Black Girl in the Psych Ward, Part 2

So Part 2 on that ass…

First off, apologies for taking so long to post this follow up.  It was so very difficult to get through.  I started and stopped, deleted and revised…it was hard not only to commit to sharing but to try to do so in a way that felt real and not edited for friendly consumption. Thanks for both your patience and the support/encouragement I received after the first post.

Ok, as I mentioned in Part 1, I am in a process of healing and recovery after my depression and anxiety reached a boiling point. The result was a brief stay in a psychiatric hospital. However, the journey from breakdown to admittance was one I will never forget.  And, it was a glaring lesson in just how broken our mental health system is.

There is a stubborn shame that mental illness carries. It’s so persistent that despite my insides burning from self-hatred, regardless of my complete inability to find a glimpse of relief, I resist an admission of sickness. I try to frame it as moodiness, PMS, fatigue, anything but what it is.

I am an alien among the rest of the population. I am an imposter, skillful though I may be, living for the sake of what I believe to be sheer obligation. A duty to support and sustain the world as my children, my wife, my family and friends know it. A world where I show up with productivity and purpose, where I help locate lost keys and jackets, where I am interested in their days, where we are the cabinets and freezer are stocked with snacks and dinner options. It is a covert operation with the sole purpose of invisibility.

It’s the least sexy or glamorous way to be a spy. Only I don’t get the bad guy because I AM THE BAD GUY. I am the problem.  Because I can’t fix myself. I cannot reset my mind to happy, or even content. I am literally living off excuses and living for the moments I can be in the dark with only my wicked, stupid self.

Let me pause to communicate that I am not explaining all this context to incite sympathy, or even understanding.  I honestly don’t expect people to truly understand, as this is my process, my journey.  However, I am revealing some of the nuances that those with depression and anxiety face in the hopes that their friends, family, partners, supervisors, and overall naysayers can pause to take a glimpse into our experiences.

We aren’t faking it.

We aren’t using it as an excuse for bad behavior.

We don’t enjoy the attention.

To imply any or all of these assumptions is the core of why the suffering remains in silence. Even if you think it, don’t you dare say it. You withhold that comment from anyone who trusts you enough to share their struggles.

Ok, so on to the process of voluntary commitment.

After days without sleep, the inability to sit still, the constant nausea, I first sought out my primary care provider to at least see if I could adjust my meds, or find some immediate response to at least calm down and be able to sleep. My regular provider was unavailable so I saw a doctor who had a same day appointment available.

My appointment was at 10am.

It was over at 10:15.

Why, you ask? Because he came in with his clipboard (while I was sobbing uncontrollably and mortified to even be in public), mumbled that I was on a really low dose and he’d call in a new prescription to double it. As I am trying to pull myself back together, he says to me, “Why are you crying? What’s the problem?”

This humiliating and embarrassing question just made me more embarrassed and emotional. You have my file, jackass…you know I’m here because I said I was in crisis.  Through snot and rage, I said, “I’m at a breaking point with my anxiety and depression.  I can’t function. I’m afraid. I need help.”

To which he responded, “Oh. Ok. Well, I’ll call in your meds. You can come back or call if you have questions.”

And with that, he was gone. Outro. Ghost.

And I remained perched on that cold exam table until the tears that were blurring my vision subsided. Any hope I had of addressing and treating my condition without it going public seemed impossible.  Even worse, I truly believed the shame that would accompany exposing my breakdown would literally dismantle my life, kill my career, drive my children away, inspire those around me to pity me rather than love me. Who the hell would choose that route?

This is the point at which I shower myself in lies and delusion. They are in no way complicated or intricate. Super simple statements that reek of bullshit, but allow me to cling to what I believe is my dignity.  Here’s a few highlights:

  • Bitch, you’re fine.
  • If you put on a cute outfit and some makeup, your mind will follow.
  • Just get up. If you get out of bed, you’ll be fine.
  • You don’t have time to fall apart. You got shit to do.
  • What will the family say? You know they already think you are the weird one.
  • You’re gonna fuck up the kids (even more).

Seriously, these and other iterations of these statements ran through my head like ticker tape. And as I fed the fear, it grew. As I unpacked everything I hated about myself, it began to come out of my pores.  Like a drunk, my body had had too much poison, and it worked to release it. But I kept feeding my demon more ammunition, I kept putting my powder keg of a brain closer and closer to an open flame.

My wife pushed me to allow her to be my advocate, and that we had to at least try to find help.

Find help now.

Right now.

So we set out on a journey to secure treatment for me. A shaking, delirious, sobbing, insomniac asking for urgent help to keep her from hurting herself? Doesn’t seem like an unreasonable request, right.

