Posted in Blog, Mental Health

David Lammy’s Article, Gangs, & A Scathing Review of My Childhood…

Reading David Lammy’s article in the Guardian today really hit home, not only drawing attention to how politically and culturally isolated Black youths are today because of our Government’s continued cognitive dissonance, but it also reminded me that this has been going on for years and years and years and no Government has every improved the situation for young people.

This excerpt especially resonated with me:

The first thing Lammy wants us to understand is the blameless ease with which a child who goes home to an empty council estate flat because his mum can’t afford childcare while she’s at work, can become a gang member. All it takes is a gift of new trainers, he says, for which in return the child is soon asked to carry a little package round the corner, and before long, the 12-year-old is earning more in one week than his parents make in a year.

I didn’t grow up on a council estate, however I did grow up in a single parent family and was responsible for looking after my sister while my mum had to work in full-time employment. Luckily for my mum I was a geek, but unfortunately my sister got mixed up with some bad people and did some bad things and I had to save her. We used to call them “pikeys” in my days. When she told me that she had a boyfriend, my antenna went up, but when her friends told me that he was in a gang of white pikeys, I went round to his house and told him to stay the fuck away from my sister. For some reason he listened. People just did in those days. I don’t think my sister has every appreciated the fact that she could’ve been dead if it wasn’t for me. And she soon admitted to me that he didn’t treat her well either. My mum still knows nothing of this… until now.

Parentification is an unfortunate generation cycle in Black culture, and I’ve spoken about this before on my blog which you can read here. Children are forced into adult roles within their families, mostly because one parent has walked out, forcing the older child to take on that parental role. This has a detrimental effect upon mental health, during adolescence and especially in adulthood. The worse thing is, as Black people we are never offered therapy (I will provide you with examples below). Usually the child is at shown some gratitude in older years from their parent or siblings, however I’ve never been shown any. I didn’t rebel until I was 17 – I snuck out a couple of times with some friends while my mum worked the night shift – my sister would have friends round so she wasn’t home alone, but other than that, I made sure I looked after my sister. I did most of the chores at home, because my mum made me, which I had to balance with homework, unlike my sister who wasn’t doing any chores or any homework because she wasn’t interested in pursuing further education like me and therefore didn’t see the point in home studying. I also had to balance this with Church, which we went to at least three times a week. All while hiding my father’s abuse. As a teenager, I had a lot on my plate.

Everybody on the outside of our family saw us as this tight, united trio of a mother and two daughters, but we were far from it. I had nobody to talk to and felt extremely isolated. It only got worse when I went to University.

At 24 when I went travelling and came to the Australia part of my trip, I suffered from aggressive, verbal racism from the locals. They would say stuff to my face and then laugh, as if I was supposed to be in on the joke. The next leg of my trip I planned to be New Zealand, but I just couldn’t face it, but I couldn’t afford to come home early. My only option was to call home and ask my mum for a loan to change my ticket so that I could come home early. I cried down the phone, begging for the loan, but I didn’t tell her about the racism, because I couldn’t. When I got home, she would retell the story about the phone call and laugh about how I cried, which I found an incredibly insensitive thing to do.

I sunk into a deep depression, fell in love with a drummer who used me for sex, became further depressed and so went to see the GP, who instead of referring me for counselling “told me to get over it” and then prescribed me anti-depressants. By now, I was drinking heavily so I just carried on to the point to excess, which the GP knew.

I got a job at a GP surgery, where at the Christmas party, the Practice Manager tried to sexually assault me, because I was off my face on drugs and alcohol and could take advantage and I had to call my sister and her boyfriend to come and pick me up. I think this is finally when the GP referred me for counselling. However, my sister was angry at me. She knew that I had been battling with the GP to receive proper help about my mental health, but not once had she offered to come and visit the GP with me, she just blamed me instead.

And the lack of care from the GP, this is because I’m Black. If I’d been a white girl with Blonde hair, screaming in agony, you bet your arse I would’ve been referred to see a Therapist at my very first GP appointment.

This happens to thousands of young Black girls and women today.

