Sometimes, the light is a warning something is coming. You have options. You’re not really in danger if you can get off the tracks. Right? But the tunnel is tight. You didn’t die, but the humidity, anxiety and heat almost suffocated you. The sparks from the tracks stung all your exposed skin, some left permanent scars. Now the fear that you would never make it out of that tunnel alive, or that the train cars would not stop coming is a reoccurring nightmare.
But so what. You survived. People tell you how lucky you are. When you try to articulate your fears, they lecture you about being grateful. They remind you so many people didn’t wake up. Eventually, you’re ashamed to share your struggles. So when you’re triggered by lightning, a flashlight searching a dark room or trying to focus on the big picture like you did to survive, you wish for a different ending. Sometimes you dream you let go of the wall, kissed the train. Then she’d grabbed your face, pull your lips to her and embraced your neck. The snap is drowned out by the horns and the weight of the iron wheels rolling over heavy over the tracks. As she drags you along unaware of your fragility, to become pieces.
Physically you’re all in one piece. Mentally, emotionally, and spiritually you’re in pieces. Sometimes, you curse yourself for walking in that tunnel and surrendering to your curiosity. Other times, it’s like it never happened.
I’m trying to find the words to come out again. This is not about sex, sexuality, or even gender. Been having those conversations a lot lately. Mostly, because I accept I don’t know or understand everything. Imma die not knowing some things… I’ve definitely had to ask questions. Really ridiculous uninformed questions… So I’ve been answering people’s questions about my own orientation and whatever I know about the LGBTQIA community. The other day my cousin and I agreed to disagree. He insists I’m choosing to date women. Yet, he would never answer if the close-ended question of whether he’d ever thought about making sweet love to a man but chose not to do it. He also insists all women are bisexual, which is why being a lesbian is the most acceptable choice.
I digress… Or better yet, I tangent.
I struggle with mental illness. I have my entire life. Today is one of the first days in my life that I’m feeling clear. Clarity is definitely a gift. I remember elders testifying in church, thanking God for being in their right mind.
I never knew I was out of my mind. I went to work. I had friends. I lived alone. I wrote. I painted. I loved. I created a family of my own with friends. But I never could finish college. There were things I just couldn’t quite grasp… I told myself I lacked discipline. I told myself I wasn’t smart that’s why I didn’t do well in math… Turns out, I have some weird dyslexia when it comes to numbers… When I’m taught with this taken into consideration, I’m actually amazing at math.
But I didn’t know I wasn’t in my right mind. I made a lot of really bad choices in the wrong mind. I told myself I’d put my girlfriend through school because I wasn’t college material. After she came out and was disowned, she dropped out too. (She recently graduated like 15 years later.)
I worked. Sometimes three jobs. Once I worked so much, I even slept on the clock. I’ve been homeless. I’ve been suicidal. I’ve even been institutionalized in a mental health facility, a few times. But no one treated me changed their view of me. They still had the same expectations they’d had before. No one offered to help. I didn’t realize I was in the wrong mind, so I didn’t know I needed help. So I felt like a failure.
I wanted to die. Not in the traditional sense. I didn’t want to blow my brains out. I just wanted to disappear. I wanted to not hurt anymore. Suffering had become a way of life. I wanted children, marriage, a house and to be excited about the holidays… But I couldn’t sustain relationships, though I’m loyal to a fault. I have friends forever. I keep all these people I meet in life connected. I’m the link… Disconnected from myself.
Then you add on having a church in the family, being an out lesbian and just living being seen as having no shame… Or being who you feel you innately are as disrespecting God.
I used to ask God, why he allowed me to be born. I use to ask if he got some kind of thrill out of torturing people. I asked why he gave me so many challenges to face… God never answered but friends said it was because I was strong. Also, there is this saying, God never gives you more than you can handle. But people die, so I beg to differ.
I sometimes would joke and ask God, why couldn’t I be a gay white man. Or why couldn’t I be naturally slim. Or why couldn’t I have a supportive family that wasn’t riddled with addiction, abuse, denial and mental illness. I use to ask God, for new parents. I use to ask God why I couldn’t have been born rich. I used to ask God to save me. But God left me to my own devices.
