A Glimpse Into My Life

See it through my eyes & understand me a little more

Tag Archives: Black

Single Black Female: Is Something Wrong With You? (#31WriteNow)

NOTE: This was a private post written in 2010. Funny…it still applies even though I’m 27. I decided to update it and share it with some of my more current thoughts (in italics).

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I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard that question or how often I’ve heard it hidden within some other backwards compliment, but I hear it often. It’s now to the point where I change subjects rather skillfully (if I’m up to the challenge) or I forget all of my Southern upbringing and charm classes and cuss someone out.

Yes, I’m single. Yes, I’m a Black woman. No, there is nothing wrong with me.

I understand why people become so up in arms when I take the opportunity to describe myself. It usually goes something like this:

“Oh, I’m 23 (now 27). I have my BS and MA. I hope to go on for my PhD. I want to work in Education (the policy/administration side…not teaching). I hope to…” and so forth and so on. However, in taking the time to describe myself I face these questions later:

1. Do you have a boyfriend/Are you courting? No./No.

2. Why don’t you have a boyfriend? I don’t leave my house? I don’t know.

3. What are you going to do with all that education? Use it.

4. Don’t you know a woman’s place? Yes. It’s her address right?

(Updated Note: I’m probably single because I have a smart mouth and unintentional snark.)

Wait…whoa…what in the fudge sticks?!?!

You see, when I get around family and this topic is always brought up, I’m left feeling like an outcast. Of most of my cousins from 15-26 that identify as a “woman,” I’m one of TWO that are single/uncoupled (three years later and it still applies). That can be a self-esteem killer, and until recently, it was.

I had an interesting conversation with a Sista of mine. She posed the two questions: “What are 10 ways a man could charm you?” “What are 10 ways a man trying to charm you would annoy you?” I gave her my reasons and quite honestly, it was an eye-opener for me (I’m actually going to answer these questions for myself again). The more that I thought about it, the more I thought about how these things impact my “dating” life. I mean, it’s really hard to walk around as a young, seemingly successful, Black woman who is single AND remain confident in yourself when there are so many things out there telling you why you’re still a failure. There are “experts” who release books on why Black women can’t get, keep, and marry a (Black) man. There are nightly “specials” that devote time to harp on the connections we make with each other, our accolades, and then pose the question (usually by non-Black people) why can’t we find, keep, and marry a (successful Black) man. (Sidenote: HA! I’m watching One-On-One and would you know, this is an episode about how a successful Black woman has managed to step on a Black man’s ego and that’s why she lost him).

I say one thing to these specials and experts:

Spare me the story of the tragic Black woman that happens to be successful and goes to sleep alone at night because she can’t find a successful Black man. And here’s why.

I’m 23 (now 27). I’m (still) being told that I need to start looking for a man. I need to settle down and have some babies (okay…now I want to. Then I wasn’t ready). That’s great. It’d be nice if I weren’t alone (if only it would cut down the chatter at my family reunions) and it’d be nice if I knew of multiple successful Black men aged 22-27 (let’s move this on up to 27-33-ish or something) looking to settle down. The fact is, they aren’t. MEN MY AGE ARE NOT LOOKING TO SETTLE DOWN (hmmm…this isn’t true so much anymore cuz I’m older now). Besides the countless male friends that I have (okay, 6 so as not to sound like a floozy), I also have 5 brothers that were raised by BOTH parents to play the field and put women through the wringer before they put a ring on anything.

So yes, I’m single. Yes, I’m Black. Yes, I’m a woman.

And there is nothing wrong with me….. I still want a boo though. LOL

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.

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.

I Was Told “No”

There’s an innate need in every one of us to feel as though people care for and about us. Many of us face darkened periods and don’t know how to get out of slumps in our mood. For some, the slumps can be quite devastating. My most recent episode with my “problem” has scared me in a such way that I’m once again seeking help.

*Before I go any further, I’ll say this: If you experience a “slump” in your mood that lasts an extended period of time, seek help! Go to a professional, someone at your school, in your church, or wherever. Go talk to someone. If you have a friend that experiences depression, give them a hug or a message every now and then to say that you care. It’s deeper than a bad mood.

