Secret Shame

This piece was written for ShePreaches Magazine, an online publication for african american women for which I am a columnist. In honor of suicide prevention week, I will be posting daily in order to provide information and inspiration. If there is something that you would like to share, please contact me. Thank you for being the loyal readers that you are. We, not one of us, are not alone…

Love,

Me

Secret Shame Image

On August 19, 2013, actor Lee Thompson Young was found dead in his Los Angeles apartment. His cause of death was ruled a suicide. Lee was a twenty-nine year old black male who seemed to have a bright future ahead of him in Hollywood.  Lee died due to a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. A suicide note was not left behind and his family, friends and co-workers were all shocked by his death.

On June 13, 2012, the body of writer Erica Kennedy was found in her Miami Beach, Florida home. Erica was a publicist, fashion and entertainment writer and book author who also happened to be the best friend of Kimora Lee Simmons. Erica was a forty-three year old black woman who was a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College. More information surrounding her death was never released but it is believed that Erica committed suicide, most likely because of an ongoing, secret battle with depression. Much like Lee Thompson Young’s death, Erica’s death sent shockwaves through her community of family and friends.

Suicide is rarely spoken about within the black community. One might say that discussing it is taboo. I think it goes a step further than just being taboo. It is a secret shame….

To continue reading, please click here to see the whole piece that was written for ShePreaches Magazine.

National Suicide Prevention Week is the Sunday through Saturday, September 8-14, 2013 surrounding World Suicide Prevention Day, September 10, 2013. The theme this year is: Challenging our Assumptions and Moving Forward Together. If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, please call 911. 

Stop and Stare

One of my favorite and most helpful therapists is a woman named Dr. Meg*. Dr. Meg was one of the first people to tell me to look at my marriage and other things in my life that weren’t life-giving. She was the first therapist to work with me in overcoming childhood trauma using Thought Field Therapy. She is a woman who can only be described as full of life, spiritual, intuitive and truly kind hearted.

One of the things I loved about Dr. Meg is that she was Jewish but had such an open orientation towards the Divine. She could definitely be described as spiritual and not religious; but she respected my viewpoints and my way of thinking about God, faith and life. I worked with Dr. Meg for about three years and really miss her and our time together. She was such a gift to my life and, though it would be another 2 years before I actually embraced what she said, she was a fundamental piece of my ongoing healing.

Dr. Meg probably would have been a hippie back in the day. She had strong feelings about justice and equality and was very much in touch with the physical. She pushed me to love myself fully, keeping in mind that I was created in physical form. My work with her got me thinking about pleasure and joy in ways that I hadn’t imagined before. One session in particular stands out to me and now, four years later, I am finally at the point of understanding what she said.

I was sitting on her couch (yes, she had a couch in her home office) crying my eyes out as is common in my therapy sessions. I don’t know about you, but I probably loose 3-4 pounds of water after every therapy appointment due to the tears that run freely. Dr. Meg was waxing poetic about something and truth be told, I wasn’t in the mood to hear anything positive or well meaning. I think I actually stopped listening at one point but when I came back to the session, she was talking about fucking corn fields. Yes, corn fields.

I patted my eyes dry with the tissue that is always placed strategically within arms length and tuned back into our session. I could tell that Dr. Meg was really feeling what she was talking about so I began to listen. This session was a time that we were working on my disconnection from noticing and appreciating the normal, everyday beauty of life. I had the tendency to take myself and my surroundings way too seriously. For some reason I never let myself just be – just be a kid, just be a girl, just be whatever. It would take pole dancing to reinvigorate a sense of joy and wonder. You can read about that journey here.

So back to this session with Dr. Meg. She was talking about beholding the wonder of God’s creation and an experience she had in corn fields in Iowa. She painted a picture that was devastatingly beautiful as she described rows of corn and light reflecting off of the fields and the smell and the air that surrounded her. She actually was moved to tears in her description.

At this point, all I could do was stop and stare. I had no clue what this woman was talking about. I never felt like that about anything, let alone fucking corn. The one time I have been in Iowa, the corn fields brought about images from horror movies and did NOT bring to mind the beauty of God’s creation. But I digress…

My challenge that week was to take in the beauty that surrounded me and appreciate things for what they were, connecting them to the Divine. I realize now that I wasn’t ready to understand what she was talking about. However, today, August 20, 2013, I finally began to understand.

