As a self appointed mental health advocate, I have been fortunate enough to be approached by the BBC a few times throughout my crazy journey of ill mental health and my latest opportunity was being able to share parts of my story via the BBC Radio4 and Made In Manchester documentary, “Black Girls Don’t Cry”. Due to resounding success, it is available once more. It airs January 3rd at 8pm BBC Radio4 but is also currently available on iPlayer. Simply Google, “Black Girls Don’t Cry” or https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b9zfws and you shall be able to hear two other brave black ladies as well as myself, share our stories of ill mental health. Catch it while you can. It really gives great food for thought.
Isn’t it strange when memories suddenly flow back, memories that you completely forget have happened to you!? I am sure you have all experienced this. May it be a coping mechanism or just down to a flakey memory.
The topic of mental health and the percentages of people with Afro Caribbean descent being treated more aggressively then those from other heritages seems to be quite hot at the moment. As a black female who has been in the mental health system most of my life but more heavily since 2013, I thought that I had only experienced what I considered to be racist encounters, via staff of fellow Afro-Caribbean descent. I have blogged about those experiences before.
Yesterday I was asked to share those documented encounters with a black mental health worker for a case study, and upon reflection in conversation today, I remembered something else.
In December 2013 I was accosted by another patient of dual heritage, she questioned my gender (on an all female ward) and consistently called me a, “Black Bitch”, a “Fat Bitch” and a “Nigger”! Everyday for almost a month. I was scared, offended and uncomfortable around her but inevitably saw her most days as there isn’t to much room when stuck in an acute ward. The staff seemed to fear her also and so she was never reprimanded. Looking back at the situation more rationally, I now realise that the described patient was transgender, physically obese and had identity issues with being from a dual heritage descent. Her bullying was a projection of her own self loathing, unfortunately, unintentionally and unluckily for me, I ignited some discomfort within her. I did not understand at the time and it clearly distressed me and interfered with my recovery but now three years later and the ability to reflect upon the situation rationally, her verbal abuse and issues with me, weren’t actually about me at all!
During another relapse and an admission to another hospital only last year, I experienced something similar. There was an elderly black lady. She disliked me from the moment that she saw me and made it known each and every time she looked at me. “You Black Bitch!” “You are as dark as chocolate, look at you!” “I don’t look like you, you darkie”. She threw things at me, glared at me, waved her Christian cross necklace at me, even tried to physically attack me. Once again, I felt sabotaged and the staff didn’t really intervene. I think on one occasion when she threw her corn beef (which I hate by the way) sandwich at my head, she was sent to her room! It is kind of funny thinking back. At the time it was frustrating, hospital is about recovery, monitoring and restoration, not more aggregation and agitation, but once again, I understand now that her manner and behaviour were more about her own issues and not really about me at all!
So two more real life accounts on my experiences of being black, mentally ill and hospitalised.
I think that I have been penalised and judged more, for having a history of achievement’s. I had the get up and go despite many odd’s stacked against me, the awol father, teenage mother, alopecia, the bullying, depression etc. I auditioned and placed with The National Youth Theater at sixteen and seventeen. Getting into Drama School at seventeen. Moving to London alone at eighteen. Acquiring a 2.1 Bachelor Of Arts Degree by twenty-one. Being self sufficient. Being an Actor. Working in education. Having all of that as my history plus my artistic expression and vocabulary to date, it seems to get some mental health worker’s backs up. This disgusts me because to me it is very black and white, basic, and I always try to see the grey. All human beings have mental health and anyone and everyone’s mental health can get knocked, bruised, fractured or broken, just like any other part of the body. No matter who you are or where you come from, no one is immune and absolutely everyone is susceptible! It is not just the mighty who can fall, and there is no shame in needing help to get back up!