A Glimpse Into My Life

See it through my eyes & understand me a little more

Tag Archives: Mental Health

Battle Scars (#31WriteNow)

Every Tuesday, I watch Catfish: The TV Show with the rest of Twitter. Usually, people share some very witty reactions to the show but there was something about last night that made me uncomfortable. There is this internal dialogue or belief system that people seem to hold where a person who struggles with mental health issues (1) deserves to be lonely and (2) should not speak up about it in public. What came across as a heartfelt concern for the young woman was built upon this idea that the young man in question was so messed up that there was no way he could ever be “not crazy.”

That’s…scary.

Selfishly, I thought of myself when I read the tweets/comments from folks who talked about that young man. While I’ve always been open about my challenges with mental health as an adult, I am always hesitant to share what it was like being the child of two service persons who were diagnosed with service-connected mental health disability. I’ve seen firsthand what “crazy looks like on an ordinary day” and I continue to live that existence.

Daily.

But I called this piece “battle scars” because what I dealt with daily (child abuse, mental and emotional abuse, paranoia, etc.) was brushed off as “oh that’s just how they (my parents) are.” Even recently, I traveled with my Mom to a family member’s funeral and a relative made the comment, “Girl! Your Mom has always been crazy. But you take care of her.” That comment made me pause. It made me want to scream, “No! She’s not crazy! She’s experienced trauma and you’re being dismissive of it by calling her crazy.”

But I didn’t.

I went on. And I thought of the quiet scars my parents carried. Long before they joined the military, they both went through traumatic experiences that others expected them to shrug off and move on from because “that’s what Black people do.” I thought of how those wounds festered and every now and again, we could feel those hurtful experiences in how they interacted with us. I thought how the military and its lack of support in the mental health arena (possibly) made it worse.

Because I think it did.

I thought about the time I saw my Dad hold a gun to my Mom’s head because “everyone was out to get him and he just wanted to see his kids” after returning home from Operation Desert Storm. He didn’t pull the trigger but what if he had? And I thought about how I’ve lived with that memory…and it haunts me today. So I understood the comments about the concerns of the safety of the young woman but there was no concern for the young man.

I sometimes wonder if my parents would have been a little less damaged had they not joined the military but I don’t have a time machine or any way to know that. But what I do know is this — people could help with the healing of others if we just examined our bias and damaging beliefs that we hold about the Unacceptables who struggle from mental health issues.

Trauma.Invisible scars.And there is no help.

My Depression Is… (#31WriteNow)

Yesterday, news that Lee Thompson Young had died spread across the internet. Cause of death: suicide. People say, “I wonder what he was going through” and “You never know what someone is going through…” And this affected me. In a way I didn’t think possible but it was a simple statement that brought me out of my element and hit me at my core:

“Suicide is a selfish act. People should think of their loved ones and the pain they would cause.”

And those words, that idea, that feeling and sentiment got to me in a way that made me feel I was personally on trial. And I just wanted to share something…anything at all…that would get other people to understand what it’s like. And no matter what I said, it fell on steely resolves and unreceptive hosts. By the end of the day, I felt worse than I thought I’d feel so early in the week.

So I wanted to write something (writing is starting to be my go-to for a lot of things and if you can imagine, I don’t even share the personal-personal on here).

For as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled with a persistent heaviness. As I’ve gotten older, it’s become more encompassing. It wasn’t until I was 19 that I realized I had depression and it was more than “the blues.” It wasn’t until I was 23 that I really began to understand it in a way that made it easier to explain to others.

This post is rough. It’s ragged. It’s scary to share but I want for people who don’t deal with this disease that snatches rationality to get a sense of what it is to be cloaked in this.

Daily.

This explanation or description of emotional purging is not clinical because that makes it cold. It’s not warm because this feels anything other than that. These words aren’t eloquent because nothing is beautiful about this struggle.

It just is…like I just am.

“Until you’ve had depression, I don’t think you’re qualified to talk about it.” -Geoffrey Boycott

My depression is…

Waking up in the morning and seeing a message my Momma wrote on my mirror for me. “Courtney, You ARE important!” and knowing that is still not enough to feel I’m important. Or loved.

