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.