Real Talk: I’m F—ing Sick of Suicide and Mental Illness Killing Our People

I just need to get this out because it’s burning hot in my bones like fire, my soul wants to just scream and wail but it can’t because doing so will terrify my children.

I’ve been thinking all day about how we’ve lost another person, another woman of color to suicide and mental illness. The more I’ve thought about how we lost Karyn Washington to suicide, the angrier I get. I’m talking SEETHING. I’m talking a white-hot, blinding rage that just wants to go tearing through things as it travails in mourning. I’m talking a rage that causes my teeth to ache from a clenched jaw and gnashing.

I. am. ANGRY.

I. am. MOURNING.

 

I. am. HEARTBROKEN.

I didn’t know her, but I didn’t have to. She was my sister, a fellow woman of color, a writer, a voice, a human being dedicated to uplifting her people. And she is gone. Suicide came and took her from us and I’m here grieving like she was my own daughter gone from me.

I’m fed up with the stigma that permeates minority communities and takes the lives of our people-as if we already don’t have enough fucking things that are killing and destroying us. I’m enraged at the lack of resources available to us. Our people are living and suffering from all types of ‘hood trauma all across this country, and have been for decades, centuries, even and our mental health isn’t taken seriously and addressed.

Our people are left for dead and to waste away in their minds.

Our churches-the cornerstones in our communities don’t adequately address mental illness-we keep perpetuating this “I’m too blessed to be stressed” bootstrappin bullshit that’s basically the equivalent to handing us a razor to slice our wrists open with.

Black men are conditioned to believe they have to be hard, and in reality, it’s true-they MUST be and live hard because society views them as inhuman and unworthy of even being able to walk to the corner store or listen to music in their cars in peace.

Black women are conditioned to bear a resilient silence-our mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins, and grandmothers have to be so strong for everyone else without a not so much of an utterance as to how such a burden is eroding at our thought life and well-being.

I’m disgusted that the mental health advocate community has a major diversity problem. I’m tired of POC not being seen and heard on mental health platforms like our white counterparts. I’m tired of seeing awareness campaigns full of nothing but white faces, and quality treatment facilities and practices in the white neighborhoods, with even sliding scale fees only white people can afford.

I’m tired of hearing our people say that therapy and medication “are for white people.” I’m tired of our mamas not knowing what perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are and how they can manifest over the first year of their baby’s life-ON TOP of all the other shit they’re dealing with that can contribute to depression, PTSD, and anxiety. I’m tired of our mamas not knowing the risk factors for developing such disorders during and following pregnancy-especially when previous trauma and violence are the top risk factors.

My heart bleeds for the Karyns. The Miriams. The Ebony Wilkersons. The Don Cornelius’. The Lee Thompson Youngs. My heart rages for them, and I wonder when their mental health will become a priority. When will the psychiatrist or licensed social worker graduating from school decide to go set up shop where our people live and listen to their stories. Educate us. Chip away at the stigma that has become a death sentence?

Who will help us? People of color, when will we speak up about our own struggles with mental illness and light the way for our own? Can it be today?

Please tell me we can start today. I can’t bear the pain of losing any more of you to this selfish son of bitch.

If you are struggling today and having thoughts of suicide, please DO NOT hesitate to call your local suicide hotline immediately. Call 800-SUICIDE (800-784-2433) or 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) . 

Things I’m Afraid to Tell You

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I was invited to write this post by a group of bloggers who are participating in a series of posts called “Things I’m Afraid to Tell You”. The TIATTY movement was inspired by a post from Jess Constable of Make … Continue reading

She Said It: Kathryn Greene McCreight on PPD, Bipolar Disorder & Faith

image courtesy of goodreads.com

My friend Audrey lent me this book a couple of months ago and I’m just starting to read it this week. The second paragraph of the first chapter made me catch my breath as I read words that seemed to explain what parts of my experience with PPD was like.  As I continued to read the following paragraphs and discovered that the author is not just a mother, but a priest, and also bipolar, my eyes stung with heavy tears and I had to pause every now and then to process the emotions I was feeling.

When I was going through my experience with PPD I felt so alone, because it seemed no one around me had experienced it, or if they had, they didn’t speak up about it. I felt confused and misunderstood, mostly because I couldn’t even articulate what was going on with me, and when I tried, my words left the hearer with the impression that I either just needed to pray more, take more time, or “fix” my circumstances…as a Christian I was even told that I was experiencing the depression and turmoil because I had chosen to have a child out of wedlock…the hell and pain I was reeling from were just the byproducts of my “sin” and I needed to just endure it.