Today as I sat by the lake and reflected on my devotional reading for the day, I got what Dr. Meg was trying to tell me. As I looked out over the water and watched the sun rise on the horizon, as I listened to the gentle breaking of the water as it hit the sand and as I took in the birds that were finding sustenance and relief from the water, all I could do was stop and stare. I was overwhelmed by the beauty that is God’s creation. As I thought about how things work in syncopated time, sometimes seemingly chaotic but coming together beautifully, I thought about my life. I thought about where I’ve been, where I am and where I hope to go. I thought about they way that God has consistently spoken life into my heart when all I could hear, see and smell was death and despair. I thought about the beauty that is the sun and how it brings life to dark places. And tears came to my eyes. For I could simply stop and stare.

Stop and stare at the beauty that is all around you.

Stop and stare at the wonder that God has created within you.

Stop and stare at the people in your life who love and support you.

Stop and stare and recognize that even in your darkest place, God is trying to reach out to you and connect with you using the most ordinary of means in the most extraordinary of ways.

Thank you Dr. Meg.

Love,

Me

Sunrise at the Lake

Sunrise at the Lake

*Dr. Meg has been using her influence to make a positive difference in her community in seemingly small ways. She is such an inspiration. Read about what she’s been doing here

After He Leaves

After he leaves I feel like a part of me is missing. How is it that this man has the ability to make me feel like I am on top of the world and simultaneously make me feel like it’s never enough? I don’t get tired of him. I love listening to him. I love sharing space with him. Truth be told, it’s not even anything he’s doing per say… it’s just how he is. When he’s with me I feel like I’m not alone…

I’ve come a long way. When I was younger, so much of what I thought about myself was wrapped in others’ opinions of me, particularly men. Now I am pretty confident about who I am and what I can do sans their opinions… yet, his smile, his eyes, his touch, make me want more.

More of what? I am coming to terms with being single. It’s not all bad. Quite frankly, because of the type of woman I am, I enjoy the freedom that comes with singledom. What I miss more than anything is knowing that there is someone who has my back. I miss knowing that on those days when the loneliness is too much to bear, there is someone committed to walk the road with me. He makes me long for that connection, for a partnership that is characterized by trust, compassion, honesty, laughter and the pursuit of excellence. And let’s not forget about the passion… I think what’s hardest about this is that I can picture our life together. I can see us supporting one another and loving one another. We are just enough alike and just enough different to be a pretty powerful team. And I think that’s what I long for most of all, to be a part of a team.

So much of my life is lived solo. I know it’s because of what God has called me to. I am someone that will live a public life and that mean there are many places and spaces that I must travel alone. I think I am coming to terms with that but I do long to be in relationship. And he makes me want it all the more.

I keep reminding myself that for everything there is a season. This is my season to develop professionally, to hone my skills, to travel and to nurture friendships. It’s also a time to grow in love and knowledge of myself, which I haven’t spent a lot of time doing. Knowing all of this doesn’t make me feel better but it does keep things in perspective. The sadness that I encounter will not overtake me. The love that I desire will come to pass. And when it does, I’ll be ready.

For Everything There is a Season…

Today is Mother’s Day in the United States. It is a day that we celebrate our mothers. I have expanded my definition of mother to not just include my biological mother but also include the women in my life who “mother me” – those who provide guidance, encouragement, love, discipline, conviction and never-ending support. For me, these mothers are women of faith who care for themselves and their families. I am so grateful for each and every one of them.

Mother’s Day also brings out some darker emotions in me. I am a 31 soon-to-be- 32 year old divorcee who has yet to conceive a child. The assumption by most people is that I will have children at some point. I’ve always struggled with this because I am terrified of physically carrying a child and thoughts of what might happen to my fragile mental state paralyze me. I know now that I am at high risk for postpartum depression and other mental health issues because of my history. Pregnancy and the subsequent birth of a child will exacerbate these issues. However, there is something that happens this day each year, something that I’m quite ashamed to admit. I get a twinge of longing for the role and title of mother and feel like I’m not woman enough because I haven’t born a child. Then I feel guilty for focusing on myself on a day when so many others focus on the amazing women in their lives. And the cycle continues…So, I decided to write about my feelings today.

