We have a problem. A really big problem. A problem that is difficult to talk about but easy to minimize. A problem that is so insidious that some of us don’t even acknowledge that there is a problem. Or that some of us deem it “their problem”. Or we ridicule those who acknowledge, accept, and attempt to fix the problem. And the problem is just getting worse.
Mental Illness is real. It is not a sign of weakness. A lack of faith. A cry for attention. An issue that we can afford to keep defunding and expect everything to be OK.
The prevalence of mental illness is becoming more and more apparent as care is becoming more negligent. Ignoring mental illness doesn’t make it go away.
Recently I have seen more attention being given to mental illness as people begin to talk about it a bit more on social media, sharing their stories. And what I have gathered is that a stigma that has long kept people silent is being overshadowed by the deep pain people are feeling due to the crisis we have here in America. A crisis that I believe goes beyond just race, and gangs, and police but to the very root of our humanity.
Our humanity is bleeding. It is hurt and the pain has consequences. It leaves scars that often hide an infection that runs so deep that the fever is often left “unfelt” and untreated until it is too late to get it under control and in a rage, we burn.
We need help.
The scars must be opened.
The infection irradicated.
The wound aired out and allowed to heal.
It will be messy. It will hurt. It will stir up feelings and emotions long buried and ignored. It may cause us to dislike others as well as ourselves. It will be unpleasant and very uncomfortable. But it is necessary.
It is irresponsible to let this infection ravage our very humanity. We only have so many limbs we can afford to sacrifice while we refuse to get treatment for what ails us. Stubbornly disregarding the tale tale signs of the angry red welts on our arms indicating the infections relentless march in our veins, making its way to our heart.
Our humanity is crying out for acknowledgement. And dressing it up and plastering a smile on its face does not negate the suffering reflected in its sad eyes.
We must talk about it. Not we should. Not we could. But we MUST.
If we as a people are not mentally well than where does that leave us? It leaves us battered, bitter, bruised, and belligerent, and eventually; if unacknowledged, unaccepted and untreated long enough, at risk of losing our very humanity.
I fell hook, line, and sinker for the elusive goal of obtaining balance. I even wrote a poem about it here. But what is balance actually? As I think more about my life and how it is in constant flux I become anxious for the need to get it all lined up just so. I picture myself walking on a tight rope, focus honed in on the task at hand. Unable to move left or right for fear of free falling. Rigid in my movements. The flexibility to adjust? Drastically limited. And what I come away with is a life filled with restraint. No room to breathe too deeply because I may throw off my weight distribution on the rope. No freedom to take in my surroundings because a loss of focus can mean disaster. Although the acrobats ability to balance may be awe inspiring it should not be marketed as a way of life.
My takeaway? Balance is a generic term used to imply control. If every plate is not spinning, if you are not constantly adjusting; micro movements meant only to keep all the plates in the air, then you have no control over your life!
Who came up with this BS? And why did we fall for it? I personally fell for it because being the quintessential control freak that I am, having the ability to balance all things seemed achingly appealing.
Look at me ! Look at me! Spinning all these plates while hopping on one leg! I’m superwoman! I’m Awesome! I’m unfulfilled and miserable…
What changed my mind? Life. Life changed my mind. Being a humble overachiever (does labeling myself humble make me less so?) I decided to not only work full time while pursuing a doctorate but to also participate in a school principal program while going through a divorce and adjusting to being the custodial parent of three children. Why? Because I thought I could. And somehow I managed to keep all those plates spinning for awhile. But as life would have it, I was thrown a HUGE curve ball. My youngest daughter got sick at a crucial time in my program and I had to make a choice. I dropped all my plates except one. She became my focus. But I was plagued by an extreme since of guilt. I was unable to keep my balance. I dropped the ball, broke the plates, jumped off the tight rope. I failed. I felt this way for a long time and no mater what anyone said, in my heart I was a failure. We are suppose to be able to balance right? That’s what successful adults do!
Then I called Bullshit.
I asked myself, what would I tell a client? Would I think of them as a failure for dropping the plates? And my answer was, Of course not!
