Posted in Blog, Mental Health

Like A Phoenix

On 1st September 2018, I got my fifth tattoo.

Screen Shot 2018-09-09 at 18.45.25

Like a phoenix, I rise from the ashes.

2018 has been an incredible year of ups, downs, struggles, celebrations, births and deaths.

Like owls, phoenixes have been a symbolic bird to me because of their ability to rebirth; they burst into flames after living for centuries and then from the ashes, they rebirth into renewed youth, to live for another cycle of life.

I feel like in 2017, I finally succumbed to  everything that had aged me and died a metaphorical death. Then in 2018, I used those ashes to recreate a new me, more youthful, wiser and with renewed energy, to begin life anew.

I’m laughing more, I’m dancing more, I’m flying and soaring. And when things have weighed me down such as family, relationship problems, falling under the pressures of academia and battling with the DWP, I’ve carried on fighting. Hence the tattoo.

Each time I look at it, I feel like a mother gazing down at her new baby (LOL); I forget all of the pain I’ve gone through, because now all I see whenever I look at this tattoo is beauty and love.

2018 has also been a symbolic year for me, because I’ve been published (again)!! This time in an anthology raising awareness for Black and minority mental health in the UK. The anthology is called “The Colour of Madness” featuring artwork, poetry and short stories, including mine called “Matriarchal Dreams“, a story birthed from my mental breakdown last year and recurring nightmares about my mother and the member of staff who tormented me during my teacher training year. It’s now available to buy on Amazon so make sure you grab a copy ASAP!!!

Peace and love.

XOXO

XOXO

 

Posted in Blog

Fighting The Good Fight

Over the weekend I went to a picnic with some of my girfriend’s friends. It was a lovely afternoon in Hyde Park – apart from the weather; after sweating through the London heatwave for many weeks, it was now absolutely fucking freezing following a thunderstorm the night before; I was also inappropriately dressed for a heatwave, having not checked the weather app beforehand (!!!) Some of these people I’d already met on a previous night out so it was good to be around people I already knew; some were new faces, and very welcoming.
We had a great afternoon of munching on a picnic brunch and listening to good music on a portable speaker.
Until the conversation turned sinister. One of the older women began a debate on legalising drugs; some of the group were for legalising while others were against. There was already some tension as the woman who had initiated the conversation was incredibly forthcoming with her opinions and dominating the debate. Myself and another girl removed ourselves from the conversation as it became more and more heated, by lying down and talking amongst ourselves, however I could still hear my girlfriend very much trying to get the woman to see her point of view while agreeing with some of the opposing points, which the woman clearly couldn’t see, because she wasn’t actually listening to my girlfriend and instead was just raising her voice to oppress my girlfriend.
Then suddenly, the debate turned even more sinister as the woman brought social economic status as well as race into the debate. Although she said that she believed the middle classes were to blame for the drug problems within the working class, she also said believed that Black people were a major problem with their gang culture wars and “nonsensical murdering amongst the community”. She then brought up the recent murder of an eighteen year old in Brixton (Latwaan Griffiths, 18) and said that this had been related to drugs, therefore the boy was clearly no angel as depicted by grieving family and friends, but:

“a little shit who had trouble coming to him”.

Imagine my surprise that she could be so open about her views on the murder of a young Black man in the presence of a Black woman. However, for the sake of keeping the harmony, I kept silent.
She mentioned that she had read about the incident in a news article in that day’s Evening Standard, a copy of which she had. I asked if I could see it and as I read it, nowhere did I see any mention of drugs being related to the death of this Black young man. It did however mention that he was a rapper. BINGO! I thought. She clearly read “rapper” and made assumptions based upon the connotations of the colour of his skin and his occupation.

*I was going to link the article here, however the online version is EXTREMELY different to the printed version. E.g. the online version doesn’t mention Griffiths being a rapper, neither does it have any of the positive quotes from his loved ones*

As I finished the article, she continued to make derogatory remarks about the Black community to me. This time only to me. At this point, I then said to her “I don’t want to speak about this anymore”.
She ignored me and carried on. By this point, I was clearly visibly distressed, which she continued to ignore as she insisted on to making her derogatory opinions heard. I then said, you do realise that there is more to this story? She replied:

“yeah, that he was involved in gangs and drugs and had no better aspirations, just like the rest of them.”

