here to support you" & simply add the link to this article -- just starting the convo & showing a tiny bit of support for them will go a long way.

Much LOVE to everyone out there & keep your heads up.

Here are a few resources for those in need:

‘Til next time, Soca to de World!
-Jouvert Mike