mental health

Chile… Ms. Lauryn Hill Was Late Again.

Pre-Reading Disclaimers:

  1. Chile… Ms. Lauryn Hill was late again.
  2. She issued a public statement, explaining her chronic lateness and attributing some of it to the challenge of “aligning (her) energy with the time, taking something that isn’t easily classified or contained and trying to make it available for others”.
  3. I’m not here to talk about isolated incidents. I want to talk about the chronic arc of Lauryn’s relation to time… and perhaps, to trauma.

All clear? Let’s go.

In an open letter regarding Hill’s lateness, Questlove starts with a recap on what it takes for artists to have business acumen when it comes to putting on a show. He explained general artist-to-audience etiquette but then made the ‘Boom’ statement:

“… on the other side of the coin (and not wanting to put people’s business out there) this is prime psychological sabotage fear in motion. This is the embarrassment of that Newark 4 lawsuit. This is age fear talking loud and clear. This is resentment of having to now do this to survive (I mean we all “do it for the love”—but this is survival) the embarrassment of now being a one album legacy artist and the possibility of not mattering anymore in this disposable society. People will kill something before it grows.

This is prime example of that”

I’m not advocating for Ms. Hill’s actions because they are inexcusable. Holding a toxic relationship to your audience’s time is just… not okay. At the same time, I want to explore this theme of “psychological sabotage” and / or trauma.

There are very real implications about what trauma does to the body, the heart, the mind, the music, and daily functions… such as showing up on time. There have got to be some very real outcomes for the mind, body, and spirit after enduring Danbury Federal Correctional Institution, financial troubles, legal battles for songwriting credits, and a tenuous relationship to the first and premiere album you’ve written.

In Ms. Lauryn Hill’s 2009 Essence magazine interview, she states:

“For two or three years I was away from all social interaction. It was a very introspective time because I had to confront my fears and master every demonic thought about inferiority, about insecurity or the fear of being black, young and gifted in this western culture”

Might it be that she is still dealing with this in her backstage / offstage life? Might it be that this is what is spilling over to her onstage life?

In her written apology to fans, she referenced her “perfectionistic tendencies” and her need to “align (her) energy with the time”. Might she be limited by the trap of perfection (as Brene Brown OFTEN talks about)?

I’m not altogether sure why I have this need to figure out what in the ham-sandwich is going on to make her consistently and chronically 2-3 hours late for shows. After all, this really is not just about her. It’s about the audience, as well.

Audience members are traveling, gathering seats, navigating their accessibility needs in the same moments that Ms. Hill is aligning her energies. Gathering coins from each week’s check to put towards an artist’s tour schedule. Finding ways to get to the venue… even if it takes some ‘doing’ to do. Standing. For four hours. Sitting for two hours before she even gets onstage. This is something that not everyone is physically capable of doing.

I imagine there are quite a few audience members who struggled with these levels of demand on their bodies. Perhaps it also took some time for her audience members to also ‘align their energies’: push past the anxiety of crowded venues and to work through whatever ‘psychological sabotages’ would have hindered them, so that their bodies could show up in that space. These scales hold in the balance the time and effort it always takes for her fans to get there too. And that should be honored.

And yet… I understand (more than I really want to) her post on lateness.

I live with chronic illness (which I have talked about at length on this platform). It made me late for a lot of things before I knew how to properly manage it. This was not necessarily my fault. Undergoing traumatic processes to the brain, body, and psyche are not Ms. Hill’s fault. However, as writer Tammy Perlmutter says, “it is our responsibility” to address. I learned that in order to thrive, I needed to find systems, exercises, and positive coping mechanisms so that I could show up as close to time as possible… and slay when I got there! And let me note: it was hard as hell.

I don’t know Ms. Hill, what she does / does not have access to, or how she is understanding her personal mind / heart / soul journey.  I can only see what the public sees. But I’d like to believe that she isn’t doing this on purpose.

It’s really easy to mock Ms. Hill’s reasoning, her chronic lateness, and her somewhat erratic behavior. Yet, when does this mocking become the easy way of not actually SEEING her humanity, seeing the trauma that she has been through, and understanding the layers that are there. Yet, I think there are some real layers to why things are happening this way. We don’t have to excuse her specific behavior to note that. We also don’t have to excuse this behavior to practice empathy in our own lives. So here’s where I’ll start: with the simple hope that everyone (Ms. Hill AND all of the audience members who keep on showing up) gets what they need.

Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons, Original posted using Flickr upload bot on 26 May 2013 (UTC), by Stefan4

Jade’s Faves Features: Depressed While Black

I met Imade Nibokun during the first conference for digital and print publication, Heed Magazine. We were both contributing writers and I ended up sitting by her during lunch. I was struck by her ease in providing social and cultural commentary on a range of topics. A few years later, we reconnected through mutual friends and writing interests, and this is where I heard about her in-progress book and social media initiative “Depressed While Black”.

