Mrs. Francis, Mental Health & Me (A Tribute)

Mental-Health-Awareness-Month

I remember the first time I went to see Mrs. Francis J. Thomas (Miss Francis) for therapy. I had done some group therapy regarding my personal lifelong battle with depression. It was time for some one on one sessions. It was scary looking for a stranger to trust with my deepest and darkest secrets. I looked online for someplace close and affordable. I called a Christian based counseling service because their fees were based on income. After leaving a message on the company line I got a call from Miss Francis. Since there was a group of counselors under this umbrella, I imagined a scene from, “The Wire,” where Miss Francis was sitting around along with other counselors waiting for her turn to be up in the rotation. If it wasn’t her turn, perhaps she picked up the voicemail and decided to give a f#@! when it wasn’t her turn to. Regardless, she called back and we set up an appointment.

Laying eyes on her I said to myself, “Aww such a sweet looking lady.  Her radiant spirit gleamed through her chocolate cheeks. Her smile was extremely welcoming. I felt safe in her presence. She asked me why I had come in. I paused, sighed, thought for about 30 seconds, and began to tell her my story as best as I could. This went on for about 20 minutes. The remaining 40 minutes featured her talking. She wasn’t giving me any advice or counsel. She was completing my story for me, expressing things that I could only imagine saying but didn’t have the words to articulate. I was amazed. I knew this was going to work!

There are several different themes I remember about our sessions. Like the time she challenged me in a way that I didn’t think was right. I yelled at her at the top of my voice because I felt that she was being so unfair. If I recall there were a few profanities as well. I was very angry. After a moment, I was sure she would toss me clean out of her office. But she totally surprised me. “Christopher! YES! Finally a breakthrough!”  

There were other times after leaving a session when I  said to myself, ‘Wow, that was an interesting thought provoking.’ Then in the next moment I thought, ‘Hey wayment! Did she just rip me a new one but was so smooth about it I had no idea I was getting my ass whipped? Yea she did that! She ain’t slick! Damn, I guess she is. She got me!’

476198_10150608576252878_1933579623_o Mrs. Francis J Thomas’s 

There is so much more I could say. Sometimes I didn’t have the money for the co-pay.  She took me anyway. She told me at one point that she was considering retirement because she had some health challenges. She would continue to see her ‘special’ patients of which I was one. Miss Francis and I grew incredibly close through the years we had together. So much so that she shared some of her own personal challenges with me. She told me she was a bit ill and wanted her son and I to meet one another. She gave me his number and said she would tell him she did so.

My favorite and most memorable phrases of her’s were:

“Christopher, you have to learn radical acceptance.”

“Ooooh, that’ a hallelujah moment! Pat yourself on the back.” (Then she would pat herself on the back to show me how.)

She was a Christian counselor, but don’t get it twisted. We had some hard core raw conversations. She said some surprising things that blew my mind a few times.

One day I really needed Miss Francis. I called her cell phone on a Saturday with my ’emergency.’ She answered the phone and said, “I’m here for you. Just call me back in 20 minutes so I can get myself together.” She didn’t sound like herself. I asked her if she was sure it was really an OK time. She assured me it was. I did. She listened and counseled like she always did.

To my surprise and dismay, Miss Francis died two days later. She had Stage 4 Cancer and never told me. I was one of her very last patients, on one of her very last days on the earth, off the clock. In spite of her great pain and suffering she gave all she had to be there for her patient and friend. There is no greater gift one can give than this.

At her celebration of life service I found out that Miss Francis was a counselor of counselors. She was their teacher. It was a pleasure to speak at Miss Francis’ service and share with her family and colleagues how she touched my life and made me feel so special. She helped me gain my self worth, love and respect.

I share all this to encourage anyone who may need an ear and a voice to reach out for help. It’s a good thing and can definitely be a game changer. Take care of your mental health!

 

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Before You Judge…

Mental health is still getting it’s true due in society. Christians think one can just “pray about it” and Jesus will fix you. Secularist say, “get over it.”

At issue is that if one breaks a leg we can ‘see’ the leg and understand that there is fixing the leg then the process it takes of healing it. There can also be a propensity for re-injury to that leg…or scar tissue. No one bucks at that.

When it comes to mental health, unfortunately we are still far too uneducated and therefore less insightful and compassionate when people suffer from depression. We call suicide victims selfish. Sometimes we send them to hell.

