Shame, Shame, Shame

I’m realizing now that I felt shame the other day. Intense shame. In fact, I’m realizing now that I feel shame often. I feel shame so often that it’s often what prevents me from doing stuff. From being explorative. From trying something new. 
On one hand, I can be fearless. I can go to the movies by myself on a Friday night. Or a crowded restaurant with nothing my thoughts and dine to my heart’s content. People have marveled at the bravery that takes. And I mean sure, for some people that may be accurate. But the things that cause me shame surround being wrong.  Sorry, not just being wrong – but being wrong and seen as a failure, a fraud, someone to not associate with, someone to distance self from. 

I have a tendency to catastrophize and think that one mistake means that I’m a mistake. And the shame that comes with that is debilitating.  So much so, that if I’m not careful, I can throw myself into a vat of depression so deep that I can’t find a way out. 


What Y’all Not About to do….

I love Scandal. One of my favorite shows that I watch religiously. This season is no exception. 

But I’ve noticed something. 

About Olivia. 

She’s got power. Real power. She is THE driving force behind Mellie and now the head of B613.  

And everyone wants to take that from her.  The men want to take that from her. 

For the past several seasons, the men on this show have run a-muck. They’ve don’t whatever they’ve wanted. Threatened, maimed, and killed whoever they wanted. Show no mercy and little remorse. And now, their response to Olivia rubs me the wrong way. Their plot to “get Olivia back on the good side because she doesn’t know what’s good for her” makes my skin crawl.  

Leave. Her. Alone. It reeks of this idea that women aren’t able to make decisions for themselves. The fact that her ex lover and father are conspiring behind her back yet again after how many years of manipulation and lies and schemes really grinds my gears. 

She’s more than capable of making her own decisions. I’m willing to bet after watching y’all fuck life up, she knows exactly what NOT to do to be successful. But even more than that – STFU and let her live. She’s not your property. She’s not a thing to be controlled. When will they get that???

Let’s talk about race, social worker

I think we have a great responsibility as social workers to get comfortable with addressing issues around race and talking about it. I’m may still be in grad school but my personal experiences and educational ones as of late has really left me wondering why some social workers and students are so uncomfortable with discussing race. Until we get comfortable, how can we truly expect to understand the people we work with?

So for instance, I had a supervisor a few years back.  She was an LICSW – licensed independent clinical social worker.  Clinically, I learned more from her in 6 months than anywhere else I’d been.  She singlehandedly restructured the shelter we worked at to be trauma informed, from top to bottom.  But when it came to talking about race, that’s where things got weird.  

There was an incident in June 2015 at a pool party in McKinney, Texas.  There were black kids at this party, supposedly the white adults in the neighborhood didn’t want them there and words were exchanged.  I’m not sure exactly what happened in that regard.  But the police were called.  The party was broken up and kids were standing around and stuff.  This one black girl was talking back to a police officer and he ended up grabbing her, throwing her to the ground and shoving a knee in her back.  She’s screaming and struggling the entire time.  At one point the young black boys were upset, yelling and looked like they were going to try to help her.  He pulled out his gun and pointed it at them, knee still in her back. 

Up until this point I had seen everything that had been happening with regards to black folks and the criminal justice system, particularly with law enforcement.  And even though it wasn’t new to me, because I grew up seeing what happened with Amadou Diallo & Abner Louima & Sean Bell back in NY, something about this video and incident broke me.  I was physically affected.  Just thinking about it now brings up such sadness, despair, and anger bordering on rage.  In the days following when this blew up, I was a different person.  Flat affect, not as engaged, limited responses.  I was often close to tears, especially being at a shelter with young black mothers and their young black children.  Sometimes I had to close my door and cry.  My boss noticed and during our supervision one day she asked.  “What’s wrong?  You haven’t been your usual self.”  Now I had never talked about race with my boss before because I’ve never talked about race in a professional setting with a white person.  Unless I had been around other black folks, race has never (successfully) been discussed with white folks in any professional setting that I had encountered.  But I was so broken about this that I didn’t and couldn’t apply a filter.  I told her flat out “with everything that has been happening with police brutality and black children, I don’t think I can ever bring a black child into this world.  I’m not having kids.”  IN that moment, this brilliant clinician became visibly uncomfortable  She shifted in her seat and said “oh don’t think like that.”  she made mention of those bring really strong words to use and that although I felt like that now, I wouldn’t in the future. 