Me:

“well no, there’s more to it than that, especially in terms of the societal problems within the community.”

However, she wasn’t getting the hint and she continued in her argument that boys like this were just little shits. I then said to her that she clearly couldn’t see the bigger picture, so there really was no point in having this discussion any further, to which she replied “well why don’t you tell me?” It had earlier become clear to me that she had no interest in my opinion and that she was just baiting me for a reaction, hence I told her that I refused to engage in any further conversation and walked away. She then went back to the rest of the group and still within earshot, I could hear her continuing her debate and derogatory remarks. My girlfriend came over to me to apologise for this woman’s behaviour and asked if I was ok, to which I responded nearly in tears that no I wasn’t and that I really didn’t want to make a scene so I’m just going to go home. My girlfriend begged me to stay, but I felt so uncomfortable that regardless of how lovely the rest of the group were, I just didn’t want to be around them. I felt like I’d been attacked and felt raw to the touch.
Having decided to go home, I wanted to say my goodbyes to the rest of the group, but I could still hear this woman ranting away, so after thinking carefully about what I wanted to do and say, I then said to my girlfriend: “I’m going to say something” and before my girlfriend could respond, I walked up the woman and said:

“Can I just give you some advice? In future, you really need to be careful of how you speak about Black people around a Black person, because sometimes what you say can be harmful”.

I did not call her racist, I just informed her that her comments were harmful. Immediately her response was to become defensive as she accused me of calling her a racist and acted offended. This made me extremely upset. To top it off, she then said to me “I’m sorry if I offended you, but I’m not racist” which is when my girlfriend jumped in and said:

“hold on! Saying ‘sorry if I offended you’ is not a real apology! If you’re going to apologise for what you’ve said and really mean it, you don’t say ‘I’m sorry if you were offended’ because that’s not accepting responsibility”

The woman then responded “well I’m sorry, but I’m not a racist! I have black-”
And before she could finish that sentence I cried “oh here we go! The ‘I’m not a racist because I have one Black friend’ argument. Well guess what? You are a fucking racist because you’ve proved yourself to be one”.
She then became angry at me for calling her a racist again (even though this was actually the first time I had said it) and approached me to touch me. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps to pacify me, however in that moment I did not want to be touched, especially by a fucking racist. As I stepped back and told her not to fucking touch me, she had the caucasity to look affronted, while saying, “I just want to calm you down” – because I’m an angry Black woman right, and like bears, racists think we need to be calmed down and tamed, to which I repeated my request that she do not touch me. She then stormed off, yelling that she had been victimised.

Having not wanting to cause a scene, I was petrified that everybody except my girlfriend would be angry with me for “spoiling the afternoon”. However, all of the group bare one person, were completely on my side. They completely sympathised with me and understood where I was coming from. In fact, I’d felt so guilty and embarrassed about the entire altercation, that I was contemplating going home so that everybody else could enjoy themselves without me. However, the rest of the group insisted that I come out for drinks with them.

The one person who wasn’t on my side, was of course friends with the racist who had stormed off and she decided to go and follow her friend to see if she was okay. The rest of us decided to find a pub in which to hang out. Eventually the friend caught up with us and started filling everybody else in on what had been discussed. I decided to walk away from the group at a near distance in front, to also distance myself from the drama, because I was still feeling raw, but at the same time I no longer wanted to be part of it. However, I could hear this woman saying that her racist friend had told her that she hadn’t done anything wrong and had been called a racist for no reason. This woman then started calling my name.

I ignored her, hoping she would get the hint.

She didn’t. She came running after me and asked if we could talk about what had happened. I replied that I really didn’t want to and just wanted to move on from the situation. However, this woman REFUSED TO LISTEN TO ME and proceeded to tell me that her friend was not a racist and didn’t understand what she had done wrong, and that she was hurt by being called a racist, plus she’s worked with black people for years –

Before this bitch could rant any further I cut her off with the following:

“Okay, I’ve just told you that I don’t want to talk about this anymore, but you’ve ignored me. You need to understand that I AM the victim here, not your friend and when I tell you that I do not want to talk about this, it’s because it’s extremely upsetting for me. Okay?”

