On January 1st, 2012, I attempted suicide for the first time. However, my mental health journey began a bit earlier than that. Technically, it originated at least a century ago with my great-grandfather. Mental illness has run in my family for as long as we can remember. The only problem? We don’t really talk about it - ever - which is why, when I attempted suicide in 2012, I had no idea what was happening to me. And why, when I attempted suicide for the second time in 2016, I was still confused.
Over the last 11 years, I have run the gamut of the mental illness checklist. I have been in and out of therapy with over six different counselors. I have been diagnosed, rediagnosed, misdiagnosed, and then diagnosed again. I have tried medication, CBD oil, yoga, and even had a therapist recommend microdosing mushrooms (the hallucinogenic kind). And, perhaps most influential of all, I have been on the inside of an adult psychiatric ward. Having just turned 18-years-old at the end of 2015, my suicide attempt in 2016 landed me directly in the adult ward. It was utterly terrifying, and in retrospect, quite traumatizing too. However, this encounter helped me to understand the importance of mental healthcare.
After the psych ward, and after several years of consistent therapy, I am finally beginning to understand that mental healthcare does not come in the form of hospital gowns and bandages. It cannot be a last-ditch effort to help someone past the point of wanting to help themselves. Mental healthcare means providing easy, affordable access to counselors in every community. It means destigmatizing every mental illness and teaching our world that not being neuro-typical is not scary.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic has been utterly catastrophic, it also granted me the time and motivation to go back to school to earn my degree in Psychology. My eventual goal is to pursue a Ph.D. in Psychology and help establish a stronger mental healthcare foundation throughout the United States. Mental health deserves to be discussed, and I want to help get that conversation started.
I am a mom, military wife, foster parent, ER nurse, student, sister, and aunt, but what is the title for someone whose family died by suicide? I will never forget the morning that my father called me to tell me that my amazing, adventurous, gorgeous, and carefree aunt had taken her life. She was the “cool aunt” that let me drive years before I had a driver’s license. She loved to travel, had a good job, and loved her daughter fiercely.
There must be some mistake. Obviously, she was murdered. The police must be mistaken. Women never shoot themselves; that is what men do, right? If she were suicidal, we would have known. You cannot do anything in this family without everybody knowing about it. There is no way! Not our family! Not my aunt! Those thoughts, some of which I said out loud, swirled in my brain as hot tears streamed down my face. My father did his best to answer my questions with the information that he had at the time. For the second time in my 13-year long nursing career, I called into work, then I packed a bag, and started the drive from Montgomery, Alabama to Greenville, South Carolina.
I spent the next four hours in the car alone. Memories of my aunt rotated through my mind like a poorly organized PowerPoint presentation. I could not believe what was happening. A conversation that I was not supposed to overhear as a child replayed in my mind. My aunt had been sexually assaulted as a child. The assaults were never discussed, and to my knowledge, never addressed with a mental health professional.
The following year my husband and I became foster parents. I vowed to honor my aunt by addressing childhood trauma in the children placed in my care. I created a home where there are no secrets. Mental health counseling is no different than going to the dentist. There is no such thing as a forbidden topic. I hope that in doing this, I can prevent the suffering that my aunt endured.
Whispers, stares, and awkward silence has been the soundtrack to my early adolescent years. Imagine being "the only one" on every team, what seems like every tournament and setting with my peer group. Unable to shrink yourself, because no one else looks like you. I became numb to the insensitivity, but I internalized the pain. Like a volcano, my unaddressed emotions were brewing internally just waiting to erupt. As a 6ft tall, skinny, Black woman I have faced a myriad of insults and microaggressions in and outside of the classroom and on the volleyball court. From jokes about my height and weight thus feeding my insecurity to being ostracized by my own high school volleyball team of which I was 1 of 4 Black girls.
During this time, I became depressed as well as developed extreme anxiety towards not only my body but volleyball and life itself. Facing this adversity fueled a fire in me that urged me to create a safe community for girls just like me. I created A. C. E. (All Children Excel) Sports and Fitness Academy to foster a community of individuality and teamwork to help teach girls how sports can build character, leadership skills, boost their self-esteem, and enrich their mental and physical fitness.
My experiences with mental health have taught me how much being involved in therapy, sports and yoga have improved the way I communicate, the way I lead, the way I process my emotions, and how I approach life. My mission is to specifically anchor this business in the Black and Brown community. I would apply the knowledge I have obtained to ignite positive change and growth in the world by first, educating people on what yoga is and how healthy it directly impacts your social and emotional well-being. Our mental health impacts every aspect of our lives. This would be incorporated with restorative justice practices as well. By introducing yoga, I hope to create a healthy discourse about mental health and emotional trauma in the Black and Brown community.
“Something happened to Grand-Pa, we don’t know what, but you need to go home.” These words still repeat over and over again in my mind. My parents rushed to the scene while my brother and I sat in silence for the entire ride home, nothing but the hum of the air conditioning and the occasional hushed sniffle. When we arrived home, I walked aimlessly, hoping for the best, but assuming the worst. Around five o’clock, my mom finally returned to explain what I knew deep down all along: “Your grandfather died,” she said.
It wasn’t until the following morning that I learned the full story. I walked outside with my family and sat in the rocking chair, peering out at the trees as they swayed in the breeze. The sunlight shone through the foliage, as I listened to the chirping birds. If I didn’t know any better, I would’ve called it a perfect day. Finally, my mother spoke: “Grand-Pa took his own life yesterday.” My heart sank. Their voices faded into the background, forming a muffled chatter. The emptiness was palpable, like a black hole collapsing in on itself.
Throughout high school, I’ve been involved in activism, and my grandfather’s passing inspired me to continue his story through the advocacy of mental health. Besides sharing resources from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention with my peers, I have contacted my senators regarding nine pieces of mental health-related legislation, all of which I’m proud to say have passed through the House of Representatives and presently await action from the Senate. One bill, The Suicide Prevention Act, was sponsored by Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed. In my correspondence with Senator Reed, I emphasized the importance of suicide prevention, sentiments he touched upon in his introductory statements on the bill. Before Congress, Reed explained how the United States “must renew our attention and focus on suicide prevention.”
In the future, I plan to continue such political advocacy by developing mental health outlets and resources in my high school, college campus, and beyond.