Black Men and depression have had an interesting relationship.
We are not socialized to psychological and emotionally see men.
Many of our behaviors people wrongly assume is just maleness asserted itself. Many of our behaviors people mislabel as men being men. Violent, moody, silent and unresponsive. We simple chalk it up to a gender deficiency and move on.
When we simplify a problem by assigning it to a particular portion of humanity , we miss important opportunities to change not only men but young boys as well.
Black Men are hurting.
Men have worlds of pain inside that come from not dealing with a multitude of failures covering everything from parenting to career choices and silent complicity with a status quo that none of us created but are expected to uphold.
I was an emotional wreck when I lost my favorite Uncle almost twenty years ago. I am not sure if any other men in my family had the same reaction.
His death is never discussed.
When we are not allowed to properly grieve, we simply perform in ways that leave us resentful, angry and entitled to any small piece of joy that we can steal.
As black men we must demand optimal emotional health( bell hooks). There must be space created for us to weep, grieve, discuss past disappointments. I have noticed when men approach any discussion regarding failing or an obvious shortcoming is not a conversation that any one wants to have.
In all recovery, there comes a time when the choice must be made that the unknown is more important than the fucked up familiar.
Ten years ago, I suffered a major breakup and the most severe depression I'd ever experienced in my life.
Five years into a relationship that I assumed would last another 50, we broke up and both realized we would never change the other.
I was devastated.
Having spent so much time as a couple, I no longer remembered what it felt or looked like to think and behave as a single person. I leapt into the seductive and licentious world of casual and anonymous sex.
Being in this world was an addiction.
Being in this world allowed me to be seen, to be a part of a community, to experiment with emotional death and levels of sexual experimentation that kept loneliness out while inviting alternate realities in.
In this world, I could invent new personas and rely on wit, charm and an ever changing parade of bodies to quiet the voices of shame (for not succeeding in my most recent relationship) and the constant barrage of "not enough".
If someone was willing to fuck me, I must be enough.
During this dark time, many friends stayed away.
It appears that black male pain is shocking, unjustifiable and should remain unseen.
While there are no textbook responses to how this (pain which leads to crippling depression if left untreated and unrecognized) should be managed and or eliminated, I have a few ideas that worked well for me.
If a person has just been through a death ( a serious relationship qualifies), this is not the time to give them space no matter what they say.
Run the risk of being labeled pushy or a busy body.
What black men need is someone to let them know that they matter.
Simply say: you matter to me and I am concerned about your behavior and choice making.
Another way might involve just being in the same space.
Men rarely ask for what we need emotionally.
We ask for more money in interviews and more sex from whomever we're with currently.
We don't ask for recognition or more emotional and psychological intimacy.
We hit the brakes when it is time to request the thing that will make our lives better and improve our relationships with ourselves.
We don't ask for what we need. We become resentful and angry when our primary needs go unnoticed and yet refuse to share the fact that we have them.
Black Men ask for what you need. Friends and communities listen and respond well without interruption, direction or poorly thought out solutions.
When I announced my pending marriage more than four months ago , my family was very vocal with their disapproval.
Some of the bullshit I heard was just mesmerizing.
"You don't know him that well". "Nobody in our family has met him and You are making a big mistake are a few of the brilliant insights that were shared.
Heterosexist norms seek to define us all and restrict our life options.
Straight privilege allows you to be complicit with a system that denies those you love some pretty basic rights while giving those in the mainstream the freedom to speak on and comment about things they know nothing about.
While I was cajoled(unsuccessfully) into seeing a couples therapist(just to make sure that everything was alright), I know of no straight couple who is cautioned against partnering with a lunatic.
When I have tried to point out the hypocrisy behind the sudden and mad dash to ensure mental health, subjects were changed and attitudes were formed.
Apparently, I have no right to question or challenge the great straight world. Some of my immediate family has shut me out wanting to pretend ignorance and cling to the cross.
I have watched countless family members make horrific life choices that I wound not consider if I lived ten lifetimes.
Marrying the wrong people and having babies with them.
Dropping out of school to sit on their asses because their fear is imminently more powerful than their quest to improve their lives.
Divorces, feuds over bullshit that happened so long ago that folks can't even remember why they stopped speaking and all manner of truth evasion and dream crushing. I left home early (about 18) and determined that I would find my tribe a group of folks steeped in being bold and living fully.
I was not interested in people whose sole concern was how to keep the misery going/afoot.
Perhaps this is the reason that queens strike out on their own early and often.