WE sat in silence a little bit and I repeated myself and went on to explain what happened in McKinney.  She was shocked because she had never heard about the incident.  Which I find happens often.  I have friends of many different races, ethnicities, and backgrounds.  Sometimes when I mention stuff to non black friends, despite it being all over the social media of my black friends, they’re completely oblivious.  After that, she listened to me and allowed our supervision time to be time for me to talk about my thoughts and feelings.  She didn’t keep trying to make me feel better but encouraged me to employ self care methods, take breaks when I needed to, and if I needed to talk come to her. 

A month later Sandra Bland happened.  At that point, I saw myself in Sandra.  What little bit I had been able to pull back together once again was shattered.   I remember it being so bad that contemplated “calling out Black” to work.  But then I remembered that in this shelter for homeless teenage moms, there were plenty of young Black women with children that needed me to be present and to be there.   In the first supervision right after the incident her first question to me was – I’ve seen everything that’s been going on with Black Lives Matter after that recent incident in Texas.  How are you doing?  It took me by surprise because we hadn’t discussed anything race related since that previous supervision.  But it encouraged me to open up.  I cried, I raged.  It was good to have someone a supervisor that cared enough to pay attention to what was happening based on race and gender in America. 

I say all that to say:  There is an importance to talking about race as social workers.  Some people avoid it out of fear or hopes that issues will just dissipate.  Some are concerned they’ll say the wrong thing.  But how can you be in the helping profession and not be willing to put your discomfort aside and talk about it when its glaring, present, and up front in today’s arena?

I had a training today. 

It’s interesting that it would coincide with what’s happening in the world. It was a training around trauma. And as I sit here reading articles and listening to newscasters about hurricane Irma I can’t help but flash back to my own personal experience with the destructive side of Mother Nature.

Hurricane Marilyn hit the United States Virgin Islands in 1995. September 1995. I was nine years old at the time and living with my grandparents and my older brother in a 3-bedroom house.  I remember the reports of it coming over the radio. My grandfather had become boarding up the windows when the wind came. my bedroom window broke and I jumped out of bed with a fright. It broke because of the wind. That’s when things started to get a little scary for me.

 As the weather intensified we moved to the bathroom. The four of us huddled, maybe by candlelight or maybe we still had electricity but I can’t remember which. At some point the eye passed over us. It was calm and quiet. We ventured out to see what damages had occurred. Besides my broken window, there wasn’t much.  But then the wind picked up again. My grandfather ushered us back into the bathroom, bringing the mattress off of my bed with us. What I didn’t know was how much worse it gets after the eye of a hurricane passes.  The wind slammed into the house. I remember holding onto my brother and grandmother, crying and hoping it works stop.  I could hear and feel the thud of debris falling against the mattress. I remember the screech of the roof as it was peeled back like the top of a sardine can.  It sounds, the rain, the wind went on for what seemed like forever. At some point I feel asleep. 

When I woke and stepped out of the bathroom, I was surprised. The roof was mostly gone, windows shattered, floor littered with a bit of everything. I was shaking and peed on myself. My grandmother told me to sit because I had a fever. I shivered.  

The following months we difficult. We rebuilt, slowly and steadily.  

I couldn’t figure out why I was at such a heightened state for most of the day. But then I remembered what I had experienced. The trauma I had experienced. It’s funny how that rears its ugly head sometimes. 

When I tell people a mentoring program saved my life in high school, I mean just that. 

As a freshman in high school, I had a slew of problems.  I was intensely quiet.  People in my 9thgrade catholic school thought I was either mute or from another country (read:  didn’t speak English) because I was so quiet and rarely engaged.  I had few friends.  They knew I could talk.  Along with my Italian teacher who made it a point to call on me every minute she could.  I’m not sure if she could tell I was suffering inside or if she saw something in me, but whatever the matter, that was where I felt most at home and comfortable.  I felt at ease allowing the unfamiliar words and syllables to glide over my tongue. 