Oh, and I’m all over the place, like this blog… But I’m allowing myself to ramble a bit. It could literally be worse. Words ignite thoughts and send me on mental tours. I’ve got an extensive vocabulary. This could be a canvas. I’ve allowed a few tangents to express how my mental illness works, or keeps me from working. At the same time, I’m medicated enough not to get lost in examples.
I also wanted you to see what it feels like when, you’re lost and don’t even know to pull over and get directions. You don’t know where you’re going. You’re just content to exist. Then you’re surrounded by people who either are choosing ignorance, pretending or unaware something is wrong. You feel even crazier, when you know something is off but everyone else is acting like business as usual.
I’m not sure if it is a poverty thing. I didn’t realize I was poor until I was in my mid 30’s. I didn’t realize I had behaviors that created a cycle of poverty. I started college, so I knew about the macro and micro of society but… Doesn’t matter. Once I figured out I was poor, I’d had enough college to comprehend how poverty had shaped my life. More importantly, how life was further impacted by my mental health challenges.
Now, after being in a relationship with someone who always had enough and at times too much I get how people who have never lived in poverty don’t understand it. They have different habits. They don’t understand a poor person buying expensive wants and suffering for their needs. They don’t understand that when you’ve lived your whole life in survival mode, having something tangible, shiny and expensive will keep you from eating a gun or walking in front of a train. You’re not throwing your life away, you’re actually making it bearable to live… Live. Living.
“Living” is such a subjective word. Yes, I am alive, but I don’t know that I’ve ever lived. I’m always worried. I have anxiety. I have so many things that need to be taken care of… But I’m in survival mode, so I fix what’s broken. I’m always fixing. I’m so exasperated from fixing what’s broken, I don’t have energy to do maintenance. Mental health to the Black community is maintenance.
If Jr. goes to work and brings his check home. It doesn’t matter that he’ll give his money to any woman who is nice to him. As long as he keeps going to work. As long as Jr. is harmless. As long as Jr. doesn’t hit, says “please” and “thank you,” believes Jesus is his lord and savior… and cuts the grass like clock work, it doesn’t matter that he mumbles rather than strings recognizable words together. Doesn’t matter that he sits silent at all family gatherings staring blankly and then laughing without reason.
That’s just Jr. He’s always been quiet. He’s always been shy. When his wife packs his lunch, directs him to catch the bus two hours each way on top of a 10-hour shift, while she stays home with a perfectly good car in the driveway. People say she isn’t fair to Jr. People say they don’t like Jr.’s wife. But no one talks assumes he’s got some mental health challenges.
Jr. is a man. He doesn’t know what the definition or expectations of being a man is. Being a man, or being “the man” and then there is “THE MAN” which all keeps changing depending. But Jr. is agreeable. All the elders in his life have beaten him for anything they didn’t understand. They’ve broken his spirit. In some ways, they believe they’ve cured him. He’s like a robot. He goes where he is told and does exactly what he is instructed. He never complains, because he use to get beat for mumbling under his breath. If he hears voices he knows better than to talk back to them.
As a result, Jr. has no standards for how he should be treated and no real pride to speak of. He loves anyone who acknowledges his hard work. He has internalized all the horrible insults heard over his life. He knows something is wrong with him, but he doesn’t know how to fix it. He doesn’t know if he can be fixed. No one really hits him anymore, but his wife, but getting hit is normal.
He’s learned to just do what he’s told and smile. He’s been taught to be none threatening, so he’s afraid to ask questions… And the few people he feels safe enough to ask don’t understand shit he says, they just tell him things several times slow. Then watch what he does to see if he understood them. But that’s just Jr. He gone always be Jr.
I am high functioning. I’ve had a thousand jobs. Like literally, I know something about everything. I’ve had so many jobs, I can’t even remember all the places I’ve worked. I’ve started a few businesses in my life. One did well. But I was afraid when money started coming easy. Then I didn’t know I had anxiety, PTSD and that I was depressed. Also, until recently, I thought depression looked like crying. I thought depression looked like suicidal ideation and possibly making plans.
I’ve always identified as an introvert. I really connect with people one on one. I like house parties not clubs. I like spending time with one friend at a time. I feel like I’m getting ready to have a major surgery when people I live are coming to visit. Then after they get there everything is fine. I know everything always works out. I love hosting, but I’m still afraid.
