The Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health state that Blacks are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population, yet the subject is still a taboo discussion in the community. According to mental health practitioners, Blacks tend to not seek professional help because of the shame and stigma attached to the illness, even when they feel unable to cope with life’s hurdles such as racism, anxiety, depression, economic disparities, post-traumatic stress, abuse, parental issues and marriage problems.
Sadly, many mental health sufferers in the Black community are totally oblivious to the fact that they probably have a diagnosable illness and that treatment therapies are practically at their fingertips. Many Black seniors still tend to believe that a mental health condition is a personal weakness or some sort of punishment from God. There is nothing wrong with leaning on the shoulder of a loved one or clergy when life’s stressors are getting the best of you but many fail to understand that professional help might also be in order to put things in perspective.
Victoria Hill (pictured), 56, suffers from a mental illness. She was first diagnosed as a young teen. Victoria is thankfully, under the care of a mental health professional and uses medication to help keep her on an even keel. Victoria was hesitant at first about sharing her authentic story with 50BOLD about a day in her life but breaking the stigma and silence of mental illness and possibly helping someone who is struggling with it, won out in the end.
Tuesday, November 14, 2017
“What you need is a good ass-whupping!” my Dominican cousin always proclaimed to me, even as an adult, when I was depressed. “You used to be such a happy, outgoing child. Now you’re nervous and depressed. What happened to you?” I had no answer for her.
On Tuesday, November 14th of this year, I woke up feeling depressed about what, I don’t know. Thought about calling a friend, then I remembered her advice the last time this happened…”Pray, meditate, then call me back.” I followed her recommendation but did not call her back. Well, my depression eventually turned into anger. I realized that I was mad because I had to go to physical therapy, and I had only done the daily exercises two days out of the week. I missed last week’s session because I was angry, depressed and tired. My doctor’s office has a strict late/cancellation policy and I thought I was up to the max.
Why don’t ‘they’ make exceptions for those who suffer from mental illness? I ruminated on this thought for a while. I’m different. I have a monkey on my back and this should be taken into account.
I’ll be turning 57-years-old soon enough. I’m divorced, a recovering alcoholic, a victim of sexual abuse as a young child (at the hands of a neighbor) and I suffer from schizoaffective disorder. Schizoaffective disorder fits neatly between bipolar (or manic/depressive) disorder and paranoid schizophrenic disorder. Schizoaffective disorder takes flavor from the bread it is sandwiched between. Like bipolar, I suffer from mood swings, but I’m generally on the depressive side. When the schizophrenia is at play, which is rare, I experience the sensation that I’m both in the current scenario, and outside of the scene hovering above it, as I observe the interaction I’m having with a medical professional. (This is referred to as being in a disassociated state.)
In these rare schizophrenic episodes, I’m generally admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Last October, when ‘it’ happened during my therapy appointment, suicidal thoughts managed to work their way into the session and my social worker sprung into action. Before you could blink an eye, police officers and the EMT/Fire Department personnel gingerly escorted me to the nearest ER. I spent half the night under observation. Upon conversing with a rather helpful staff psychiatrist, I was discharged because…well… I no longer wanted to get run over by a bus.
I have been in therapy since age 16, when I had the first major depressive episode, after, what else, a failed romance, naturally! I’ve been medicated since I was 19.
But I digress….
Back to November 14. I forced myself to get ready to go to physical therapy in New York City, Midtown, even though I was literally mentally torturing myself because I hadn’t brushed my teeth the night before. Everyone knows that if a person’s teeth aren’t brushed twice a day at the very least, this could result in a beautiful smile, lost! And it only takes 5 minutes to brush. And I always feel better afterward. Everybody brushes his or her teeth at bedtime…all, except me. I obsessed and tortured myself with these toothbrushing thoughts for quite some time, then proceeded to FINALLY brush my teeth. The toothbrushing obsession thing turned into a kind of chorus that ran through my head several times a day. The chorus was silenced when I actually brushed, then crawled into bed. I have no motivation to brush at night, and yet, I know I will pay for it dearly in more ways than one if I neglect to do it.