When I was diagnosed with rapid cycling bipolar disorder last July, I felt my faith shaken and my first question to God was, “Can I be a Christian and be bipolar?” How was I supposed to know what was real, how was I supposed to hold on to God in my lowest and darkest moments when all I wanted to do sometimes was just die? My next question was, “Are there other Christians who are bipolar? Where are they? Why don’t they talk about their experiences?”

I’ve ranted on Facebook and Twitter about how there’s a lack of open dialogue, awareness, education, and services in the Christian community for those living with severe or chronic mental illnesses. There are even far less in the African-American Christian community….I’ve yet to hear of mental illness addressed in a sermon or anyone in our culture openly discuss this subject…..

So when I started to read this book, the first few pages seemed to scream what my experience and thoughts motherhood and these illnesses have been like. Her words shook me, so much so that I had to put the book down a few times because my hands and arms couldn’t stop shaking, my body trembling from the force of the tears and emotions welling up inside of me.

So for today’s post, I thought I’d just share an excerpt, share the paragraphs I read yesterday that spoke so soundly to me and I found myself in. If you know of someone who is struggling with their mental illness, especially as a mother or even a Christian, please share this post with them as well. I hope it helps you and them the way it has already started to help me.

When I became a mother for the second time however, the hem of my mental health began to fray. Motherhood by nature challenges the mental, emotional, spiritual and physical endurance of any woman. It is a highly over-romanticized and underestimated pressure cooker, matched in potential not only for the creation of a new family but also for the destruction of both mother and child. Think-with horror-the Susan Smiths and Andrea Yateses of the world. ……of course not all postpartum suffers are this detached from reality.

…..Motherhood, I believe, was only the precipitant for an internal agony that I had been holding back for years. Maybe God had postponed my storm at sea until I could be buyoued by the hopefulness and joy that I derived from my children and husband.The experience as a whole and the experiences that constituted the eventual illness were at least bewildering and at most terrifying. The blue sky which normally fills my heart, stung my soul. Beautiful things like oriental rugs and good food like bean soup absolutely exhausted me. Noise was amplified in my ears, and I fled sound and conversation in search of silence. Small tasks became existential problems: how and why to fold the laundry, empty the diswasher, do grocery shopping. My memory failed me. I was unable to read or write (except for sermons, by the Holy Spirit’s providence, I believe.) And it went downhill from there. A back and forth in and out of darkness lasted for years. ……

….I have a chronic disease, a brain disorder that used to be called manic depression and is now, less offensively, called bipolar disorder. However one tries to soften the blow of the diagnosis, the fact remains that bipolar disorder is a subset of the larger category unhappily called “major mental illness.’ By the latter of my thirties, I had sought help from several psychiatrists, social workers, and mental health professionals, one a Christian, but mostly non-Christians. I had been in active therapy with a succession of therapists over several years and had been introduced to many psychiatric medications, most of which bought quite unpleasant side effects and only a few of which relieved my symptoms to some degree. Those medications that have in fact been helpful, I must say despite my own disinclination toward drugs, have been a strand in the cord that God has woven for me as the lifeline cast out in my free fall.  The medications have helped me rebuild some of “myself,” so that I can continue to be the kind of mother, priest, and writer that I believe God wants me to be. “A threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12) The three cords to my rope were the religious (worship and prayer), the psychological, (psychotherapy) and the medical (medication, ECT, and hospitalization).

Yet while therapists and counselors, psychiatrists and medications abound, I found no one to help me make sense of my pain with regard to my life before the triune God. I write this book, then by way of an offering, as what I wish someone had written to help me make sense of the pain and apparent incongruity of that agony with the Christian life. Those Christians who have not faced the ravages of mental illness should not be quick with advice to those who do suffer. “Pray harder,” “Let Jesus in,” even “Cast your anxiety on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7), which of course are all valid pieces of advice in and of themselves, may only make the depressive person hurt more.

This is because depression is not just sadness or sorrow. Depression is not just negative thinking. Depression is not just being “down.” It is being cast the very end of your tether and, quite frankly being dropped. Mania is more than speeding mentally, more than euphoria, more than creative genius at work. The sick individual cannot simply shrug it off or pull out of it. While God certainly can pick up the pieces and put them together in a new way, this can happen only if the depressed brain makes it through to see again life among the living.