WRONG.

We spent the next 31 hours moving from Behavioral Health Walk-in, to Crisis Counselor, to Emergency Room. Once in the ER, I wasn’t offered any form of medication to help me stabilize. The physician who came to “examine” me, clearly didn’t even want to touch me. She couldn’t look me in my eyes, tapped some joints to check my reflexes, and then answered every request for info and help with, “We’ll have to see what the social worker says.” I checked in to the ER at around 1pm on a Friday. I got a “light sedative” at about noon on SATURDAY. I was out of my mind with sleep deprivation, the overall humiliation of having to recite again and again why I’m there (since it wasn’t of a physical nature), and oddly enough, be told they’re not sure I need commitment to a facility because I wan’t “suicidal enough.”

Does this even seem real?

That overpaid doctor bitch couldn’t wait to get out of my exam room. It’s so very clear to me how someone having a mental health crisis just gives up and storms out of the ER. To go hide, go die. Because what’s left by way of options?  If the very place all regular providers drive you to demonstrates in no uncertain terms that not only are they afraid of you, but they’d just prefer not treat, serve, acknowledge or speak to you, well then what the fuck are you supposed to do?

No really.  I’ll wait. I would love to hear those who are suspicious of those suffering a mental health crisis, how they would react to this kind of treatment for chest pains. Or a broken bone. Or abdominal pain.

Guess what? All of these feelings are not are symptoms, by products, and warning signs of mental illness. So why must we prove the validity, the reality of our pain?

Mental illnesses is glamourized by villains in thrillers and action films, and sensationalized by extensive true crime programming, but the average, everyday face of mental illness looks like your neighbor, your supervisor, your child’s teacher, your favorite barista.

Stop looking away from what your heart senses is true: someone you know is hurting and they can’t find the words to seek help.  And sadly, when they do ask, the request goes unanswered.

I thank God for the social worker that was staffing the ER that evening. She used her knowledge of the system to necessitate a full mental health assessment for me, and advocated through the wee hours of the night to secure me a bed in a psychiatric hospital. She literally saved my life by demanding that those who were tasked to serve me, did their jobs.

She reminds me to take my role of activist, friend, mother, wife, sister, citizen as synonymous with action. I am supposed to demand accountability from systems that discount and ignore the very communities that have built them. When I am tempted to hold my peace, I remember Sister Social Worker and I speak up.

Once my bed was secured I took a long ride up the freeway to a psychiatric hospital. It was a long ride because: 1) the damn EMT person was trying to chat me up with small talk (um, I just had a breakdown; not interested in what college you’re going to!); and 2) no hospitals in my home county would give me a bed.

Arriving at the hospital, still shaking, terrified I made a mistake, I couldn’t have been more ashamed.

The third and final part: the journey and aftermath of inpatient treatment. Stay tuned.

Please feel free to share questions, comments, or any information as mental illness will continue to drown in stigma until we normalize it with conversation, respectful dialogue, and equitable resources.

ER Visits for Mental Health Visits

How Gaps in Mental Health Care Show Up in Emergency Rooms

African American Communities and Mental Health

Mind Over Merch

Mind Over Merch

The brain is
a creature of habit.

Decency does not grow naturally
from a tribe of vigilantes.
Always a grudge,
Always another betrayal,
A tumor of fear,
a razor blade buried
in a lollipop.

Unless-
the bruises sweeten
the soft flesh
of the fruit,

Unless each harvest
bears some semblance
to just desserts
even if just for optics,

Unless the heart defeats
the vicious army of the mind
and chooses to bet on
trust over trepidation.

Unless you see my liberation
As reliant on yours,
Your tshirts and empathy
Might as well be ether. 

Sick, Part I: Black Girl in the Psych Ward

Golf pencils. When someone asks me what comes to mind after my brief stint in the psych ward, that’s my response: golf pencils. I never want to see another one.  I likely won’t have to since I don’t play or even plan to play golf now or in the future. But even if I did by some chance find myself on a course pretending to care about dropping that dimpled ball into a hole far, far away, I swear I will use a crayon or a sharpie. Golf pencils be damned.

There were a series of steps that resulted in my admission to the hospital.  More phases than steps, I suppose. Survival. Functional dysfunction. Malfunctioning dysfunction. Deterioration. Denial of the deterioration. Detached zombie. Withering mess. Shaking and detached.