She said okay before skulking off with a hurt expression on her face. (Classic white fragility – why the fuck is she upset in this situation????)
She then decided that she could no longer come to the pub with us (although she had planned to before this latter discussion with me) because she suddenly had to meet a friend.
To say that the rest of the group were not disappointed by this would be an understatement.
I spent the rest of the walk praised for my heroism and confidence, before sitting down in a lovely pub in Kensington having drinks and having some cheeky girl chat.
However, as much as I appreciate the compliment, to say that I was brave is incorrect; standing up against racism isn’t about bravery, it’s about having to remind racists that Black people are human beings and fighting for my right as a human to just live my fucking life. That doesn’t take guts, it takes fucking stamina because it’s fucking exhausting. I’m also not as confident as I may come across online, and therefore try to avoid confrontations; as you can see from my account of what happened last weekend, I purposefully tried to remove myself from this situation MORE THAN ONCE, however I was bombarded with aggressive white fragility to not only victimise and dehumanise me, but to also put me in my place. As the only Black woman in the group, I was being told by these two women that I was not wanted in this space. It was actually like they were telling me: What’s it going to take to get you to leave?
On the positive side, the best thing about the situation is not only that the group were on my side, but also my girlfriend had my back for the first time ever in an altercation with a racist. She paid attention not only to the situation but also to my feelings, without me having to communicate them and she’s now realised that not paying attention and then making excuses for white people’s racism just doesn’t cut it. You can’t NOT be a racist and still say racist things. As white people, you are conditioned to think about Black people and POC (people of colour) a certain way and act around / towards us a certain way, sometimes without you even realising. However, this is no excuse because if you refuse to realise and make an effort to unlearn these insidious racist messages and propaganda – especially as an adult – then I’m afraid you are a racist.

You can also see that from the way my girlfriend spoke up for me, you can speak out against racism while also keeping the attention on the Black person, as opposed to taking the spotlight for yourself because you want to paint yourself as a white saviour or ally.

It really isn’t that fucking hard.

Rest in power Latwaan Griffiths 🖤

XOXO

Posted in Blog, Mental Health

Mental Health Services Are Letting Black People Down BIG TIME

I’m so angry and distraught.

After being rejected by the Islington Personality Disorder Service (London) for treatment last year, I was referred to The Spiral Centre in Islington for low-cost therapy. I applied in December 2017 and was added to their waiting list. I finally had an assessment in May 2018, after which I was told that I would be notified about which therapist I had been allocated to within a matter of weeks.

It is now July and I have still not been allocated to a therapist. When I contacted Spiral, this was their response:

We are very sorry that you have been waiting so long and we haven’t been in touch with you since May. You’re right that our usual waiting time is around three months but this has unexpectedly increased recently because more people are contacting us. We definitely have you on the waiting list and have been looking out for an appropriate vacancy for you. Partly the delay has been that we think that you need to have a more experienced therapist from what you said in the assessment, and we have a smaller number of experienced therapists on the low cost scheme. We will be in touch as soon as are able to offer you a space with a therapist but unfortunately we are not able to predict when that will be, you are near the top of the waiting list.
Please do contact us again with any questions.
All good wishes

The reason why I have highlighted part of the response in red, is because I didn’t tell them anything new in the assessment that I hadn’t told them in my original application. In fact, I was extremely upfront in my application about my mental health having deteriorated due to racial trauma.

While on Spiral’s waiting list, I was seeing a Private Therapist, which my girlfriend was paying for due to my low income, however I stopped seeing this therapist partly because I no longer wanted to rely upon my girlfriend for money – she’s my partner, not my mother or the guardian of my mental health – but also because after the assessment, Spiral had assured me that I wouldn’t have to wait long for my sessions to start. Hence, from that, I began to wind down my sessions with the Private Therapist before coming to a complete end, under the assumption that I would be picked up by Spiral.