I start accommodating myself and explaining to loved ones, I can’t answer the phone… The ringer is off. I tell them I’m working on a project. I am, I love creating… But really, the sound of the phone ringing terrifies me. Sometimes I don’t have the energy to speak. Sometimes all I have in me is to get up and get dressed for work. Sometimes if I have a bad day at work it’s hard to come back. When I was young, I’d just go find another job instead of going back.
I mean, we say life is not fair. But I didn’t understand that companies create rules that none of their employees follow. This felt like chaos. Being teased for following some step. Oh, I’ve also got ADHD. So, I go out of my way to follow directions, pay attention to details and repeat back what I’m told. I’ve been surprised by my own carelessness, so by the time I’m 25, managers immediately trust me. I work hard at jobs with no career prospects. Careers and jobs are two different things. But when you’re poor everyone just has a job. Some jobs are better. Some people are just lucky. It doesn’t occur, I could do things to get a better job… You just work. Some of us aren’t college material.
I got my first job at 13 or 14, working for a summer camp. I was only allowed to work 30 hours a week. As soon as I started working, I offered but was maybe expected to buy my own school clothes every year. So every summer I worked. Until, I was old enough to work while in school. Then paid for my own lunches, clothes and any extracurricular activities.
Having money and a bank account felt like freedom. I was 15 with a boyfriend and no curfew. No one talk to me about savings or goals. Work, earn, spend. Do you know how many CD’s I got from Columbia House? I actually paid them. I had the best music collection of any teen I knew.
My parents were struggling to pay for things. They both had gambling problems. My dad was, is… a functioning alcoholic. At one point he was on even heavier drugs. I was homeless before I graduated from high school three times. I graduated from high school homeless. Once my dad tried to kill my mom but she got away… After a few months they were cool. I never was the same.
Before I was in high school, my mom’s credit was shot, so she started using mine. I had cable bills and utilities in my name. I didn’t know, I didn’t check the mail. I didn’t read the mail. Even when I had a pen pal my mom would give me those letters after sorting through the mail.
I cried a lot. I was lonely. My parents were always gone. I didn’t know where or when they were coming home. I survived on Ramen noodles, koolaid, crackers and plums. My dad worked long shifts. He never worked less than 11 hours. Usually he worked 16. Then when he got off he went gambling. For the few hours he was home he was sleep.
My mom worked, shopped, hung out with her friends and gambled. Then she returned to college. Then she went to school full time, worked full time, had group meetings with her classmates, and homework. I’d go days without seeing either of my parents.
No one talk to me about college prep. No one talk to me about not making sense or talking too much. Maybe they didn’t know I was not in my right mind because I was raised to be invisible. Black elders would say, “Children are to be seen and not heard.” Well in my house, I was to be invisible too. I was treated as a burden. My parents loved me but that didn’t mean I wasn’t a huge inconvenience. I always needed something.
Soooo, sometimes, I wanted to go to sleep and not wake up. When I took all the pills in the medicine cabinet I wasn’t actually trying to kill myself. I was trying to disappear for real. I hadn’t thought about death. I was tired.
I didn’t have any family where we’d moved. Being Black in Las Vegas wasn’t as bad as being Black in maybe St. Louis. At the same time, it wasn’t celebrated. The teachers and students were not seeing me despite being Black. In fact, I didn’t see color and was often rudely reminded I was different. I got crash courses in racism. I was afraid to tell my parents because I was supposed to be invisible. I didn’t hide anything from them really, they just didn’t want to see me.
I always cringe when someone asks how many siblings I have, because as soon answer, “none.” They tell me how I must be spoiled. Maybe I was, I didn’t know I was poor until I was in my 30’s. Maybe what tangible things I valued were provided. I liked writing, so I always had a lot of journals and paper. I liked painting and drawing, so I had tons of art supplies. I liked to read, I had a lot of magazines…
At the end of the day, I was institutionalized. For months, I was held against my will in a hospital. No one ever gave me meds. People talked to me, talked at me but I didn’t feel heard or seen. In a mental health group, when I was like 15, I was discussing things I needed. When a white kid who’d shaved her head pointed out that I had on name brand shoes, so my suffering couldn’t be real. Maybe she’d never heard of the swap meet, where knockoffs were sold. I’ve never been a name brand fan… Or materialistic. But she silenced and humiliated me and I disappeared from there too. I started to go where I needed to and do what I needed to get out.
