Mental Health Monday: Acceptance (Part I)

Around 2005, I found my biological mother’s side of the family, and with that came a narrative about my family’s mental health. The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services sent me a thick packet of information sealed in a manila envelope.

My mother had been diagnosed as having acute schizophrenia, undifferentiated type. According to the report she would oftentimes “walk around with an empty stroller” and could be found “lying on the couch, laughing hysterically.” Although she was an avid swimmer, in 1978, she drowned in Lake Michigan.

These images are not only vivid, but also profound. I immediately related to my mother’s psychosis. Finally, I understood part of myself.

I’d felt slightly off growing up. For example, in elementary school, it was difficult for me to walk in front of a class or across the cafeteria. Oftentimes, I thought everyone stared and talked about me. I had little reason to believe these imaginings, but in my mind they were true. However, I learned to cope. I’d pretend I was a horse with blinders on. I’d walk directly to my destination, ignoring anything in my peripheral vision, internally praising myself when I made it back to my seat without ridicule.

I never told anyone.

Learning about my biological mother introduced me to one of her sisters, Aunt Catherine. She outlined the remainder of our family’s mental health history. She suffered from depression. Her father, my grandfather had, too. Her mother, my grandmother had a nervous breakdown. Her two brothers were in prison; one murdered someone.

When I shared my relief that I’d finally found solace in understanding my off-centeredness, she rebuked it.

“Don’t try to be like us,” she said, “you’re not like us. You don’t have to be like us. Depression feels like you’re in a deep hole that you can’t get out of. You want to get out, but you can’t.”

I’d never experienced depression. In fact, my set point is joyful. So, I dismissed my newfound knowledge. Plus, who wants to identify as “crazy” anyway? I focused on other family similarities, like the tremors she, my daughters and I shared; all of our hands shake uncontrollably.

Still I knew something about me wasn’t normal.

When I was younger, I cried frequently for all reasons. One time I remember swelling up with tears because my paternal cousins had visited from North Carolina. They planned to drive to Bolingbrook, a Chicago suburb to visit another cousin. I thought I wasn’t invited, so I cried, until they consoled me and assured me I’d be right there with them. I was ten.

When my parents told me my father had diabetes, I cried because I thought he was going to die. My mother came to my room and asked me to stop. “Crying for hours is excessive for a diabetes diagnosis,” she said. I was twelve.

It was the 70s and 80s, so I was deemed sensitive. Anxiety wasn’t a household term, and therapy in black homes was unheard of. Instead, I received the proverbial, “Whatchu crying for now?” question, especially from my grandmother, who seemed to want me to be tougher, something I never fully achieved.

I researched schizophrenia and clinical depression. Aunt Catherine was right. I was neither of those; but, dots were connected. However, I dismissed them because they didn’t form complete pictures. They weren’t direct links. I ignored the idea that mental health is genetic; however, like brown eyes and curly hair, traces of mental health can linger in one’s DNA. Curl patterns may be a little looser and eyes a little darker, but characteristics are there.

So, while it’s no easy feat, I’ve taken some time to accept this trait. Subsequently, because I believe the only person I can change is myself, I’ll be publicly exploring it in more detail this year on this blog as a way to de-stigmatize mental health issues and to bring truth to light. What better way to do both than to begin with me?

Oh, and those tremors? They’re more than just biological markers; They are a physical manifestation of social anxiety disorder.

Monday Notes: Friends

December 7th, 2018, I took a girls trip with five women. I’ve known one of these women since first grade and the others since seventh. While many of us have gotten together separately over the years for high school reunions or visits back home, the six of us hadn’t been together as a group since high school.

I admit I didn’t know what to expect. But I’m happy to report that it was one of the best trips I’ve taken with a group of women. We all got along just as we had over two and a half decades ago. It’s as if we were the same people, just 45 years old, with more life experiences to share.

Afterwards, I found myself reflecting on what made our time together so special.

img_8603-1We’re similar. All six of us attended an academically talented and gifted school called, Whitney M. Young for both the Academic Center (7th-8th grade) and high school. At the time we attended, it was the best high school in the nation. Meaning, we’re all not only intelligent, but we’ve also faced some of the same challenges throughout life when it comes to education and career choices. I mention this not to brag, but to highlight that when friends are similar at a core level, then deeper conversations ensue. Most of the time, we didn’t have to provide background information prior to talking about a shared issue.

