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.

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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.

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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.

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