Imade describes herself as ‘a music journalist turned non-fiction writer discussing mental health treatment and African-American culture’. She has presented at the National Black Women’s Life Balance & Wellness Conference at Spelman College and teamed up with Brunch Culture podcasts to talk about her work. She shared her story on BET Network’s video initiative called ‘What’s At Stake: 60′ and her in-progress, nonfiction book, ‘Depressed While Black’, will provide commentary on life at the intersections of race, gender, spirituality, and mental health.

I sought her work out specifically to feature on this platform and appreciated its alignment with the mission of this site. Typically, I ask for quotes to use in the Faves Features as I further explain the work. However, Imade’s writing is profoundly beautiful, so to stay true to her voice and mission, all text below is hers, used with permission:

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“My name is Imade and was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder in December 2012, days after I sped on a Los Angeles highway wanting to die. I honestly thought I was diagnosed with disease that only White people experienced but I later found out that 1 out of 10 African-Americans experience depression in a given year. The biggest lesson I learned is that mental illness isn’t a sign of inferiority, spiritual or otherwise. I got a therapist and despite being told I didn’t pray enough, I started using antidepressants. If I didn’t ask for help, I’m not sure I would be alive today. I decided to share my experience in my work-in-progress book, Depressed While Black, to create a safe space where others can ask for help. Through social media channels, I share articles and my own story in hopes of de-stigmatizing mental illness.

Depressed While Black was birthed out of my need for help as I was scratching and clawing for the will to live. I needed people who were consistently aware of what I was going through so they could encourage me when depression was saying I’m worthless and alone. Depressed While Black is simply one black woman asking for help, and finding a supportive community.

My target audience is African-Americans dealing with depression who are searching for a community that normalizes their experience. In my own journey as a black woman, I faced stigma that prevented me from having a language to describe what my mind was doing. When I did identify the depression, I was told that I should have prayed and asked a pastor to pray for me. I did both of those things and still struggled with depression. I had few people I felt safe to talk to without fear of victim blaming. I experienced therapists who did not understand black culture and advised me to do things that were not applicable to my life. Once I got over the stigma, I didn’t have the money to be hospitalized or have outpatient therapy. I also had no one else to consult when it came to using antidepressants. Once I graduated, I lost my health insurance and in my unemployment, I lost a safe space to live where I was not shamed for what I was feeling.

There is a myth that black people are superhuman. That only white people cry or are depressed. There is a myth that if our ancestors endured slavery, then we have nothing to complain about. There is a myth that we should just talk to our pastors, although not all of them are trained to deal with the treatment of mental illness. My most important counter-cultural narrative is that every African-American is worthy of mental healthcare. From the strong black woman single mothers, to our ancestors who experienced unimaginable torture, to the pastors who have to preach one funeral after another. We do not have to earn self-care by struggling the way our ancestors struggled. Just by our sheer existence, we are deserving of mental wellness.


Pictured here with co-presenter, Dr. Simone

African-Americans need affordable mental health treatment from culturally competent mental health professionals. We need skills to counter what depression and society tells us. We also need safe healing spaces where we can recover from the micro-aggressions we experience daily.

So, I encourage, inspire, and empower by speaking on panels that despite how much you struggle, you’re worthy of receiving help. Depression doesn’t have to be a death sentence. I share stories of people who have hit rock bottom, including myself, and found ways to prioritize self-care on the journey to recovery. In speaking out about depression, I challenge the lies that African-Americans are not intellectual beings or that we are immune to pain and suffering. We hurt, we cry, and we become weak even as we present our strength to the world. African-Americans deserve mental health treatment that is tailored to our needs”.

You can read an excerpt of Imade’s upcoming book, ‘Depressed While Black’ here and follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/DepressedWhileBlack, on Twitter @DepressedWBlack. I also encourage you to read more of her writing over on Tumblr! Special thanks to Imade for this brave work!

Want to have YOUR work featured on JadeTPerry.com? Click here to access the Submission Form for Features!

The Tightness in My Chest – Reflections on #NoShameDay

Her office always seemed too still, but I liked driving up the mountain, so I kept going. It was the second year of my M.Ed program, and I was having a very hard time sleeping. In reality, I’d been having trouble sleeping for about two years prior.  But I only paid attention when I began to have headaches, digestive troubles, and other physical symptoms. Mostly, I thought it was just because of my circumstances at the time.

