Posted in Blog

“It’s Because of Their Mental Health Issues” – Labelling and Stigma

This might be a controversial post for some, however it’s a question I often ask myself when I look at the people around me, observing their behaviour and the way they interact with the world around them.

So the question is:

How far can somebody go with using their mental health issues as an excuse for being abusive towards others?

In other words, can you excuse somebody hurting you because they have mental health issues?

The reason I ask is because although I know and through volunteering have met some amazing people with various mental health illnesses and disorders (in fact, these are people who I have come to highly respect), on the other hand I’ve also met and witnessed people who treat others appallingly: Making racist remarks, being homophobic, being verbally abusive, physically assaulting people, committing sexual assault and even murder, and society tends to excuse the behaviour as mental instability.

Last month I was physically assaulted and it was racially motivated. The perpetrator is mentally ill and many people were divided because of that, some excusing the behaviour because of his mental health issues, while others felt that although he suffers from a mental illness there is no excuse for racism. My trauma was also minimised by some because as the perpetrator has schizophrenia he was seen by them as the victim.

What do you think?

Where I volunteer, there’s a member of our team who can be extremely abrupt and rude, even to the service users. At first, especially because I’m protective of the people we look after, my first reaction was to think of him as a dick, however I then wondered if he was perhaps on the spectrum: Because he struggles with communication and becomes very unsettled when there are interruptions to the daily schedule perhaps causing him difficulty in expressing his emotions. However, considering that the people we work with are vulnerable too, does that excuse his rude behaviour towards them?

I come to recognise (through the thankful help of therapy) that I tend to get ahead of myself in making assumptions about a person’s behaviour when actually I have not right to.

This can also be applied to us as a society.

We often excuse criminal behaviour for mental instability. Very often if a white man commits mass murder, society is very quick to label him and assume that he is mentally unstable and in need of help rather than judgement. However, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, many young black men who have suffered horrendous trauma might commit acts of violence, yet society very rarely shows any understanding or sympathy towards them.

Those of us in the UK remember the incident earlier this year, where a white man verbally abused a black woman whose seat had been allocated next to his and because he didn’t want her to sit next to him, he shouted offensive racially abusive things to her (including calling her a “monkey” and referring to her as “that“), just because he didn’t want a black woman sitting next to him. Many white people who read the story excused the man’s behaviour because he was old and “probably had mental health issues”, but clearly the guy was a dick with no respect for women as well as being obviously racist.

I personally feel that there is a thin line between mental illness and hurting people. I’m not perfect and although my mental illnesses may not as severe as the people I come across while volunteering, I have definitely had moments of spontaneous emotion where I’m not thinking clearly about my actions and hurt people in the process. My personality issues make me extremely impulsive where I act before I’ve even had time to process the thoughts behind it. However, I am extremely remorseful afterwards, sometimes immediately, sometimes a little bit later on, sometimes longer. But I do show remorse which is very much genuine and very much off my own back.

This is important to note.

Last week while volunteering I had a conversation with one of the service users, who while in a fit of rage made some homophobic comments. He had been accused of hitting someone and in the process of saying he wouldn’t hurt anyone, he then said “it’s not like I’m going around beating up f****s“. I told him he couldn’t say what he was saying because it was offensive. He walked away but then a few minutes later came back with his head hung low and apologised; he explained that he was upset and struggling to express his feelings and sometimes when that happens he says things he doesn’t mean, however he had not meant to say what he had and was deeply ashamed. He also has schizophrenia and can struggle to sort through his own thoughts and beliefs. Being a queer woman, I had every right to be upset with him but to me, that was a blip for him; in my opinion he showed genuine remorse and he’s proven himself to be a kind soul. That conversation was actually our first real encounter and it could’ve had a negative impact on how I saw him, but he very quickly proved himself to be a kind-hearted and genuine person.

Unfortunately this isn’t always the case.

I think we really have to be mindful of how we’re using the term mental ill-health, because excusing bad behaviour as a symptom of mental illness only intensifies the stigma surrounding it, penalising the many people who are struggling to be seen as real people as opposed to monsters.

And these are my final thoughts for 2018! I’m going on the short mini-break to Vienna and I’ll be back on 2nd January, so when I’m back I’ll post about my trip as well as my highlights for 2018. Happy New Year to all of my readers and subscribers 💋 your support has been a lifeline for me! See you in 2019!