In my late twenties, I was finally diagnosed with Unstable Emotional Personality Disorder (formerly known as Borderline Personality Disorder) and the psychologist explained that all of the impulsive behaviour I had displayed in early twenties – the high and the low moods, the excessive drinking, the impulsive spending, the impulsive sex – was all because of this disorder. And now that I’m studying an MSc in Mental Health and Psychology, I’m finally able to research more about this condition because even though I’ve been diagnosed, I’m still not being treated. The NHS are still failing me as a Black woman today; I was recently rejected from the Personality Assessment Services for being too high-functioning, even though I struggle every day and I’m having to medicate myself.

And as for my family: after I was diagnosed with Epilepsy in 2014, my sister rejected me for being too much of a burden and still refuses to speak to me now. My cousin Dee recently said to me that she wishes that she’d had me as an older sister growing up and those words meant the world to me, and I do see her as a younger sister, even though we’ve only recently gotten back in touch. No request is too much.

My mother, who I recently got back in touch with, I’m not quite sure knows how to be a mother. She’s shown me no gratitude for the years of love I’ve shown. On Mother’s Day this year, she was supposed to call me and didn’t and offered no explanation for this. Her excuses for her constant failings are that nobody showed her how to be a mother, yet you’re doing a great job to your other daughter, just consistently failing me, so there must be a reason why?

She still hasn’t called and it’s because she expects me to be the parent, when I’m the child. And this is why I’m so thankful for the other adults in my life at the moment who allow me to be the child I finally deserve to be, because my childhood was stolen from me. My family are the dark clouds over my sunshine, they don’t build build me up like others around me do, they knock me down and it took me years of searching to realise that.

Furthermore, nobody showed me how to be a daughter, yet I’m doing it. My door is always open for my mum, when she decides that she wants to be one.

XOXO

Posted in Blog

Racial Segregation @Gigs

Tonight I went to see Sunflower Bean with my girlfriend at KOKO at Camden. I was apprehensive about it however, it turned out to be a pretty good gig!

Why the apprehension you ask? Because I’m a Black woman in a room full of white people, unprotected. The last gig I went to was to see Feeder at the O2 Brixton Academy, where I was attacked in the crowd and I definitely feel like it was racially provoked: I was in the mosh pit, the white people didn’t like seeing me there and attacked me. I’ve been in mosh pits before, most recently at a Wolf Alice gig at Alexandra Palace and I was fine. In fact, I had the time of my life. It always depends on the vibe of the crowd and this Feeder crowd was definitely aggressive. I ended up leaving the gig early, because I was too upset to stay and I was so anxious about being around white crowds I missed the next gig I was supposed to go to the following week.

Sometimes I wonder if there is an unwritten rule that as a Black woman, I’m supposed to be at the back at gigs, and then I’m safe. At Wolf Alice I was in the middle, so perhaps I was pushing my luck, but tonight I was at the back so everybody left me alone. In fact this was my view at one point:

Is that fair, just because of the colour of my skin? Even though I’ve paid the same amount as everybody else? And I noticed that the other Black people in the crowd were in the same position as me.

Is there an unwritten segregation law for gigs? I’m trying to think back to the gigs I went to when I was younger with my Indian friend and come to think of it, even then we were hassled quite aggressively because we were always at the front – at the time, we just joked that it was the white girls getting their knickers in a twist, because they wanted to be closer to the lead singer and we were in their path to daydreams of losing their virginities… but now I wonder if it was all racially motivated?

Sometimes I go to gigs and the only people of colour are the staff in the cloakroom, on security and on the bar, but just me in the crowd. Would you believe me if I said that it never even occurred to me until I became aware of my own Blackness?

But even as my culture changes and henceforth my taste in music, old influences still hold ties upon my heartstrings, even if they don’t give a shit about racism and Black lives.

Furthermore, racial microaggressions as well as racist aggressive culture itself, has only become more open and explicit in Britain over the years. Brexit was like a red flag for these racists; public spaces are no longer safe and a simple “please leave me alone” will now no longer suffice. The Feeder gig was proof of that.

I tagged Feeder in some tweets on a very active Twitter account, about what happened to me at their gig and they didn’t even respond. Rest assured, that relationship is over. And as much as I love live music, I’m starting to become weary about where I’m spending my Black pounds.


Posted in Blog

A Week in Wonderland

It’s been an energetic week!