I had a glimpse of what it might be like to be a mother when I was married. My ex-husband has an amazing son from his first marriage and I was privileged to get to know this amazing child from the time he was three until he was ten. While he lived with his mother on a daily basis, he spent his summers and holidays with my ex-husband and I. During these times I fully embraced the mothering role and was amazed at how naturally certain things came to me. I began to care for and love this boy like he was my own. It was quite surprising to me and I lament that this relationship has been severed. I’ll probably write more on that later…

I’ve always struggled with what it means to be a woman. Is it defined by my gender? Is it defined by my participation in heteronormative relationships? Is it defined by certain characteristics? Is it defined by my role as wife? Is it defined by my role as mother? Is it defined by my desire to want to be a mother, wife or any other role that is lifted up as ideal?

Today at Shekinah Chapel, I heard a message that felt like it was meant just for me on this day. The preacher was a woman who preached on Proverbs 31. I must confess that this is one of my least favorite texts in scripture because of how it’s lifted up as how woman should be. I have always felt like if I’m not the Proverbs 31 woman, I am not woman at all. As the preacher began her message, I told myself to sit still and listen. And I am so glad I did.

The preacher talked about the text and connected it to the hats that we as women are expected to wear. She even used imagery at one point and placed six or seven different hats on her head. It was a powerful illustration because it showed how it’s not only impossible to wear more than one hat at a time but that it also looks just plain ludicrous. I appreciated this sermon on so many levels and my spirit resonated with the struggle that so many women face – to try and be all things to all people at all times and still maintain a certain attitude and character, which is often how Proverbs 31 is lifted up in communities of faith. Towards the end of the sermon, the preacher quoted Ecclesiastes 3 (see below) – For everything there is a season…

Before I knew it, tears started to fall. Even as I write this post, the tears well up in my eyes. But they are cleansing tears not tears of sorrow. I realized in the preached moment today that I am living in a certain season of life, one that has not called me to be a mother or a wife. I feel like I have always fought this reality and made apologies for why I was not living into these roles. Today, I felt like I had permission to shed any and every expectation of me that was not God given. God has blessed me in many ways and I know that I am walking in a season where I am called to be an advocate, a friend, a mentor, an aunt, a leader and a visionary. I am not called to be a mother or a wife right now. And for the first time, I truly believe that it’s ok…

For everything there is a season…

For those who have lost mothers…

For those who have had terrible relationships with their mothers…

For those who long to be a mother and their body’s won’t let them conceive…

For those who have suffered one or many miscarriages…

For those who feel like a failure because they have not become a mother…

For those who will never be mothers and don’t want to be…

For all women who struggle to define themselves against the ongoing tide of societal, cultural, familial expectation…

I pray. You are not alone.

Love,

Me

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

seasonsOfLifea time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time…

Ecclesiastes 3: 1-11

Forty Days, Forty Nights

I am a Christian. For anyone who is interested in my relationship with my faith, I’ve written about it here. One of the things I love about the denomination I belong to is that we subscribe to the Revised Common Lectionary. This means that we follow what is called a Liturgical calendar that organizes the year into church seasons. Our new year begins with Advent, which is the time of preparation before the birth of Jesus. After Advent comes Christmas, then Epiphany, then Lent and so on and so forth. We are about to begin the season of  Len, which starts tomorrow with Ash Wednesday and is my favorite season for a variety of reasons. Lent is the time that commemorates Jesus’ 40 days and 40 nights in the desert before officially beginning his public ministry. Christians mark the season of Lent by doing a variety of things including reflecting, fasting, sacrificing those things that would distract us from our faith walk, being in intentional community and practicing repentance – not just apologizing for wrongdoings but physically turning in another direction.

For me, Lent is a time of listening for God and being mindful of those things/people/situations that would distract me. Now, you may be thinking that I should always be listening for God, but I get so caught up in the everyday tasks of life, that I often neglect my spiritual practices. I like to think about Lent as the time that calls me to be focused and disciplined. I believe that God is always active in my life, but that I’m not always attuned to how God is working and Lent provides the time and space to just be…

This Lenten season I am excited to be participating in a group that is discussing Not Alone: Reflections on Faith and Depression by the Rev. Dr. Monica Coleman. Dr. Coleman is facilitating this group that will be journeying together through Lent as we reflect on depression, faith and life. A key part of this group is to journal your reflections after each day’s devotional reading. I will be sharing my thoughts here on Embracing My Shadow. I am doing this for a number of reasons:

  1. I want to continue to reflect on the way that my faith has impacted my struggle with depression.
  2. It’s important for me to have a space where I can write my thoughts.
  3. I want to be held accountable by my Shadow Lovers.