Now I’ve been left with nothing.

I’m furious with Spiral, because although I sympathise that they are a small organisation, they do still have a duty of care to people like me who are on their waiting list and have been fed empty promises. When I brought this up with them in my response to their’s above, they admitted that they had fucked up, however I just had to wait.

Great.

The fact that I am currently studying Mental Health and Psychology also seems to be a double edged sword, because although I’m learning about the mind and educating myself for my future, I’m also seen as a high-functioning patient because of the subject I am studying, which is ridiculous. Even qualified therapists are required to have their own therapeutic support. Furthermore, many people in therapy make the assumption that I know more than trainee therapists, which is untrue; I’m not yet training to be a therapist, I’m still in the very early stages of my career, hence I am nowhere near as qualified as a trainee therapist.

In the meantime, I’ve contacted The Gestalt Centre in Kings Cross, London. However, I’ve now been told that some applicants wait up to a year or more to be allocated to a therapist. I’m now currently on their waiting list too.

Both Spiral, and The Gestalt Centre have given me a list of organisations to contact in the meantime, however out of the list the latter sent to me, the majority don’t even apply to me (!!!!!!) and the list from Spiral is the same exhausted list I was sent by the Islington Personality Service last year.

So, a year after my mental health breakdown, I am still in the same place as I was – rejected by the NHS for help and struggling with my mental health. I have an assignment due this week and I cannot even bring myself to get out of bed to do any work. I am mentally exhausted.

What is most exhausting is the discrimination when it comes to therapy and counselling: the Personality Service rejected me because they bought into the stereotypes of me being a Black woman who is strong enough to find her own resources; my girlfriend and I applied to Tavistock for couples therapy, last month and I was told that not only would it be offensive to talk about racism to a white therapist and that my requesting a black therapist to counteract this would be offensive to white therapists, I was also told that my girlfriend’s “trans issues” are of a higher importance than my trauma caused by historical and daily racism.

As a Black woman in Britain, struggling with her mental health, there is nothing for me. One of the reasons why I’m doing this MSc and planning on then training to be a Black Therapist in the UK, is because WE NEED MORE BLACK THERAPISTS IN THE UK. There are thousands of Black British people like me who are struggling with generational, historical, as well as current racism on a daily basis. The problem with white therapists is although they are bound by ethics, their white fragility is still triggered by talking about the Black experience. I was once told by a white therapist that I was offending her, just for talking about how I was being treated at work for the colour of my skin. Furthermore, white people just cannot understand or empathise with the Black experience (and the majority even seem to be incapable of simple sympathy), partly because they are so blinded by white privilege: how many times are we as Black people told that “historical racism is not an issue because it’s in the past” and therefore we should “get over it and stop living with a chip on our shoulder”? How many times are we as Black Britons told that our experience is nowhere near as traumatic as that of the Black American experience, therefore we should be grateful? How many times are we told that we are “just looking for racism that doesn’t even exist”? How many times are we told that just by talking about racism or mentioning it, we are “playing the race card”?

How many of you know how fucking traumatic all of this is to us as Black people?

You tend to conveniently forget that we are fucking human beings.

On top of apparent BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder), I’m also still struggling with body dysphoria and bulimia (I fight every day to not make myself sick after meals, because of my meds, but sometimes it’s hard to control, especially when you grew up doing it), as well as the depression that comes with having to live with a chronic condition. All while struggling with the psychological impacts of racism.

So, in regards to the mental health, I don’t know what the fuck I’m going to do. My student loan barely even covers my tuition fees, let alone basic living; same with the benefits I am currently on for my Epilepsy. I’m sure I’ll figure something out… Black people always do, right?

Hopefully my mental health won’t consume me in the meantime.