Besides the shyness and refusal to speak, my self esteem was in the gutter.  I didn’t have confidence.  I didn’t believe in myself.  When I wore braids, I’d let them hang in front of my face in efforts to hide myself from the world.  It was as if the extensions would prevent people from seeing me, rendering me invisible and able to glide through life without being seen or touched or bothered.  I hated myself.  Looking in the mirror, I saw a girl who couldn’t do anything right, who was suffering in silence. 

When I tell people that a mentoring program saved my life, I mean just that.  My freshman year, I was depressed, lonely, and suicidal.  By the end of my freshman year, I had had a few attempts.  One of which, my mom interrupted unbeknownst to her after finding a journal I accidentally left open proclaiming my hatred for self and suicidal ideations.  Being from the west indies, I get it.  We don’t and didn’t openly talk about mental health issues.  I know now that she is much more knowledgeable about such but back then, I doubt she understood it.  But I can imagine the helplessness she felt.  Her only daughter feeling a pain she couldn’t understand, so much so that the only thing that seemed right was to take her life.  I’ve never looked at it from a mother’s point of view but as an adult I reflect on what could have been.  Had I succeeded that would have broken my mother.  Completely.

I’m not sure how it came about but I imagine the universe aligned in ever a way to rescue me from myself.  A friend at work told my mom about this mentoring program towards the end of my freshman year.  The program was for young black teens, young girls.  This program was put on by the sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc.  Specifically a graduate chapter in the Bronx.  It had been up and running for several years and continues to do so until this day.

When I tell people that that mentoring program saved my life, I mean just that.  Looking back, I see the transformation.  I entered that program unable to speak publicly, unwilling and unbelieving of compliments or my ability to achieve or do well at something.  No confidence in who I was.  By the time that program was done with me, I had transformed.  Not into someone new, but into the person that had been there under all of that baggage.  Under the depression, the self loathing, the fear, and the anger.  While I still had some ways to go, this program set me on the right path.  I’d built enough love for myself that I had become strong enough to fight the urge to end my life, I became strong enough to fight for my life.  I went from silent student to outgoing, willing to try anything.  I auditioned for several sports teams, I joined a few clubs, I excelled in my courses, and my teachers couldn’t get me to shut up.  As cliché as it sounds, I bloomed like a butterfly emerging from a long and arduous metamorphosis.  I would not have been able to do that, had it not been for that program.  While my specific beliefs may waver, I truly believe that God saw I was hurting.  And she gave me what I needed, what could work at that moment. 

So when I tell people that a mentoring program for a tired, depressed, suicidal teenage black girl saved my life, I mean just that.  

The first time I felt a lump, my throat dropped to my stomach. I tried to ignore it. It’ll go away, I thought to myself. Days later I felt another one and another. I thought about my great aunt. The chemo she endured. The double mastectomy. The hair loss. After ignoring it for as long as I could, I called my doctor and made an appointment. 

I have lumps.

Yea? Lets check them out. My doctor, always so cheerful and happy and smiling. We often laugh and joke like old friends. As she began her examination, me with my arm thrown overhead watching her eagerly – her face changed.  The smile was replaced by a frown. An actual frown. Her forehead knotted up and her mouth set in a grim line. It was as if the most descriptive book I’d ever read had come to life in her face. I silently wished that she would realize and error and the smile and easy eyes would return. But it never did. 

And it scared me. 

Maybe doctors don’t realize that that instant face change is enough to feel your world shake. 

Well there’s definitely some masses here. And here. And here. And here. Let me check the other side. 

4.  I had only counted 2, maybe 3.

There’s more here and here. 

I’m sure the fear registered on my voice. We went through more routine questions. And I was sent for an ultrasound. 

Every few months, more cysts pop up while others fade away. I’ve been 3 times to the doctor to ensure they aren’t harmful. As I sit in lobby of a Breast Cancer center, waiting to have one drained, I notice the other women. 

They give us fuschia tops to wear and sit us in a room with foggy windows. The women avoid eye contact and the only sound is the hum of the a.c.  Solemn faces fight to concentrate on phones, newspapers, books. It’s a dreary room with us sitting in a puke worthy uniform. 