These are of course not technical terms.  Nor can I say that they happened in that exact sequence. I can say, however, that I will never be the same. There is something very permanent about losing your mind. Even after you begin to reclaim it, you are putting it back together using different tools. These tools reshape and reconfigure all the pieces, wires and bits differently than they began. That’s good and bad.  But you are indeed different.  Forever.

plath

I lost my shit approximately five weeks ago. Now when I say lost my shit, I am referring to a dismantling of the connection between my body and mind; a severance between me and the world. I was no longer an actor. I was only a recipient. Of thoughts, of pain, of symptoms and wreckage.  Nothing but contradictions: flurry and paralysis, fight and concession.

My breakdown was a mudslide of sorts. I call it a mudslide because 1) it was most certainly a natural disaster; and 2) I read this explanation on Wonderopolis:

Mudslides occur when a large amount of water causes the rapid erosion of soil on a steep slope.

And that, my friends, was like looking in a mirror. I was a disaster waiting to happen. The makings were always there, but I had managed to keep the precipitation and physics at bay. When it was getting too slippery I frantically worked to dry out.  Drying out in my case was isolation, withdrawing from everyone and everything, and escaping via words (books, writing, web) to avoid my reality. When I had retreated enough to choke back the dangers of being found out, uncovered, questioned by those who truly know me, I would re-integrate, apologizing to those I had flaked on, put off, rescheduled, ignored.

Shame is the real driver for me.  I simply hate my brain and its inability to function in everyday life. Function, independence, value-add, purpose; these are the qualities that lie at the center of my self-worth.  Even now I can’t shake the lessons of generational trauma, systemic oppression, and sexism:

  • Prove your worth through performance
  • Get up and push through
  • Us before you
  • Some things are not talked about
  • That’s something for the White folks

These phrases, along with others, run through my ill mind like ticker tape. And honestly, there is some truth to them. There are individuals who, if trusted with the truth, use it against you or very quickly want you to prove that what you are feeling is real, that you aren’t using it a s a crutch or excuse for bad behaviors. You know what? FUCK THEM. I am grateful that my brain goes to self-destruction and not violence to others because if it did, there would be some wounded ass naysayers around the 253. I would be going all Beatrix Kiddo unleashing the pain that their disbelief causing me and others fighting to remain functional. It would look similar to this:

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective) I turn my Hattori Hanzo sword on to myself, ripping the light out of my own life, saving all of my compassion for others no matter how they hurt me. I refuel with reality TV, hard liquor and prayer (yes, all 3 of the things go together!). And when I mustered enough will to get through, I’m at it again.

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Nothing could prepare me for the process of seeking medical help for my mental health crisis. No amount of research, anecdotes, or second hand stories prepare you to be humiliated, dehumanized and disregarded by the system. Seriously, it’s the shit that nightmares are made of.

I’ll break the whole sordid affair down in part 2. And explain why golf pencils can go straight to hell.

A Poem: Set

I offer this in deep respect and gratitude to Carrie Mae Weems and her journey to completing this piece. Her conviction to bear witness to the Black experience inspired these words. I was drawn to it because of the way text was used to over the image; and began to explore the way words have and continue to shape the narrative of oppressed people.

Set

Set.
Decided.
Grounded as a stone’s belly.

I have been named!
Designated with steel resolve
And bloody whip

Before a crowd.
In a book.
On a slab.
In a laboratory of cruel strangers.
Before my mother’s mother was a babe

I am the supply bred for demand
For beck and call
For sport and feast.
For pontification and jest
For leverage of the least.

You constructed me
From an economy of lust
Stripped me of agency
Assigned me the sole task
Of function
Work horse. Harvester. Pacifier.
Scapegoat. Wet nurse.
On call companion. On call mistress.
Carpenter. Blacksmith.
I was a fucking footrest!

Because of the labels.
Murder cloaked in science
A taxonomy to support the sickness,
A cancer turned birth defect.

You selected me for submission
to interrogation

Front. Side.
Laid out. Bent over.
Split open.
Spread eagle.
Restrained. Infected.
Observed. Probed.

To identify, classify, specify
The root of my inferiority;
To rationalize a brutality
So utterly shameful
Your offspring refuse to claim it.

You found my predisposition
to endure,
an orientation towards servitude,
without considering it was God’s gift
And not yours.
Jettisoned my humanity to feed
Your allure for dissection,
Rationalizing depravity
In the interest of public good.

It’s them labels.
Designations free from spirit but
Fueled by White power plays
That still slice this earth
Like I once sliced sugar cane
Baby sleep on my back.

I conceded. We conceded.
My feet remain soaked

in the labels
I step softly in and out of

the boxes you’ve created
To spare myself pain,
Spare myself lashes
Stay out the hot box
Keep breathing.
Keep awake
Stay woke.

So persistent and acute is
The pathology of your qualifiers
My great great great grandchildren will
Own the compass through this land
They too will walk through the minefield
of your labels
Dodging implications and hate
As best they can.