Nobody wants to be "tolerated".
Families are notorious for striking bargains with all their members in an effort to control and manipulate. As a kid who was obviously different, there were few place in my family that were emotionally safe or welcoming.
My family did and does strike deals. Families are where we learn to love and trust another.
If these lessons are fraught with inconsistencies, anxiety or flat out lies, we get confused and seek out the same. Is it any wonder that it takes so many of us years to find and understand the essence of love and its power ?
As children, we are taught to disown ourselves , to disregard our instincts and in many ways "play dead" (Branden) In many of our families of origin, we are schooled in ways of survival. As Nathaniel Branden states : We are taught very early to respect external signals above internal signals, to respect the voice of others above the voice of self. A "good" child is one who "behaves" and "minds " his elders. We are taught to identify virtue with compliance with the wants and expectations of others. We are taught obedience as the price of love and acceptance. (Branden p.130)
At some point when we have done our agreed upon duty and played our parts, we expect "them" to come around and see us and love us without reservation. When this fails and our understanding of things is mired in childlike wishes and hopes, we seek out substitutes.
Gays are well known for our ability to create what we need despite meager resources.
As a group so heavily defined by physicality, it takes years to deliberately create families that are not disgusted by our bodies and what we allow them to do.
When families attack, there still remains a yearning for a beloved and devoted community that will welcome us. When my family lost their minds around be me marrying a white guy, it was my latest incarnation of family that supported me and threatened to throw some bones should anyone get out of line at my ceremony.
It was my new family that constantly congratulated me and warned me to stay true to what we wanted and fuck anybody who didn't agree, had opinions or hurt feelings.
It is imperative that we fashion what I refer to as love armies.
We can no longer what for folks to "get it".
Do you have a great fabricated or birth family ? What are your tools for blending the two? Do you blend them ?
Being rejected early and often hurts like hell and any gay in their 30's or beyond can tell you many tales of how they survived then thrived despite what folks said, thought or did.
Seek out their counsel. Those of us raising children keep in mind the incredible opportunity we have to demolish the pathologies and usher in the new.
How will you construct a powerful, all inclusive family ?
We can change this.
When I began writing Unfettered Mind: The Importance of Black Male Mental Health, I was unaware of the need for mental health tools and the denial by many that this was not an issue that needed to be addressed. HIV, unemployment, cripplingly low self esteem and a host of other issues menace black men in very particular and unrelenting ways.
This short interview encourages us to have a "new look" at things and offers strategies for increasing self esteem, self love and self acceptance. My goal in writing these essays is to bring focus and awareness to the root causes(radical examination and upheaval) of our suffering and offer suggestions to eliminate it. Feel free to let me know what you think.
When our leaders are slain or not given the spotlight or have it taken away, the black community is plunged into chaos and confusion.
Because we have not been reared in the art of power sharing and have been taught to mistrust one another, we are often one charismatic leader away from being forced to restart any and all social progress should leadership change.
The AIDS crisis (which continues to rip through the black community at a startling rate), unemployment and mental health are just a few things that continue to menace us individually and thwart continuous movement for us collectively.
When Dr. King was assassinated, there was no one willing or able to continue with his dream.
When Malcolm X was assassinated, there was no backup plan that included a polished and able young person to ensure that all the momentum gained was not immediately and irreparably lost.
Once the death threats began early and often, there should have been an intense search and prompt training should the threats become reality.
As a culture, we are always hoping and praying as a strategy.
While I believe in prayer's power, I am also a fervent believer in recognizing when change and catastrophe are circling above.
What is needed is a group of diverse black leaders who love blackness and are committed to the possibilities that lie undiscovered and getting our minds right (mental health). I did not say black folks (leaders) who sentimentalize the "black experience " and prattle on incessantly about yesteryear and the need for two parent heterosexual households.
There are three things that those of us who crave freedom and self actualization can do to ensure that our leadership is accountable, powerful and vigilant in their own and black humanity's evolution.
As a group, we have to do the work that is inclusive of all types of leaders no matter where they come from (socioeconomic backgrounds , different sexual and spiritual practices) or what they perceive to be leadership.
Often times, we police our own in ways that are downright pitiful.
We assume that only the poor of us know suffering and the educated should speak once the media appears.
When young people can only hear "hood speak" and become deaf to anything but this vernacular this is a problem.
When the privileged among us decide that we can speak for the masses despite our limited and sheltered backgrounds, this is equally disturbing.
Can we not all speak ? Should we all not be heard ? Why is it that we refuse to combine insight gained from differences in an effort to progress ?