This is an excerpt from “Darkness is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness,” by Kathryn Greene-McCreight. You can read her brief bio on her church’s website here

Music That Moves: Rend Collective Experiment, Gungor, Switchfoot, & Newsboys

Five songs that are inspiring me today to push through.  It’s hard to hold on to your faith when you’re bouncing like a pinball between mania and depression on a daily basis; but being able to believe in something bigger than myself pulls me through the chaos that clamors in my emotions and mind…It’s the only thing that anchors me to this life.

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains;  it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” (C.S. Lewis)

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful… Hebrews 10:23

Beautifully Broken: A Much Needed Reminder

May God help me…I’ve done a vlog y’all. ugh….

Lyrics to “Never Let Go”

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
Your perfect love is casting out fear
And even when I’m caught in the middle of the storms of this life
I won’t turn back
I know you are near

And I will fear no evil
For my God is with me
And if my God is with me
Whom then shall I fear?
Whom then shall I fear?

(Chorus:)
Oh no, You never let go
Through the calm and through the storm
Oh no, You never let go
In every high and every low
Oh no, You never let go
Lord, You never let go of me

And I can see a light that is coming for the heart that holds on
A glorious light beyond all compare
And there will be an end to these troubles
But until that day comes
We’ll live to know You here on the earth

(Chorus)

Yes, I can see a light that is coming for the heart that holds on
And there will be an end to these troubles
But until that day comes
Still I will praise You, still I will praise You

Manic Mondays (On Tuesdays): Hypersexuality, Faith, & Womanhood pt. 1

Confession: This is the probably the hardest series of posts I’ve ever written here on ‘Confessions, because it deals with a personal and often ‘taboo’ subject in Christian culture. But I believe in the power of transparency, and I realize that this is part of owning my story and having honest dialogue with others, so that’s why I’m writing about this particular subject. Not sure how many parts there will be  this series, but I hope that this proves to be a healthy exploration for myself and whoever finds themselves in reading these posts.

Bipolar Disorder: When Sexuality Is in Overdrive – Bipolar Disorder Center – Everyday Health.

I read this article today while taking a break from doing my project on the book of Philemon. I’m in the middle of finals week and the end of the semester, (hence my absence from the blogging world) but I knew after reading this, I had to stop and write about it…

…or rather about my experience with hypersexuality as a woman trying to manage BP.  About being a Christian who struggles severely with this symptom of BP and what how I believe it impacts my walk with God…

About a year ago, I started noticing that I was having very sexual dreams, which was out of the norm for me. While sex isn’t something I dream about normally, that’s not what bothered me about the dreams. What bothered me was that I was constantly dreaming about having sex with women, which was definitely something I had NEVER done before. I also started noticing that I would have days (possibly a couple of weeks…or a month even) where all I would think about is having sex.

Now, let me say this. (Again, I’m being transparent here, so understand my disclosure serves a purpose) I lost my virginity at 16 and didn’t have sex again until I was 20-when I met my next boyfriend. While I enjoy sex, I’m not the type to have “friends with benefits,” one night stands, or even casual sex with strangers or people I don’t know very well. I tried having a casual sex relationship once and I hated it. (and it didn’t last very long). The only other person I “casually” had sex with was my ex…but I had known him for over a year. We were friends….and then we were dating…and the sex? It just happened. In other words, if I’m sharing my cookie jar with you, it’s because I know you, I trust you, and we’re in a monogamous relationship…. and even then, depending on how my spiritual health is, sex might not even happen under those circumstances.Sex and being intimate with someone I care about is awesome, but I’ve never been the type who felt like I had to have it regularly if I was single. I had more of a “take it or leave it” attitude concerning sex…if I was taking it, I thoroughly enjoyed it with my significant other…if I was single and leaving it, I was perfectly okay with that.

So while I enjoy it and I don’t mind exploring my sexuality, I’ve never been a slave to it…or felt like I was at the mercy of my desires….until I started having dreams about trysts with women (and liking it) and found myself getting into these moods where it’s all I seemed to think and fantasize about.

These moods would always catch me off guard because after having Alex and starting Zoloft, I had noticed that my sex drive or desire for it had dropped significantly, which is pretty normal after pushing a bowling ball-sized object out of your vagina and starting an anti-depressant. I would have days or even a couple of months where I wouldn’t even think about it, or it didn’t feel like a need that just had to be satisfied…and then I would find myself  waking up with my hands down my pajamas….dreaming about random sexual encounters with total strangers….and wanting to jump on top of my ex every time I thought of or saw him.

