"You make the mistake of thinking you're special"
When I was 23, devastated about a break-up and the betrayal of a friend, I chased a bottle of pills with a bottle of Parrot Bay vodka. The next few hours after I took the pills were a bit of a blur. My memories of that day only exist in still frames, kind of like a silent movie. It goes:
Memory 1: Arms and hands tied to hospital bed.
Memory 2: Bedpan
Memory 3: Terrified look on roommates faces.
Memory 3: Terrified look on roommates faces.
Memory 4: (overhearing) “Her aunt and cousin are driving 4 hours from Cleveland”.
Memory 5: (being asked) “Did you know you can’t overdose on anti-depressants?”
I was in and out of sleep for hours right after it happen which probably explains why I don’t remember much. My most vivid memories are from the next day, the day of the psychologist visit. I remember the room smelling like what the color grey would if it had a smell. I remember my thin hospital robe that didn't provide nearly enough coverage, security, or warmth. I remember the intolerant expression on the male psychologist face, and yellow bracelet choking my wrist that read, “Psych ward, Suicide Risk, no sharp objects or pills.” The psychologist didn't say much to me, he mainly questioned my logic. “You are a smart girl, Kenya,” he said, “Now why on earth would you think that a doctor would prescribe a ‘depressed person’ pills that they could overdose on….doesn't make much sense, right,” he chided. And since it was a known fact (to everyone but me, I guess) that you couldn't overdose on anti-depressants, this little “stunt” I pulled must have been a cry for help. I must have just wanted some attention. In the back of my mind I wondered, is it wrong to cry for help or want attention? After relaying to him that I wasn't really sure if I really wanted to kill myself or just got to sleep and feel numb, he got even more combative. He told me that, I, like a lot of other young people “make the mistake of thinking I’m special.” I make the mistake of thinking me and my problems are somehow different or more painful than the experiences of others, and that if I wanted to get out of here, I needed to be smarter and pull it together.
Ironically, once being released from the hospital and being transferred to a kinder, gentler, female psychologist I got a very different message. Sitting across from the stone faces of my aunt and cousin, she asked me how losing my mother, coming out as a lesbian, being on the Executive Board of three different university clubs, working a job, and maintaining a 3.7 GPA, made me feel. “Aren't you overwhelmed?”she wondered. The answer was yes, and I wanted to scream it…but I didn't. In fact, I didn't answer at all. Instead I played with my hands as my aunt answered for me. She spoke about how much she and my cousin had sacrificed for me. What about the money? And the new car? And the $26,000 a year tuition? They wanted to know why I wasn't more grateful? How could I have been as weak, inconsiderate and selfish as I had been? How dare I try to kill myself when they had worked so hard to make my life worth living. It was a pivotal moment for me. Because it was then that I realized how emotionally detached I would need to be in order to navigate the world I was in. In that moment, I swallowed the pain, blamed myself for being weak and responded from a place of detached duty.
I told the psychologist that black women didn't have time to be depressed and that I needed to do a better job managing my emotions (and the emotions of others). I lied and said I didn't need to see her again and I never went back. Not only did I never go back, I am not sure if I ever thought back (well not until last night).
Keeping it together: The night my Godmother called….
Last night, my mother’s best friend (my Godmother) called me to talk about my book. She said she had read it and needed to talk to me urgently. I could tell by her tone of voice that she was incredibly worried. Hearing her tone made me tighten up immediately. If she was going to be emotional, I knew that I couldn't be. I put a smile on my face, poured some wine and did what I do best....listened. What followed was almost an hour and a half of the most honest conversation I have had about my life with a family member. She asked me about everything from drugs to girls, to suicide and my writing career. She didn't hesitate to go into the dark places that I had so elegantly depicted in my book. She told me that I should never feel so alone that I needed to hurt myself and that I could always talk to her or my other family members. Now after all that probing, you would think the tears would have been rolling…but they weren't. I kept my usual stoic demeanor until she asked me why I didn't keep in touch with her or my other family members. She wanted to know why I didn't answer my phone and why it took days for me to return calls from them. Almost all at once the memories of the days and weeks right after my suicide attempt came flooding into my mind and I said, “Because I can’t be close to them.” After saying it, I was able to feel the full weight of not only what I was saying but how I felt. I felt (and feel) disconnected from my family because I don’t feel comfortable being honest with them about the things in my life that are not so rosey. I know how much they have sacrificed for me and I don’t want to come off ungrateful or weak, so I just keep stuff to myself. Plus, I do have a lot to be grateful for. My life is nothing like theirs…and it never has been. I am lucky, right? Blessed even….why on earth would it be ok for ME to be sad, upset, depressed, disappointed, or unsatisfied? Beyond that, I thought about how the suicide attempt wasn't really the cry for help…in many ways my book was, and she had been one of only a handful of family members (or friends) who read it or had bothered to talk to me about it. I figured, if they cared, they would call or ask….or something. No one ever said anything, so neither did I.
