A Glimpse Into My Life

See it through my eyes & understand me a little more

Monthly Archives: August 2010

African-Americans & The Myth of Mental Illness

This series on mental illness began with my story. I wasn’t sure of the approach that I would take for this post, but I’ve decided after very recent conversations to state (simply) why African-Americans should worry about Mental Illness.

Mental Illness? That’s a “White” thing!

This phrase is what started it all. By “it,” I’m not only speaking of this series but also why African-Americans are less likely to seek services that deal with behavior and cognitive issues. Given our history in this country, it isn’t difficult to understand the apprehension behind getting professional help (counseling or whatever). Historically, science was used by the “Majority” as a justification for the maltreatment of non-Whites. The study of evolution was used to justify the separation of racial/ethnic groups, as well as the subservient status of non-Whites (a theory known as Social Darwinism). Those who were associated with these theories were the leading voices in biology, eugenics, medicine, philosophy/psychology. Additionally, the United States has a notorious history behind using African-Americans for trial studies, health, and social experiments (see the relatively unknown Tuskegee Experiment; Human Experimentation in the US). This has led to a distrust of those outside of our community, as well as the thinking that what affects “them” can’t affect “us.” With respect to Mental Illness, this can’t be further from the truth.

Mental Illness Has a Look

Unfortunately, many of us seem to believe that you can look at someone and tell if they need psychiatric help. We believe that if you are well put-together (your hair, clothes, and shoes look nice), drive a nice car, live in a nice place, and have a job, then you are happy and have no problems.

 This can’t be further from the truth.

Mental health agencies (such as National Alliance on Mental Illness) acknowledge that as a group, African-Americans are disproportionately more likely to experience social circumstances that increase their chances of developing a mental illness (source). We need to be aware of the indicators and risk factors that lead to mental illness as it has been shown that a mental break can be a culmination of life experiences (sudden onset of a disease are often triggered by a major event but experiences increase susceptibility to disorders).

What does this mean?

Besides the obvious “any one of us can suffer,” it means that we need to be aware AND actively work to change the stigma. Some facts to be aware of:

  • tend to rely on family, religious and social communities for emotional support, rather than turning to health care professionals, even though this may at times be necessary.African Americans
  • Across a recent 15 year span, suicide rates increased 233% among African Americans aged 10 to 14 compared to 120% among Caucasian Americans in the same age group across the same span of time.
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  • African Amemicans comprise 40% of the homeless population and only 12% of the U.S. population. People experiencing homelessness are at a greater risk of developing a mental illness.
  • Nearly half of all prisoners in the United States are African American. Prison inmates are at a high risk for developing mental illness.
  • Children in foster care and the child welfare system are more likely to develop mental illnesses. African American children comprise 45% of the public foster care population.
  • Exposure to violence increases the risk of developing a mental illness; over 25% of African American children exposed to violence meet criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder.

 

As a community, we need to move towards a mindset of acceptance and open communication. Rmember that mental illness exists and it can happen to anyone.

He’s A Good Man: Commentary on the Villainization of “Homewreckers”

Lately, there has been a barrage of stories of homewreckers (those of the famous persuasion) and their conquests of taking “other women’s husbands.” Is this a new trend? Something that has become more popular? The “in thing” to do? I’m not sure what is going on but I know that I don’t like it.

I read in the news yesterday of an accidental overdose of sleep aids and pain relievers of a very talented singer (read: alleged attempted suicide) and I was disturbed by the response to this news. This songstress has been called everything that people can think to call a woman who “goes after” another woman’s husband. I don’t agree with her behavior…but I disagree even more with the response that the general public (read: Black folk) has given to the situation. This led me to post the following status on Facebook:

“[Miss C. Jayne] really wants to know what’s up with the villainization of the “homewrecker”? Why harp on the women who sleep with the MARRIED men? I don’t get it…so someone explain it to me. Thanks.”

For people that know me, they understood that I already had my own opinion, I just wanted to see what others said (before I came to share my thoughts on the topic). I was genuinely surprised by one answer:

“I think wives feel as though the “homewrecker” has disrespected her as a woman by entertaining the attention of a husband. Whether the marriage is broken or not, the argument is that as women we should respect each other enough to leave a man who is “taken” alone until he has chosen to end his current relationship. It speaks to the idea of community among women, and assumes that men can’t control their actions so women have to control their own.” – C.P.

This was the ONLY answer that I wasn’t expecting (in hindsight, as someone that harps on the fact that Black women are responsible for the behaviors of an entire ethnic group, I should have seen this coming). Why? It delved into the intricate issues of communicating and relating to others within the Black community (which is another post for another day). Other responses (which were kind of comical) included:

– “What if the home was already wrecked? What does that make the homewrecker?”

– “These women are just the clean up woman.”

– “It’s society. That’s why James Brown wrote ‘This is a man’s world’…men can do what they want and women always get the bad rep.”

– Two people voiced that it doesn’t matter. Every wrongdoer in the situation deserves to have their ass kicked.

