I’m sharing this “public service announcement” to persevere for whoever needs it (and just know, that sometimes it’s me).
If it’s not you today, pass it on!
Keep breathing – your deep-in-the-valley season is just a pitstop.
Keep dancing – the swirling storm will find it harder to touch you.
Keep believing – beauty can indeed be birthed from ashes.
Keep trusting yourself – you’re a prize worth cherishing, at home, at work and everywhere in between.
Keep paying attention – to your heart, to your gut, to what people show you rather than what they say, and to what you know to be true. Trusting yourself will never lead you wrong.
Keep laughing – it’s medicine for your soul, and everything doesn’t have to be so serious.
Most importantly? Just keep on keeping on.
I promise you, your best days are ahead, no matter your age, stage or circumstances.
Your job is to persist in excellence, love with an open heart, set appropriate boundaries, welcome peace and treasure your joys.
I’m living proof (and there are so many tangible examples around) that it’s all doable. Join me on this Life Untapped journey in your own way and in your own time. Just promise me, and yourself, that you’ll keep going.
Today, pay attention to the little things – words spoken or unspoken; gestures rendered or withheld; opportunities offered or missed; your struggle between fear and confidence, or maybe a focus on all that’s wrong instead of dwelling in the beauty of all that’s right.
Watch yourself and others, and consider the consequences of words and actions; listen with your heart as well as with your ears; assess whether being glass half-full or glass half-empty serves you best.
Change whatever you must to grow and be content; and give others the space and the grace to do the same.
Stretching and growing isn’t always easy, but having the courage to embrace the process (while being thoughtful and respectful of others) can guide you to greater places, both within and without.
The best kind of challenge to undertake is one with yourself, for yourself. It’s worth it to you to circumvent roadblocks, push past fear or doubt, seek knowledge to help you grow, and love yourself as you are, so that you’re prepared to step into all you’re becoming. Envision that version of you and welcome it.
A few weeks ago my athlete son proudly told me about his 4-mile run in the “very safe” neighborhood that surrounds the university he attends. My anxiety level instantly rose.
I reminded him, yet again, that he has to be careful, because unfortunately, some of those neighbors may simply see “a black man running” and do some harm.
It is hard for him to see himself as other than how he describes himself – a good kid – in a world that continues to see skintones and complexion first. It is also hard for me to have to repeatedly burst his bubble.
I am mindful that many are struggling with similar concerns and have been triggered by headlines (the accosted Army officer; the shooting in Minnesota) and other ugly realities this week. I’ve talked to young and older, male and female, in my circle and have tried to offer support.
And I am intent on remaining an optimist, helping realize the day when my son and your son and all of us can jog without worry, drive without fear and simply exist without pause.
We owe it to ourselves and future generations to keep trying to manifest this more just world, so that all mothers and fathers, and aunts and uncles, and godparents and friends, and spouses and partners can sleep well each night, without stressing about a loved one’s ethnicity impacting his or her ability to make it home.
As we enter a holiday season like no other, it is my hope and prayer that despite this legendary year of stress, trauma and loss – whether collective, personal or both for you – you’re able to find a few reasons to anchor yourself in gratitude, generosity and love.
For some of us this may be easier said than done; yet I invite you to join me in treating ourselves as the gift that keeps on giving, understanding that as long as we practice self-care and takes steps to get whatever rest, support and care we need to shore ourselves up, we’ll be better able to show up strong, healthy, helpful and loving to and for others.
Consider what positive thoughts and actions most often bring you hope, peace and enjoyment, and allow yourself to revel in those simple and significant pleasures during this season, without guilt or hesitation.
Hold onto something good and know that greater is coming.
I’m sending you a virtual hug, heartfelt prayers for healing and hope, and a wish that you cling to your dreams, no matter what.
Wishing you a meaningful Thanksgiving, filled with a few things that make your heart smile.
Before you read my blog post, a bit of mental health literacy from the National Council for Behavioral Health and Mental Health America: Just know the first sentence of this piece is written for the sake of history. Never say ‘commit’ suicide; instead say someone took their life by suicide or died by suicide. Commit implies a sin or a crime. Suicide is neither a sin nor a crime. It is a mental or emotional disorder, sometimes undetected or untreated, and sometimes temporary, with depression, anxiety and isolation being the most common feelings for suicide victims or attempters. – Glenn
Growing up, I remember hearing, “Black folks don’t commit suicide.”
I also heard disparaging remarks about adults and children suffering from mental illness. I’m certain I made insults as well.
“You know she ain’t right.“ “Something’s wrong with him.” “He’s touched.” “That boy’s crazy in the head.”
The language about mental illness and suicide has changed over the years, but society still has a long way to go. We must continue to learn the truth about mental illness and the right words to describe and talk about suicide. Most importantly, we must learn how to help those in distress, especially during this pandemic.
“Just get over it and move on” is not a suitable response. And, having a macho attitude, as many men do, about mental illness or suicide only buries the situation. Transparency means acceptance.
In the Black community, there remains a deep-seated stigma about suicide and mental illness. Neither discriminate. One in five Americans will experience a mental illness in a given year. One in 25 Americans lives with a serious mental illness. Black Americans are a major part of those numbers.
As a suicide prevention and mental health first aid instructor and grief counselor, my mission is to help others, specifically Black Americans and military veterans, and to encourage more people to take suicide prevention and mental health first aid courses. In most areas, the courses are short duration and free.
As a Vietnam veteran, I have survivors’ remorse, knowing my name is not on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. Coping with those thoughts remain a struggle, even to this day. And, there’s a reason the term is “recovery alcoholic.”