If you’re reading this and you’re a woman, I’m sure you know how um…aroused you can get as you draw closer to your period, right?  (yep, I went there and said the p-word-go ahead, you can squirm a little more, it’s ok) Well imagine those feelings multiplied by, oh I don’t know, maybe a thousand or so and you’ll get a picture of how I would feel in these moods. They would totally consume me, I felt like some kind of pervert or sex addict. It was so bad sometimes that even my ex would look at me and be like, “uh…yea…NO!” and would ask if I was okay. You know it’s bad when you’re so overwhelmed with needing to have sex that it decreases your partner’s desire for it.  Yea….ouch.

One of the frustrating things about feeling so sexual was that no matter how much I had, it never satisfied the need, it only intensified it. I even took to pleasing myself which while I’ve known other women who do it and it’s not  a big deal, it was for me because it was something I had never done. These feelings weren’t just about trying to explore my sexuality or what I “liked.” It was literally like a wildfire just burning out of control. I tried everything to uh…satisfy it, squash it, ignore it. It literally became a highly agitating state to be in, and I didn’t really understand what was going on….

The even more frustrating part about my hypersexual feelings was the fact that because I’m an unmarried Christian, I felt endless amounts of guilt about what I was experiencing. And the shame. Oh the shame that would consume me and still does at times was all encompassing. I felt…dirty. Full of lust. A lustful, sinful woman who just couldn’t control herself. I didn’t know how to talk to anyone about it, let alone God. I felt guilty for wanting sex as much as I did, guilty for having it as much as I was, guilty for pleasuring myself (masturbation is a no no in Christian culture, apparently), guilty for just any and everything about sex. It was awful and the guilt and shame I felt only fueled my depressive moods, tying me down in the gravity wells these moods placed me in.

During these states my mind would swirl with racing thoughts: Was I just consumed with lust? What was wrong with me? Was God disgusted with me? Angry with me? Did He understand? I would stand at the altar at the end of service, begging God to help me stop compromising, asking for forgiveness and desiring to be and do better. Then a few days would pass or maybe a week or two and I’d find myself right back in the same state: hot, bothered, and full of this urge I lacked the ability to control…

Since my diagnosis in July, I’ve learned so much about BP and its symptoms I feel less guilt and shame because I know (for the most part) what’s causing it. Learning that it’s a symptom of my disorder and not necessarily a reflection of my character has brought me to a place of acceptance about it. I still wrestle with what to do about these feelings when they arrive and become overwhelmingly intense, but I don’t beat myself up over having them anymore…

My questions to God these days are more about management and how to maintain celibacy until marriage. I’m rather frank with Him about it and I believe He’s far more understanding about it than I originally gave Him credit for.

Hear me: I’m not trying to justify my behavior, so Christians don’t crucify me. I’m also not trying to use this symptom of my disorder as an excuse to just be all “A’Driane Gone Wild.” But I am trying to manage, understand and walk this issue out in a way that is spiritually healthy and doesn’t “taint” my relationship with God.

I’m also trying to be more open and honest about this issue, which is something I don’t think enough of us Christians do…

I’ll talk about this and more about my faith, hypersexuality and how they impact me next week. Until then….any thoughts? Feel free to share…

Dance Party Friday: Everyday LOVE Edition

Can we take a moment and just exhale?

Go ahead-breathe in very deep, all the way down to your core….hold it….and REEEELLLLEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAASE.

Feel any better? I do. I can speak for myself & say that it’s been quite a week, so taking a few moments for self-care just now makes me feel so good!

How was your week? Was it uneventful? Hectic? Overwhelming? Troubling? Too much? Awesome?

Mine? I’ve spent mine in the trenches, waging war against the Plague that invaded my house. Somehow Brennan is the only one who has managed to escape unscathed (so far). Alex not only had a cold but he was also teething on top it. I went to bed late Monday night with a pretty high fever & was told at the ER on Tuesday that I had strep throat & tonsillitis. Eh, can I get a side order of DEATH with my illness please? Thanks. Thank God for my ex-he was a lifesaver this week, taking care of me, cleaning my apartment, nagging me about my meds, and taking care of the boys. I wouldn’t have stayed above water mentally had he not been here, let me tell you.

So I’ve been eating penicillin like tic-tacs and am feeling way better finally…despite the STYE I have on my left eye. (the rhyming was so unintentional, I promise you) This week my body has failed me miserably, but I’m alive, so I’m grateful :)

Since I’m under the weather, dancing this week is totally out of the question. I don’t want to push it. I took a walk yesterday for some fresh air, and while I LOVED it, it wore me out & killed my back. SO, no dancing this week. But that’s perfectly ok, because I still have something for you to enjoy (hopefully).