XOXO

P.S. If you are Black and struggling with your mental health, AND can afford Private Therapy, please do contact a therapist via The Black, African and Asian Therapy Network. Some also offer reduced rates, depending on your level of income.
P.P.S. So I’ve just finished reading Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas by Maya Angelou and wanted to share this quote as it relates to well to what I was saying about seeing a white therapist:
I used up my Kleenex and took more from my purse. No, I couldn’t tell him [the white psychiatrist] about living inside a skin that was hated or feared by the majority of one’s fellow citizens or about the sensation of getting on a bus on a lovely morning, felling happy and suddenly seeing the passengers curl their lips in distaste or avert their eyes in revulsion. No, I had nothing to say to the doctor. I stood up. 
Here’s another quote from the play Leave Taking, by Winsome Pinnock:
Enid: What doctor know about our illness? Just give you a few pills to sick your stomach and a doctor certificate. What they know about a black woman soul. 
Posted in Blog

I Am Black British, I Will Not Get Out of Here

I had my last session with my private therapist this week.

It’s the end of an era.

#celebration #turnup

She’s been a blessing to me, truly. An inspiration. And I’ll always be thankful to her for helping me to create the woman I am today.

I have come a long way. I’m back in part-time work now, which I never would’ve had the courage to do without her help and I’m more motivated than ever to finish my MSc, now that I’ve seen where it can take me!

Backtowork

(My back-to-work selfie)

Before going back to work, I almost had a back slide, following a racially traumatic trip to the North of England. My girlfriend and I rented a motorhome and took a road trip through the Peak District, the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District. I noticed that the further North we went, the more people would stare (and glare), and become less friendly, until they were ignoring me completely to pretend that I didn’t exist. In a café in Cumbria in the Lake District, the staff refused to speak to me and kept me waiting longer than other white customers who had ordered long after me. The waitress also didn’t bring me any cutlery with my food, like Black people are savages and therefore always eat with our hands. Then later on the same day, I was asked to leave a pub, while my white girlfriend sat peacefully undisturbed by the staff in the corner. I was asked to leave because as a Black woman, clearly not from the area, I made the manager uncomfortable thus she made me uncomfortable on her land. I sat at a bus stop crying for half an hour, just wishing to be back home in London, even if I do live on an all white street where the neighbours think I’m going to rob their properties or pull a gun out of my handbag each time I reach into my handbag to pull out my keys.

Psychologically, this experience made me want to retreat back into myself. I knew that I was returning to work the following week too, but I very nearly called to say that I’d changed my mind, or that I could no longer work for whatever reason.

But after ranting on social media about my experiences and finding solidarity in my Black sisters online, I found the strength to not give up. One friend even DM’d me to make sure I was ok when she saw my tweets about how upset my holiday was making me.

#Blacksistersgotmyback

It’s a shame that racism marred the trip, because I saw some majestic waterfalls, glorious moors and stunning horizons. England truly is a beautiful country.

(Left image: Peak District; Top right image: Aysgarth Falls, Yorkshire Dales; Bottom right image: Cumbria, Lake District.)

 

Moors2

(Image: Yorkshire Dales)

Part of me was initially angry with myself for having put myself into the situation, because “I should’ve known or expected to be racially abused” and I felt that I shouldn’t have made myself go on the trip in the first place. However, it was during my therapy session after the trip where I suddenly realised that (a) I had no right to make myself feel like that, burdened with guilt and shame and (b) I am British as well as Black Caribbean and I have EVERY RIGHT to go wherever the fuck I want in my OWN COUNTRY, my OWN home. Nobody has the right to dehumanise me, but DEFINITELY NOT in my own fucking home. I’m not going to apologise for being alive or being the colour I am just because certain people perceive the colour of my skin to be the wrong colour either.

Which brings me to Love Island, my new reality TV addiction (hence all the random hashtags in this post!)… Samira, the only Black woman contestant has been single since the season launched, because every guy’s type appears to be blonde hair and blue eyes (white), which is not the issue here because this is also Samira’s type. The issue is, as the only Black woman on the island, none of the men find her desirable. At first, when I started watching, my initial thoughts were, “well what did she expect, going on a show like Love Island she’s guna get rejected!” However, upon reflection, I suddenly realised that I was wrong for thinking this way. Why shouldn’t Samira go on a show like Love Island? She’s fucking hot, she’s British and she has every right to go on a dating show like all of her white peers, looking for love, a fling or whatever. Seeing how the other contestants treat Samira, is just the epitome of British racism – the guys treat her like a leper because she’s that sexually undesirable to them, while the girls treat her like an agony aunt, forcing her to put aside her own problems (the fact that nobody fancies her or wants to couple up with her), to listen to the other girls whine about their petty boy dramas, simultaneously rubbing in her face the fact that they have boys to have drama with, while she doesn’t.

