Alive and fighting

Tameka Coley's fight against depression

By Richard Johnson
Observer senior reporter

Sunday, June 24, 2018

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The suicides of American designer Kate Spade and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain struck a chord with Jamaican Tameka Coley. A former lifestyle writer for the Jamaica Observer , Coley has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and contemplated suicide on a number of occasions.

It is a determination to tackle stigmas associated with mental illness that inspired Coley to write her first book, Hard Gal Fi Dead. She described the work, which will be available on July 9, as “an unconventional approach to an autobiography”.

Coley shares personal experiences, mixed with poetry and affirmations to expose readers to the thoughts of someone going through depression, to help them understand mental health issues.

“It was never to become a book,” she told the Sunday Observer. “I have always kept journals, just writing down the things I was experiencing. I soon realised that there was a common thread in these writings and so I bounced the idea off a few friends and the feedback was really positive, so I decided to give it a shot. It has taken me two years to compile and edit this work.”

Coley breaks down Hard Gal Fi Dead into three sections. It starts with Musings, a collection of her thoughts, experiences and emotional impact they had on her; these signposts gave way to her writing. The second segment is dedicated to Poetry in which she expresses her feelings about those experiences. The book winds up with Affirmations— which she calls love notes to herself.

“The major part of the book is Musings. This is where you find a lot of the heavier stuff. This includes recollections of the days I spent in a mental institution. The poem Sisters of My Song contains snippets of conversations I had with the other persons on the ward. I have written it in such a way that it moves naturally into the poetry and then into the affirmations, so that the reader gets an understanding of the full scope of mental illness.”

Coley explained that as a child she felt different.

“Even as a child I always felt that not all the children experienced that dark cloud that was always around me; I was always the weird child. People will tell you that I was moody... could go from being the happiest, most joyful person to being just really sad. But at that time nobody was speaking about depression and my family didn't even know what bipolar disorder was. But I knew from that time that something was wrong.”

Things got worse for Coley when she went to boarding school at age 10. Being away from family in unfamiliar surroundings with “a bunch of strange girls” just brought everything to the fore and resulted in her considering suicide for the first time.

“I went to Hampton (in St Elizabeth) and was away from friends at this young age and it was a huge culture shock. This made high school very rough for me. In third form I wrote a suicide note and my best friend found it and showed it to our guidance counsellor. Thankfully she was a psychologist and took it serious,” Coley recalled. “They did not want to put me on medication at that young age so they tried various therapies, including having me work out with the sports teams to bring my hormones in balance. This worked well and got me through high school.”

However, having completed sixth form, it was time to move to The University of the West Indies, and that transition resulted in major bouts of depression.

“I have come to realise that high-stress moments in my life bring on my depression. So I was depressed for the entire time at UWI. But this was the time I realised that mental illness was no joke and started working to understand the illness and, in turn, understand myself,” said Coley. “I also got all the treatments, started medication, and also began my lifestyle and diet changes. I also became open to discussing mental illness to educate both myself and others.”

Her willingness to speak on a topic many consider taboo has endeared Coley to others suffering from mental illness. She has stories of persons reaching out to her for guidance and support but for her, breaking the stigma attached to the disease is critical.

“One of the things persons need to understand is that anyone can be affected. Circumstances can send you into depression... life can beat you up so badly that you just sink. That means anyone, anytime, can have a mental health challenge, but the stigma associated prevents persons seeking help. I cannot stress enough that you cannot manage mental illness by yourself so get help,” Coley said.

Hard Gal Fi Dead will be available from Bookophillia in Kingston and on Amazon.

Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at http://bit.ly/epaperlive




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