This week was a lot to handle, not just because I was sick, but because I watched someone get swallowed whole by despair. I watched someone stand on the edge of their life, of their sanity, and who was ready to step off. They didn’t want to live anymore, they were weary of being under Bipolar’s oppressive thumb, and honestly, I DON’T BLAME THEM. Living with a mental illness, especially one like bipolar disorder is far from easy. Just doing what it takes to make it manageable is not for the faint of heart. It literally feels like you’re constantly swinging back & forth between life & death, and the intensity of what you feel…..I can’t put into words how unbearable it is. For me, it got so bad that I spent a Friday night slicing into my wrist with a piece of glass just to let it out. ( still so grateful for The Band, who let me write that!)

So watching someone else be on the edge and understanding how hopeless you can feel in that state was terrifying. I’ve never met this person but I didn’t want to imagine what it would be like to not have them in my life-even if it was just online or through a blog post. I watched someone else acknowledge that they aren’t doing well either and that they are in a fragile state, that they needed help. And my heart broke for them this week. I thought about Strong Start Day & all of the moms out there who are struggling but aren’t getting the real help they need for various reasons: shame, stigma, judgement, lack of insurance, resources or finances. And my heart broke for them. And I felt helpless. I asked God, “what can I do? How can I do something tangible to help?” The answer I got back was simple: “LOVE. LOVE THEM. In every & any way you can. Show them you love them.”

So this video is about that. It’s me trying to encourage anyone who needs it to hold on to love. When I think about where I was a year ago, when I just look back over my life & all I’ve been through, LOVE is what has kept me. God’s love & the love of people He’s placed in my life. LOVE is what makes an impact, what changes things, what leaves an indelible mark, what brings a person back from the edge….it’s brought me back time & again. I’d be dead & gone without it!

LOVE has been on my mind for the past couple of weeks and I’ll talk more about it & why in another post, but for now, just know that I’m being challenged to have everything I do for others & myself rooted in LOVE.

LOVE carries. LOVE heals.LOVE lifts. LOVE inspires. LOVE completes. LOVE strengthens. LOVE never fails us. Hold on to it with everything you have. I am. It’s not easy, but I’m learning how to…..everyday.

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week. This is for those of us battling, struggling with, recovering from, & triumphing over the parts of us that have malfunctioned. Keep holding on, keep kicking @$!, keep fighting….use LOVE as your weapon.

Shine…..So I Can See You

My prayer as I start this week…….

(and can I just say how much I freakin LOVE DCB?!!!!!)

And the promise I’m holding on to as I go into my week…holding on to this knowledge with a white knuckled grip….

(and yes, my music crush on John Mark McMillian is super fierce)

A Tumbling Out of Thoughts

It’s been a rough couple of days…..it seems like for every forward step I take, I have a day or two where I take three or four steps back…sometimes it’s a series of events that trigger the relapse or regression….more recently it seems as though I’m hyper sensitive; the slightest touch triggers me & sets the pendulum in motion, even if it’s just for a few hours….or a day.

Being triggered and having an anxiety attack or falling into a “mood state’ reminds me of three things: how fragile my own strength really is, how important it is that I stick to my wellness plan & keep finding coping strategies to add to it, & my need for God….for His love…. It reminds me that He’s really the only one who can really bear the full brunt me when I’m like this, and it reminds me that even when I’m at my lowest, He’s still there, walking with me, “fixing me” along the way…..

(you should definitely go to youtube to watch this…trust me it’s worth the click)

Taking care of myself & believing in someone outside of myself are the only ways I know I’ll make this “manageable” & be able to put it in it’s proper place. Under control. So I can live. So I can mother. So I can be the better parts of me more often.

I’ll get there. Until then, I’m going to do my best to just…..breathe & keep moving.

Thank you #PPDChat mamas (every single one of you-those I talk to consistently in The Twitter & those of you I’ve never met who sent me hugs & love last night), The Band, & Katherine Stone for being there and reaching out these past two days. Thank you for being that safe place I can go to when I need to just say exactly how I’m feeling without worry or fear of someone thinking the worst of me. You all are seriously the best therapy :) And also to my Pastor….thank you for reaching out, for your prayers, and for your words of encouragement this week. They are always timely & invaluable.