Pay Your Mental Self First

Pay Your Mental Self First

Many times we say, “I will (insert your self care activity; gym, reading, writing, etc.) after work.” Well for some of us, we may never get off of work because that activity never happens because things pop up or you are just too tired. But similar to paying the most important person first, why not make a mental health deposit to yourself first on a daily basis

Change Is Not Easy

Last weekend, suicide claimed the life of a 25-year-old, former NFL player. I did not know him personally, but it remains a tragedy because a life was lost. Often when this happens, many questions may be asked but are never answered.

What was going on in his head? Was he sick? It couldn’t have been that bad…could it?

I am not sure of all the details of his career and life outside of the game but reading this story made me think of some of my own experiences with sports and my mental health.

Recently, I suffered an injury that required me to have surgery on my right knee and forced me to “sit down”. For people who know me, the hardest thing for me to do is sit still. But with a surgically repaired knee, I didn’t have much of a choice.

I have had plenty of injuries and a number of surgeries. As always, physical pain was not the hardest part to handle, it is the mental struggle that is overwhelming.

When the injury occurred, I knew exactly what happened and how long it would take to recover. As I attempted to wrap my mind around this ill-timed incident, I also had to deal with comments of “you should just leave sports alone”, “you are always getting hurt”, “why do you keep doing this to yourself?”.

It was like I was getting blamed for being active and doing something that I loved to do. I enjoy playing sports. I enjoy the competition. I enjoy the camaraderie of teammates. I genuinely love all aspects of sports. It serves as a stress reliever. It is a way for me to cope with this thing we call life, and now I have an injury that disrupts that. It is constant reminder of failure to remain healthy to do something that I love to do.

I do not want to hear “you need to stop because you keep getting hurt”.

A lifestyle change is not something that is easy to accept and actually do. For me, the injuries that I have suffered were not worth giving up something that I have done all of my life and I’m not even paid to do this. So I can only imagine the mental anguish an athlete experiences when they are told that they can no longer play on a level where they are compensated for their life-long dedication.

How would you feel if you dedicated your life to making good grades in school, earn your degree, and cannot find a job in your desired field? Many adults, young and old, are faced with this issue daily.

As we spend time and energy to things in our life; a career, hobby, or even a relationship…we dedicate a piece of ourselves. And if that thing is gone (whether by choice or not) a part of you leaves with it. This is not always easy to cope with but we must realize that we have the ability to continue on and work towards new goals although it may take some time to figure them out.

So, as I reflect on the story about Adrian Robinson, I think about his resilient efforts to pursue his dream. Again, I saw I did not know him personally but I can relate to mental beating it takes to pursue something that you love doing and you are faced with roadblocks on your journey.

What are some things or people who help you when you do not reach a goal that you have set for yourself?

How do you cope with not being able to do the things that you love to do anymore when it is out of your control?

Another Perception on Suicide: First Hand

Recently my cousin decided to take his life.   Although we were not close, family is family. For it to get to the point that he felt suicide was his last option, it hurt to hear the news. I found out that he suffered with severe depression for quite some time, and it is ironic that my initiative to spark conversation about mental health awareness missed someone in my own family.   In my attempts, I have shared my vision with some of my family but unfortunately I was unable to reach a family member that was truly in need.

When I found about the incident I was at a lost for words, especially after listening to some of the commentary from my family.

“He brought it on himself”

“It was his fault that he couldn’t get a job and that’s why he was depressed”

“I was hurt when I thought someone killed him, but when I found out he did it himself, I felt like he took the easy way out. God made men to fight through hard situations. (Eff) it”

WHAT DO YOU MEAN (EFF) IT?

This is your blood. Eff it?  He was depressed for quite some time and decides to kill himself. Eff it?   He was having troubles financially and with his girlfriend. Eff it?

So many things ran through my head as I wondered how someone could be so insensitive to the fact that this man’s life is gone.