I stopped worrying about healing or fixing or even addressing anything might be wrong. I just wanted to get home. Being treated like I was spoiled or worthless after I’d tried to kill myself didn’t help. Now I realize there were no other black kids there. Maybe, they didn’t think I deserved help. Maybe they thought I should be use to being invisible. I don’t know.
One year, I got perfect attendance, because staying home was boring. I liked school. I liked going to lunch with my friends. I liked learning things and debating the things we learned. I loved writing. I always had some kind of special writing class.
I didn’t have to ask my parents to ditch, I could just stay home. Don’t get it twisted, they had expectations. I couldn’t fail a class. I couldn’t bring home anything less than a C. Teachers couldn’t call the house and say I misbehaved. Other than that, there weren’t any expectations.
Throughout school, I was monitored for being Black. I didn’t know what racism was, so I definitely couldn’t explain when I was experiencing it. When I was in elementary, I think I was one of two black children in the whole school. I ate alone, played alone, sat outside the classroom or in a corner when in the classroom. All of my accomplishments were challenged. My parents didn’t believe anything I said. For years, I didn’t know what the fuck was going on. I couldn’t understand why some kids weren’t allowed to play with me or why some teachers hated me at first sight. I kept trying to get it right. Then one day, I realized there wasn’t anything I could do, there was something wrong with me.
I remember running away in sixth grade because a teacher kept picking at me. She made tons of assumptions about who I was which at that age I didn’t know had anything to do with race. I knew my parents wouldn’t believe me over any adult.
I slept in the closet of a few of my friends for three days. Until they got scared my parents might find out… And they’d be in trouble too.
When I finally went home, it was one of the worse beatings of my life. Now that I think about it, it might have been the worst. On this rare occasion, my parents took turns beating me. Usually if one whup’d me, that was enough for the other.
The last time I got a team beating, I was like three. I put “The Muppets Go To Manhattan” in the VCR… the wrong way and it got stuck. VCR’s were a big thing in the 80s. They beat me so many times… I didn’t know I wasn’t allowed to touch it. I could make my own food. I could get my own snacks. I could be left at home alone with instructions not to ever answer the door. Meh. The life of a Black kid, sometimes you get beat.
Back to sixth grade. Some of this beating was for the story the teacher told. Racist know what to say. They also depend on kids not being able to articulate what happened. She’d been basically singling me out.
It was a gym class, and the way they punished you was to make you walk around the field while the other kids played. I know how to be invisible. I was raised to be invisible. So when she directed me to start walking, and I was too lost in my own world… to know why I was being punished. So I did as instructed.
I daydreamed a lot. I imaged being saved, welcomed and valued. Other times I became my favorite heroes. Sometimes I dreamed of leading a singing group or being on “A Different World.” I could disappear from anywhere in plain sight.
After I started walking, I thought about how I ended up walking in the first place. I evaluated my behavior. I was being quiet. I was staring at the ground like other kids, pretending to listen. I didn’t have anyting in my hands. No one was playing in my hair… I couldn’t figure out why she was always talking to me about something, so when I got to where the gate opened, I walked off the field and to the principal’s office. I was tired of being humiliated.
Then, I didn’t have the words to explain what I’d been going through. I just knew that it wasn’t fair.
After that beating, I completely disappeared. I was not a great student, I got by. I did my homework. I loved going to the school library… I disappeared in books. Maybe my parents didn’t know anything was wrong. Maybe they were proud they’d succeeded in raising a “good” kid by Black standards.
It’s late. I don’t think I’m manic, but I feel better than I have in years. I don’t know if I ever felt good. But, thank you all for reading this rambling blog. Let me note, Black is the name of a culture in America, while “black” is a race shared by many people of African descent. Also, I’m not sure if I did it a lot here, but I like to speak chop. It’s a language my grandmother spoke, my community spoke and I think it is beautiful. I think it is part of Black culture.
I wrote this as a stream of consciousness… I didn’t edit… I know… That’s some lazy shit. I’m just so excited I’m finally able to write… It’s like I got my magic back and I wanted to see if the wand worked. I’ve been lost so long.
Coming out, discussing my mental health challenges is a process… I couldn’t do it in one blog. It needed to put it in context, for self.
I plan to stay on my meds. Maybe I’ll come back and finish this process. I don’t know. Feels like home being here.
Love and Light