I decided I’d actually go to physical therapy via public transportation, instead of procrastinating and hopping in an Uber cab. Taking the train to get to the appointment meant walking 15 minutes to the subway stop, then a 20-minute stroll from Grand Central station but I managed to do it.
While in physical therapy, the therapist jeered, “We missed you last week.” I explained why I didn’t come. “And how was your Tai Chi class?” I had to tell her, I also missed that. I felt like a solid pile of shit at that moment but the therapy, which I didn’t want to do, felt good. I noticed while on the exercise bike the depression had lifted, not totally, but up to a functional level.
Belittling myself is almost like a daily practice for me. My daily mantra, “I am nothing.” I feel I am a worthless piece of shit in God’s world, who takes up space that another person should be entitled to. The core negative beliefs that I acquired as a child, probably stem from interactions with my father, who has now been dead for about seven years. He used to tell me, “You know you’re my favorite (child).” Well, dear old Dad loved me so much that at the age of 14, he cold-heartedly proclaimed that I would never be beautiful! Imagine that….
I was hospitalized for 2 months during college. I was put on meds that lifted me from a depressed state but caused weightgain to the tune of 20 pounds. On the way home from the hospital while feeling less than, Dad told me I looked terrible like my grandmother and should diet at once to get the extra weight off. He’d take shots at my self-esteem every chance he got, consistent denigration seemed to be the order of the day for Dad.
Now, at my current weight of 219 pounds, whenever I look into a mirror I feel shame, a kind of byproduct of the emotional scar Dad left me with. One positive thing Dad said to me before he passed away was that he didn’t have to worry about me anymore, that I would be alright. Unfortunately, Daddy was like Jesus, he died, rose again, then took up permanent residence in my head. Oddly enough, looking back, even though Dad said some hurtful things that impacted me greatly, overall, he really was a good man who loved his family. He did the best he could on one income to provide for a family of six which wasn’t an easy situation.
Having a mind that functions like mine, you’re probably wondering how I’ve managed to survive. Well, even though I’ve attempted to take my own life several times, and nearly got it right on my last attempt, and been committed to numerous psych wards, I somehow was able to get through grad school. I became a children’s librarian, a career I held down for 33 years. I was even promoted to supervisor. I retired June 30th of this year, because I felt overwhelmed and had trouble dealing with difficult on-the-job personalities. When I decided to retire, I felt it was time to move on.
I thought retirement would be heaven, but this hasn’t been the case. The loss of structure really bothers me. Lately, I’ve been having problems motivating myself to tend to daily self-care things like showering. I really have to push myself. Sometimes I brush my teeth and wash my face in the shower, to get it all in. Some days I face the world unshowered. Then I worry about getting close to people because I’m afraid my B.O. will just be too overwhelming. So I’m more of a recluse nowadays except for those one night a week when I travel to Queens to take care of my ailing 89-year-old mother who is battling Alzheimer’s. She is the only light in my life.
I have plenty of medications to help me function. I am usually compliant in taking my psychotropic drugs. However, if I forget to take my meds, the following day can get real tricky, as I tend to feel more depressed and paranoid, convinced that people are talking about me. I have been taking medications for years and sometimes, I just get plain old tired of them! I once asked my psychiatrist if I would have to take drugs all my life. He replied that since I have been medicated since my teen years, I probably would have to continue taking “my cocktails.”
The rest of November 14 I stumbled through like a champ. I went to bed feeling, “OK, this was a good day.” You might disagree, but as I see it, I did the things I was supposed to do, even though I felt bad during most of the day. Shakespeare titled one of his plays ‘All’s Well That Ends Well,” so as I see it, I was at least able to get through another day on God’s earth. What will tomorrow bring? I don’t know…. Will I continue to be able to handle ‘it?’ Should I even bother to wake up? God only knows….
Struggling with mental health issues? Please, seek help…
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255. You can also text HELLO to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line.
- If finances are preventing you from finding help, contact a local health or mental health clinic or your local government to see what services you qualify for. You can find contact information online at findtreatment.samhsa.gov or by calling the National Treatment Referral Helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357).
- National Alliance on Mental Illness– provides information, referrals, and support to people living with a mental health condition, family members and caregivers, mental health providers and the public. 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), www.NAMI.org, or email them… firstname.lastname@example.org