So is my life balanced? NO. And it most likely never will be, at least not for long. There will definitely be times where I will need to be more focused but my goal is no longer to spin plates just so, or walk a tight rope with precision but to be intentional in my movements.
So I say F#%k Balance and live life intentionally!
No more doctoral program, no more principal program. No more guilt. Dropping those plates was the best decision I ever made. Now instead of balance I am becoming more adept at focusing my attention on my intentions.
There will be days when the house is clean but the workout was skipped. Days when you go on a date with your mate but you couldn’t make it to your friends party. Days when you spend hours cutting out paper-dolls with your littles but that chapter in your book didn’t get written. Days when dinner is frozen pizza so you can write that chapter you didn’t get to yesterday.
There will always be some give and take, some ebb and flow, some ups and downs. And ever so often the moon will be full, the kids will behave like angels, you actually will WANT to work out, your attempt at a new recipe will be NAILED, your mate will take out the trash without prompting, the wine will be chilled just so, and the breeze will smell like fresh flowers and not biohazard; that bliss point will be reached. Aligned scales!!
And you know what’s even more wonderful and ironic? That usually happens without you even trying!
So allow yourself room to adjust, to grow, to live, to breathe!
Jump off the tight rope. Find your path and walk it with intention.
Wanting to feel safe doesn’t mean you’re controlling
Wanting the clamor inside your head to be quiet does not make you crazy.
None of theses things are inherently negative. They are Human. You are Human. You have a right to feel however you feel. The goal is to become self aware. To use discernment so we are not victims of others or our own mismanaged emotions. Acknowledge them. Accept them. Deal with them. I can help.
In addition to Sickle Cell Awareness, September is also Suicide Awareness Month and today is the beginning of Suicide Prevention Week.
Suicide is not a topic most want to discuss. It makes us uncomfortable. It brings up so many conflicting thoughts: anger, shame, blame, frustration, guilt, hurt, sadness just to name a few. All of those emotions are valid.
Suicide starts with a thought. Things would be easier if I wasn’t here. Whether we want to admit it or not, most if not all of us have had this thought, most of us shake it off and keep going. It’s a momentary frustration with life as we navigate our struggles.
Damn, if I just didn’t exist, if I killed myself now, I would not have to deal with all of this nonsense. *sigh* whatever, let me get back to…
But for some of us those thoughts, seeded in despair, begin to take root. They bury themselves within our psyche giving birth to fantasies of relief. Relief from pain, disappointment, loneliness, regret, turmoil, hopelessness. At some point the comfort at the thought of ceasing begins to outweigh our fear of letting go.
Often this projection is noticeable if we pay attention. The person who once complained, fussed, vented…stops. They begin to withdraw. They stop seeking help. The thoughts inside their head become louder than any flippant “words of advice”.
Be strong. So many people have it worse than you. You’re blessed. All you do is complain. I hear you, it’s even worse for me!
Giving in sounds much more doable than just “being strong” so they do. They let the ideations become a plan. And with the formulation of a plan comes relief.
This will be over soon. This is actually better, no one cares anyway. I can stop being a downer on everyone. Yeah this is the right choice. Everyone will be better off.
NO THEY WON’T
This is where we step in. Where we take time to truly see past our own frustrations and take notice, truly SEE those we love. Encouraging words. A smile. A hug. A touch. All are grounders reconnecting them to the fact that they are worthy, loved, needed, and wanted.
Those who are hurting often bleed through their eyes. The pain leaking out when they dare to look you in the face. Unfortunately most don’t see what’s right in front of them because our vision is often blurred by our own tinged tears.
It is possible to see past our own suffering and be a lifeline for one another.
Show them that they are worthy of being holistically well.
I am the mother of three, including a set of twins, one of which has sickle cell. In honor of September’s sickle cell awareness month, we share our story.
The disorder runs on my father’s side of the family and I lost two older brothers from sickle cell complications. I learned that my youngest daughter had sickle cell from her newborn screen. After the initial shock and confusion (My ex husband and I were unaware that he carried the trait although we were aware that I had it) I did everything I could to become educated on the disease.
