What's Your Story?

I found pieces of a free writing session with one of my besties, Bonique’a, from 2012.  It ostensibly started with her asking me, “What’s your story?” and morphed into an introspective jumble of something else.  I have shared the beginning of this poem in some other things I’ve written, including my forthcoming novel.  Somehow though, I ignored the gems sprinkled throughout the end of the writing session.  Here I present the reworked free write spawned by my bestie who always keeps me thinking and digging deeper.  Thanks, girl.

story (poem)

I like to tell folks I don’t have a story

But I also like to fuck with people

That in itself tells a story.

You confused yet?

Good, now we have something in common

I think that’s how friendships begin.

Not sure if I can maintain it but that’s part of the story too

Pay attention to the details

That’s where the angels are for me

 

I live in devilish broadstrokes

Details are the only way the good creeps in

Giving the true life to the picture

Details are what fill funeral obituaries

Speaking of obituaries…

When I exit this world

I mean exeunt this world

-I am plural-

2 paragraphs can’t hold me

But I digress

Duality

2 of me

Literally in a figurative kinda way

Confusing?

Good.

Want to be consistent.

Craving to be consistent.

Trying for 37 years to tuck in a chain of normalcy

To ward off the thieves of despair and frenetic madness

 

Stolen goods can be replaced.

But how about the bad that no one cared to burgle

Kept bads never seem to get displaced

Instead they are displayed permanently on mantles

Dismantling yet another plank of sanity

 

Isn’t insanity just the outside half sibling of sanity?

The one no one bothers with?

 

The ugly one.

The one we’d rather not discuss?

Daddy’s indiscretion.

The family secret.

The whisper.

Do you know the feeling of going through as the inaudible glitch.

an aberration.

But maybe that’s my story.

The one told in hushed tones in back rooms.

Reposted with permission from In My Mental Mind.

 

Alise Leslie is a poet, author, blogger, spoken-word artist, and mental health advocate currently residing in Durham, NC. She writes at the blog, “In My Mental Mind: a black girl’s mental health journey," focusing on mental health issues, particularly for women and men of color, through essays, personal stories, poetry, and music.  Her lipstick game is most likely better than yours. 

More AliseIn My Mental Mind | Facebook | Twitter 

Mental Health Monday #25: Audra McDonald's suicide attempt, Prodigy on sickle cell, not just "praying about it," etc.

Howdy, homeslice. Hopefully your stomach and spirit are full and you're soaring despite ruinous hateration in the dancerie. Welcome to another round of Mental Health Monday, your weekly dose of stories, resources, and motivation for your everyday life. On last week's edition, contributor Synitta Walker revealed her longterm battle with depression, declaring that she's not ashamed, dammit. And before that Jamond Coaston-Foree reflected on the importance of taking mental health days off from work to get you shit together. Check it out here.  

THIS WEEK'S GOODNESS

"“I Slit My Wrists”: Audra McDonald On Surviving Past Suicide Attempt And What Keeps Her Strong Today" by Victoria Uwumarogie [Madame Noire]

In an interview with Alec Baldwin for his WNYC podcast, Here’s the Thing, McDonald discussed life after leaving Fresno, Calif. for New York to study classical voice at Juilliard. Her instructors wanted her to focus on singing opera and she had a different path she wanted to go on. Because of that, she struggled in her coursework and found herself battling depression. The star, in her early twenties, over her experience by her junior year and in an unhealthy relationship, was pushed to the brink.

"After Years of Daily 'Wake 'n' Bakes' I Faced My Battle with Psychological Weed Addiction" by Kitty Gray [VICE]

In recent years, the negative effects of smoking, for me, have begun to outweigh the positive. You may have heard the claim that weed makes you a wee bit stupider? Well, my memory has started to fail me. I have endless amazing story ideas when I'm high (I know, I know, every stoner makes this claim, BUT IT'S TRUE). The ideas, of course, evaporate as quickly as they materialize. My once-robust vocabulary has dwindled, and with it, my self-confidence.

"For Black Women Battling Depression: "Strong On The Outside, Dying On The Inside" [Exclusive Excerpt]" [Black Doctor]

Okay, so let’s deal with this strong Black woman thing. As Black women, we take great pride in our ability to bear the burdens of our children, families, communities and sometimes our entire race without stumbling or falling, no matter the weight that is pressed on us. After all, we endured the vicious passage from our ancestral homeland of Africa to the shores of America, the Caribbean and Europe; survived the horrors and brutality of slavery; persevered through segregation and discrimination; and achieved unprecedented economic, political and educational heights against all odds.

"I don’t need to “pray about it,” I need to go to therapy" by Maya Williams [The Tempest]

I have struggled with anxiety and depression, and I would experience it worse when people would say things like:

“It’s all in your head. God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.”

I find this very problematic because I find this statement to be bull crap. I believe God has given me a lot of things that I couldn’t handle. If I could handle it, why would I experience it in the first place? However, I do believe that God doesn’t give me anything He cannot fix. I believe He is always to fix things that I can’t.