This Is Us: Anxiety

I watched the latest episode of This Is Us, a phenomenal show. But this scene in particular was amazing. The first time I watched it. The second and third time, there was something familiar about it. The scene where they flashed back to Randall as a teenager, mid panic attack, brought back my own memories as a kid. It reminded me of being young, black, and feeling as though the world was going to swallow me whole.  Mine were quiet too. No one ever knew about them. Unlike Randall, no one came to save me. I suffered them in silence, on the floor in my bedroom or sitting in my closet.  Then after a few minutes, the feelings would subside. Exhausted, I’d wash my face and plaster on a smile and wait for it to hit again in another day or two. 

I wish I had known that I wasn’t alone in what I experienced – all of it. But I made it. And these stories matter. These complicated, multi dimensional characters with dark skin and big lips and nappy hair matter. The ones with issues that often get denied or ignored or glossed over – they matter.  Thank you television for finally seeing that. 

The issue with “African culture”

I saw this post on facebook and with engaging in dialogue around it, it definitely made me think.

One of the issues raised was can African Americans culturally appropriate African culture?  This is something I don’t quite have a clear cut response to.

I think that people of the African diaspora have such a unique experience in terms of culture and displacement that I really do question if this is possible. There are so many variations of Black culture (and I use Black in the sense of all Black folks everywhere) that are intertwined and overlapping- African American, Afro Caribbean, etc…  People are descendants from all different groups (I won’t say countries because many have argues the superficial nature of the boundaries and how they came about) from the continent of Africa.
Which brings me to another point. One of the responses was that “people of the African diaspora have a right to African culture” because its theirs. It took me a bit to formulate a response or understand why that statement didn’t sit well with me.

But now here are my processed thoughts:  Africa is a continent. It’s one big continent with 54 countries and a multitude of cultures. For someone to claim “African culture” as their own culture is impossible. Irish people don’t  claim Italian culture because they’re on the European continent. Chinese people don’t claim Indian culture as their own because they are part of the Asian continent.

However, when you add the forced displacement of Africans via the Transatlantic slave trade, does that change things?

So, knowing how much culture varies across the diaspora can we really say there such a thing as “African culture”?  I’m strongly inclined to say no with a possibility of swaying back and forth.
Can African Americans appropriate aspects of African culture?  I’m honestly not sure.

Why I won’t apologize for healing.. 

Recently, a friend chastised me for being on a “self help kick” for the past two years.  I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out how this was a bad thing. Its funny, really. I probably would never have began down this path if I hadn’t been for this friend. 

Let me recap:

This time period being referred to, as with most things, I can’t pinpoint exactly when it began. But I do know it was needed and more than overdue. I had just fled the South, putting distance between myself and a man to avoid making the same ridiculous, hurtful mistakes over and over again. Even though I had been able to get a good job relatively quickly, be closer to family and friends, I struggled. I could feel depression grasping at my ankles waiting for the moment that I plunged headlong right back into that abyss. 

Then the fall came and went. Emerging, I found my longest sustained friendship was currently hanging on by a thread and I was heartbroken. At that point, I stopped fighting it and let the depression creep up and overwhelm me. I allowed myself to wallow in it for quite some time. One of my biggest fears has always been that I would fall so deeply, so thickly into it that suicide would once again become a viable option. I think this fear and not wanting to burden my friends and family with my problems is what finally spurred me to seek professional help, something I had wanted to do the years before but never followed through. 

I found a therapist, a social worker with her own private practice. She was young, direct, and real. She validated my feelings. I was finally able to tell someone my entire story, from abuse that happened as a kid to heartache never felt before to suicidal ideations to social anxiety. I spilled and spilled, always surprised that my hour had been used up so quickly. But it was cathartic. And I began to look at myself differently – I was a survivor. All the shit that had happened and I was still here.  I could’ve pitched myself into traffic and believe me there were times I wondered if that would be better. But for some reason, I held on. 

That’s not where the “self help” ended. One day, a friend of mine sent me a link to this program – Femsex.  “I think you’d like this,” she said. It came at a timely moment. My therapist and I had been working on me overcoming social anxiety and interacting with others without wanting to cry and dissolve into a puddle. So I took a deep breath and submitted an application to a “16- week workshop that uses peer-to-peer learning, readings, discussions, and self exploration to engage people in an honest and open dialogue about female identity.”  I joined a group of fifteen strangers for about 3 hours a week, talking about various topics and my thoughts and feelings in regards to them I laughed, I cried with this group. I shared fears, had epiphanies, challenged my view points, and challenged others. I was doing it. I was being a “normal” human being – interacting with others, speaking my mind, being funny. But the cherry on top came in the middle of the course. 