All valid points but here is why I think men don’t get the bad rep (especially in the Black community):

The men who are brave enough to marry are examples of “Good Men.” If he had no kids before he said, “I do!” then he is an even better man. And don’t let him have a job! He is the Holy Grail, the Chosen One, the 1 in a Million Love of a Lifetime that every Black woman holds out for.

Why do you say that Miss C. Jayne?

Simple – as a Black woman, I’ve engaged in many conversations with my peers (women and men alike) about what makes the perfect mate. There must be a willingness to commit, a drive to succeed at something in life, a relationship with God, and yadda yadda yadda. The list goes on but those are the “Big Three.”

So why villainize the unmarried women who sleep with Married Men and NOT the married men that sleep with Single Women? Whoa! Changes the focus doesn’t it? Who is really at fault when a man steps out on his wife?

1. The woman who used “every trick in the book” to entice him to come her way?

2. The woman who took a vow to have and to hold for better or for worse til death do them ‘part?

3. The man who pissed on his sacrament with God AND his Wife to go ahead and frolick in temptation with that single woman who is looking for her perfect mate?

My money is on number 3. Why? Well…because he’s the married guy with the wife and possible kids who is also sleeping with the single woman (this isn’t to say that there are some women who don’t go after married men, I’m not talking about them). But he doesn’t get blamed.

To blame him for his own actions is to treat him as an adult. It’s to acknowledge that he does, in fact, have control over his actions. It’s to admit that he thought of the possible consequences and decided that the affair was something he wanted to participate in. It’s to hold him accountable.

But what does it do for women (and this is where I think the issue truly lies)?

If we say that the Married Men who cheat were enticed by those loosey goosey single women, then it affirms that there are some good men still out there. In this day and age, it seems that women are settling for whatever comes their way. Oh, he has a job? He has 0, 1, 0r 2 kids? He believes in the existence of God and claims to have a relationship with said deity? He can read? He has entreprenuerial skills? That’s everything you’ve ever looked for in a man. He’s the dream. You’ve got him.

And we he decides to say “Yes” or “I do” or whatever at the altar in front of a Preacher and a host of witnesses, then you signal to your single girlfriends (who are probably 80% of your bridesmaids) that yes, they do exist!!! They are real! Good men are out there.

By shifting the blame from the truly guilty party, it continues to give hope to other single (especially Black) women.

And that’s really what all of this is about — allowing single, Black, successful women the freedom to dream.

Thoughts?

~Miss C. Jayne

*UPDATE: While I don’t want to get into the nuances of a certain singer’s suicide attempt (that was not the intention of this post), I’ll just point out a very thoughtful commentary that I agree with. You can find it here.

Femininity Lost: The Story of the Black Woman (Pt. 1)

It had been my intent to write a post on this topic long before now. Life happened. The more that I thought about it, the more I didn’t want to write about it. That is, until I had a talk with a very close friend of mine. The conversation, centered around dating, was perhaps an eye-opening event for me. The question being asked was, “Is chivalry dead?” Being two women, it was a very one-sided conversation. Much was speculated on this topic but I left the conversation with my question,

“If Black men don’t have the freedom to be chivalrous individuals, what does that mean for Black women and our Womanhood?”

To some, these topics have nothing to do with each other. To me, they are the two sides of the same coin. Masculinity and Femininity. The duality from which all life springs forth. For every man who questions or laments on the fact that Black women don’t allow them to be chivalrous, there are many more Black women in the shadows who wonder why can’t they be free to express themselves as [other] Women.

The Historical Context

I recently read the book “Fierce Angels: The Strong Black Woman in American Life and Culture” by Sherri Parks (I suggest that you pick this up if you would like another viewpoint within the Black Woman/Femininity discussion).  It offered to me a counter-narrative to what’s presented in the popular media and even by close friends of mine. Once I finished reading the book, I took to Twitter to ask, “Are Black women capable of being feminine?” The answer, or the one offered the most, was that we weren’t. According to many of my followers, “Femininity is an European/male construct” and as such, we don’t fit into the mold because we are neither European nor male. The one thing that Parks’ book did for me was offer the evidence that I needed to stand firmly on my ground:

Femininity has always existed, and will continue to exist, for Women of Color, especially Black women.

So why are many of my Sisters still wandering around in a state of confusion?

The question, Ain’t (Aren’t) I a Woman? isn’t a new question. In fact, records show that Sojourner Truth asked this very question at a women’s convention in 1851. The point highlighted in her speech was that certain “privileges” are given to White women who don’t have to work (these privileges weren’t extended to Black women). Interesting point. Those who can wholly identify as feminine enjoy privileges that those who can’t do not (Did that make sense? I hope so. I’m not trying to confuse anyone here.).

And really, that’s what this whole discussion is about.

When I ask, “Are Black women capable of being feminine?” I’m really asking, “Are we allowed those certain freedoms that come along with being a woman?”

Thoughts?

To be continued….

Finding Our Minds: Mental Health and African-Americans

There are many things that remain unspoken in the African-American community. It’s as if these things will simply disappear if we refuse to give our time, energy, and thoughts to them. One such topic is that of Mental Illness. In our community, we operate on the belief that all that comes our way (be it good or bad) is that of Divine Intervention or Planning. It attempts to offer rational thought to many instances in our life. It’s always the answer to our question, “Why?”

