All of these emotions and memories rushed back in the moment I saw Lawrence on the show. And as Season 1 continued on and the #BlackTwitter discussion shifted to how he may have been to blame because of his chronic unemployment putting pressure on Issa, the conversation felt incomplete. It made me angry. Why were they painting him as lazy, and not recognizing that Lawrence was depressed for those two years? Why don’t they realize how crippling depression is? And why is Molly encouraged to seek help for her mental illness while Lawrence’s need was seemingly ignored? In the midst of the weekly battle-of-the-sexes debates, it felt like a huge part of the show’s identity was being overlooked.
I grappled with the reality that while depression and mental illness have become buzzwords in recent years, very few people are able to recognize it, much less know what to do once they see it. After all, Lawrence had been suppressing his feelings for all of Season 2. When he tried to speak to his friend Chad about his residual feelings for Issa, he’s mocked. “That’s two bedrooms: one for you, and one for your feelings,” Chad zings. And when he feels used after his threesome with the two white women, he conceals how he really feels because he knows it won’t be received well. This is part of how black men end up never addressing or diagnosing their depression or difficult emotions: we’re told that it’s a sign of weakness.
Lawrence’s depression wasn’t labeled as such until deep into Season 2, during his and Issa’s notorious argument outside of the restaurant at Derek’s birthday party. Both of them were being as hurtful as possible to each other, and Issa shamed him about his failed app while she was taking care of “his depressed ass.” While I was depressed myself, two of my worst fears were feeling like a burden to people who cared about me, and feeling like the depression would be used against me if anyone recognized it. Issa’s actions here were worse than her cheating could ever be. But I was grateful because finally, his depression was being called exactly what it was.
During the Season 2 finale, in the most beautiful bit of writing on the show, Issa and Lawrence finally had the honest conversation we’ve wanted them to have. And Lawrence dropped one of the biggest truth bombs of the season. “Sometimes I set these expectations for myself, and I just shut down if they don’t go how I…” It’s exactly what Insecure has needed: a 140-character summation of how a black man can fall into depression. It was triggering to lots of us — and I’ve got the retweets and replies to prove it:
Man, what Lawrence said about having expectations of himself and shutting down when he doesn’t meet them. Shit. #InsecureHBO
— William Ketchum III (@WEKetchum) September 11, 2017
— Jonathan C (@jcashtro) September 11, 2017
With Insecure Season 2 now at a close, I think it’s important that the show covered Lawrence’s depression in the way that it did. Writers didn’t label it by name early on, and rightfully so: rarely do black men identify it for what it is, if even acknowledging it at all, and we may not recognize it until we can step back and have perspective. When Issa shamed him about it, we saw a clear illustration on how not to address depression with someone we love. And while depression shows its face in different ways, Lawrence’s explanation was a perfect primer on the way depression can dig into one’s psyche. The show illustrated depression and labeled it. Hopefully, viewers can see what depression looks like in themselves and their friends, and have a better idea of how to deal with it.
Lawrence spent Insecure in the dumps with depression destroying his life. The depression is still a source of shame for him. “I’m sorry for not being who you expected me to be,” he said in the finale conversation. “Who I expected me to be.” And there are still more conversations about gender roles (Issa admits that she didn’t know how to deal with his depression, but that she expected Lawrence to be stronger for the both of them), and how black men can acknowledge depression. But he seems closer than ever to the point where he’ll be able to realize that he doesn’t have to always yield to depression’s whims. That he can still treat people he cares about with the love and respect they deserve, make a living, and live a fulfilling life, despite that dark cloud never truly going away.
And so can I.
is a journalist who covers music, pop culture, film/TV, race, culture and social justice. He is an editor at Okayplayer, and his work has appeared in Complex, Billboard, Guardian, NPR, MTV, Ebony, HipHopDX, The Flint Journal-MLive, and other publications.