Posted in Blog, Mental Health

Why Doesn’t Anyone Check In? Pt. 2

As I was sobbing to my girlfriend on Wednesday night, it became unclear what I was most upset about: my ailing health, or my loneliness.

As I mentioned in my previous post, people perceive me as somebody who can look after themselves so they forget to check in on me. In fact, I think that my girlfriend is now the only person who has seen me ugly cry, and at my lowest points. But that’s probably because we live together. Even then, sometimes she forgets that I’m not always good at taking care of myself and need a little help.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I’m the kind of person who checks in on people without needing to be asked. I just fucking care so hard about the people I love.

As a blogger, I am aware that I’m very adept at creating the allusion that I can look after myself, that I’m strong and determined and I think that I’m also probably good at throwing this perception of myself into real life settings. Upon reflection, at times, I can be incredibly dishonest when people ask if I’m ok. Only a very small handful of my friends can instantly tell when I’m lying. This is not because I expect people to be psychic, or play “guess how I’m really feeling”; I think a lot of it comes from pride and not wanting to be the sick girl. There is so much stigma around being sick, particularly within communities and although I’m an advocate for mental health issues and epilepsy awareness, sometimes I’m just sick of battling the stigma especially from people I know. I see the eye rolls and the awkward checking-of-the-time to get out of a conversation with me. And it’s not like I’m constantly going on about my health; if I’m bringing it up, it’s because I’m feeling particularly shitty and am desperately reaching out, but I rarely find a hand to grasp while I’m reaching leaving me waving into empty air.

I can also be surrounded by people but feel incredibly lonely. When I’m around able-bodied people, I feel like I can’t really open up about my disabilities without bringing a black cloud to the gathering; when I’m around white people, I’m forced to reserve my true feelings of discomfort as they ignore incidents of racism, because I don’t want to be accused of steering the conversation “back to me” or playing the all-allusive “race card”. In fact, around particular people, I’m starting to feel like the minstrel again, where I’m only tolerated when I perform the role of the joker or happy girl. I was talking this through to my therapist, who responded that she felt like I was in bondage like a slave, who wasn’t allowed to open her mouth unless given permission, which I completely agree with.

I recently quoted this on Twitter and I’ll say it again here: last week on Celebs Go Dating (we all know that I’m a slut for reality TV), Chloe Simms said:

I’m too tired to give a shit about anybody else right now.

For me, this was such a MOOD!

Around certain people, I do feel that I care too much about what they think, how they might react; basically I’m not myself around these people. Fortunately these are not people I invest a lot of time in, but it’s still time which is energy. And now I’m too tired to give a shit.

This has given me a lot to think about! And I hope it resonates with some of you too about looking after yourself when the people around you might be failing in some aspects. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

XOXO

Posted in Poetry

Lanes & Races

 

You say that you expect more from me,

Implicitly saying

That black women like me are expected to work

10 times harder.

Normal status quo standards do not suffice

When it’s my efforts as the subject line –

The progress bar slows to a crawl.

You expect me to pedal faster

To gain the same distance as my peers on the same track,

Because it’s the same track but a different race –

Same ground covered but different lanes;

Lanes with potholes,

Continuous uphill terrain,

Unrelenting, steadfast obstacles,

And character assassinations.

My eyes are now open.

My skin is now raw to the touch.

My joints and limbs ache

With age beyond my years,

Yet I won’t stop running. I refuse to stop running.

My open eyes can look around

But I also keep looking forward,

To prove that your head would be spinning

If you were to run in my lane.

So I keep looking forward,

Because that is what I expect from myself.

 

© Cece Noel, 2018
Posted in Poetry

Black Skin

No means on when you have black skin

Slimy hands like tentacles slide up my leg

As tears like rain slide down my face

Black women like me should know our place

Our place of submission and regression

One step forward and two steps back

Our bodies were never meant to be our own

With white kings and queens on the throne

On the streets they watch with hawk-like eyes

They stare, licking hungry lips like predators

Watching their prey, waiting, ready to attack me

Black women like me are never let be

They move, quickly across the street

Like a “Great White Shark” in water

The chase is on, I run fast, fast, fast,

But he loves the chase and wills it to last

“I just want to say hi”, he cries from behind

“I love your black skin” he froths from the mouth

He begins to slow, the hard rock between his legs

Weighs him, betrays him, so he stops and begs

“I just want to talk” he cries once more

But what’s the point in me saying no?

Because no means on when you have black skin

In this game, a woman like me doesn’t win

 

© Cece Alex 2018

 

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

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