Truth is Black people take their own lives. Black people attempt suicide and have suicide ideations. The secret is out. We are not immune to suicide and mental health issues.
With the pandemic, racial unrest, unequal justice, and continued economic stress, suicide rates among African-Americans have climbed, created by fear, uncertainty and increased anxiety levels, especially for those with depression, anxiety, other untreated mental health issues or isolation.
Especially concerning in the recent decade is the rise in suicide deaths among Black youth, nearly doubling from 2007 to 2017. Recent numbers show that Black children under age 13 are twice as likely to die as their white counterparts.
As of 2018, suicide became the second leading cause of death in Black children, ages 10-14, and the third leading cause among Black adolescents, ages 15-19.
Paramount among the risk factors for youth suicide are bullying, bullying others, trauma, LBGTQ and racial discrimination and access to firearms. Another factor is health care disparities since Black youth often do not receive treatment for depression or receive treatment after a suicide attempt.
Suicide numbers among Black adults are also climbing. In Cook County, where Chicago is located, Black men accounted for 80 percent of the suicides this year.
Research by the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry says Black adults are 20 percent more likely to experience serious mental health issues, including depressive disorder or anxiety disorder. Facing the prospect of being a victim of the justice system – or the fear of being stopped by police or accused of something by a “Karen” – is a common fear of most black men, including those who are famous, considered middle class or well-to-do.
Despite being 13 percent of the U.S. population, the Black community is 40 percent of the homeless population, 50 percent of the prison population and 45 percent of the children in foster care. Because of that exposure, the chances of developing a mental illness is increased.
With Black veterans, the numbers are just as alarming. About 45 percent of homeless veterans are Black or Hispanic, with Black veterans compromising most of those situations.
On any given night in America, more than 40,000 veterans are homeless and another 1.4 million are considered at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks, untreated mental illness or substance abuse issues. Women veterans are the fastest growing segment of homeless veterans.
For me, working with the veterans’ community is a focal point.
I admit there have been unfortunate and fatal situations involving Black men and police in Charlotte, yet I applaud the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police for having a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) trained to de-escalate hostile situations involving possible mental issues situations. Mental Health America has trained a good number of police and firefighters in mental health first aid and suicide prevention.
Twice I have been called to assist CIT officers with situations involving veterans.
In the first instance – the only time I had to respond to a crisis scene – I helped negotiate the peaceful apprehension of a Black veteran who served in Afghanistan and was suffering from PTSD. He was loud and threatening inside his apartment and the situation had become unstable. After more than 40 minutes, the situation ended peacefully without any injuries.
Twice since, I accompanied CIT officers to visit the veteran who is back on medication and keeping up with his VA visits. I am proud that I was able to help, but the episode was mentally draining beyond belief. Which is why self-care for all of us, especially during this pandemic, is absolutely essential.
For those of us who are peer support professionals, the work is never done. None of us can – or should – turn our backs on conversations about suicide, mental health or grief. And in the Black community, it is a priority because mental health issues and suicide are continuing to take an increasing toll.
So, what can any of us do as Black Americans to improve our mental health and lessen our trauma and grief? I added grief to the equation since all us, by admission or not, are currently grieving, especially the loss of connection.
Because of Black America’s history and the issues that plague our communities, socialization is, experts contend, our most important coping mechanism:
Communication. By email, text, social media and phone. As difficult as it is to gather during this pandemic, an outside gathering with social distancing and masking protocols might help ease stress, especially to help with isolation and having engaging conversations with people we trust.
Get clinical help if an extreme condition develops.
Talk about experiences of racism with those you trust. One study of African-American women said those who experienced racism and kept it to themselves created shorter telomeres, an indicator of chronic stress and aging.
Self-care. Engage in activities that you enjoy. As much as possible, avoid substances and excessive alcohol use. Be aware and recognize symptoms of racial trauma (fatigue, anxiety, depression, sleep depravation).
Understand that racism is serious and it deeply affects emotions. In addition to communication and self-care, focus on developing coping strategies; including distractions that help lower negative emotion.
Life Coach Glenn Proctor is certified as a Grief Support Counselor, QPR Suicide Prevention Instructor, Youth Mental Health First Aid Instructor, Adult Mental Health First Aid Gatekeeper and NC Peer Support Specialist (with Veterans’ Designation). He retired as executive editor and vice president of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The 40-year journalist and media professor shared in the Pulitzer Prize at the Akron Beacon Journal. He is a former Marine gunnery sergeant, author of five books and founder of WRITING BOOTCAMP Charlotte. Proctor coaches from lived experience – alcoholism, foster care, single parent, multiple marriages and cancer. He has mentored hundreds of students, veterans, career professionals and entrepreneurs.
Special Event Notice:
On Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020 from 7-8:30 p.m. EST, Stacy and Robert L. Dortch will host a Zoom conversation on mental wellness and practicing self-care during the looming holiday season. Special guests will be licensed psychologist and seminar leader Dr. Micah L. McCreary and social and mental health advocate Princess Blanding. Join this session of The Living Room Talks on Zoom by registering hereby Noon EST on Wednesday (Oct. 28).
I snapped this photo on a drive Wednesday evening (from the passenger seat) and was awed by the beauty of this night sky and vivid moon. It was a subtle yet powerful reminder that even in times of darkness, beauty can abide. If we’ll pay attention to the simple and the signifinicant kindnesses we’ve experienced (yes, even in 2020), we’ll acknowledge the truth that the light still wins.