 However, in my life, there has been the constant question: Why must I have a mental illness?

 This blog will be part of a series on Mental Health. My hope is that we can begin talk about these issues and break down the barriers of communication. Too many people in my community deal with a mental illness of some sort and there really isn’t the space to speak openly about it. There is no room for us to really be ourselves. To ask the necessary questions. To live without fear of judgment.

 To the reader, I hope that these posts open up something within you and that you become more accepting of others. I hope that you find the necessary strength to reach out to someone you may think suffers from a disorder. That’s all we want as people…to feel a safe connection with another person.

 ~Miss C. Jayne

My Story

 I’ve always wondered if there was something about me that just made me different. To say that I was sensitive would only have been the tip of the iceberg. As a youngster, I remember that I could pick up on the emotions of others; and it’s something that I’ve grown to feel is a gift and a curse. My sensitivity to others (and intuition to some degree) allowed me to build close relationships with others but it often left me feeling drained. As I grew older, this trait became something more of a burden. When I started middle school, I went through many transitions because of family issues. Lots of things had to be held inside because I operated with the intention to protect my two younger brothers. But even then, I noticed something wasn’t quite right.

 I became withdrawn and many of the adults that I trusted wrote it off as my becoming a “Young Lady” (whatever the hell that meant). I became angry and I wanted to lash out. I figured out ways to hurt myself because I was in pain. I would go days and even weeks feeling as though I couldn’t do anything the “right” way and much of that “down” time was spent contemplating my death. Then there were the days that I was up. And when I was up, I was way up. Most people just wrote this off as me being my regular “goofy” self. I could always find silver linings and offer great advice or tell just the right joke that made someone else feel better.

 But inside, I knew it would be a matter of time before I was thrown back into that dark space. For a while, I hid it. I hid it well. Since I’d always been the “Sensitive Child” and the child that loved to read in my group of siblings, my parents didn’t think it was odd that I would lock myself in my room. And stay there. Because I was the “Goofy Friend,” close friends and acquaintances would assume that I was simply having a bad day and that I would come around soon.

 I always did.

 I managed to float along in high school and get through life. I joined organizations. I followed a strict schedule. I worked hard. I was able to cover up my insomnia by saying that it was the school work or practicing for whatever cheerleading competition was coming up. In hindsight, I managed to handle my “illness” and I felt that I had finally overcome whatever it was that plagued me. Then I went to college. I had a break. In the worst way possible.

 Freshman year of college was when my depression started to spiral out of control. Many people wrote it off as homesickness but I started to attend counseling sessions. Just to talk it out. I didn’t want to admit to the counselor, who was white, that I, a Black woman (who is supposed to be strong and is more than capable to handle life), felt as though I was losing control of my mind. This scared me. I was so afraid of becoming like the people who I’d seen in homeless shelters coming up or the people on the street. I remember the jokes that would be told in my group of friends about mental illness and I’d hesitate to even ask if it were possible to have an illness. I remembered the many church sermons that made it sound as though the people afflicted with mental illness had committed some unspeakable sin and this was their punishment.

 My depression only got worse. It got to the point that I lived for my “up” days. I tried to cover these extremes up and bring some form of happiness into my life through organizations and other student groups.

 My final year in college, I broke. My grandparents passed away. I went to their funeral and came back a different person. I drank…heavily. I did things that I’m not too proud of. I attempted suicide (landed me in the hospital). I took painkillers. Whatever. Just to feel something other than hurt.

 I knew then that I had “something.” I just didn’t want to admit what it was. I was still in counseling and it was obvious that I was crushing from the weight of my problems. So, I looked for an out. I left Michigan. I moved to a place where there was little family around me. I went to graduate school. I threw myself into my work. I got sick. I stayed sick. I had migraines every other day. The depression was intense. In a day, I could go back and forth between depression and mania almost twice a day. Three days before finishing my courses for my program, I decided that I didn’t want to live anymore. I took 3 sleeping pills (with an alcoholic drink) and I drank an entire bottle of wine. When I woke up, I was sure that the Universe hated me.

 This thing that I had…it had to be some punishment, but for what, I didn’t know.

 I didn’t want to talk about myself anymore. I didn’t want to focus on myself anymore. I started once again to focus on others. If I could get them through the day, then I’d have gotten myself through the day. But it was hard. It was lonely. It was the scariest thing I’d ever confronted about myself. One night, I finally decided that it would be okay for me to admit that maybe, just maybe, I had a mental illness. It would be okay to admit that it was something that surpassed depression (even though this is what I felt most of the time).

 I graduated in May. I flew home the following day. When I saw my therapist for the first time, I cried. It was all I could do. I sat in a chair across from a white guy who seemed caring and I cried. Then I explained everything that I was feeling. The confusion. The depression. The fear. The almost happiness. The panic. The mania. I explained myself.

 When I left his office, I felt freer…but I was more afraid that I’d ever been in my life. I was no longer a young Black woman with an education and a bright future.

I was bi-polar.

 To be continued….

*Image courtesy of Google Search. I’m not the young lady pictured.