The Psychology of Mental Illness
I just got back from an unexpected visit to Texas. I was just there seven months ago and I was not prepared for the onslaught of emotions of trying to convince my friends of the necessity of leveling up then, to address the trauma inside her family. I think it is something to be said for folks who never leave their hometown and that is my stuff around venturing out and experiencing other ways of thinking and other ways of being. It just might be that I have judgment about being stuck that I projected onto her because although I have lived in other places, I still hold the idea of “going home”. That idea was smashed to bits on this visit.
A little back story. My friend’s grandson overdosed and he was the fourth male to die since 2021 began. All the deaths are connected to my friend; her brother went in January. Her husband in February. Her sisters husband in March and her grandson in May. I was not ready to do a deep-dive into why I was so upset when she called to say her grandson (18 years old) was in a coma with no brain function. He’d taken a cocktail of a mixture of things that took him out. I did not get into how I believed he committed suicide because no one was paying attention to his pain. No one was ready to have that conversation. I knew him as a child. I didn’t have much interaction with him except listening to her struggles as a grandmother raising her grandson because her daughter had tapped out. And by tapped out, I mean she was in the grips of the meth explosion.
I was not the one to point fingers at the daughter and comment on how she was not living up to her potential. Actually, I was pointing fingers at her until I realized she didnt get there alone. she didn’t just wake up one day and say to herself, “I think I want to be a meth whore”. I tried to engage with her about recovery and there was too many folks wagging their fingers and putting all the responsibility on her: it was her problem after all. Her shortcomings that got her in the mess she was in. Yes, some of that is true and NO, she did not get where she was by herself. Well, of course my friend pushed back with “so it is all my fault”. I was clear then as I was when I went down this time, “you are responsibly for your contribution” to an environment of addiction without responsibility. Back in the day her and her husband were into the dope scene. I remember thinking back then, this is going to be problematic. You see, my brother was in the streets doing all kinds of unnecessary stuff to not deal with his rage. Drugs were a major part of his coping mechanism. I wanted no parts of the drug world because so many of my female classmates found themselves on the wrong end of sexual trauma while under the influence. So no, I didn’t have anything good to say about drugs.
Well, I reminded my friend of the drug culture inside their house and how they were responsible for introducing “avoidance” to their children. Avoiding taking personal responsibility, working long hours without adult supervision for the kids. Her son was four years older so he was in charge while she was at work. I know from experience how siblings raising siblings can turn violent and even sadistic. Not a good mix for a healthy sense of self. That was my experience and she convinced me the weed and endless bottles of wine, were recreational; everyone was doing it. Yeah, I was reminded “if everyone is jumping off a cliff , would you jump too”. The rationale my mom used when I tried to feed her that line of crap. A juveniles way of thinking.
Now, trauma is multigenerational and I was trying to “save” my friend. Help her help, her daughter by addressing the roots of why she was in the streets, doing any and everything for drugs. I was like chicken little “the babies are dying , the babies are dying”. I didn’t know how right I would be. I believe that is why I was so devastated when I learned about her grandson. I felt like I dropped the ball. I felt like I could have done more to save him, save his mother, save my friend.
Fast forward, they released balloons in the park with family and friends gathered to talk about how special he was and how much he will be missed. Crying dry tears, trying to make sense of what happened. I didn’t go to the gathering and I was clear about why.
We as Black folks put more energy into honoring the dead and saying the things that make us comfortable about their death and not really addressing the root causes of mental illness, while folks are alive. That to me is hypocrisy and I wanted no parts of it. I told her I would not be at the gathering, pretending his death was an accident. I cannot be complicit in the mental illness that is causing our children to go off the rails. I will not wash the dead and anoint the bodies of our babies and pretend it is just the way it is.
I was angry, hurt, discussed and appalled at how we make a celebratory ritual of death. We cry and march, because Black Lives Matter. Do they really? We expect White America to care more about Black Lives than we do? I am so done. This is mental illness at its finest.
I held my friend after the service, cried with her and told her I didn’t know how to support her because I just couldn’t pretend anymore, “the babies are dying” and they are waiting for us as the adults in their lives to take responsibility for how we contribute to the madness.