On Tuesday February 23rd, 2010, I went home and I wanted to die. I walked into my place of residence and felt like it didn’t belong to me. I felt as though my possessions weren’t mine and that I served no purpose in being here. Although there was light outside of my window, I felt as though I was standing in the darkest place that could exist. Something had come upon me and swallowed me whole. My essence. My reason for being.

I went to sleep.

I made up my mind that this was just a funk and that I was having a “bad day” because of the stress from my life. I went to sleep. I dreamt of nothing. Even my dreams were void of life. The following morning, I got up. I thought, “I just need to meditate more and I’ll be okay.” After I finished that meditation, I felt as though something had come to swallow me again. This left me in a pool of tears on my floor.

I hadn’t experienced that reaction in some time. I knew to be afraid.

But I kept going. I put on my clothes and my happy face. I made my way to class. I remember thinking, “The weather matches my mood.” It rained the night before and would continue to rain until the following day. That’s what I remember about last week. It rained. The joy that I got out of that was that I could wear a pair of rain boots that my Mom graciously bought for me. It was almost like a piece of home.

That day went by and I felt myself growing more disconnected. I started to miss little things. The smile of my brothers. My Mother’s voice. Hearing my Dad laugh. A random message from my best friend. Blindly, I tried to reach out to all of those people…hoping that maybe this would shake me back to a place of happiness. It didn’t work. That night, I prayed harder than I’ve prayed in a while. I asked for help.

Then I slept.

This night, I had a nightmare. Images that I’d imagine the mind of a prisoner’s mind flashes back to when they reenter into society. There were screams of pain, women being abused, men being murdered, and the sorrowful cries of children who were starving. Where these images had come from, I’m not sure now. I don’t want to know. It was a reminder of the suffering that exists and I awoke with a start.

Drenched in sweat and feeling as though my chest was caving in.

The following day, I felt empty. I felt so empty that nothing could fill me. And when you feel that empty, what’s your reason for living?

I went to class. I hoped that being around people would help me some. I hoped that their moods would rub off on me. That somehow, they’d be so overflowing with happiness that I could begin to fill myself again. I smiled. I joked. I laughed. On the outside. Inside, I wept. Inside, I raged. Inside, I felt as though I could feel myself dying.

That night, I went home and I thought of suicide. I had a moment of clarity while my back was pressed against the floor — there have to be some people who want me here and even IF I can’t see it, it’s only fair to try to get help.

Friday morning, I called a center. They couldn’t fit me in. I asked for a referral. That person couldn’t fit me in. I then began to talk to the counselor on-call. I felt like I was beginning to get a grip…for a moment, I felt like I had a grip. But that “Why live?” though flashed again.

I decided to see if I could be kept somewhere overnight (at this point, I was having trouble sleeping…I hadn’t made it through an entire night yet). I called the hospital. They told me to come in. I went in and was “evaluated” to be turned around and told to go home. My problems weren’t serious enough to warrant a bed and besides that, I didn’t have insurance (I’m guess their whole issue was that I was “calm” and “coherent”). I called another place, their intake period was already closed. I tried. I mean, I had tried. I had to face the darkness alone.

I began to count the minutes. The seconds that passed. I practiced breathing and I prayed. I wanted to the sunlight to come swiftly. Only then would I feel “safe”.

Well, the sunlight came. I was brought out of my shell by a good friend. We went out and a had nice time. I laughed and met new people. I felt revived. That night (Saturday), I slept. There were no dreams but I began to feel a peace. I thought to myself, I just need to make it to Monday. That’s all I’m asking for. To make it to Monday. A new week. A new beginning. A new start.

That night (I believe), a friend of mine was at work. Saw that I was up and started to talk to me. I began to confide in her. It felt good to get some things off of my chest. I can honestly look back and say that the conversation that night was a REAL turning point. It ended just as the sun was rising and it felt like my sun was rising. I was okay. I knew it and I felt it.

To know and to feel something is an entirely great feeling. To know that even if someone tells you “No” that there will be someone who will listen feels amazing. To know that when you’re hurting and can’t fully explain why that there is another person who can validate what you’re feeling while also offering a helping hand helps to make you feel whole.