Yes, he made mistakes. We all have. But does that make his suicide less of a tragedy?

That could have been anyone of us experiencing depression and it is not as easy to “snap out of” as many often suggest.   And when you say “nothing can ever be that bad,” I beg to differ.

So I guess that if the gun that I held to my head would have went off when I pulled the trigger, I would have been considered weak, too. I would have been viewed as less of a man - as someone who took the “easy way out.”  I would have been talked about and the personal battles I was fighting would've been ignored with head shaking and remarks that "nothing could ever be that bad."

That same suicide that someone describes as “the easy way out,” was probably the hardest decision that they ever made. That same suicide that someone describes as "an act of weakness” could have possibly been prevented if that person felt the support and strength from those close to them to make them stronger.

A person can have all of the riches and fame in the world but still suffer from mental illness.

A person can be poor, homeless, and not know where their next meal will come from and suffer from mental illness.

A person can be a model citizen or a criminal and suffer from mental illness.

A person is a person and we must not forget that it is our duty to act as such. Do not dismiss the fact that mental illness is not limited to race, gender, or social status and it affects us all.

I Don't Need Meds Because I Have Alcohol

It was my senior year in college, and I was not on track to graduate “on time” (many people, including myself at the time, believe that you must finish college in four years).   With my inconsistent performance in class freshman year and withdrawing from school my second year because of my hospitalization, this goal was almost impossible. Despite it all, I overloaded each semester after being reinstated to school and was on course to graduate once I completed summer school. Unlike my first year of college when my ego helped me ignore the signs of my mental illness, it helped me be persistent in completing my undergraduate degree.

Unfortunately, my ego also played another role in this process as I decided to not follow the treatment plan designed to handle my symptoms of Bipolar Disorder, and substituted the medication with alcohol.

I woke up drinking. I was drinking while in class. I was drinking while during homework. I was drinking to sleep at night. I constantly consumed alcohol. I would finish a fifth of Tequila in a matter of 24-36 hours.

Ironically, people that were around me did not see it as a problem (or they never addressed it as a problem with me) and would say “that's just Shaun”. It was such a known fact that I was considered "most likely to be drunk" during our senior class superlatives.

Drinking alcohol while experiencing symptoms such as hallucinations, or mood swings was not always a wise decision. The goal was not to drink to get drunk but drink to not feel like I was going insane. Sometimes I would experience the euphoria that one may feel when they are socially drinking with their friends and everyone is having a great time while other times or I could be a person filled with rage and fear.

The feeling when you don’t know what to do, who to call, or who to go to. The feeling when tears roll down your cheek and you really cannot explain why. The feeling when a simple yell or scream will just not cut it. The feeling when you get so frustrated because you cannot find a solution to this problem.  The ultimate fear and anger that is undeniably now a controlling factor.

That feeling that dying would be a lot easier than putting up with the million things that are constantly going on in your mind.

All of those feelings amplified with the help of alcohol…but I continued to depend on it.

Bipolar Disorder?

As the sedative begins to wear off, I find myself in a padded room, strapped in a attempting to figure out how I go to this point in my life. I glance at my family as they show expressions of concern. Unfortunately, the expressions did not include much hope, as they have never seen me so vulnerable.

Explanations from my mother and cousin of my recent behaviors were accompanied by “he was just not himself” and “I could tell something was wrong and something has been wrong for a while now”.

Prior to the medication, “I want it to stop” muffled by deep breaths and tears summed up my contribution to the initial evaluation.

I recall multiple telephone conversations with my mother as she constantly asked, “what is wrong?” and my symptoms but you mean to tell me that other people have experienced this before and there is a title for this condition?

 

Bi-Polar Disorder….

This was my introduction to the clinical term that describes what I have been experiencing for some time. It was new but it was also terrifying because I was not sure what it meant.

What does this mean for me in the future? I have to see a therapist? They can’t help me!

