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.

TBT Thoughts: Do We Change?

About three months ago, a high school friend sent me a picture I had given her during our junior year. On the back, I’d done as many high school students used to. I’d written her a personal message. In case you can’t read my writing, it says:

059110f2-5e67-415b-bf66-2696217ab88eTo –:

Even though you never call anyone, and never tell anyone anything, and never go anywhere with anyone: u still the homie!

Love, Kathy

c/o ‘91

Okay. Let’s take a pause to commemorate 20th century rituals, such as signing pictures!

Now, back to my point. When I read what I’d written over two decades ago, I laughed. How much had I changed from 1990? I considered this person a friend, and I still do, yet for some reason, I had to call her out on her non-friend like behavior. Sound familiar? It does to me. I’ve written countless blogs that focus on relationships and understanding how we treat one another within those relationships.

Based on what I wrote, it seems to have been my lifelong quest.

Reading what I’d written reminded me of a quote. Loosely paraphrased it says, it’s not so much that we need to find ourselves, as we need to remember who we were, or something like that.

I agree. Much of our childhood and adolescent years are spent becoming acculturated and acclimated to our surroundings. We learn what we can, cannot, should, or should not say, and in some cases, do. Initially, our parents take on the role of ensuring we’re properly socialized. Once we begin school and other activities, society takes over. Some of these lessons are explicit, like don’t swear in public. Others are implicit, like girls should be quiet and demure.

One lesson that stands out for me is from my mother. She would always tell me, “it’s not what you say, but how you say it.” She tried to instill some sense of etiquette to my tone. By my mid-30s, and after watching others’ reactions in conversations, I began to self-censor not only my tone, but also my speech, because try as I may, I can’t seem to say things with sugar or honey. And if someone was going to worry about how I said something, it was best not to say it at all. This lasted two years. For me, self-censorship causes a buildup of unused words, and that’s not good for my health.

I’m believing more and more that we are born knowing who we are and what we need to do. Like the paraphrased quote above, we just need to remember who, what and why?

Eventually, I found my way back to who I am. Blogging has helped. While I do edit words for grammar and usage, I don’t suppress my tone or what I want to say. Likewise, I never intend to hurt someone’s feelings, so in person, sometimes I pause or exhale before speaking. But I make sure not to mince words. Finally, I’ve accepted the idea that if you’re focused on how I say something, instead of what I’ve said, then maybe we don’t need to communicate. And that’s okay. Maybe you’ll find someone who says things in a manner in which you can receive the message.

So, what do you think? Do we change over time? Are we taught to fit in, which causes us to change? Have you had to re-learn who you once were?

*TBT Thoughts: Tommy Hilfiger

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In 1996, I heard that Tommy Hilfiger said that he didn’t make his clothes for black people. I admired Hilfiger’s clothing, but there was no way I was going to purchase another piece, if indeed, he was going around making racist comments.

So, I didn’t.

Four years later, Spike Lee’s satirical film, Bamboozled, criticized America’s race relations. In it, Lee also ridiculed America’s fascination with brand-named fashion and alluded to Hilfiger’s alleged racism, with a parody he called Timmy Hilnigger.

As an avid Spike Lee fan, I was amused. I thought it was clever, and I was happy to be on the “right” side of an issue. My position remained, and I didn’t buy any more Hilfiger clothing.

That is until Saturday, September 14, 2019.

On that weekend, I was looking for something appropriate to wear to a tea that I’d been invited to. The host was going to wear a dress, and according to Google, I should too. I ended up at TJ Maxx because I had no intention on spending a bunch of money on clothes I may or may not ever wear again.

img_1646After several minutes, I found a cute, classic navy blue and white dress. The only issue is it was by Tommy Hilfiger! Yes. Twenty-three years later, I was still holding out on my Hilfiger ban. But I tried it on anyway because like I said, it was cute.

It looked even more fabulous on, and I had no hesitation. I was buying this $40 dress, racist Hilfiger or not.

The next day, I showed Dwight, who also agreed it was nice.

“Too bad I’ll be wearing clothes by a racist,” I said. “I’m choosing to exert my willful ignorance for fashion.”

Dwight pushed back a little and wondered what Hilfiger had actually said decades ago. His point was nowadays, people take things out of context, so how did it come about that Hilfiger allegedly said he didn’t make clothes for black people?

Unlike 20 years ago, this time I could Google it. That’s when I found this: Did Oprah Winfrey Throw Tommy Hilfiger Off Her Show for Making a Racist Comment?

And this, Tommy Hilfiger Addresses those Racist Rumors from 1996 One More Time.  

And finally, this, The Racism Scandal that Rocked Tommy Hilfiger.

In case you don’t have time to read these, here’s what I found out. Tommy Hilfiger never said those words, ever.

<sigh>

This revelation is a little more than disturbing. I can’t imagine having built a company, with a primary goal of being the best in my field, having succeeded in that goal, and then having an untraceable rumor ruin my reputation and decrease sales.

What’s equally disturbing is how quickly we will stop supporting businesses with little to no facts. It’s called cancel culture. While I’m not opposed to boycotting businesses with verified questionable practices or opinions and morals not aligned with what I believe, I am opposed to canceling a company or brand simply because of a rumor.

After this incident, it’s clear that I have to do better. But I’m starting to believe we all do.

*And oh! Welcome to my new category…#TBT Thoughts 😉

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: 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?