she writes.

"If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.” - Toni Morrison

Seeing Sandra Bland.

A heads up: I talk about some intense topics here. Like suicide. There are also some swears. If you’re looking for something a little lighter, maybe for a chuckle, go here. xo

15 mins, maybe.

I’ve never attempted suicide, but I’ve been close. I’ve written letters with intent. I’ve driven out to barren fields with water towers, timed the climb to the top and imagined what I would use to hang myself.

I’ve made the trip to the top of my apartment building, tried to open the door and when I found it locked, just hung out at the edge up there (metaphorically), weighing the options, trying to find a different way.

I don’t know why, but my method of choice would have been hanging. I imagined pills, shotguns, but whenever I went beyond just imagining, hanging was what I intended to do. In 2013 – or 2012, I don’t remember – I wrote a letter to someone that got me a visit from the police.

I Remember What Happened

I was going to the grocery store and on the way, realized I forgot my wallet. So I went back to my apartment and as I was hunting around, I heard a police-knock at the door.

I answered not suspecting anything. But when I opened the door, there were two police officers. They seemed huge. Thinking back on it now, I remember my initial reaction part ‘what the fuck do you want’ and part ‘what the fuck is going on’.

One of the officers explained they were there because of the letter. I was to be taken to CAMH and I could go willingly or they would handcuff me. My apartment building was pretty small at the time, so no one else in the building saw what was happening. They opened the door for me like gentlemen, no ‘watch your head’. I wasn’t making a scene.

bottom

On the drive over I made sure to keep my hands near my face so no one would think I had been arrested. I was grateful for the darkness outside because I figured it probably camouflaged me in the back seat of the cruiser.

During the ride I created a story in my mind to avoid what was happening. I imagined I was simply an innocent witness to some horrible crime, and was being given a ride to the station so I could help the police catch the guilty man or woman.

When we arrived at the hospital the officers stayed with me until I was processed into the facility. Here’s where the stories I was making up stopped. But I felt safer there, safer from the stares (though I’m willing to bet no one was watching or cared).

As soon as I got the chance, I talked my way into being released. Reading back over that last sentence I can see how what I did might seem like a cry for attention, and I can take that criticism.

It was a cry for attention. And it was my bottom. Like, my rock bottom.

How to Act Like Everything is Fine (sarcasm)

The truth is I know how to talk my way out of situations. It was the same dance I did over and over again. I would say something, my mouth or pen would get me into trouble, and I’d have to find a way to talk myself out of whatever came next.

I apologized, retracted, reduced and renounced. In CAMH I did the familiar dance. I looked the intake person in the eye even though he could have probably helped me if I wasn’t so scared. All to get out of that small, enclosed room and out of trouble. Back to my bachelor apartment and carrying on like everything was fine.

My parents knew / know nothing about any of this. Nor do they know anything about the attempts and incidents, I’ve never spoken a word about it to them. At the time, the only people who knew about this part of me were therapists who I was no longer seeing and friends who weren’t in the country.

And those two police officers.

It was here that the two worlds collided – one where I was struggling with depression and isolation, but able to keep my shit together just enough so that to my friends and family, it looked like I was just a single woman about my life.

That life was a series of good things following not-so-great things – new jobs at least once a year, always moving to a new apartment. And for the people around me, I could package the story so it looked good. Often enough, starting fresh at a new job or new apartment is enough to keep the concern away. I was good at this.

Then We Meet Sandra Bland

Fast forward to this summer, July. When I heard Sandra Bland’s story it sounded strangely familiar. Very strange. Very familiar. In a strange way.

I recognized the woman in pictures with the bright smile, clear eyes. And I recognized the woman in the video, even though I didn’t watch it, I knew what had happened. I knew what was happening.

I don’t smoke, but I change lanes regularly (not anymore) without signalling. And if the wrong police officer caught me on the wrong day, read my asking him legitimate questions as rude or uppity, I wonder: would the story have ended any differently?

I’ve never been shy about listing off struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts to people of authority, or as I had believed them to be, people who I thought could help.

So in processing I could totally see myself telling officers about my little trip to CAMH with their brothers in law. I’d like to hope that if I did end up in a cell, I’d have the come-to-Jesus moment to end all come-to-Jesus moments. I’d finally understand how to get my life together and make a commitment to it.

But what if just when I decided I wanted to live, some officer or other official decided to come in the cell and I end up dead? Those officers could have taken my history of depression and suicide and used it any way they liked. Would it come out later that I had a history with depression? And had thought about suicide? Would they have found that letter?

Looking at the Bigger Picture

But if I stop with the ‘what-ifs’; stop comparing my story to Sandra’s and think about the bigger picture, I realize that if I could see myself in her, someone else “out there” could do the same.

But if I stop with the ‘what-ifs’; stop comparing my story to Sandra’s and think about the bigger picture, I realize that if I could see myself in her, someone else “out there” could do the same.

It’s ironic, in a funny/not-funny way. I’m not considered one of these “connected” people. When I’m not depressed or otherwise emotionally hungover, I can be outgoing and everything else, but if you were to ask me if I have or feel a sense of community, that’s a hard question to answer..