"Gratitude Lists Are B.S. — It Was an "Ingratitude" List That Saved Me" by Liz Brown [Good Housekeeping]

For years I'd been listening to well-intentioned people who told me to be grateful for how lucky I was — to count my blessings, to make gratitude lists, to think of all of the people who had it so much worse than me, to smile though my heart was breaking, to have a better attitude. What they didn't realize was that while these practices were helpful for many people, in my case they made me ashamed to be honest about how bad I was feeling and work through that pain.

"I Love the Freelance Life, But It’s Taking a Toll on My Mental Health" by Cinnamon Janzer [NY Mag]

Considering that the gig economy is expected to double in the next four years — bringing the total of nontraditional American workers to roughly 9.2 million by 2021 — more and more people will be exposed to the work conditions that beget the mental-health issues that freelancers like these women and myself experience. How society and policymakers adapt to these changes “will be essential,” Ertel notes, for shaping a gig economy that is both productive and healthy.

Last week, Alex joined a squad of practitioners and advocates on a panel at the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, DC to close out Minority LGBTQ Mental Health Awareness Month. His section begins at about the 42 minute mark.

Would you like to tell your mental health story? Do you have a mental health-related article, video, event, or other content we should know about? Hit us up.

Are you a Black mental health professional? Do you know one? Alex is building a hub for Black wellness. Learn how you can be down.

 

How to be Black and mentally ill when news of Black death is everywhere.

black-woman-stressed.jpeg

I am black and I have complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (c.PTSD). My blackness intersects with my history of trauma and current mental illnesses in very specific ways. One of the ways in which they intersect is through the constant news of another black person being murdered or “turning up dead” or being brutalized or traumatized every day. Some people say that it’s once every eight hours, others say it’s once every 28 hours, but with extreme frequency a black person is murdered by someone in service of or protected by the United States of America.

Whether Black folks are diagnosed as mentally ill or not, this constant news of death and destruction is affecting us. For example, the suicide rate for black youth has nearly doubled while that of other children has gone down. We are experiencing genocide both mentally and physically so I want to offer some tips that are helping me to process my pain while still doing what I need to do to survive in America.

  1. Recognize that what we are experiencing is genocide. Naming it and dealing with the reality of our experiences is so important. Don’t gaslight yourself or allow others to gaslight you. The issue is not a bunch of people making mistakes, the issue is systemic.
  2. Learn about the people who came before you. The genocide we are experiencing is not new. We have been here dealing with the same kinds of trauma at the hands of white folks since before we even came to America. Situating our experiences in the context of those who came before us is helpful because for me at least it’s inspiring. When I think about Harriet Tubman or Toussaint L’Ouverture or Amilcar Cabral I am reminded that I come from very strong people. Someone once told me we do a disservice to those who come before us when we feel hopeless (about our ability to free ourselves from enslavement and white supremacy) today and it’s true. If Toussaint could free a country from the slavery and French rule then we can free ourselves from white supremacy.
  3. It’s especially important to teach the children about the people who came before them as well. Find kid friendly stories about our history and let the children know where they came from early.
  4. Find or create community. The kyriarchy, or the intersecting systems of oppression that is at the root of systemic black death, thrives when we are isolated. Find like minded people irl or online and build community with them. Eat dinner with them. Go to a park. Black love, romantic or otherwise is so healing and important. And talking about your feelings and processing in a group us very healing. Especially if you can not access quality mental health services.
  5. Make sure you eat frequently and drink water. Stretch. Wash your face. Be gentle with yourself, the world around us is already so rough. We don’t need to add to it. If possible go outside in nature, or in your community. Remind yourself that black people have survived so much before this and that we as a whole will survive this too.
  6. Work in your communities to fight back, in every way you can. What skills or resources do you have to offer to the people who are our modern day Harriet’s and Amilcar’s and Toussaint’s? Find these organizations that are genuinely about black liberation and help in whatever way you can. Maybe you aren’t able to do direct action or face arrest but if you can cook for a meeting or provide books and diapers to help the young parents and child care providers then you are already helping so much.
  7. Grieve. You should cry or be angry if you feel like crying or being angry. Black folks as a whole We are taught from birth to police our emotions to the point where a lot of us can’t even feel them anymore. Connect with the part of you that is hurting and let it hurt. Emotions are human and we are not robots. We are more than dancing and singing and athletic machines that can take all matter of abuse and keep churning out culture for the mainstream to commodify. We are allowed to grieve.
  8. Partake in black culture. Listen to black music. Read black books and view black art. We deserve to be happy too.

The struggle is real but we are survivors. Please take your time and do what you need to do to make sure you and your family is okay. These are some simple things that work for me, and I hope they can also help you if you are reading this. Let me know in the comments of anything that helps you in times like these. What music or art or book or historical figure gives you hope? 

Cover Art by Dane Tilgman

Black Youth and Suicide

Reposted with permission from Catherine Imani Cosby.