Sickle Cell is a blood disorder that causes the red blood cells to change from their normal pliable circular shape to a sickle shape. These cells are sticky and can become stuck in blood vessels, leading to numerous complications, one being severe pain in the area of the sickling.
There are different forms of Sickle Cell:
Hemoglobin SS Disease:
Hemoglobin SS disease is the most common type of sickle cell disease.
Hemoglobin SC Disease
Hemoglobin SC disease is the second most common type of sickle cell disease.
Hemoglobin SB+ (Beta) Thalassemia
Hemoglobin SB+ (beta) thalassemia affects beta globin gene production. Symptoms are not as severe.
Beta-zero thalassemia is the second type of beta thalassemia. It is associated with a poorer prognosis.
People who only inherit a mutated gene from only one parent are said to have sickle cell trait. They may have no symptoms or reduced symptoms. To learn more about the different types please click here.
My daughter has a combination of SC and Thallasemia. We had our first real experience with the disorder when my daughter spiked a fever of 103 degrees. Anything over 101 degrees is an automatic emergency room visit. This is because people with sickle cell have a compromised spleen and cannot effectively fight off bacterial infections. If left untreated it can be fatal. She was 7 months old. Luckily it was just a virus, but it took five days in the hospital to make sure. This began a series of emergency room visits and hospital stays due to fevers, thankfully all viral, but extremely stressful nonetheless.
She had her first pain crisis at the age of three, a couple of days before she started preschool and a few days after divorce fillings. Although not understanding exactly what was going on, I immediately focused all of my energy on doing everything within my power to make sure that my child was okay and well taken care. The differences her father and I had were irrelevant. Our daughters health superseded that and we behaved as such. After an emergency room visit, blood draws and an I.V. of morphine, we were released and began home-care. Here ensued a month of around the clock pain med distribution: codeine, then ibuprofen, every three hours, 24/7. Family members had to relieve me so I could go to work. But the hardest thing was seeing my child in pain and feeling helpless, hearing my child cry out every time she changed positions, watching her unable to walk as the pain was centered in her lower back, taking her to the doctor to see if she would need physical therapy in order to walk again, being strong for her. It broke my heart. And through the intense, non-stop blur, while somehow meeting the increased needs of my other two children; we made it through.
Things were quiet for a couple of years, a few flair ups here and there but all manageable at home. Then another pain crisis hit, a bad one, we were trying our best to manage at home when the the night before her 5th birthday we found ourselves in the emergency room: another 103 degree fever. I packed up my three girls and off we went. With the support of her sisters my little one endured another round of pokes while she had blood drawn and an I.V. inserted. We waited. My mother picked up my other two girls and we continued to wait. The blood cultures came back clean but she was still in pain. With instructions to keep doing what I was doing and to immediately return if anything changed, we were released around midnight. YAYAYAY she would not have to spend her entire birthday in the Hospital! We went home!
And we did our best to make it a good day! We went to Build A Bear, her and her twin got their ears pierced (BIG GIRLS) and there were moments when she laughed and smiled but I could tell that my baby was not feeling well. So we skipped the Cheese Cake Factory, grabbed food and went home.
But she was getting worse. Lethargic and pale she got home and immediately laid down. She complained that her stomach hurt. Concerned, I checked her tummy. It was hard and tender to the touch, I was pretty sure that her spleen was enlarged. In people with sickle cell, the spleen can become enlarged when cells become sickled and trapped inside the spleen causing it to get bigger and push on other organs causing pain. If left untreated it can burst and be fatal. This condition is called splenic sequestration. The best defense when dealing with sickle cell or any illness is to be as knowledgeable as possible. My awareness put me on high alert and I reacted immediately.
Back to the emergency room we went and she was admitted. I was right, her spleen had enlarged. Three days and a blood transfusion later, she was released. A blood transfusion is a routine procedure done for Sickle Cell patients to push out the sickling cells and replace them with normal cells. The transfusion in this case played two roles, it helped to push the sickling cells out of the spleen so that it could go back down and it replaced the sickling cells in her back to help ease her pain crisis. This was her first transfusion and I was apprehensive but it worked and I am Thankful. However, if her spleen enlarges again they will recommend removing it because the more often it enlarges the higher the risk of it erupting.