We respected our differences. Prior to this trip, I believed that friends are such because they have similar interests; therefore, there is little need for compromise. You know what I mean? But that weekend revealed that while we are similar in some ways, we’ve grown to be different in others. That Friday, one of us wanted to sing karaoke, so we made our way to City Walk’s Rising Star. Another friend exercises daily, so she awoke each morning before everyone and walked on the beach. To our surprise, one woman enjoys watching NASCAR; so, we all paid our $20 and toured Daytona International Speedway. These are just three examples. While we weren’t necessarily fully invested in each other’s events, we each partook. I can only speak for myself in saying the reason I participated in everything is because we were there to visit with one another. Whether that be at a fancy dinner, on a jet ski, or at the pool, I was happy to compromise to hang out with women I considered to be friends.

We listened. On this trip we had constant, intimate conversations. We not only revealed events that had happened over the years, but also how we felt about these experiences. Not once did I feel negatively judged for sharing myself or my shortcomings. At no point did I think, “I shouldn’t have said that” for fear of the side-eyes or subsequent comments that accompany saying something not aligned with society’s values. Once again, I attribute the warmth of this inviting and supporting environment to the quality of women I’d unconsciously chosen to befriend years ago.

I’ve spoken a lot about relationships on this blog. But this trip solidified my overall feelings about them. Whether friend, familial, or romantic, good relationships feel warm and loving. They are non-judgmental and, in some ways, symbiotic. They are as natural as the ocean’s waves and as long lasting or fleeting as the sand that surrounds it.

As of today, that’s my answer on this topic. Let me know what you think.

Monday Notes: Anything’s Possible

Remembering anything is possible has been one of my goals since 2017. It’s the first sentence on my list of goals that sits on the right side of my bathroom mirror. I remind myself of this because it keeps me not grounded. It reminds me of life’s possibilities.

Recently this statement was reinforced. One of my colleagues contacted me and asked if I would be the keynote speaker for a session at our national literacy conference. Their original speaker was Laurie Halse Anderson. Laurie…flipping Halse Anderson! If you don’t know who she is, then click here. She had a scheduling conflict and had to bow out. Because my colleague knew that three other women and I have an edited anthology coming out October 2020, he thought showcasing our work would be a good fit.

I had zero hesitation. I knew I could deliver the keynote because my co-editors and I have a strong message about marginalization in sports media and a desire to highlight how we talk about or don’t talk about issues of diversity and representation. Think Megan Rapinoe, Serena Williams, Simone Biles, and the most obvious, Colin Kaepernick. But I digress.

My point is never in a million years would I have thought I’d be replacing Anderson or giving a speech about this topic in November 2019. But anything is possible. All you have to do is be open to the anything and maintain alignment with what you value.

If you have 14 minutes to spare, here’s what I had to say:

 

Monday Notes: “Umi said shine your light on the world”

img_9353“Shine your light for the world to see.” It’s a quote from a rap song that I’d heard decades ago (Mos Def). But I’m really feeling it after our D.C. book reading. Just like the previous two, this one was completely different as well. The Jacksonville book talk was more like a starter event. The authors had never publicly read their stories before, so the energy was a mixture of excitement and nervousness. Though each writer’s voice was clear, it was quiet.

img_0768Three months later, we’d moved 345 miles north to Atlanta. Three women had read in Jacksonville, so they were a bit more familiar with expectations. Their voices were grounded, louder. This time the audience had changed. The energy was palpable in varied ways. Questions were about the writing process, as well as the healing process. How had any of us done this? This included forgiving our fathers for heinous shenanigans. This included writing our mini-memoirs for someone other than ourselves.

img_1904-1Seven months after the Jacksonville event, we convened in Washington, D.C. and everything had changed. Two readers were pros. Kotrish Wright declined the use of a podium. Instead, she used the space around her to give more of a performance act. Her voice rose and fell, like an experienced reader. Inflection was important for specific parts. Ishna Hagan read her narrative with confidence and poise. She stood in her truth, which seemed to give her power.

Tikeetha was a novice to this experience. But I couldn’t tell. She read her story with the ease of a famous author. Though her story is sad and heart wrenching, she managed to make the audience nod and laugh at all the appropriate times.

And finally, there’s me.

img_1919This time I felt like I was shining my light for the world to see. An attendee who had cried her way through a question and almost the entire reading thanked me for putting this together. She’d intended to find a way for her mother to heal from trauma and mental illness. Another woman recounted her own father-daughter situation. It was enough to be another chapter in our edited collection. She, too, admitted she needed to find a way to counter her childhood dysfunction. A friend of mine provided me with a list she’d brainstormed to broaden my reach: come to Richmond, VA and call her OWN network contact.