I felt like a person again. I felt like it wasn’t a mistake that I was here. I felt that someone other than my Mother and Father loved me just because. It wasn’t obligatory. They don’t have to. But they do. And that’s what counts in this world.

As Bassey Ikpi would say, “Love someone and mean it.” (By the way, she’s great. Really inspirational too.)

Dream.Hope.Believe

You can follow me on Twitter: @Complex_Smplcty

© This post was originally written March 3, 2010. All thoughts contained in this post belong to that of the author. Don’t steal. It’s not right or fun or nice.

Thoughts On The Label Militant

I’ve never liked that label. If you really know me, then you know why. I remember my first encounter with being called “militant.” I was in the 8th grade and a teacher asked me what influential Black (African) American I looked up to. So, I spouted off a few people and my list included:

Angela Davis, Assata Shakur, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Sonia Sanchez.

*Actually, my list was entirely women but that’s a trivial matter.

This led to a string of questions and I answered them all to the best of my 13-year-old ability and was then called “MILITANT.” Sheesh…I managed to go ONE week without a teacher saying something sideways and three weeks, THREE, before graduation, I’m called a militant by my Social Studies teacher.

I was heartbroken.

I knew that folks got a sour taste in their mouth when they said the world. I knew that militants were looked at as troublemakers. I’d heard that people felt militants didn’t shower and that they just wanted to shoot everything and everyone down in their path (I was 13, highly impressionable, and had cousins who took advantage of that). I knew that folks did not like militant people and I wanted to be liked.

Besides, I didn’t believe in the use of guns (although I feel you SHOULD have the right to protect yourself). I didn’t believe in not showering (if there were ever to be an 11th Commandment, “Thou shall wash thyself daily” would be it). I was an Honor Roll student, not a troublemaker (unless you count the fact that I dropped pencils and knocked stuff off of desks because I was clumsy).

So I couldn’t be militant! There was no way I was a militant.

Well, I went home and I thought about my arguments. I pulled out my encyclopedias (yes…we had these because I begged my Mom to buy them) to look up the platforms that they stood on. I went to the library the next day (on Saturday) and I did more research on the people that I looked up to. I read archived newspaper articles and I even wrote a mock “Press Release” about them.

*My teacher knew I’d do something like this…he told me later. lol

I wrote up my findings. I even made him a nice poster, so he could understand exactly what I was trying to convey. I had a little speech and everything. *I was a trip.

Sidenote: I can actually remember my presentation.

So, on the next Monday, I found him on my lunch hour and asked if he had any time at all because I wanted to talk to him. He waved me into the room and said, “Sure Ms. Lawrence (that was my last name then). I set up my materials and I cleared my throat. (Now, we were required to do weekly presentations on the materials we learned in Social Studies to our class, but I was nervous. It was just this big dude who loved History sitting in this empty classroom. I could even hear the heating system kicking on and off).

I started with, “This country was ‘built’ upon principles of equality and fundamental rights that spoke to our humanity.” <— I should be someone’s speech writer. My teacher sat back in his chair and began to smile.

I continued with, “The historical record shows that only one group has ever benefitted from the system as it was structured — White males. Groups that have been seen as militant were often just arguing for the system to be restructured, so that they too could participate as full citizens and enjoy the liberties that have been set out in our country’s most important documents.”

At this point, I put down my paper. I didn’t care about what else I’d written down. Then I whipped out my poster board. On it, I’d placed major movements, political parties, and people and the things they asked for.

The heading, “What Makes A Militant.”

The byline: “I’m Militant Because…”

This is what my poster actually said:

*I will choose to exercise my right to vote, remain informed as a citizen in this country, and hold my politicians accountable.

*I believe that every child has the right to a healthy start, decent housing, adequate nutrition, and EQUAL AND FREE education.

*I believe that we all have the right to healthcare.

*I want economic stability in my community and I believe that we should have the opportunity to be business and homeowners, as well as shareholders in corporations.

*I believe in the rights of humans, which includes women, GLBT, children, and communities of color that have been oppressed.

