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.

Where is Cmac? or a Drastic Change In Direction

Well back to the blogs!  At least this is what I desire as I know I have not written in quite a while.   It’s because I’ve been through quite a lot.

Without getting into all of the gory details I will share some things that perhaps will help someone else.

After months, heck years of struggling greatly with depression and a variety of other mental challenges I had a complete nervous breakdown on Christmas Eve.  I had given up on life and was perfectly willing to leave this world behind.  Some of the problems I had I brought on myself with series of bad decisions and just flat-out wrong thinking.  Other things were put upon me all the way back from childhood. 

During the holiday things came to a head and I ended up spending Christmas in the hospital.  Boy what that an adventure.  I volunteered to go only because they said it would be better for me when it was time to get released.  My family pretty much took things over.  Between my sister who showed up at the door totally by surprise, my mother of all people flew in from Los Angeles via the red-eye the night before and came in right after her, I had no choice though I had totally hit rock bottom.

The experience in the hospital was wierd.  Sometimes I was calm and enjoyed the quiet.  But most of the time I was just reeling, bored and worried about life after the hospital.  The staff was minimal because it was Christmas.  I wanted to get some help since I was there.  But of course there weren’t any doctors and counselors around to treat us.  We were just kept. 

I met some cool peeps there.  Victoria was this sweet lady who wore a hat cause she had lost some hair.  She’ll talk you to death.  I tried to chill to myself most of the time but she was persistant.  One day she just broke out on me.  “Christopher, you are a wonderful man.  God has something special for you to do and your going to do it!”  She was just too sweet.  She tried to buy pizza for everybody on Christmas but Dominos wouldn’t take a check.

Delphine was cool.  A tall black woman who seemed to regulate the entire ward.  She wasn’t forceful but she had this presence about her that said she’s cool people but don’t cross her.  She knew the lowdown and seemed comfortable in the hospital… a little too damn comfortable.  I figured out she was a lesbian because when I told her I was to see Dr. J, (a female psychiatrist) she said to me, “Oh you’ll know her when you see her.  Cause she is the finest white woman you’ll see walking the floor!” 

In the meantime I read Andre Agassi’s book, “Open” and waited for my mother to visit me every evening.  On one occasion  in particular I remember sitting in a room with her alone and crying on her lap like a baby.   I’ll talk more about her later in another post but it was all a part of the bottoming out process.  I had not lived with my mother since I was 14.  Again I’ll explain that later.  The point is, here I was a 42 year old man just brought down to pieces laying in his mommy’s lap in pieces.  But I got nothing but love from her.

After the hospital there was intensive outpatient therapy.  After the first day where I mostly observed, I decided that I wanted to go all in on this therapy stuff.  I wanted to open up and be so honest that it hurt.  I wanted to go places where I was always afraid to go to before.  Places inside that I was afraid to admit even to myself about the way I felt about myself.

I learned some things.  Things like that as much as I wanted to be loved, I was not able to accept or receive the love that was offered to me.  I heard people talk about ‘loving yourself’ and I asked the question, “What the hell does that mean?”  Nobody could answer my question but finally my social worker in group therapy gave me some insight.

Change the word love to ‘accept.’  Once you learn to accept yourself and who you are and what you are, the love will be there.

Finally, I could understand that!

Group therapy was great because I also got to hear about what others were going through and I got to share in their pain, offer support and sometimes advice.  We all did that for one another. 

While I was in therapy I didn’t work at my 9-5.  I only did some basketball games and was mostly able to focus on my healing.  In that time I leaned on my family and the people who really care about me.  Thats one thing that you learn when you bottom out.  You learn who is really down for you and who is not!  Very few people know what I’ve been through or what really happened for the last 30 plus days till this day.  But I learned a lot about the circle of people I kept around me.  I learned what love and acceptance is all about.  I learned what condemnation and guilt was all about too. 

I just went back to work on Monday.  That in itself is a source of stress that I won’t get into. 

But I will say this.  I want to live.  I want to be happy.  I want to live right and reach my full potential.  I want to be ferociously honest and tremendously free.  I want to help and inspire hope and greatness in others. 

With that I have made some decisions that I believe are best for me.  Not all of them were easy.  But I know that now I have been more courageous than I’ve ever been before.  I have also sensed more blessings than I’ve ever experienced too.  I pray and believe that the rest of my days will be better than the former. 

Writing and sharing in this blog is special.  I’ve missed it.  And while ill I couldn’t create and write just as I could not listen to and enjoy music.  (my other love)

But I’m back – I want to be back.  And I want to share in this space.