We left the hospital three days after her fifth birthday, a little disappointed in how things went but very grateful at how they turned out. It wasn’t the best birthday but it was definitely blessed.
For those of us taking care of someone with a chronic illness or perhaps dealing with one ourselves, it is of the utmost importance that we take care of ourselves physically and mentally. Care taking is the number one role susceptible to burnout.
During this time I never stopped and honored myself, I was constantly running on empty and after months and months and months of neglecting my own needs I hit a wall. I was depleted, there was just nothing left to give, to anyone. I knew I had to do something, so I implemented a few things. I began walking the hospital grounds when my child was admitted. Once she was comfortable and asleep I would notify the nurses’ station and go for a 30 minute walk. I talked to my therapist regularly. Having someone to talk to, an outlet, was indispensable. I also began dedicating one day a week to myself (as much as possible as a single mom of three children) where I didn’t go sit with my dad who has dementia, where I didn’t take too many calls, where I didn’t obligate myself to be available to others: I catered to me. This is an extremely important and often overlooked task of most caregivers: self-care.
In order to continue to pour into others we must regularly and consistently replenish our reservoir so we can continue to do good work. We are all worthy of being holistically well.
Woke up this morning and felt unsettled in my spirit. I found out something that made me start to question myself. It was causing feelings of bitterness and was disrupting my productivity. These thoughts were stealing my contentment. I tried to swallow down the frustration but it got stuck in my chest. I could feel it tightening. My head started to hurt and I felt my hands contracting into fist. I started asking the questions?
Why not me?
Why are things so difficult for me?
Why must I always struggle?
Where is my break?
Why is everyone else prospering and I’m having such a hard time?
And on and on.
Then I stopped. I stopped and checked myself. Sure, life isn’t fair, but my journey is my own and I have the choice to either use my energy to focus on someone else’s journey or I can laser focus on my own. So I changed frustration into inspiration, and I began to answer the questions that plagued me.
Why not you? Why not you, what? Why was that opportunity not afforded to you? Why are blessings not falling down on your head? First, you are blessed. Second, because that is not your path. You know that is not your path but instead of boldly embarking on your own road you allow your focus to shift to others. Stop being afraid. Stop trying to control everything. Trust yourself. Believe in yourself and move forward. Eyes straight ahead. No distractions.
Why are things so difficult for you? Seems like you are focused on the wrong thing, again. Instead of asking yourself why are things difficult focus on what you can do to be more proficient. Are things really difficult or are you just not helping yourself to make things easier. Sure, things have not been a cakewalk but you must acknowledge that your own thoughts create way more difficulty for you than your actual circumstances. Change your perspective, change your life.
Why must you always struggle? Define struggle? You mean why are things not easy? Why must you WORK and put forth EFFORT? Why can’t Yulinda simply exist and have things just so? Yeah it would be great if you could just snap your fingers and everything fell into place but…So how about we reframe this. You have certain goals. You want autonomy and freedom of expression. You have made the choice to work for yourself. That takes dedication, discipline, perseverance, persistence, courage, and a lot of other adjectives. If you truly want this than make it happen, no more excuses. You’re not struggling, you’re hustling. Keep going!
Where is your break? Seriously? There are no breaks. You CREATE breaks by positioning yourself in a way that makes getting a break more likely. That definitely will not happen while you are sitting on Facebook feeling some type of way about other people’s success. Get busy!
Why is everyone else prospering and you are having such a hard time? Again, seriously? Why are you focused on other people. Clap for them while you go perform for you! Your issue is focus. It is not where it belongs. You should not have time to pay attention to other people’s success. You should be creating your own. You are worth the work. Acknowledge that. Accept that. Go do it!
Don’t let your thoughts derail you. Confront your negative thoughts.
Re-frame them. Reshape them. Then, re-calibrate.
What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger: Dealing with stress in the family as a family.
Strong families are beneficial to not only themselves but to the communities in which they reside; they are the building blocks of society. Unfortunately even the strongest family can be shaken by stress. However, the stress itself is not so much the problem but how it is dealt with. The mismanagement of stress can lead to fissures in the foundation of the family system.