Defending my feelings: A Womanizer’s Reasons
After talking to her I realized that I have repeated this practice with almost every person I have been in a nonsexual relationship with. Meaning that, for the most part, I have only felt comfortable being exposed with people who I am in a sexual relationship with. Nonsexual intimacy is almost never a reality for me. I am not emotionally close to my family or my friends really. When they talk, I listen, but I keep almost 90% of my feelings to myself. I don’t pursue relationships with women that I am not attracted to, and when the people I love hurt me I almost never tell them. It’s not that I think they won’t like me, but more so that I think they will judge me and therefore make me defend my feelings (like I had to defend my reasons for wanting to take my life). You know the whole, well “why would you feel that way…when you have this, this and this?” conversation. I am always so worried that my honesty will be offensive and even worse...hurtful to those around me. So I just keep it. I let them do the feeling, while I do the fixing, the understanding, and the tolerating. All these “ah-ha” moments were so valuable to me, because I have desperately been seeking answers about my issues with women. For years, I have wanted to know why I am attracted to so many girls, why I keep my exes around, and why I want to collect as many “beautiful things,” as I can. I think in the back of my mind, sexual relationships create a bit of a safety net for me; a safety that was lost with my family the moment they perceived my vulnerability as weakness. I also know that most girls won’t be intimate with someone who they don’t love (or care about), so the fact that they allow me to be in that space, makes me think I can trust them. Moreover we live in a society where it’s only “ok” for you seek validation and attention from the person you are in a relationship with. A lot of people share the flawed perspective that you “shouldn't” care what anyone in your life thinks but your partner. For a gentle soul like me that message has been very damaging, because on the inside I do care what other people think. I do want to be loved by more than just my partner. I do want to have connections with women who I am not sleeping with, but I have been taught that wanting this is not “ok.” Wanting attention from anyone other than a romantic partner is a sign of weakness, lack of discipline and a slap in the face to the person you are in a relationship with. As a result, I subconsciously sexualize any girl I “like” because that’s what feels appropriate to me. How else could I care about her, worry about her, and want to matter to her? (I am being sarcastic here).
The truth is, of course I want attention, who doesn't? Of course I want people to say nice things to me and care about what I am doing and how I feel…that’s normal. The idea that I or anyone else shouldn't want that, or that they should only want it from certain people, like family or love interests, is what causes 23 year old perfectionists to want to check out of life! It’s not fair, the pressure we put on people to bear it all, do it all, and keep it all pretty at the same time. I should mention here that part of the reason I took those pills all those years ago is because the people around me told me that "I should have known better" than to fall in love with someone so young and that the I should have been strong enough to understand that my friend and the girl I was in love with needed each other. They knew I would (and should) be "ok" without them. My friends were angry with me for falling in love and not being sympathetic enough to someone who was clearly, "not as strong" as I was.
For the record, I should say that I don’t subscribe to traditionally ideals of love and relationships. I do however, get tired of always having to defend my ideas and have just found it easier to keep my private feelings within the confines of my relationship. Because every time, someone makes me defend my feelings, I am right back in front of that mean psychologist, trying to explain why I’m special and why I deserve to have the feelings I have. I don’t know…this is all very new to me and I am sure it will take me a while to get to the root of all my “nonsexual intimacy,” issues. But for now, I feel good to be getting even the slightest bit of clarity. A lot of people may not know this, but the bulk of the work I do is for me. I believe that the relationship you have with yourself is the most important relationship there is. I am constantly working to love, accept, and understand myself on a daily basis. As I uncover layer after layer I feel the intimacy between me and myself deepen and the space between who I am and who I want to be shorten. Here’s to the next step….