Since I’ve been taking control of my mental health and Epilepsy, I’m beginning to feel more like me again, which I never believed would happen in a million years. I have more energy, which is astounding, because having spent a year planning my time around low energy levels, to suddenly being able to do more than one thing in a day, is just… unreal.

Did I tell you all that I’ve changed antidepressants? I demanded it. The old ones were killing me and nobody was helping me, so I contacted my GP after doing some research and asked to be put on Fluoxetine and I’ve been self-medicating (slowly increasing the dose myself).

I’ve also been reducing my Zonisamide and I’m currently still taking 750mg of Levitracetam, which the Epilepsy team want to take me off of, however I’ve been thinking A LOT about this and as they stop my tonic clonic seizures completely, plus my energy levels are currently great on this dose, I’m going to stay on this. My consultant is the type of guy who wants “a one drug for all seizures” type of fix, but I’m not a guinea pig – I’m happy to try a low dose of another drug and see what that does for my focal onset seizures, but I’m starting to realise now that low doses are the way forward. I remember a few years ago, when I was on double the dose of Keppra, and it turned me into a psycho and I almost lost my job. But when I cut the dose in half and was taking Oxcarbazepine, my mental health improved as did my energy levels (this is when I was running three times a week and cycling to and from work). Anyway, I have an appointment coming up. Again, I’ll be in control!

So anyhoooooooo, the weekend was Easter Bank Holiday, therefore I wanted to party. I found a Lesbian bar in Soho called “She Bar” – this was a my first time at a Lesbian bar… and I LOVED IT!!! My outfit was a little over the top – my girlfriend described it as a wedding dress:

 

LOL!

Perhaps I see it as a metaphor for moving into a new period of my life, a healthier, happier, energetic period. It was also freeing to be around other women like me, with no idiot men in the way trying it on and just having a little boogie.

On Wednesday, I went to my first meet up with the Lesbians of Colour Book Club. LOVED IT! I’ve always felt more of an affinity with older women: they don’t take bullshit and I don’t like to deal with bullshit, therefore my lasting friendships have always been with older women (my surrogate mum, my mentor from The Open Uni). So when I saw that the majority of the women in attendance were older women, my heart soared. The book of conversation was Sweetheart Sputnik by Japanese author Haruki Murakami. Awful book. A typical male author writing about women and their lesbian relationship:

Epic fail. However, the conversation as we savagely ripped it to shreds was intellectually stimulating and chucklesome. Afterwards, we went out for dinner and made plans to meet up next week for a social get-together, which I’m really looking forward to. I’ve also been listening to the Mostly Lit podcast, to gather some inspiration for books to recommend for reading, as everything I’m reading at the moment is pretty heavy (Black British History, Civil Rights, Mental Health, or Medical Apartheid… yep, pretty heavy!)

Then yesterday, I went to my first Yoga class in about two or three years. The school is called Mindful Movements and they’re based in the Islington Arts Factory. Yesterday evening was a dynamic candle light drop-in session, which I found through the “Meet Up” app (also how I found out about the Book Club actually); it was the candle light aspect that enticed me, regardless of the warning that although beginners were welcome, the session was pretty dynamic. And intense it was! Like I said, this was my first class in two or three years; I’ve just reclaimed my energy; Don’t forget that last year I was bedridden! However, I made it through the session and I am incredibly proud of myself. It was breathtakingly spiritual, which is one side of Yoga I always used to find uncomfortable, however as I engage more and more with spirituality, Buddhism and meditation (I’m actually going to my second meditation class next weekend, also found through the Meet Up app), it’s definitely something I’m embracing as part of an exercise regime. The featured image for this blog piece is a photo of myself and the session instructor Hana Saotome, who was so welcoming and encouraging! And I didn’t even get an uber home!

Other than that, I’ve been working on my MSc, arguing in the discussion forum. For some reason in this class, I seem to be the only person who believes that Freud is not only racist but sexist. In my last class, all of the women hated him, however in this class the women seem to think the sun shines out of his bum bum, even though he clearly hated women. One of the women in the Book Club asked me:

“Don’t you want to just do what you need to do, agree with everything the Professor says, get the grades and get out of there?”

I told her no way. I can’t do that. I’ve never been that kind of person, and I’m not about to change now. She admired me for that.

XOXO

Posted in Blog, Mental Health

Social Media: Counterfeit Reality?