We were tasked with an assignment to develop a way of talking about our body image and how it was/has developed. I put a lot of thought into this project. I saw this as a pivotal moment where I could not only be honest with myself but share my story as well. So I went for it, I dove headfirst. I talked about my sexual abuse for the first time publicly, depicting the path of a negative body image that emerged from this event. And you know what happened? The world DIDN’T open up to swallow me whole. Imagine that. If I could do the one thing that for too long I had been terrified to talk about,then what else could I do??  That day, I shaved my head to celebrate my… rebirth of a sort. Its like I shed this enormous weight that had been weighing me down for over 20 years. 

So when this friend chastised me for the “self help kick”, I can say it didn’t hurt. I’m beyond proud of the progress that has been made in the past 2 years. I’m elated at the growth. I’ve worked very hard to challenge and change my negative thoughts and I haven’t disparaged or disrespected anyone in the process. In fact, during this time I’ve gone about trying to mend and put to rest past relationships. And I won’t apologize for it. 

I once tried to kill myself

I don’t remember how old I was. 

But I was young. Junior high, maybe early high school. 

I do remember how I felt for weeks leading up to it. I had flirted with suicidal ideations before. My journal was my confidant and it held the rantings and ravings of a young girl who hated herself, who didn’t feel like she could do anything right thus not deserving of being on this earth. 

A young girl who imagined the world would be better off if she were dead. “The world would be better off if I were dead.”  This thought bounced around for weeks in my brain. The whispers of despair telling me to give up, life was too hard, no point in continuing. 

A young girl who was suffering from  traumas that while her mind had blocked the memories, they still manifested in some way. 

This is the same girl who plastered a smile on her face, made straight A’s, sang in the youth choir, and was all in all- a “good” girl. No one knew my secret and I got really good at masking the fact that I was suffering. Couple that with the widely displayed aversion to all things therapeutic in my West Indian community and you’ve got a young girl bottling everything inside feeling as though there is no outlet. I managed it relatively well, despite how close to the edge I was. Occasionally I punched and slapped myself but I never fully dived into the realm of self harm. 

Then something set me off one night. It sent me scribbling to my journal, again repeating how much I hated life, my life. But instead of imagining the world without me, I began to imagine me without the world. And to me it looked like peace. I remember thinking and writing that I just wanted the pain to go away

I know now that the method I chose, which I won’t get into, is an ineffectual way of committing suicide. But at the time, I didn’t know that and had I, I may have turned to better methods. The point is, my intent was there that night and frustration grew as I couldn’t figure out why my method wasn’t working, leaving me to feel even more like a fuck up. I stifled screams with a towel and my pillow over and over again.  Exhausting eventually hit. I went to the bathroom to wash my face. I would figure out a way to do this. To kill myself. I said to the mirror. 

Obviously I wasn’t successful. My mom found my journal while I was in the bathroom and was mortified. My great aunt invoked Jesus and the hell that would surely meet me if I followed through, destroying my assumptions of a peaceful post life. For me, that was enough. I was raised in the church. I greatly believed in good and evil, heaven and hell, God and the devil. I was convinced that God and Jesus hated me because I was such a horrible person, so when my aunt said suicide is a sin and guaranteed a one way ticket to hell it was too much. You mean I could possibly end up in a worse hell than I already was? No thanks. With absolutely no chance at peace or redemption? Being tortured with no reprieve for eternity?  Now you may read this and think – well that’s not so bright. But the preteen version of myself wasn’t all that bright at times, brought up to be religious, and felt her options being snatched away from her in that instant. 

When I look back at that time, I’m always amazed at what my outlook was then. I was right there – had I been a little bit more determined, a little less religious, had my mom not walked in at that moment and glanced at a book she’d seen strewn around the house but out of respecting my privacy never read before – who knows where I’d be. I look back at how good I was at hiding and masking everything I felt. Either I was just really good or no one paid attention.