“I’m…uhm… having a hard time sleeping, but it’s most likely because of my recent breakup”
“I’m not sure it’s just the breakup…”

I always wore brightly colored lipstick when I went to her office and made sure to go right after work, in business casual dress. [Lest she think I didn’t have my ish together]. I always came prepared with a planner, a notebook, and a few pens (in case one ran out).

“And when you wake up each morning, how anxious have you been feeling, on a scale from 1 to 10”
“About a 4… or a 5”
“The moment that you wake up?”
“Yes”.

Yesterday, Bassey Ikpi (@Basseyworld) & The Siwe project moderated a conversation via the hashtag ‪#‎NoShameDay‬ to “help reduce the stigma surrounding mental health illness”. When I began to read the posts, I was immediately prompted to reflect on my own journey with mental health and wellness. For quite some time, I’ve encouraged others to let go of the stigma of mental health illness, all while remaining relatively quiet about my own journey. That ended yesterday, as I made the conscious choice to participate in #NoShameDay.

Before then, I’d been quite afraid of something I didn’t have words for… until I stumbled upon this definition from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Santa Clara County:

Participating in #NoShameDay meant being vulnerable in a way that I hadn’t been before… with both the risk of double stigma AND the healing experience of speaking my truth & sharing my story.

Participating in #NoShameDay caused me to remember those early days of trying to figure out what was going on with my mood by talking with spiritual directors & leaders. Their simple admonishments to  “Have more faith…” almost always sent me into further panic. How could I have more faith than I already had? Was I missing something? Why was my level of faith insufficient… and HOW, exactly, where they even measuring this?!

After experiencing that scenario more times than I could count, I knew I needed to take a different route.
“Experiencing anxiety at level 5, first thing in the morning, is pretty intense. How long has this been going on?”
“Honestly Dr. S* I think an easier question might be, How long hasn’t it been going on?”
The trouble was that consistently ruminating over what might go wrong made me pretty effective. I was five steps ahead because this old brain of mine had already gone through the 15 scenarios that might happen when… if… and where…
I was achieving great things. And I was also losing sleep, having nightmares, tension headaches, digestive upsets, dizzy spells, and shortness of breath. I legitimately did NOT want to entertain that this was anything more than just a passing phase. So, once the counselor began talking in terms of general anxiety disorder, I stopped taking the drive up the mountain.
A year later, the shortness of breath & tightness in my chest seemed like it was not going away. I’d gone from about a level 5 (upon waking) to a level 8, and I was always fatigued. I went to a family doctor. The first sign of why I’d been feeling so fatigued was a deficiency in iron. However, as time went on, the family doctor began asking deeper questions – questions that would get to the root of those physical symptoms. Eventually, we circled back around to anxiety: the anxiety attached to maintaining my composure in an intensely microaggressive situation.

“So how do you want to do this?”

It took me a long time to answer that question. It was loaded. It would mean that there was something there that I needed to address: double stigma or not. I let out a deep breath and it seemed Dr. W* sensed my apprehension.

“Okay, so how about we keep it simple. Try very simple things first, and then we’ll reassess later: drink water, spend time with people who love you, get enough rest, actually take your vacation time, and take this pamphlet on deep breathing”.
It was honestly the best advice that I’d received at that time. That year, I told my friends and family:
“But you don’t seem nervous or sad at all!”
“Nervousness is not necessarily the same thing… Anxiety, is hard to explain. It’s the feeling that something unfortunate is coming. It’s working out the answers to the problems you don’t know you have yet… and may not ever have. It’s checks and balances – it’s tension”.
I didn’t really understand why that was so hard for me to come to grips with it [AND for people close to me to even consider it was a real experience] until I read on a piece on ForHarriet.com about Black Women, Mental Health… & the Superwoman Myth. In it, author Anna Gipson references Dr. Brenda Wade’s work along with the myths & misconception that Black women must be strong (at all times, in all circumstances). Yet it is this misconception that can prove to be such a hindrance to our self care process.
About a year ago, I started the practices of meditation and art therapy. I learned deep breathing techniques and I taught them to my partner, as well, so that I’d have a reminder in case I was having a less-than-ideal-day. I learned that following the musical movements of Bobby McFerrin’s VOCAbuLarieS gives an anxious & ruminating mind something constructive & beautiful to do. There are still hard days, and there’s no guarantees that it will ever subside. However, it has made me more mindful – of myself, of others, and of the present moment that I am inhabiting.

After a four year journey, I’m still unlearning the stigma. I’m learning to forgive myself for the things I didn’t know when the tightness in my chest began. I’m learning how to advocate for myself unapologetically. I’m learning that I don’t have to fix everything. I’m learning and affirming that anxiety is not who I am. I’m learning to take my vacation time. And I’m learning to drink more water. 🙂
*Image Credit: Deathtothestockphoto.com, Daily Inspiration Collection