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we interact with each other, especially online, and there’s definitely a dissonance, which I think that people think is excusable because we are online.

Some of my most stressful interactions with people over the past year have been via social media, probably because I’ve retreated from reality out of fear. This is a genuine and logical reaction following a traumatic experience, to develop fears and phobia. However, the problem with the online ethnography is that people become cocky, and forgetful of who they really are; they forget to mind other’s feelings and emotions and there’s this saying we used to chant as kids:

sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me

Bullshit. You can mute and block people, however the words live forever online. Furthermore, they live for as long as they can in your mind. For me, words are like a broken record player on loop in my mind.

Now instead of talking in parables and riddles, I’ll finally relate my theories to examples: the more exposed I’m becoming on social media, the more hype I’m getting, but also negativity, which if I’m not careful will have a negative impact upon my mental health and Epilepsy. Words do hurt. And these people don’t know me; they just see a version of me that they don’t like and therefore attack it.

The week before last it was members of a Facebook group attacking me for a recent blog post. Last week, in another Facebook group I was (I feel), singled out by the host for promoting my blog posts in the group. I wasn’t the only person in the group who was doing this, yet I was targeted by name and told not to do it by the host. This made me feel incredibly small. And it also made me feel attacked. Furthermore, when I looked back, I’d seen that I’d only posted two updates. Anyway, I was reprimanded for using the group “inappropriately”, because it was only for networking not sharing blog posts. But there’s a way of relaying information to one another and singling one person out for something many people do, feels like an attack.

I don’t care what we’re going through in our realities, it’s no excuse to single somebody out for an attack. You may be the Queen of fucking Sheba – just because you host a group, it doesn’t mean you stop being respectful to others. Furthermore, you don’t know what that person you’re picking on is going through in their own reality. I’m not ashamed to say that I cried and struggled to sleep that night, because in my mind I’m thinking why did she pick on me? even after I apologised and challenged her, and the following morning I had a seizure, which has taken me days to recover from. Some of you might think that I overreacted. Well, we’re just different people aren’t we? And that’s how I felt about the situation.

I did try mindfulness, but it really doesn’t work in the dead of night in situations like this either.

I’m not going to lie, it hurt even more that this was a sista too and I’ve had issues with her in the past (which I won’t even get into on here), and this is all on social media! We are yet to meet in real life….

And this is where I feel the cognitive dissonance is. If I were to meet her in real life, would she be this brash to my face? I very much doubt it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

XOXO

Posted in Blog, Mental Health

Introduction to Personality Theory (Being Black is AWESOME)

personalities

(Image source)

Since starting my MSc, I’ve been thinking A LOT about labels and diagnoses, particularly when you’re Black.

When I was 28 I was diagnosed with Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (formally known as Borderline Personality Disorder). However, this diagnosis was based upon my past behaviour where I had no sense of self; I was unstable, impulsive, my moods would go from high to low and I could be extremely unsociable one day to belle of the ball to the next.  However, as a young, Black woman growing up in the UK amongst mostly white girls of course I was confused about my identity and therefore, had no sense of self. But now that I’m “woke” and I’ve finally found a sense of “Blackness”, does that mean that I no longer have mental health issues? Of course it doesn’t. But because I finally do have a sense of self, I was rejected from the NHS Mental Health services assessment team for being too “high functioning” and even though I’ve complained, it’s made no difference. I may get a meeting with a psychologist regarding a further explanation on my diagnosis as per my request, but that’s it, so I’ll have to continue to pay for private therapy. To be fair, my Therapist is awesome, she’s a beautiful Black woman, so woke, and she’s highly intelligent.

My current module is on Individual Differences, Personality and Intelligence. I’m only a week in and so far, it’s proving incredibly insightful: psychologists like to throw around the words “normal” and “abnormal” quite a lot, which doesn’t surprise me, therefore when they’re creating a hypothesis for behaviour, you can imagine why they look at a Black person and find our behaviour “abnormal” when their theories are based upon “normal [white] populations”. It also makes sense as to why they’re so frequently diagnosing Black women with Personality disorders and Black men with Schizophrenia. Go figure.