Effective communication is the best tool for a family to use to successfully navigate stressors, and often the most underutilized. People tend to deal with stress in silos. Opting to go it alone opposed to coming together to tackle it as a team; from the teen being bullied at school, to the father being burnt out from work, to the mom feeling unappreciated, to the sibling that feels left out. These individual issues will ultimately affect the entire family, often leading to misunderstandings, unmet needs, hurt feelings, resentment, and bitterness. In a household there is no such thing as “that persons” stress. Everyone in the house will be affected in one way or another.
So the solution is to communicate. But that is often much easier said than done. Communication between two people is difficult; communication among an entire family is a special challenge but not one that can’t be navigated successfully. Being able to listen for understanding opposed to responding is a skill that can be taught. Fundamentally people want to feel heard and understood.
As a Youth/Parent/Family coach my role is to help the parent(s) or guardian(s) think critically, foster effective communication within the family system, create and facilitate solutions to daily challenges, as well as how to thoughtfully manage larger stressors (divorce, sickness, marriage, job loss, death, etc.) all in an effort to build and maintain a family that is solid. The first step to becoming a stronger family unit is to identify, acknowledge, and address any areas of need.
I offer a workshop for parents to provide a dynamic atmosphere were we come together as a team to support and encourage one another as we become skilled in stress management. This workshop will teach about effective communication, establishing healthy boundaries, and creating self-care systems as a means of managing stress and maintaining healthy relationships within the family. Some role-play will be used to demonstrate effective listening and as a group we will brainstorm realistic self-care regimens that an entire family can benefit from and support.
The onus of responsibility when managing family stress falls squarely on the guardian. The first step is accepting that responsibility, the next is obtaining tools. Stress will never go away so we might as well learn how to deal with it and manage it. I can help.
On occasion I will share personal experiences in an effort to make of myself a mirror. To reflect back my struggles and my growth so that others don’t feel alone.
I help because I understand
I understand because I’ve been there
and I return there with the hopes of bringing someone else out with me…
It’s difficult being in the helping profession when you yourself are not on solid ground. I have experienced some trials and tribulations and as much as part of me wants to hold on to anger and bitterness, as much as I feel I have a right to these emotions; that they are some how righteous, I also know that clinging to them is hindering me. It is negatively effecting everything I do, from my business to my children, and it is time to shift. Oh it won’t be easy, but it is necessary.
Choosing to be ok when things are falling apart takes way more courage than we ever give or get credit for.
Fighting to change your narrative, smiling through your tears, turning screams of frustration into declarations. Those are the acts of soldiers and I’m battling right along side you.
I can’t effectively be As Solid As A Rock for others when I am crumbling. So today I rebuild.
Because I too am worthy of being holistically well!
You can’t pray away depression, or any mental illness. Some might find that statement offensive. But the reality is that many people, especially minorities, view therapy as an affront to God.
“I don’t need therapy, I just need to pray harder.”
Or maybe you can pray to be guided to a professional that can help you. Therapy is a tool to help achieve mental wellness, and should be seen as such. In my opinion, not utilizing the tools which can help us become more fully what we were created to be is much more of an affront. Prayer WITH WORK works. Seeking and going to counseling is doing the work, and you are worthy of it.
You are meant to be holistically well.
July is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. What I find interesting and sad is that I bet almost no one knew. As a matter of fact I didn’t know until literally minutes ago. Minority mental health and mental health in general is often overlooked, undervalued, and overly minimized. With everything that’s going on in the US and the world in general, I can’t help but wonder how much of the Earth’s pain is due to under-recognized, undiagnosed, and untreated mental illness. The constant barrage of anger, sadness, fear, frustration, rage, confusion, and despair on my personal Facebook timeline leaves me seething with indignation that mental illness is always sacrificed on the altar of budgets, consequences be damned. I’ve been dealing with my own fear which has led me to be stagnant for some months now. However, I cannot in good conscience sit back and do nothing. For the voices that often go unheard, the very least I can do is listen.
We are all worthy of being holistically well. . .
“later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
where does it hurt?
― Warsan Shire