Being anti-social or clique-ish in this city (Toronto) can seem like a way of life. Sure, I have hope things are changing for the better, but all this to say it’s easy for a sense of isolation to overtake you if you’re depressed.

So the idea that there could’ve been someone else “like me” out there, even if that person lives in a different city, different country… it took the loneliness away a bit.

God help you if you don’t have anyone in your family or close circle that can understand.

There’s a reason parts of the black community have a reputation for treating their people like dust. Particularly when it comes to mental illness.

The more sympathetic folk can’t do much more than look at you with pity, say they’ll pray for you, and explain away your experience by saying it’s fine, or the same thing happened to them, or quoting some [at times the wrong] bible verses.

At worst you’ll get those who just stop talking to you. And though it hurts, you’re better off for it. But generally you’re left with anything you need to deal with by yourself.

Sometimes you gotta ignore people and their basic, bone-headed, brain-dead, bush league comments. But love them anyway.

My family and church were the only community I had, but they were busy turning blind eyes to alcoholism and abuse in their midst, part of the reason I had my problems in the first place (another story for another blog post) so for me they weren’t available to lean on.

And friends can be tricky. I got hurt a few times, being vulnerable to the wrong people. It doesn’t take much of that happening to eventually shut down.

Then there were the statistics, things I heard in comedy sketches and through the same ‘friends’. Things about how black people don’t go to therapy, and stats reporting black women as the least likely to commit suicide.

My stance was: Fuck that. I didn’t really do too much thinking about it, but I figure it might have had something to do with the fact that no one who was telling me “us black people don’t go for help” weren’t around through the worst of it.

In wanting to feel better, I decided to not only ‘not care’ what anyone thought, but to passionately ignore other people and their bullshit, basic comments.

Finding Help / Finding Hope

So that led me to look for relief and answers where ever I could find it.

I saw lots of therapists, started meditating and learned to do yoga, working out and listening to people like Iyanla Vanzant, Oprah Winfrey, Tony Robbins, Gabrielle Bernstein, Marie Forleo, Louise Hay, Abraham Hicks, Earl Purdy.

Psychics and mediums made the list (I think I’ve watched every episode of Long Island Medium). Even Jim Carrey.

I thought of people like Traci Ellis Ross and Tracy McMillan as big sisters. Kendrick Lamar, Russell Simmons (when he’s talking about meditation), people I found locally like Alicia Mathlin (who introduced me to Tony Robbins) and Christina Truong. My best friend, Rina.

And spiritual advisors. Or specifically, a spiritual advisor who I’ve been seeing for a couple of years.

They all have played – and continue to play – a part in me being able to change my mind about who I was and what I was capable of.

Sometimes I needed help with big stuff, like figuring out who God really was. Early on I learned that the ways I was allowing myself to think led me to being depressed. So sometimes I just look to them to learn about different perspectives, different ways of being, living and thinking that are outside of what I’m used to.

after_suicide

I learned that I needed to want to feel better. I took a pause with that, took some time to decide if I really wanted to feel better or not. My hesitation was that if I decided I wanted to feel better, that meant I wanted to live.

So I made the decision that I wanted to live.

Then I thought about the type of life I wanted, and what ‘live’ actually meant.

I made some mistakes and found some perfection in going after what I thought ‘live’ meant.

Now I’m trying to keep what’s ‘perfect’ and learn from the mistakes.

I won’t pretend it’s easy. I still have moments, days and weeks where I slip. I’ve lived in anger and fear for a really long time. (Like, up until yesterday.) Habits are hard to break, the same for habitual ways of thinking.

There’s lots I’m still not sure about (can someone who’s contemplated or attempted suicide ever really live past that?, for example) I don’t know better, but I’m learning better. Besides, I kinda want to see how this all turns out.

You want to know about the real struggle? This is it. Making the decision to live your life after you’ve attempted or contemplated suicide. After you’ve weighed all the odds against you and they seem stacked. Then you’ll see what it means to be “about THIS life”. More like, about YOUR life.

Talking to Sandra

We’ve been awash in media cycles since being introduced to Sandra Bland.

I still wonder about her life, what it was really like for her on the day-to-day. I wonder if we had had the chance to meet, would we have clicked? Would we have looked at each other like criminals? Given each other the once-over and moved on?

Hearing about Sandra clued me in to the idea that my secret might not be my own. This is why I’ve called this post ‘Seeing Sandra Bland’. Though the glasses might be fuzzy, and most of the time I probably don’t know that I don’t know what I’m looking at, there’s someone there who may have been, at some point in her life, a little like me.

This post was written in the hope that someone else who struggles like me, and maybe like Sandra, might find, read and take comfort in knowing they’re not alone and there is hope.

Colour Coding.

This was a post I published on my “secret” blog that I’m putting here because I killed my “secret” blog. It was originally published January 14, 2015.

I forget the colour of my skin often. Because I live in Toronto, where it’s easy to forget. And honestly, I don’t walk around with a mirror in front of my face that says ‘You’re black.’ on it.