A term I’ve discovered is: Unconditional positive regard, which is where an individual becomes less reliant upon the opinions of others and becomes more confident in their own opinion of themselves, therefore having a more positive opinion of oneself. This is a construct which I feel that my generation of Black people are lovingly embracing and something older generations were never taught – in fact, they were taught to hate themselves. Black people were never taught about the concept of self, not in this way, in fact I know in Caribbean culture it was very selfish to be introspective. However, what the older generation didn’t realise was that not allowing themselves to be free of white opinions was a mental shackle.

My final thought is something I read which proves something I’ve thought for awhile: some people create a self-construct (image) as a crutch, which is not actually a true representation of themselves or the way they can behave all the time, so when a distortion takes place, they become aggressive because they’re suddenly unsure of how to behave. I’ve found this in situations when [white] people are pretending that they are intelligent in conversations, but I show them up (not on purpose), so they become aggressive towards me. When these situations initially used to happen, I would become upset because in my mind I’m thinking all we’re doing is having a conversation, and now you’re shouting at me and calling me stupid wtf! when actually I’m saying something intelligent and you’re the stupid one, however now I’m confident enough to know that they are the insecure one and they are the one who is lashing out because of their insecurities. Their behaviour is a reflection of their own insecurities and a denial of any incongruence between their self-image and own behaviour.

XOXO

Posted in Blog

Pioneer

Last night I was bullied out of a Facebook Epilepsy support group and I realised, if I really want to be a pioneer, I need to toughen up.

I joined this group last year when I felt I needed support, however I ended up using them very infrequently.

Some white people within the group didn’t like my last post. They didn’t read it. They didn’t read the studies. They find the fact that my pointing out that as a Black woman, with a different body, mind and brain and henceforth shouldn’t be treated under a healthcare system that is specifically created for only white bodies, minds and brains and is therefore killing me, makes me racist. They also aggressively bullied me for pointing out that vitamin D is linked to seizure control regardless of race and should be prescribed, and harassed me until I had to leave the group. The notifications were off the frickin’ hook, with messages containing capital letters (which my partner and I both found to be incredibly aggressive) – all because I wrote a bloody blog post! And they didn’t even read it! Because they’re too stupid!

This is what I’ve learnt about these types of racists: when you make them feel inadequate, they will stop at nothing to try to intimidate you. I made them feel ignorant, so they tried to do the same back in an aggressive manner, but I refused to rise to the bait. I just kept on telling them to read the science, which pissed them off even more.

But I soon had enough. I have to protect my mental health, and I’m two weeks’ seizure free (woo!)- speaking of which, we’re all epileptics in this group, who all know what stress does to each other and a gang of white epileptic people are trying to stress me out, just because I’m smart? Go read a fucking book you morons! I know my worth. And the ironic this is, these racists kept on saying that we weren’t different, yet they treated me with absolutely no regard, because they do not see me as a fellow Epileptic. Because I’m Black. Do you see?

I did have a cry, of course I did, because a) it hurts to be bullied and I’m human and b) it’s healthy to let it out. However, if I really am the only person speaking up about the racism in health, specifically Epilepsy – which is why I referred to myself as a pioneer at the beginning of this post – then I do need to toughen up because the road is only going to get bumpier.

I find it absolutely hilarious that white people find it so offensive for people of colour to point out the absence of our inclusivity… “oh you’re being racist”; by saying that we’re not being treated fairly by the law? To say that it’s time for there to be more representation in medical research? We exist, therefore we have every right to be represented in medical research.

Going off on a tanjent slightly, but I’m currently reading Americanah, by Chimamanada Ngozi Adichie and in one scene, the protagonist Ifemelu is sitting at a table with a copy of “Essence” magazine, a Black beauty magazine, which her boyfriend at the time, Curt, finds racist because it only contains Black models. She then takes him to a cafe where they look at numerous magazines, flip from cover-to-cover to count how many Black models they can find: in two thousand pages they find only three Black models. Curt finally understands the importance of Essence magazine, because prior to its existence there was nothing on the market in terms of representation for Black beauty.

At the moment, this is the problem we have in Epilepsy: White voices speaking for Black bodies and brains. How does this make sense, when you don’t understand how we work? 