To be implicitly and explicitly told that you “don’t belong here”, is what racism is in our country.

XOXO

Posted in Blog

Speaking Out & Fighting Black

I always feel like I’m constantly crying because I’m constantly disappointed by life.

My girlfriend doesn’t do her share of the housework, so I cry as I obsessively glare at the dirty dishes piling up.

My mother proves once again that she cannot be the mother I deserve, so I cry.

I wake up to a new day and before I’ve even opened my eyes properly I have a seizure, so I cry.

I think about the possibility of returning to work but the thought of doing so fills me with immense fear. So I cry.

When I do work up the courage to apply for jobs, I hit a wall when it comes to the reference requests because my previous employer always find a way to refuse doing it even though they signed an non-disclosure agreement (NDA) promising to give me a reference for any future employment. So when they don’t I cry.

I’ve kept my end of the agreement for almost a year now. Even though I was forced to sign this document when I was mentally unstable.

One of the terms of the agreement was to also keep quiet about the name of that Employer, so even though they are so intent on not only ruining my past career, but any future job prospects, I still have to keep schtum..

The employer was an all white comprehensive secondary school in Finchley. For legal reasons, let’s call them “Jule’s House of Pain”.

And they fired me because I am Black and disabled.

When I called my mum weeks ago to tell her what “Jule’s House of Pain” were doing, she advised me to send an email to the new Head Teacher pleading for her to reconsider. When I asked my mum why I should have to grovel to these people, her response was:

That’s what Black people have to do in this country.

I hated the idea but I did it anyway. The Head Teacher ignored me. So when I got an email from the employment agency I was trying to register with to say that they had to reject my application, because”Jule’s House of Pain” were refusing to give me a reference and thus confirm that there were no Child Protection issues while I was an employee at the school, I decided to fight. I emailed the Head Teacher again, pointing out that she was breaking the terms of the NDA and I would be forced to take legal action against the school.

She emailed me back within a day to say that she had provided the reference to the agency.

My previous email may have helped my case because clearly this new Head Teacher, who wasn’t working at the school while I was there, had inherited the prejudice from her predecessor who had tortured me. This was clear from the way she spoke to me on the phone when I courageously called to speak to her personally. She spoke to me like I was a piece of dirt. Therefore a polite, grovelling email contradicts the Black, aggressive troublemaker she’s evidently heard about. Perhaps she saw my final email as a “last resort” and out of character if she compared me to the same person who had emailed so politely prior. But, as Black people in Britain it is not our legacy to plead with white people to get what we are entitled to. We are human beings and citizens.

But, as Black people in Britain it is not our legacy to plead with white people to get what we are entitled to. We are human beings and citizens.

So now, instead of crying I’m going to fight. I was forced to sign that NDA while I was mentally unstable, so I’m going to seek legal advice on my next steps. When I read it now in my right mind, I see it as worthless like the toilet paper I use to wipe my arse. It doesn’t protect me, it is just an oppressive weapon to shut me up.

My therapist also asked me why I expected them to be co-operative after what they did to me:

This is “Jule’s House of Pain” why would you expect them to give you what you want?

As if that should excuse the continued torture.

Again, this isn’t about getting what I want. It’s about getting what I am entitled to as a fucking human being and a citizen of this country. It’s about being part of a new generation of Black British citizens fighting a long oppressive legacy of colonialism where white people think they can take from us and not have to pay reparations. It’s about fighting against structural racism.

After consciously making the decision to fight instead of cry, last night I dreamt about being in a school but for the first time in over a year, it wasn’t a nightmare and I didn’t wake up shouting and crying.

This time, I was in full control.