I look forward to this time of clearing – to a time when I can let go of those things that are distractions and reflect on how God might be speaking to me. I am not planning to do anything else other than this devotional group during Lent. I ask for your prayers and support during this journey.

You may not follow the Liturgical Calendar. You may be disconnected from the church. You may not even be Christian. But I truly believe that we can all benefit from times of reflection; times when we become centered and seek renewal. I look forward to this journey.

Love,

Me

My 2013 Journey: Motivation, Wisdom and Faith

I’ve been thinking and praying about the direction of Embracing My Shadow for 2013. There are so many things and experiences that I want to share but I also want to make sure that what I’m doing makes sense. Blame my “Type A” personality, but I felt like I needed to order my site a little bit more so that there was a flow that made sense…well, at least made sense to me.

In 2013, I am going to post three times a week. I’ve decided to do the traditional Monday-Wednesday-Friday format but each day will have a particular theme/angle that addresses how I seek healing and continued growth in my journey with depression, anxiety and other things that threaten to overtake me.

  • Motivation Mondays – I’ll be exploring those things, people, places, moments, etc… that have motivated me and reminded me of my worth and the importance of loving myself. I start this Monday with a post I’ve been dying to write about my experience with pole dancing that was arguably one of the BEST EXPERIENCES OF MY LIFE.
  • Wisdom Wednesdays – Wisdom is often synonymous with knowledge. I’ll be sharing words and stories of wisdom from people who have inspired me. I’ll also be sharing more facts and other information that will continue to address the stigma of mental illness and hopefully help people tear down the walls of shame that surround them.
  • Faith Fridays – I am a theologian at my core, one who seeks to make meaning of all things in my life through my faith perspective and am particularly observant of God’s presence in my life. I am also one who seeks truth, meaning and love in various religions and traditions. Faith has been particularly important to me on this journey and I hope to share some ways of thinking and being that could help you as well.

I am also looking forward to my first book blogging project. For Lent this year (the church season that Christians observe which calls us to repent and journey inward to reflect) I will be using a devotional written by the Rev. Dr. Monica A. Coleman entitled Not Alone: Reflections on Faith and Depression.

I am inviting my readers to consider sharing their stories, especially those readers who are of African descent. I wish to continue to bust stigmas about mental illness, particularly within the Black community. I will be posting stories from men and women who are on the journey of accepting all of who they are.

I admit that this is more for me, the writer, than for you the reader. I’m sure that most of you don’t care how I organize the blog, but this makes sense to me. So there you have it!

This blog will always be about my struggle with depression and anxiety and my journey of accepting my WHOLE self. It is my continued prayer that I can also inspire you to do the same. We must love ourselves and embrace ALL of who we are. I truly believe that only by doing this can we be in authentic and healthy relationships with others and experience abundant life. Thank you for sharing this journey with me…

Love,

Me

It’s not looking like Christmas…

I drove home in a fog tonight – literally. I left church and drove home through a fog so thick that I missed a turn and ended up on the other side of my neighborhood. It probably didn’t help that I was crying as well as driving through this fog. Today sucked and I hate that it did because I feel like I’ve been doing so well. That’s probably my problem – thinking that a few weeks of positive thinking somehow cures me of the reality that is my depression. I know better but it hit me hard tonight.

I spent the day by myself, trying to tell myself that all was ok. I was aware of my feelings – missing my family and wishing I was home. But being alone during the holidays triggered other thoughts. I sat with the fact that I am now divorced. No more extended family and friends Christmas parties. No more trading off the holidays, deciding which family we would be with for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years.

I spent the day watching movies and hanging out online, trying valiantly to get in the Christmas spirit. Seriously, thank God for social media. It helped me not feel so alone. I don’t know what I’d do without the virtual connection to my friends and family. I was determined to go to church tonight instead of burrowing under my covers and I am glad that I went. But as everyone bundled up to head home the feelings of loneliness and isolation overwhelmed me. I was going home to nothing, to no one. And I hate that it bothers me so much.