Does this certify that I am “crazy”?   PLEASE don’t tell anyone else that I’m crazy!

 

Bipolar Disorder is defined as a mental health disorder that is commonly referred to as manic depression. Three modes, each with distinctive features; Manic, Hypomanic, and Major Depressive episodes can categorize this disorder. (I will expound on these in later posts) Treatment for Bipolar Disorder involves medication and psychotherapy.

Welp, that’s it!   It’s official! I have been diagnosed, but what now?

Denial and Ignorance

Have you ever told yourself that nothing was wrong with you but deep down you knew something was wrong? Why did you tell yourself that?

Why was it important for you to convince yourself that nothing was wrong?

 

I have been at a point when I knew something was not quite right. I knew that some of the thoughts that I was having were not quite “normal”. But then again, what is normal? I would have thoughts about committing various acts on others or myself that would not be very good.

I attempted to suppress what was going on because like many people, I felt like I was immune to those things that society deemed as “crazy”.

I was a young black male. I knew of some people around the neighborhood that we would call “crazy” but it was just because of their behavior and not because we really thought that they had a mental health illness. I honestly thought that mental health issues only occurred in middle to upper class white people that could afford to go see a psychiatrist.

As black male, I already have multiple factors to handle; viewed by some as unintelligent, only good at sports, and just because my skin is dark and my baggy clothes equate to illegal activity. That’s a lot of stuff to keep in mind and for me to add another stigmatized category to my persona is like strapping an added target to my back.

I was an athletic guy, with plenty of friends, and I don’t have issues with my self-esteem (I don’t think). I was going on the right path that everyone believed I should be on. I was attending college, pursuing a respectable career and I made it out of a place where many may deem a trap.

I can’t let something like a couple of mental breakdowns set me back in the eyes of the community.   If this stuff that is going on in my head is true, who in the hell is really going to believe what I am saying? I barely even believe it.   How would I even be able to face the people that admired me up until now, with them knowing my weakness?

Outside of a physical injury from a sport, like a concussion or broken hand, I can’t display a weakness to the outside world. That is like displaying a chip in my armor that I have build to be unbreakable. A reputation of being strong, resilient, and untouchable will be tarnished if word hits the street that I have a mental illness.

It is common knowledge that Superman’s only weakness was Kryptonite. His enemies would use this for their own benefit. In my eyes was Superman and this was my Kryptonite. I WOULD NOT LET ANYONE KNOW OF THIS WEAKNESS!

Where I'm From

I have seen many poems across the Internet of people explaining where they are from. So as a brief introduction, I decided to share my poem…  

I am from long country roads, dirt basketball courts, and bicycles.

I am from the country town with only one stoplight

I am from cotton and tobacco fields, endless rows of trees, and everybody knows everybody.

I am from being successful in the classroom, track, field, and court.

I am from the Veales, Gilliams, Millers, and Holleys.

I am from inside family jokes and outside family pride

From “You are a representation of me outside of this house” and “A man should be strong and show little emotion”

I am from a grandmother that will let any and everything come out of her mouth, support telling me I can be anything that I want to be, and high expectations to put the family on his back.

I am from leaving my small town and “making it” when I graduated from a top university in the country.

I am from a side that many do not know and may not even believe.

I am from a room that felt like a prison but had no bars, from a constant fight with myself as the voices try to take over, and tears that I was afraid to show because not only am I a man, but I am a Black man.

I am from solid walls in a psych ward, from my mother telling me “you are not the child that I raised”, and trial doses of medication as I attempted to find a solution.

I am from sleepless weeks, alcohol binges to cope, and mental plots against myself that you would never know of as I flash you a forced smile.

I am from a community that does not speak on mental illness…but after being hospitalized and diagnosed with bipolar disorder following flirtation with suicide…

I am from a society that needs a voice for us…

I am from a voice saying “why not me?” and a friend asking “what’s stopping you?”