Anybody who has grown up without (money, education, access to basic necessities) has learned a thing or two about surviving on meager resources. Those of us who have grown up without financial worries can also share our knowledge on how to save, manipulate finances and plan for the future.
Combining knowledge only works when individuals have not been completely terrorized by their circumstances and still have access to some clear thinking and have held on to their minds.
Sentimentalists marvel at poor people and want to hear of their struggles.
They won't question why the struggle exists. Those who have been raised with much needn't feel guilty (another sentimentality trick). Instead, a concerted effort could be made to combine extremes and create a third approach to community and personal victory.
Part of accepting and fully integrating difference among all those who could most benefit it involves also looking at our LGBTQ comrades.
As a community that is still discriminated by those that look like us, we have much to share regarding strategies for resisting domination. We have some stellar leaders who are deftly schooled in the art of leadership. Does a differing sexuality only provoke fear and dismissal or should insight be welcomed regardless ?
We need to demand more of our leaders by demanding more of ourselves and those we know and love.
When a leader's vision is faulty or not well thought out, we need to challenge and question.
We require people and leaders who are not afraid to speak truth, think and be unpopular.
If our leadership(whether it is granted or seized) refuses to lead in ways that are inclusive, it should be tossed out.
Debate and dissent in the black community is not encouraged.
Many times I have been in a discussion with an elder and have fought the impulse to be silent as a way of showing respect. This thinking helped no one and in some instances hurt an important relationship.
We prevent confusion and impediments to our collective growth when we determine that changes be made, power be shared and leadership skills be taught to all.
This may not solve all problems but it will definitely invite change and offer fresh solutions.
Leaders exist in all arenas.
We have been taught to look for certain ones in certain arenas and ignore those that do not fit our predetermined criterion.
We must stop this shortsighted and discriminatory practice thereby inviting all of those who think and love well to a place at the table.
Building a love army is not complete without the final step (letting go of relationships that you've outgrown).
When creating a love army, it is imperative that we are brutally honest with ourselves. It is not cruel or selfish to realize that certain behaviors and people are no longer what your life requires.
When evolution of self is the goal, it makes sense to look about and discover where and when I am doing things that make no sense and keep me stuck.
I often invite distractions into my life to avoid taking action.
We often don't see them (things we enjoy) as distractions instead we refer to them as boredom, relaxing, nap time, having a snack, surfing the net. While none of these activities are bad, they often eat up our day and suck the life from our willing and unfocused minds.
As a young dreamer in my early 20's , I was obsessed with Oprah Winfrey and the amazing things she was able to accomplish.
I spent many hours marveling at what she did and thinking that perhaps the gods had smiled on her and it was my job (along with the rest of the world) to simply bask in her brilliance and accomplishments knowing that this could never be me.
The major difference was how she spent her time and the type of forward moving and thinking individuals with which she associated herself.
Nobody who truly loves you wants you to be less than your brilliant, fully alive self. Nobody who truly loves you will want anything but the absolute best for you.
Those that love you will hold you accountable for consistently moving towards an evolution that serves you first and the world second.
I often ask myself : Do I feel empowered when I'm around so and so ? Do I feel uplifted and clear about myself, my goals and my inner resources when I'm in this person's company ?
I have asked myself (Am I stunting this person's growth by remaining in their life ?).
More than once, I have examined my interaction with someone and realized that my presence was a distraction.
Herein lies the most difficult reality: knowing that while you are not plotting to stunt another's growth, their development is interrupted because of your interaction. I have had to leave very familiar and comfortable surroundings at several points in my life.
While each move was scary and required time to adjust to a self-induced change, I regret nothing.
I want to believe that I am still 25.
Accepting limitations is hard. Nobody wants to acknowledge that they are not the person they used to be.
By accepting our limitations, we cannot be held back or limited because of them.
This is the second step in building a love army.
Start looking for folks who can do things you can't. We are taught that we should know everything and never ask questions;we should and can do everything splendidly. Let's all accept the reality of being human and of our lives. Nobody does everything well.
As the old saying goes: God doesn't give with two hands. In other words, retire the cap and release the notion that anybody can do everything well.
Part of building a love army is knowing where you shine and where you don't. I have trouble listening to people because much of childhood was mired in discouragement about what was possible.
I trained myself to listen to me.
My wonderful Love Army Captain, Jay, is an incredible listener but an awful cook. When he used to visit me, I would cook and he would listen.