Christmas used to be my favorite time of year. Family, faith, fun and all sorts of traditions were a part of my reality. The past few years, Christmas has been the loneliest time of the year for me and I feel so bad that I seem to be overly focused on the negative. My brother tried to talk me out of my head tonight, but it didn’t work. Just for tonight, I feel sorry for myself. I mourn the loss of a life that I thought I had.

The thought that’s been recurring in my mind has been that I want to go home. All of my life, I’ve been running from home, wanting to put as much space between me and my family as humanly possible. But I can’t do this thing called life without them. When I try, it’s a much more difficult journey, one that is littered with periods of darkness and loneliness and sadness. I think it may be time for me to go home…

I know that this day is really about Jesus and I thank God that he saw fit to come be with us. Lord knows if I ever needed Emmanuel, it is right now…. I’m sorry to be so depressing on this Christmas Eve, but alas, I am depressed. To anyone out there struggling tonight, tomorrow, over the next few weeks, everyday, etc…, please know that you are not alone. Even as the tears fall from my eyes on this evening, I know that I am not the only one who is struggling.

It may not be a merry Christmas, but I pray for peace, comfort, healing and hope for us all…

Love,

Me

Ruminations and Recriminations

It goes a little something like this…

I don’t feel good.I think I may be sick.I should stay home from work.

Who wants to be around me anyway?I’m pathetic.I’m a failure.I’m divorced.I’m crazy.I run men off.Who would want me?No one can love me.I don’t even love me.

I could have done better.I should have done this/that differently.I feel so guilty/ashamed because…I will never be forgiven.

If people really knew what I was thinking, they wouldn’t love me.If people knew the real me, they would never want to be around me.If I were a better friend/employee/lover/sister/daughter I wouldn’t be alone/depressed/anxious/afraid.

What if I never have children?Does that make me a failure?Isn’t that the one thing I’m supposed to do as a woman?Who am I kidding? I couldn’t take care of another human being if I wanted to.

I’m going to be fired.My work isn’t good enough.Did I make the right choice?What should I have done differently?Why is this so hard?

I’m not good enough.I’m not worth it.I’m inherently bad.I’m irrevocably broken. There’s no hope…

What was God thinking?Is there anything good here?What’s the point?What if I ended it all?Would anyone care?Then people would know that I am really a coward.

God help me.

These are actual thoughts that have plagued me. They start off slow, without warning. They’re amorphous and at times, unidentifiable. Truth be told, if you aren’t paying attention, they can creep up on you. One minute you’re fine. The next minute, you are so sad, or even worse, you are so numb. Before you know it, you are literally paralyzed by your thoughts and incapable of emerging from the darkest of places.

When you can actually feel something, the worst feelings take over – despair, hopelessness, guilt, shame. When you’re incapable of feeling, you just know you’re bad, worthless, forgotten, abandoned. The feelings and numbness take you to dark places, make you feel like your life isn’t worth living.

They don’t seem that bad. I mean, they’re just….thoughts, right?

WRONG.

gandhi_thoughts_postcard

Rumination is the act of focusing on the things that are distressing. Recrimination is a retaliatory accusation, in this case against yourself. Ruminating and recriminating have been my downfall and are signature markers of when my depression is at its worst.

Our thoughts have the power to be life-giving or life-taking. For those of us who struggle with depression, our thoughts are things we must pay attention to and fight on a daily basis. Guilt, shame and inadequacy can literally kill us by causing us to believe that we are worthless. Many people end their lives. While I’ve had suicidal thoughts, I’ve never taken steps to kill myself. I’m not sure why…

For me, the best things in combating these thoughts are medication, therapy, exercise, and spirituality. I’ll write more about each of these later but suffice it to say, without medication (Prozac and Xanax), therapy (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy on a REGULAR basis to be exact), exercise (participating in a variety of dance styles including Pole dancing – more on the benefits of this later) and spirituality (deepening my faith life through my Christian tradition and embracing Buddhism as a way of life) I would NOT be where I am today.

My prayer is that your thoughts breathe life into you rather than take life from you.

My prayer is that if you struggle with ruminating and recriminating, that you seek help and support.

My prayer is that you are able to reclaim the goodness within and never doubt who you are, what you can do or your value ever again.

If you or someone you know are contemplating suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

For more information about treatment options, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Visit Monday’s blog posting, which may provide some support through some very powerful lyrics – Music Mondays: Shine the Light by Sugarland.

When your thoughts threaten to take you under, please remember this one thing: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

Love,

Me