Celebrating my small victories throughout the day. “I brushed my teeth.” or “I didn’t excuse myself to go to the bathroom to cry.” or “I didn’t have to remind myself to breathe.” or “For a moment, it didn’t hurt to keep going.” What’s habit for you is a challenge for me.

Exhaustion.

A weariness that’s so pervasive it’s palpable and other people feel it. And because they feel it, they don’t want me around or they don’t want to be around me. You see, those things feel the same? And it is hard to distinguish between the two. But if I did something to hurt myself, these are the people who would call me selfish. Or say they didn’t know how I felt.

40 hours a week. Stability. Direct deposit twice a month. And leaving this job because it contributed to my misery.

Hearing the whispers of loved ones say “I didn’t know she was a troubled soul.” and “She was so bright.”

Being able to understand the struggles of another but being met with confusion about my own. I can’t explain this feeling; you’d have to feel it to really know. Or why? Or what could make it better?

Sitting in church and feeling like God forgot about me. Seeing beautiful things around me and feeling like God forgot about me.

Praying for peace. A real peace and a soul that’s finally quiet.

A constant struggle. In the midnight hour, I remind myself that tomorrow can be a little better. That the Baby Steps are all that’s required.

Feeling like something’s wrong with me but having everyone around me shrug it off.

“She just wants attention because Black people don’t get depressed. Our God is too big for that!”

Tear-stained notes of goodbye. Rough drafts of suicide letters. And exercises where I write all of the things I wish people would say to me.

“I don’t know what it feels like Courtney, but I really do care. I’ll listen. I’m here to listen.”

Cleaning my entire apartment and writing out instructions on where my things should go because I took a bottle of pills. Wondering if I truly have a greater purpose or if it’s a cruel joke because I only slept for a long time.

Wondering who can I call?

Crisis lines. And inpatient stays in a behavioral health unit.

Being the joke or the one that’s talked down to.

Being told, “If you’re going to worry, then your faith really isn’t that strong.”

This isn’t worry…this isn’t worry.

The expectation to think rationally and hearing other folks speak dismissively of something that twists my soul and breaks my spirit without ever knowing how it got there in the first place.

Telling your counselor at 11, “One morning, I just woke up really sad and I don’t know why.”

Is this my cross to bear?

Being on the Honor Roll and being lauded for your academic ability by the same administrators who treat me unkindly for being homeless. Or rather, my depression is remembering this.

Being reminded I’m less than by the society I live in.

And having to name the people to myself, out loud, who want you here.

Scratching some of those people off of my list when they express their opinions about someone like me.

“It wasn’t something I did. I’ll wonder that. But they should know they are loved anyway.”

Sometimes we don’t.

I just wanted to feel loved on my birthday. You showed up late. Or you didn’t call. Or you didn’t text. And you laughed it off later with a, “Well girl you know!?”

Sometimes I don’t know.

Warning signs. All of the warnings signs. Other people see them but ignore them. Because there’s no way I could have that “issue.”

Being the one that my family leans on…and adding their burdens to my pile. Only to sink.

Sinking.

Sinking lower.

Sinking lower still.

Playlists of “Feel Better Music” and sing-alongs through tears. It’s never enough but somehow I make it.

Keeping everything inside. No one wants to hear this. Except the people you pay and even still, they only medicate you or tell you how you made this mess.

I didn’t ask to be here.

A tattoo on my wrist. “Dream. Hope. Live. Be.”

Remembering my potential as a way to fight off the heaviness and then the heaviness returning as I wonder if I’m meeting my potential.

Setting alarms to eat and asking friends if they could remind me to eat. Expressing gratitude for the ones who remembered to tell me to eat.

Because sometimes, most times, I forget to eat.

Being alone with destructive thoughts.

Being alone.

An additional 6 pills a day and no insurance to cover this treatment. It’s expensive. An expensive reminder that I’m miserable. So I take them only when things are really bad…if I have any to take. Which means it doesn’t work like it should.

Everything being too much.

Feeling like I’ll break at any point.

The lowest of the lows…

Being in a place so dark, I wonder which beast swallowed me whole.

This time.

And I pray a prayer to be spit upon a shore, any shore no matter how cold and lonely and destitute, like Jonah from the belly of a great whale…

So I can see a sunrise.

Just one more sunrise.

And feel its heat as it sends a visible glimmer of hope…

That never fully reaches me.

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.
  •  

  • 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.