Two days ago was the second anniversary of my divorce. I knew the date was coming and I could feel depression creeping in. On the actual day, however, it came and went without my ever acknowledging it. Still, there was a feeling that lingered around in my psyche. Then yesterday I put my finger on it. The grief, the shame, the anger, the sadness all rose to the the top of my consciousness. I sat with them a bit. I went out to my garden and did some work. I made a significant dent in a bottle of rye. Then, I acknowledged what I was feeling to my social network. I have a few people in my life, usual suspects, who hold me up during those times, who know what I’m going through, and who give me advice without trying to fix me. Like clockwork, they all chimed in. And then I felt better. I made dinner. I watched a bad movie and then I went to bed. Maybe it doesn’t sound like it from your perspective, but for me, it felt like a win.
Yesterday afternoon I read this post about two twitter users who started a hashtag. Rapper Kid Cudi posted on his social media that he was going to receive treatment for depression and anxiety. I don’t know Kid Cudi’s music that well, but I deeply admire his openness about his mental illness, something that I try to model as well. In response to this openness, Dayna Lynn Nuckolls (@daynaLNuckolls) and @The Cosby (No Relation) started the hashtag #yougoodman. The hashtag should be read as a question, “you good, man?”. African American males suffer disproportionately in comparison to the rest of the population from mental illness and also receive disproportionately less care for it. There is the general stigma that exists around mental health, amplified by the machismo that all men carry around, a culture that often overemphasizes being “hard”, and a lack of mental health resources in many communities. Add all of this up with a religious culture that often promotes prayer over therapy and it becomes clear why addressing mental health with black men is often times so complicated. The implications of this is that many of the people who are funneled into the criminal justice system are people who are struggling with mental illness. And often, like Alfred Olango, the mentally ill are the ones who end up being the victims of a police force that is actively hostile toward black men. A quick scroll through the hashtag illuminates the challenges that many black men face when dealing with their own mental health issues. One of the recurring themes of the tweets is the feeling of needing to keep these issues to themselves.
One of the things that has been revealed as I struggle to understand what is going in my own mind is that depression uses everything at its disposal to perpetuate itself and one of its best tools is isolation. I really struggle on this front. I have weeks when I only journey out of the house to go to therapy. I can talk myself out of going anywhere. I avoid phone calls like a pro. I’ve kept my circle intentionally small so that if one person isn’t available for me to interact with, I can easily fall back into isolation. Some of this comes being a natural introvert, but I’ve also found that I’ve developed considerable social anxiety, especially in the last few years. I feel incredibly awkward around people, much more than I used to. I constantly question whether or not I “belong” places. It’s very frustrating. The depression tells me to isolate myself and then I become depressed that I am alone.
The brown recluse spider is called that because, even by spider standards, they are very shy. They are rarely seen out in the open which makes them notoriously hard to study. They’re also incredibly poisonous, which doesn’t give much incentive to interaction. I often feel that way. I feel like I spend most of my life hiding away from people and that when I do come in contact with them, I am toxic. It’s a hard way to live and many black and brown men live this way.
Social media at its very best is a tool for building community. What I saw online yesterday was a whole lot of black men peeking out of the shadows and seeing if it was safe to to talk about how much they suffer within themselves. #yougoodman brings to light the need for communities of people who hold us up when we feel like we’re collapsing in on ourselves. It also highlights the strength needed to be honest when we are confronted with that question. Sometimes the hardest thing to say is “No, no I’m not good. I need help.” I truly hope that this is the beginning of a robust conversation about trauma that many black men live with and serious need to bring mental health resources into communities of color. If nothing else, I hope that it provides the impetus for people to reach out to one another and show genuine concern for neighbors who might be struggling. Today I’m good. I’m good and I’m grateful for the people in my life who check in on me. I need them. We need each other. No one should have to make it through this world alone, not even spiders.