I submit however that if you do the research, and ask some people, you will find that many of us suffer of some forms of depression, low self esteem etc. It’s a daily battle and the difference between having a mind full of confidence and optimism vs fear, dred is a very thin line. If you never fall into despair you should be thankful. I ask you to consider not judging those who have a harder time coping day to day.

beauty girl cry

As I said we can’t see one another’s brains. We are still learning about genetic pre-dispositions that are no different than physically being short or tall. There is plenty of help out there however whatever one’s situation.

With that I hope that when one thinks of Robin Williams or anyone else who has committed suicide or considered it, compassion, understanding, within an environment of love can help those at the bottom and see no way out. Perhaps then more will be willing to seek the help they need and not remain inward where it’s most always hopeless.

Why I Hate The Holidays

Ok, well maybe hate is too strong a word.  Let’s just say I haven’t always looked forward to the holidays anyway.  Specifically the trilogy we call Thanksgiving, Christmas & New Years, (TCN) that are slapped together the last two months of the year.  I am skeptical about several holidays anyway.  Most seem to have double meanings, in that its partial religious and partial if not mostly marketing.

Look at Easter for instance.   I grew up simultaneously thinking it was about the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ and at the same time for bunnies and egg hunting.  The same can be said for Christmas.  Don’t even get me started on that one.  Thanksgiving can’t get over with without stores opening up in anticipation of Black Friday and loads of shoppers coming to spend a lot of grip!

Know More About Aztec Culture Stereotypes and  Myths in America.

Speaking of Thanksgiving; It has its own set of issues as it inaccurately tells of a relationship between pilgrims and Native Americans.  They talk about Native Americans helping the Pilgrims, but they don’t tell of the massacre and land grab the Pilgrims put down on them in return.  With the amount of turkeys being sacrificed on one day, it shows how much it’s commercialized too. ****Side Note: Will someone please explain what this whole mess of the president pardoning a turkey is about?

I tend to get into holidays like Veteran’s Day or Memorial Day, or something like these.  I mean they are commercialized too in that they do have Memorial Day sales in department stores.  But they tend to have less.  Labor Day is pretty straight forward.  It celebrates the workers of the nation.  And what the heck, if one wants to enjoy some savings at JC Penny’s for their hard-earned dollars who can argue with that?

Martin Luther King Day is almost a joke!  As much as I think we should have it for I truly believe MLK is the greatest American ever produced, the talk of dreaming and speeches is sickening.   It’s more memorial and legend than it is substance.  Take the good with the bad I guess.  But we, (black folk who want to deify King as a messiah who could do no wrong – and white folk who wish to use the dream message while eliminating the more meatier pieces of his words that challenged American white supremacy and classism at its core therefore rendering King a toothless lion) have basterdized Kings legacy as far as I’m concerned.  But I digress.

Valentines Day is a funny one to me.  Flower prices soar to astronomical proportion leading up to February 14 as men scramble and come up off them dollars to buy those roses and chocolate.  If you have a woman and she’s into that stuff, you can forget it!  Come off that grip or cancel Xmas cause if she feels dissed and can’t brag to her friends about what you did, there won’t be any presents for you under her tree!  I’m just saying.  As my friend Jim Thornber once wrote me about this same point, “I know I know.  But I got to do what I got to do!”

I’m not a total Scrooge about this mind you.  But even as a little kid I had love/skepticism relationship when it comes to holidays.  When I was a child and thought that Jesus was born on December 25th, I honestly didn’t care as much about presents.  I didn’t turn down any either.  But I did make a point of saying, “Happy Birthday Jesus!” when I woke up that morning before running for the living room.  As I recall I think I just thought us kids had the benefit of getting some presents on the slide.   I didn’t believe in Santa Clause too long cause I couldn’t figure how dude could hit all the houses all around the world in one night.  Just couldn’t wrap my brain around that.  All possible illusions were put to rest when I heard my mother and then step father sneaking in the crib at 3:30 in the morning setting up my race track.  I wasn’t disappointed at all.  More so relieved that I wasn’t crazy.

Back in the day,  another reason why I grappled with some of our holidays, (specifically the TCN trilogy) is because these holidays interrupted my otherwise action packed distractions layered lifestyle of mine.  (When I used to work 2-3 jobs at a time as a much younger man)  Most of my adult life I have struggled at times with depression, anxiety and stress.  Back then I worked hard and I worked a lot.  Therefore I was able to busy myself meandering with the important and the mundane.  If it wasn’t one thing to do it was another.   I’m still busy now but with a better plan.  The distractions are no different though.  Going from one side of town to another working or head to the coffee shop to wind down or jot some thoughts or view Delonte West free-styling in a KFC drive-through about buying $50 worth of chicken after a weed burn can keep one’s mind off his troubles.