After this third reading, I feel like we’ve each come into our own. We’ve done much more than pour our hearts on pages for catharsis. We’ve demonstrated what love, forgiveness, grace, and healing look like. We’ve exposed ourselves in ways that neither of us believed possible.

“Umi said shine your light on the world; shine your light for the world to see.” With this project, we’ve shone brightly and come into our own. And we plan to continue in our own way.

Monday Notes: Book Reading in DC!

The authors of Daddy: Reflections of Father-Daughter Relationships will be in Washington, DC on Saturday, October 12, 2019 between 3:00-5:00 P.M. If you’re in the area, please consider joining us for this important conversation centered on understanding the importance a father has in his daughter’s life, beginning to heal any past trauma, or sharing your own father-daughter story (positive or not).

Read Tikeetha Thomas’ blog.

Read LA Jefferson’s blog.

Read Ishna Hagan’s blog.

Read Kotrish Wright’s blog.

 

Monday Notes: Everybody Is Not A Christian

I’ve held off discussing much about religion on this blog because I haven’t felt the need. However, recent comments have revealed people’s assumptions. Some people think I’m a Christian.

One example comes from a client. I missed her call. I think it was a Wednesday. Because she couldn’t reach me by phone, she emailed. In her note, she mentioned that I was probably busy at church (Bible study). I wasn’t at Bible study. I was at home, sitting on my couch, watching TV.

6739b4f3-6728-4a5f-b619-0be05846a9e2A similar assumption occurred with another client. He was explaining how he’d be in Jacksonville for some type of religious convention. He told me that I’d enjoy it. I just listened as he talked. I think my silence led him to engage in a guessing game of sorts.

“I know. I know Doc. You probably have your own church that you go to and you can’t be fooled up with mine, but I think you’d like to come. I’ll send you the information.”

I laughed and told him it sounded like a place where I could sell some books.

2b958bba-a7d1-458e-ac31-32b51e56dc18-516-000000333c818582This is what I usually do. I listen to the person. Laugh it off and let the conversation die. Past experience has taught me that saying something like, I don’t go to church; I don’t follow organized religion; or I’m not a Christian leads to full-on conversion techniques. Christians, in particular, either (a) ask me to attend their church or (b) outline reasons why I should follow their religious lead.

In the past, I’ve explained my religious background. My mother was a Sunday school teacher. My father was over the children’s ministry, and eventually, he became a Baptist deacon. My paternal grandmother was a staunch Catholic. One of my stepmothers was Apostolic. I know how to finish the phrase, “God is good…” as well as “God of mercy…” I know in some churches, I’m supposed to hold up one finger to symbolize excusing myself out of the sanctuary. I know the difference between AME and Methodist. Jesus Can Work It Out is one of my favorite gospel songs and I was thoroughly offended when Google Chromebook sampled it for a commercial. I’m familiar with hymnals, scripture, and all other manners of church behavior. But I am not a Christian.

What I’ve tried to explain to others is that it is because I’m well versed in Christianity that I choose not to participate.

The notion that my choice is not out of ignorance of the faith seems to baffle some people. In fact, it causes downright cognitive dissonance.

One day, my dad actually said to me, “I know you at least still pray because you’re doing so well.”

He couldn’t believe that my perceived success could be due to anything, but the Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Bible, and some sort of private conviction.

d9149271-a384-4edd-944a-c18da7b625a7-516-0000003386e4911eListen. I get it. There are 2.3 billion Christians in the world (Hackett & McClendon, 2017). Seventy percent of Americans are Christian (Religious Landscape Study). So, if you were to assume, then statistically speaking, you’d probably be right.

I guess my point is, as long as there are six other options that I could’ve chosen, the best thing to do is not to assume. While I’m at it, the most respectful act is also not to try to convert people once you learn they have other beliefs. Non-Christians are not wanderers who’ve lost their way. They actually might be thinking individuals, who’ve chosen a different path.

Monday Notes: In Search of Balance

The past 11 weeks, I’ve been busy. Remember when I silently reflected and meditated for 14 days? Remember when I said I needed to figure out how to generate more money? Welp, shortly after, I attracted several clients.

Since mid-June, I’ve edited 12 manuscripts. This means each week, I’ve pored over a different person’s dissertation or self-published book. While I’m grateful for the business, there have been repercussions.