While I can spend time working on my weakness, wouldn't a better use of my time be spent doing what I do well and then bringing in folk who are more suited for skills in other areas ?
Many people have a mentality steeped in the belief that to ask anybody for anything is weak.This type of thinking severely limits what they will allow themselves to achieve.
As a result, they don't achieve much or get very far in life.
My friend Jay often comments on my ability to turn situations around and create value despite any present circumstances or reality.
When we know and accept where we excel(and are aware of and accept where we don't) and allow the same for others, true magic can occur.
Have you figured out where your weaknesses lie and whom you can dispatch to keep you from trying to do it all ?
In Sade's 2010 single, "Soldier of Love", she shares she's doing her best.
As a person who is also committed to doing his best, my devotion to friends and a few family members is how I strive and hold myself responsible for showing up for me. For many years, I was unaware that myself and everyone needs a love army. There are many ways to build them and they are in constant need of revamping and vigilance when things go wrong.
What I love most about my life is that I have one helluva love army.
It is my wish and hope that we all create one of our own. Throughout my life, I have learned that you need three things to create this life sustaining arsenal.
First, the clarity to know where you are weak and in which direction you would like to go.
Secondly, taking stock of who in your camp is already doing their part and who you can assist.
Third, letting go of old one-sided relationships that you have outgrown and are based in guilt, obligation or simple convenience.
When attempting to do more than sit around and wait for the gods to come a calling, a person has to get very clear about what it is they are trying to achieve and why.
Passionate people devoted to things passionately are a great place to start.
Many times you will find yourself in relationship with someone who occupies a very different space in the world than you do. We should welcome perspectives that are different than ours. We should seek out a person who has a different set of baggage and bs than ours.
There have been several occasions when I was attacking a problem with minimal results because my resources were limited. I could only pull from and make a reference from a familiar experience.
By including passionate people (committed to having great relationships, staying sober, getting out of debt and building personal wealth) I always have the opportunity to look at and then do things differently.
When you have folks in your immediate circle committed to winning in their personal lives and assisting those that they love to do the same, you have a powerful combination that is unstoppable.
So what is it that you would like to create and who in your personal circle can help you achieve this ?
Can't think of anyone ? Start thinking about making some changes in who you call friend.
Let's assume you have a wonderful cadre of pals and you have decided you want to go back to school, start a business, get out of debt or set some serious life changing boundaries. Who in your cluster has done any one these things and either succeeded or made a colossal mess.
You can learn from both extremes.
Apparently, your twenties is the time to make a shitload of mistakes one of which is sleeping with all the wrong people.
If you come of age sexually, smack dab in the middle of a killer virus that scares people and has them dropping like flies with no real explanation as to why, it can get very interesting.
Partnering and dealing with men since the age of seventeen, I have made some gloriously stupid mistakes and done them with much flare, a splash of self deprecating humor and looking fantabulous at the same time.
A close friend once remarked that even when marching through the bowels of hell wearing kerosene draws and having my heart torn asunder, I always looked good. Part of much of the upset of my 20's was dealing with not only HIV/AIDS but also trying to date/love be sexual amidst the dark shadow that this epidemic cast.
By refusing to date and have sexual intercourse with those that were/are infected, I thought this was the way to stay healthy and defeat this most ingenious and nasty of epidemics.
This becomes extremely difficult when the loneliness and anger monster appears and you find yourself having multiple partners knowing that not one but all of these sons of bitches could be lying to you.
Limiting the type of sex you will allow eliminates the need to discuss HIV status.
Amidst all of the shenanigans, I did manage to find some serious, hardcore man love.
At thirty one, it was clear to me that I had finally defeated HIV and was never going to have to deal with this dastardly rascal ever again.
Then we broke up.
After eight years, I would have to consider any and all sexual dealings via the lens of: I could become infected and what does this mean. I was 23 all over again only this time a bit more jaded and a helluva lot wiser.
With 30 % of black makes over 40 being infected, it became clear to me that I would have to look at the discrimination that I had towards those that were infected. I have great men in my life who are infected and it was very obvious to me that I couldn't eliminate an entire section of my community for something so trivial.
Being the warrior that I am I took on the challenge of dating and getting close with men who carried the virus.
I didn't end dates or flirtations when a guy mentioned that his status was positive.
To love fully regardless of one's status is most revolutionary.
To not allow one decision to overshadow and determine our life choices is damn near brilliant.
How do you defeat this foe ? What are your tools and ways of thinking that disallow HIV/AIDS to determine who gets your love and commitment ?