On Taking Mental Health Days

In many black families the only conversations had about mental health are centered on that one uncle everyone swears was perfectly “normal” until a friend gave him some “bad stuff” in college twenty years ago. Although circumstances surrounding this "situation" are vague there is an unspoken understanding amongst family members that everyone handles “Unc” with kid gloves.

More importantly it is known that nobody, nowhere, at no time is to mention any of the details surrounding said uncle's bad weed (?) experience. 

Growing up in my poor Black Midwest family, these very real circumstances were barely discussed, and when they were, rarely did anyone use technical terms or point to the very real and present examples. When anyone mentioned therapy or burnout it was regularly dismissed and filed away under White People Shit. My only example of self–care was when the phone would ring and my mama would say, “I don’t care who it is, I ain’t here.” I wouldn’t say that this was the best form of self-care but it was the 90’s, she was a single mother raising four kids working two jobs—It be like that!

I knew back in high school that I was suffering with depression pretty badly; I had days where I literally could not get out of bed, and I contemplated suicide on multiple occasions. Although I was struggling to get through my day to day life and considering putting an end to it, nobody knew. I was taught at an early age that no matter what was going on, always live by the ancient Wakandan Proverb: “Fake it ‘til you make it!” I did and I did it well. 

I lived this way well into my 20's. At 21 years old I was working 60 hour work weeks running an after-school program, and juggling life as the primary caretaker of my 6 year old nephew who was staying with me at the time. On the outside people thought I had my shit together, but in reality I had no balance and my life was a mess. My wife (then just a friend) warned me that I needed to take care of myself. Clearly this life I was living was not sustainable, and she feared if I took on anything else I’d break.

One day after a series of unfortunate events I was forced to move from my apartment and had nowhere to go. It was an ice cold rainy day in February. Most of my clothes and some of my furniture were ruined. It was a mess. I recall standing frozen in the pouring rain, thinking, “This is rock bottom. I’m done living.”  I heard a neighbor asking if I was okay. I immediately snapped back to reality and responded, “Sure.” Remembering that old proverb, I held it all together, rented a truck, mustered up Hulk-like strength, and moved my entire two-bedroom apartment into a storage unit by myself.

When I was done I sat and stared at the ground for a whole hour before I called my friend, Jazz (now wife) to tell her what happened. Within 30 minutes, she and my homeboy both offered me space at their apartments. That night, both of them laid on the floor with me, and gave me permission to just be, and to feel whatever I needed; I sobbed uncontrollably for hours before falling asleep.

The next morning I woke up and started getting ready for work, and I heard Jazz’s voice yell from the other room, “What do you think you’re doing?!?” I explained I was headed to work.

“Oh hell nah, you’re taking a Mental Health Day.”

I had never heard this term before then. She explained to me that I needed to take a day detached from my stressors and worries, focusing on recharging and reenergizing. First I thought she was crazy, but then I realized that was exactly what I needed.

After I took my first Mental Health Day, I noticed immediately how refreshed I felt, and how detaching for 24 hours allowed me to focus on life, regain my positivity, and center myself.

Taking a Mental Health day allowed me to approach my life (bullshit included) with a sense of control and stability that my stress and depression took from me.

Fast forward 9 years I am now married with two kids. Not only am I still taking Mental Health Days, but the rest of the family is too. They have become of our family’s wellness plan. There are unscheduled days throughout the year when we each take the time we need. There are all also days when the whole family needs these days together to regroup and focus our energy, and watch all the Harry Potter Movies. Right now Mental Health days are only offered to my Wife and the the ActionFigure (my 12 year old son). My 2 year old daughter, The MiniFigure?

Oh, her ass is the reason we need so many, so she goes to daycare whenever it's open!

I used to feel guilty. I would be nervous calling my boss to request the time off. I would lie and tell The ActionFigure’s teachers he had to go to the Orthodontist (lil' nigga ain’t even got braces). I even tried to keep these days a secret, cause God forbid grandparents got wind that the kid missed school for “no good reason.”  We would have to hear a speech about how crazy “these millennials” are with this “newfangled parenting.”

Finally, I said I don’t give a shit. I value our mental health and well-being over what folks think. I don't worry anymore about what I'll tell my job because for me to do my best I need to be at my best. If I'm honest, I'd have to say employers are overdue on writing mental health into sick leave situations. In the meantime, what do I look like hoarding my sick/vacation time knowing Susie from accounting just took a week off to get her dog cataract surgery?!? Mental Health Days are so crucial to my overall wellness and success, that I’m not letting anyone or anything stand in the way of me taking these days to get my mind right.

Also from today: Mental Health Monday #23: Ways to beat anxiety, healing via apps, Isaiah Rashad on depression, etc.

Do you have an event, article, story, video, or resource we should know about? Don't be shy, hit us up.

 

Before retiring to his life as Husband and father of two, Jamond Coaston-Foree was a theatrical performer, director and costume designer. He now works in the Youth Development Non-Profit world, teaching the children of our future well, and letting them lead the way. Not at all competitive, he is the absolute best at talking shit. He is a well decorated fried chicken connoisseur, and enjoys singing show tunes when everyone else is quiet.

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