I don’t live my life based on how I think people will perceive me as a black woman. I started a career in public relations and the thought didn’t really cross my mind until I started working at one of the biggest PR agencies in the world. It was only after realizing I was one of the few women of colour in the office that I started to wonder.

When I moved over to work at one of Canada’s biggest banks, there was more ethnic diversity on my team, so I was surprised when I received an email about a Black History Month event addressed only to myself and the other black woman on the team. To be fair, the person who hit send probably didn’t mean to be negative. But that doesn’t make it less obvious that I only received that email based on the tone of my skin and texture of my hair.

I was even more surprised when I was asked – out loud, in the office – if I’d ever been called the ‘n’ word. It was like a bad scene from high school: all eyes on me, my face flushed and throat dried. No one wants to be reminded of the times when they were embarrassed and humiliated in public, especially in public. The person asking didn’t know me like that, and it was an inappropriate conversation to have so publicly in a corporate office.

Talking race in the office -> Awkward, and not in the good way.
Talking race in the office -> Awkward, and not in the good way. Bill Cosby Mural from crasstalk.com, Washington, DC 49758 by tedeytan, on Flickr.

It’s nice that companies like Google are talking about how non-diverse their workforces are, but despite all the codes of conduct and manifestos put in place to foster inclusive environments, what happens in the lunch room is completely disconnected from these ideals. Chances are, companies big and small use the term ‘cultural fit’ to unintentionally (and intentionally) exclude people who are not like them, including minorities.

But let’s be honest: there are so many levels and kinds of diversity that any person can identify as a minority in some way. So for everyone, these inclusion efforts can come up a little short.

The type of exclusion I’m talking about doesn’t just happen to people of colour. It can happen based on your age, socio-economic status, where you live, your educational background, who you’re dating, you’re health, anything that causes one or two people, or groups, to perceive you and your experience as “different” than their own.

It’s the type of exclusion that can be so subtle sometimes, I wondered if it was just me at first. I thought I needed to take responsibility for the way others acted, I would decide there was something about me, my energy, my attitude that explained away the things I saw and experienced. Those explanations would be easier to deal with than the tone of my skin. And besides, the last thing I wanted to do was overreact. [joke referencing stereotype here.]

I don’t mind talking to others about where I’m from, what I’ve experienced or the questions I have. But I’ve learned the hard way the difference between corporate conversation and kitchen table talk. When it comes to race, cultural background and sexuality, it’s like conducting surgery – no one wants to hit the wrong nerve.

When I decided to start a career in web development, I didn’t think about how I might be perceived and received, the assumptions people would make or things others would think but never say. I went in because I wanted to be creative, to build something, to work with other people. I wanted to be able to imagine something and make it real. I wanted to work with a community who loved the work like me. In my crash course on web development, I’ve heard over and over again how open and helpful the community is, though I’ve heard not-so-great things from other women, especially women of colour. Entering this new world I’m hopeful that my enthusiasm for the work will overshadow any negative experiences.

But in the meantime this is what we have to work on, I think. Recognizing when we’re having discussions or doing things that leave others out. If we simply recognize when we’re treating someone differently for any reason that they don’t have any control over, whether we’re being intentionally or unintentionally positive or negative, if we can just catch those moments that’s where change can begin and we won’t have to worry about how diverse our offices are.

DIYPR: Ecommerce store [Free Download]

Are you a Marie Forleo fan? I am. I watched a video of hers a couple months ago that was part of her Q&A Tuesday series about building customer trust before you have any clients.

The plan below can help you show potential customers and clients what it’s like to work with you and your business. Especially if what you deliver is a product or line of products, taking a lot of pictures and actually showing your prospects what happens behind the scenes is a great way to build trust.

Check out the plan below and then head over to YouTube to watch the video!

Plan for an ecommerce store: Click to View + Download

DIYPR_ecommerce

DIYPR: Plan for a Band [Free Download]

Got a band? What better way to honour your most die-hard fans than to give them a lesson in how to play your songs, and then jam with them?

This idea could be used if you’re getting ready to release a new album, but also makes sense to use in support of a charity, at a festival or for just-because.

If you’re especially passionate about music education, consider using this idea to partner with like-minded people and spread your message.

Use your social media profiles to find fans and get participants excited, and then go crazy with creating content for your site, videos, images and [maybe?] future music videos.

Plan for a Band: Click to View + Download

DIYPR_band

DIYPR: Life Coach [Free Download]

My cousin has a health clinic in Maryland. She was the inspiration for this plan.

Technically it could be used if you’re an expert in anything: relationships, web development, carpentry, food, cars, mud-slinging. It’s all fair game if there’s someone out there who wants to learn. Even better if you’re someone who specializes in more than one thing, for example, a life coach who’s also a personal trainer.

The point is to use the occasion of doing one presentation or workshop to create content for your site, content and social media. Life coaches are really good at this! Just check out Gabrielle Bernstein or the Tone It Up girls for a couple examples.

I’m an advocate for giving away free content [obviously], so I would recommend doing these for free at first. If you enjoy being in front of a group of people and get good feedback, think about offering sessions that attendees have to pay for, or offering smaller group sessions.

Plan for a Life Coach: Click to View + Download

DIYPR_lifecoach (1)