I remember one year-long ago.  I was driving on a Thanksgiving afternoon to pick something up from Walgreens.   As I drove down the street I noticed how everything in the world has seemed to stop.  Here it was broad daylight in the middle of a metropolitan city, during the week no less, and there were hardly any cars on the street.   My neighborhood looked like a ghost town.  Subconsciously I noticed the trees too.  There were no leaves.  Only traces of dead ones laying on the streets and along the curbs.  Nothing was growing outside.  Nature seemed to be hibernating and the chill of the air cause me to cover myself so that the cold couldn’t attack me as it was the rest of nature.  That’s when it hit me.  “Damn!”, I thought.  These are the thoughts that flowed through my mind as I assessed the situation.

I have no place to go.  No place to hide.

 I knew instinctively that I was not in a good place.  I felt lonely, and empty.  I had no distractions to keep me busy and occupied.  I never even realized how much I was hurting or missing.  But here it was face to face now.

Whatever you really feel, wherever you really are, whatever state you are in for real, is always revealed during this time of year.  It’s unavoidable.

So there I was.  I knew it.  Nothing I could do about it either.  And Monday couldn’t get here fast enough.

For the most part nowadays I tend to look at holidays as an opportunity for me to rest.  To take a load off and maybe sleep in a bit.  I do see redeeming qualities with some of these holidays as they do give us time to reflect from busy lives and have a reason to stop, look, and hopefully listen to others.   To realize that family is important and that there is a season of giving.  Traditions can be a good thing when looked at properly.  And these holiday traditions tend to give those fortunate opportunity to take stock of the many present blessings.  I too will do some holiday shopping.  And since I have ‘things’ in perspective I am free to give and be a blessing to loved ones without tripping off the commercialized contradictions.

But for the lonely, the depressed, the homeless, the destitute, this holiday season will once again be a not so gentle reminder of the bold and true reality of their lives.  Let’s remember them too!  As I know full and well, it can easily be us!

Facing Faults and Fears ~ Tick Tick Tick

How does one rectify anger? 

I have known for years that I carry anger around for different reasons.  And at times it has manifest iself in different ways.  For instance, for most of my life I’ve struggled with depression at some times or others.  I’ve heard that depression is in effect ‘repressed anger.’  I can believe that.

Most wouldn’t know about the anger because I am generally a “happy- go- lucky” person.  When I am around friends or collegues at work this is the side they see most often.  My natural make up is to spread joy and offer encouragement.  I love to see a genuine smile on someone’s face.  And I enjoy helping to create that smile whether it’s by some form of serving, saying a kind word or saying something humerous.  I get a lot out of seeing other people happy. 

Often, I find myself giving out a lot without asking much in return.  Perhaps I get angry because I wish that sometimes people understood that I may need a little something something back.  It’s natural for people to think that the “happy guy” is always OK and is never in need of attention or encouragement.  And then sometimes when I do ask, sometimes folks are looking around strangly as if I asked for a first born or something.  This is because they are not used to it. 

“What you?  Need something?”

Then there is the supressed anger that I recognize.  It happens because sometimes I see things or feel as if someone may be trying to take advantage of the kindness I try to offer or the contributions I try to make.  In those cases I get kinda stuck because in one sense I would like to communicate my displeasure.  But in my nature if I do I try to do it in a way that preserves the other person’s dignity.  I try to approach people the way I want to be approached.  I try to avoid being too harsh or just letting them have it.

More times than not however, I find that this approach does not work.  In far too many instances people seem to take kindness for weakness.  And at some point it’s going to come out and I am going to go OFF.  At that point that creates an issue of having to possibly repair the damage done within conflict of the anger expressing moments.  I’m saying to myself, “Why could you not listen when I broke it down gently before?  I said the same thing basically, except this time I added a MF or SH to it which finally got your attention.”

Then I am angry that I even had to go there. 

The thing is this:  Most days I can just move on and think of the positive and not carry this stuff with me.  But at the same time, I find that many of these issues are not really resolved, but rather just tucked away till the next time.  So then there is resentment on top of resentment – anger on top of anger

I know that anger itself is not a totally negative emotion.  I know it has it’s place.  But I am not sure how to use it to my advantage without doing or saying things against my nature.