My dry eye flared back up. About two years ago, the optometrist diagnosed me with this condition. To remedy it, I use eye drops; I only wear daily contacts (the kind you have to throw away after one use); and I take frequent screen breaks. Usually I can keep it under control, but staring at the computer, while reading 200-page manuscripts every week caused it to return. Sometimes this meant my right eye felt a little itchy and dull; other times it meant there was a bit of pain right behind my eyeball.

woman-typing-on-keyboardWriting was not a priority. This really bothered me. During the past few weeks, I’ve wanted to write. In fact, I’d created a goal to write a new piece and submit for publication every two weeks. This was impossible. It turns out that it’s challenging for me to read other people’s works, while writing my own. I don’t know about you, but I need time and space for the writing process to unfold. By the time I turned off my clients’ work and decompressed, I was tired and only wanted to sleep. This was a bit frustrating for me because I value writing above all else.

Reading blogs shifted to an even lower priority. I found myself not wanting to read as many blogs, which is unusual. Even when I’m on a social media break, I take at least one hour every day and read other bloggers’ material. But after editing thousands of words for hours, I didn’t want to read anyone else’s. It didn’t matter how inspirational, uplifting, or funny the blog was, I couldn’t make myself read for 60 minutes and meaningfully engage.

Editing 12 manuscripts in 11 weeks reinforced a few lessons:

  • Know your priorities. While I know that priorities shift depending on the circumstances, I think that your main priority should always remain number one. For example, writing is important to me. I actually felt bad that I didn’t want to exert the energy to express myself, even though I had the words piling up in my brain.
  • Know your limits. Prior to taking on so many clients, I already had a sense for what was reasonable for my lifestyle. The number is two. I can edit two manuscripts per month and maintain a sense of calm. Anything else is too much, and I won’t be wavering on that moving forward, unless I hire help.
  • Be ready for what you’ve requested. I asked for an increase in income, and I received it. But I wasn’t necessarily prepared for some of the consequences. As a result, I’ll be fine tuning how I co-create my life because after all, I’m in charge of myself and my choices.

So, tell me…how have you all been? What’s been going on? Have you ever gotten a little more than you bargained for? If so, how did you cope?

Monday Notes: My Bisexual Daughter

My daughter has a lot of positive qualities.

She is intelligent. I first realized just how smart she was when she was three-years-old. I begged the teacher to put her in the next class, but she disagreed, that is, until she interacted with her for two days.

“You were right,” she apologized, “I just thought you were like all the other parents who think their child is brilliant.”

The next day she was in the four-year-old class.

Her intelligence was reaffirmed years later at the end of third grade. I’d received her first state standardized test results. She’d gotten all the answers correct. Even with my background in education, I’d never seen marks like that.

She is caring. I remember when she cried because she was saving a lizard that had somehow entered the house, a frequent Florida occurrence. His little green tail fell off as she used a glass to capture him. She immediately burst into tears, but soon calmed down when I reminded her that lizards’ tails regenerate. She dried her face and released him outside where he belonged.

She is socially conscious. She loves being black and championing for black people in different ways, like when she assured her dark-skinned friend it was okay to stay in the sun; she had no fear of “getting darker,” and neither should he.

She can also be found telling her father and me about her new choice of water, why we shouldn’t be buying McDonald’s, why we should stop eating ‘carcinogens’ (e.g., meat), and why we should sign a petition about parolees.

She is kind. When she found out her big sister wouldn’t be able to attend our last trip, she offered to save more of her own check so that her sister could go. Of course her sister declined the offer, but my point is she offered. She also considers her friends and frequently stands up for them in different situations or is there for them when they need someone to listen.

She is trustworthy. This is why we had no problem passing my car to her at the age of seventeen. She drives to school and back home. She drives to work and back home. She drives to her friends’ houses for parties. She drives back to school for extracurricular activities. She drives to complete her service project once a week during the summer. She spends the night over friends’ houses, and when she doesn’t feel comfortable where she is, she texts me…and comes home. We trust her and her judgment.

These are the qualities that come to mind when someone asks me about my daughter. The last thing I consider is her sexual identity. I just wished society felt the same.

Monday Notes: Talking About Women Behind Their Backs and Women’s Empowerment

Where does talking about women behind their backs fit into women’s empowerment? I was faced with answering this question for myself after three different circumstances occurred over the course of two months.

talking_people2Situation #1 is a combination of many experiences. It usually starts in a group DM. One person may say, “Hey, did you know that Sally did blah, blah, blah?” And because we all know Sally, but Sally’s not in the group, a conversation and judgments about her may ensue. I have been known to either start this type of dialogue, participate in the conversation, or throw in an lol or appropriate gif.