Those god damned labels!
They are born to yearning;
The bastard child of desperation.

You put a word behind the wheel
Declared it law
Drove my legacy into a homespun
Springboard for separatism.

The labels have taught your children
Entitlement to me
and to mine

my thoughts, my body, my prayer
my hope, my dance, my hair

as if my pilgrimage from
Mali to Maputo
to Middle Passage to Mississippi to Mobile
to Missouri to Minneapolis to Miami
Is a story woven for your consumption
You, always at the center,
Feeding on me.
Just feeding on me.

This is not behind you or I
This is still us
This addiction to labels
for the good of
the pale and favored.

We have settled

Into the grooves

Of this dimension

 

We live in deference

to the labels.

 

the seduction of security

restricts and relents

able hearts from disrupting

 

from choosing

to know me outside of the labels

Freedom can’t ring

In a house of lies

You can’t taste my truth

In a big

Bowl of conditions

 

We will roar and ring around this clock again

and again, and again and again

because the love doesn’t really matter when

what you say ain’t what you mean.

And what you speak

ain’t really who you see.

Freedom is choice

That manifests

In self and wealth

I don’t need your privilege

To navigate my own.

 

Freedom is a life

Without labels.

 

 

 

Just Do You: On the Importance of Turning Inward (40 DAY CHALLENGE)

I saw this and it made me pause:


It resonated with me because I believe many of us spend our days working to prove, win, edge out, and convince others of our way, our plan and our worth. But the Navajos nailed it on this one: try as you may, those who do not desire to truly know or value you, won’t. No matter what you do.

NO MATTER WHAT.

They have their own shit, my loves, so don’t even waste your energy trying to drag them into the light of you, if they resist your sunshine.

If you take a small step off of the hamster wheel of attention seeking behaviors, you may come to the same conclusion that I did: your relentless pursuit of approval, validation, whatever has nothing to do with “them.” It’s really about you.

u

You have misplaced your worth in the hands of others. Take that shit back.  What do YOU think of YOU?

This is sticky and uncomfortable for me to sort through because I have so much practice identifying what I don’t like, what I regret, what I lack. Despite my advice and encouragement of others, I struggle to turn this grace inward.  And it has everything to do with building my self-value.

It’s tough even writing this because it pushes against the myth of the strong black woman; as if I can’t be strong in the face of these internal struggles.

In search of a practice to establish and maintain healthier behaviors, I found some incredible advice from Iyanla Vanzant.  This quote stopped me in my tracks:

“When we think we are unworthy, it means that, for some reason, we believe that we have to prove we have a right to our space on the planet, in life, as we are,” she explains. “That means that we will do all manner of wonderfulness to prove we deserve to be here.”

Ok stop.

Go back and read it again.

Now check out Iyanla breaking down the difference between self-worth and self-value, and why we have to build value to drive better relationships and dynamics with others.

Isn’t she just everything?  She always leaves me in awe, and wanting to treat myself better. So I am taking this 40 day challenge and here’smy first crack at the “I am’s”

I am health I am peace I am success I am beauty
I am joy I am freedom I am capable I am thriving
I am liberation I am hope I am love I am light
I am kindness I am grace I am talent I am original
I am worthy I am special I am woman I am strong
I am victory I am human I am real I am cool
I am truth I am grounded I am glory I am wisdom
I am rising I am beauty I am focus I am wanted

I have to be honest, getting to 40 affirmation was challenging for a couple of reasons.First off, it was painfully clear that I’m not wired to celebrate myself.  I struggled to come up with more good stuff to say.  I also worked to use a noun, rather than a verb or adjective as instructed. So saying I am love rather than I am loving, or hope instead of hopeful, and so on. It was disorienting but powerful to make this distinction.  It made me aware of how much I describe and see myself is a product of my interactions with or as a function of what I do for others (helpful, supportive, friend, mother).

cat-wheel

It was also refreshing to speak from a place of looking and moving forward rather than back. In other words, I recognized my bad habit of running through and talking about the same negative shit; calling my soul’s attention to what I don’t like.

This exercise also made me recall a previous word Rock City Pastor Annie Jones-Barnes on the importance of what we choose to call forth – I am STRONG vs. I am TIRED, and how we call forth our reality by what we speak into the universe.  You can see a snippet here (under Videos, look for “I AM”).

Our words not only mean things they hold power; the power to build our lives or limit them. Let’s choose to look inward for our worth and power.  When we do so others recognize, respect and align with our power.  And if they don’t we can be assured it is a reflection of them not us.

fresh-in-40-1

Think you might be down to do the challenge with me? I need some accountability partners! Please join me as part of the #Freshin40 challenge!