I ended my presentation with: IF this is what makes a militant, I’m fine with that. I just hope that other people realize that what’s being asked is ONLY radical because we’ve been duped into believing that our resources are SO STRAPPED that competition has become a necessary evil in our society. Everyone COULD have the same opportunities to succeed here…if the powers that be wanted us to.

My teacher was proud of me (Sucka knew I’d go home and do that). Said that I needed to remember all that I stood for. A lot of people were going to question, point, laugh, and demean me BUT I had to remember these things.

So I do. I wonder if he’s around still. I hope so, kids today need an influential presence like him.

Thoughts?

Untitled*

Imagine that you’re standing on the edge of something beautiful. You look out before you and you see the ocean sparkle as though under its surface lies a million gems. In their finest form. Truly precious. You look around you, everything is tranquil. Then you feel a slight breeze. Something, a feeling of sorts, creeps up your spine.

Quickly, that picture of serenity is destroyed as that breeze becomes a gust of wind so strong it knocks you from where you are standing. You begin to fall. That picture of beauty is becoming an illustration of destruction. You’ve been tossed into the sea. You can’t swim. And the sunlight that so gently warmed your face just a few moments before begins to fade.

Now you’re caught under the waves. You kick as your instinct begins to take over. You try your hardest to break the surface, but it feels as though something is holding you under water. Suddenly, you’re thrown from the sea of destruction that wants to claim you and you’re thrown on to a jagged rock. Something you couldn’t see from your vantage point earlier. You’re stuck here. In the darkness. You begin to wonder, “How could something so beautiful hurt you so much?” That sea that once sparkled and beckoned for you to calmly wade out a safe distance has at once become a prison.

The winds still whirl around you and in the midst of your tears, something tells you to look up. You can see something that beckons you. Something strong. Something safe. You realize it’s a person. It’s a human. Someone you’ve hoped would help you. You stand on that rock as the water continues to swell around you. You outstretch your hand, foolishly, hoping that by some miracle, that person who stands above you will reach down and pull you up. You begin to scream. You realize they can’t hear you above the winds. You wonder what you must look like to them and all at once understand. In a moment of clarity, you see this person smiling down upon you. That picture of beauty that you looked down upon must be the same image they see when they glance down.

You’re caught in the midst of  storm.

They see you surrounded by beauty.

A wind comes by and knocks you down on to the rock again. This time, it’s so strong, you can’t stand. So you lie there. You’re vision is once again blurred and this time, you can’t tell if it’s your tears or the stinging from the water as it hits your face. This time, you begin to bargain. If you make it out of this storm, you’ll never get close to the edge again. You’ll exist. You’ll cease to live, but you won’t cease to have a life.

In the midst of your bargaining, things get worse. You don’t remember how long you’ve been where you are. It can last anywhere from moments to days. But no matter how long it goes on, you struggle. This battle is intense. It’s even harder because you know that there is nothing that you can really fight. This is something that you have to go alone. Once again you look up. This time, you see the person is concerned. You wonder again, “What must I look like to them?” And you bargain still. You think, “Am I the only person here?” Again, you look up and realize that it’s now a crowd. There are those that you love. They are worried. There’s no way to reach them. You bargain still. You want this to end.

And then…..

There’s a stillness.

You can get up now. As you do, you realize you’re back where you were in the beginning. In the clearing. Standing on the edge of something beautiful. You look down at that sea, sparkling in its beauty and you wonder, “How could something so wonderful cause so much harm?” You turn around to face the people who you’ve wanted so desperately to touch. They are gone. But it’s fine. You’ve found a peace and you feel that you can go on.

So, you begin to walk. You remember to dream. You go on. You don’t lie down. You don’t die.

But you always wonder, “How soon before I come back to this clearing again?”

I’ve thought of ways to describe my daily life. This was the best that I could come up with. Most days, the storm is light. Something that I can handle. Other days, it feels like the worst thing in the world. I feel like I’m powerless over anything…even the simple things that I should be able to control. On those days, I can’t get out of bed. I don’t want to talk to people. I don’t eat. And I always wonder, “What must this look like to others?”

I have depression.