Situation #2 is also a common one I’ve found myself in. Two women don’t know each other, but for some reason have crossed one another’s paths. I associate with both women. Sally does something Sue doesn’t like and because I know both, I’m listening to each share their dislikes. I may also interfere by throwing in a, “Hey why don’t you think about it this way” because I feel a sense of loyalty to both and I’m equally associated.

teaSituation #3 surfaces every now and then. Again, it begins with my knowing two women, who also may know one another, but aren’t necessarily friends. Sue asks me a question about Sally. Just for the sake of example, it could be something like, “Why does she always wear her pants backwards?” Because I know Sally and I have insight into why her pants are always backwards, I answer. I never tell Sally; however, I do secretly continue this defense of her and her backwards-pants wearing.

I’ve decided participating in any future, similar conversations is wrong. Here’s why.

Many of you know my overall goal is to raise women’s consciousness; however, how can I be raising women’s consciousness in one breath, while talking about women behind their backs in another?

I can’t. It’s out of alignment. And I won’t be doing it anymore.

From here on out, I will not be discussing other women in the confines of text messages, DMs, or lunch dates. I also won’t be listening to other women discuss and judge women I know (or don’t know). My new direct phrase will be: Let’s talk about all the amazing things going on in your life and what you’re doing (or something similar). And finally, if someone wants to know why Sally always wears her pants backwards, I’m going to suggest that they pick up the phone and ask Sally.

Women’s empowerment is about more than writing, blogging, or speaking engagements, where women share their wounds and heal. It’s about not creating more cuts for someone we each refer to as “sis.” It’s about the way we carry ourselves when no one’s looking. This includes private conversations.

Let me know what you think, if you can relate to either of these situations, or if you have another one to share.

Monday Notes: 14 Days of Non-Communication

From June 18th to July 1st, I decided not to communicate with people I know (and love). With the exception of my husband, two daughters, and a siSTAR video I’d committed to, I was silent. This included my not responding to text messages, DMs, phone calls, emails, and social media.

24034dc7-4131-431d-8cb2-6db42fc5d233First, I alerted everyone I could through social media so that people didn’t think I was ignoring them. In this social media age, people’s feelings are hurt quite quickly if they don’t hear instantly from you. This worked for the most part. For family, like Grannie, who are not on these platforms, I simply left a message on her answering machine asking her to please wait until July 1st to speak with me, unless of course, there is an emergency. For others like my father, who sent photos of his grandson’s kindergarten graduation, I replied with the photo you see here. And for my cousin who called with news of their newborn baby, I begged Dwight to call him back so I could listen, but not respond.

Why, you might be thinking?

I needed time, space, and silence to disengage so I could hear my inner thoughts.

Recently, my sister gifted me with a numerology reading. In our conversation, the reader said, “Everyone isn’t worthy of your time.” That is one of the most poignant statements I’ve heard in 2019, and it really made me pause. Aside from thoughts about friendships, I decided to use my fourteen days of silence to assess the many collaborations and projects with which I’m involved. Will I continue with Project A, B, and C? Are these projects aligned with my personal mission? Even if they are aligned, are they worth the time/energy investment to continue? To make these decisions, I needed time, space, and silence.

Also, I wanted to focus on how I would generate extra money for the remainder of the year. Contrary to public belief, many professors do not make a huge salary. Like other professions, it is contingent on lots of factors: discipline, rank, and institution. Being quiet allowed me to think deeply about how to attract money and from where.

wooden_plankAlong with these fourteen silent days, I also decreased my sugar intake. This isn’t new to me. About four years ago, I did a 21-day detox that excluded all sugars. This time, I followed the recommendation that women have no more than 25 grams per day. Initially it was challenging, and I hovered around 24-50. But overall, it was a success. When I remove sugar, my brain becomes clearer; subsequently, my thoughts and dreams are also lucid. And combined with silence, it’s like a veil was removed, revealing the direction in which I needed to travel.

Although I wanted badly to celebrate the birth of my cousin’s baby, and although it took everything out of me not to respond to email plans for our DC reading or to text Bree to find out how she did at the Daughters’ Lives Matter event, or to comment on blog posts, it’s okay. It’s okay not to be at everyone’s beck and call in each moment. It’s okay to tell people you need a minute…away, just for yourself. In this instant communication society we’ve created, it’s okay to say, hold on wait a minute while I get myself together.

Trust me…their good and bad news will still be there for you to praise or lament. Their worlds will not crumble. And, you my friend, may feel more healthy and whole.