XOXO

Posted in Blog

Seasonality in Epileptic Seizures

vitaminddisc

As you may or may not know, I have been fighting with my Epilepsy team to prove that there is a correlation between Vitamin D deficiency and seasonality in Epileptic seizures. Zsófia Clemens,, András Holló , Anna Kelemen , György Rásonyi , Dániel Fabó , Péter Halász, József Janszky, and Anna Szűcs in their 2013 study, reported a significant effect seasonal effect (p=0.026), which I presented to my Epilepsy team. In the study, patients kept a seizure diary and seizure numbers showed a significant seasonal pattern for Epileptic seizures with a peak in January and a nadir in August – very similar to my own. In fact, the highest numbers were during the three winter months – again similar to my own.

 

There also appears to be more direct evidence supporting the anti-convulsive effect of vitamin D. In fact, according to their pilot study in 2012, they reveal that vitamin D deficiency is known to be highly prevalent among epilepsy patients, which appears to be unknown to NHS England, as it appears to be unknown to my Epilepsy team.

In a comparison during a 90-day period before and after vitamin D3 treatment onset, median seizure reduction was 40%. Furthermore, reduction of seizure numbers was significant (p = 0.04). The conclusion of the study therefore, was that vitamin D has an anticonvulsant effect in support with antiepileptic drugs.

 

This study appears to suggest that NHS England is failing its Epilepsy patients. My Epilepsy team also told me that vitamin D deficiency does not cause seizures, however this pilot study appears to suggest otherwise. Therefore, if vitamin D was prescribed alongside anticonvulsant medication, imagine the significant impact this might have for the wellbeing of Epilepsy patients’ health in the UK?

 

What is also important to note is the final discussion:

 

“Our study highlights the potential importance of screening vitamin D levels in patients on antiepileptic therapy and starting supplementation in those with low levels.”

 

What does this this mean for Black people with Epilepsy?

 

As a Black woman with Epilepsy, my priority is always speaking out against racism in Epilepsy. The NHS guidelines state that 30 minutes of sunlight a day is sufficient for vitamin D intake – implicitly ignoring people of colour and those of us who may be chronically ill, or in bed recovering from seizures on a regular basis. Low vitamin D levels also cause fatigue, depression and weight gain – things that many women of colour in particular complain of, and white Clinicians stigmatise them for.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, people with a long-term illness or disease are at greater risk of a range of mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and PTSD (Mental Health Foundation, 2018). However, due to racism from white Clinicians, people of colour are rarely offered help such as counselling and talking therapies in comparison to their white counterparts. Depression is also a symptom of Epilepsy while simultaneously a side-effect of many anticonvulsants, therefore the negative implications of low levels of vitamin D will have a significant effect upon mood and quality of life for people of colour with Epilepsy.

What about outside of the doctor’s room? Well, all of this will have severe implications on the standard of living for people of colour: socioeconomically, Epilepsy affects level of wealth and job prospects, because employers are much less sympathetic towards us. We are seen as fakers when we are sick and aggressive when we try to stand up for ourselves.  In fact, we are seen as aggressive whether or not we are sick. This then affects our economic and political stability, as well as our safety in terms of which geographic locations we can reside in, which again circles back to mental health, freedom and quality of life.

So when people continue to ask, what does Epilepsy have to do with race? Everything.

And finally, my blood test result was 25 (the lowest is 24), which is severely low, proving that vitamin D should be prescribed to Black Epilepsy patients on the NHS, along with anticonvulsants. However, once my prescription of two-weeks’ worth of boosters has been taken, I will be left to self-medicate for vitamin D and add oily fish to my shopping trolley, in order to maintain my own seizure and mental health control, instead of relying upon NHS England to do that for me. Or at least help me with it.

 

References

Holló, A., Clemens, Z., Kamondi, A., Lakatos, P., & Szűcs, A. (2012). Correction of vitamin D deficiency improves seizure control in epilepsy: A pilot study. Epilepsy & Behavior, 24(1), 131-133. doi:10.1016/j.yebeh.2012.03.011

 

Zsófia Clemens, András Holló , Anna Kelemen, György Rásonyi, Dániel Fabó, Péter Halász, József Janszky, & Anna Szűcs1. (2013). Seasonality in Epileptic Seizures. Journal of Neurology and Translational Neuroscience. 1: 1016.

 

Mental Health Foundation. Mental Health Statistics: Physical Health Conditions

 

The Guardian. ‘The Lowest of the Stack’: Why Black Women Are Struggling With Mental Health