Yesterday. Today.

Yesterday marks the day. January 18, 2019. The day I was checked into the ER at Presbyterian. The same day I had come back from Boston with a suitcase full of clothes and a mind full of distressing thoughts. The same day I somehow made it to my grandma’s house, where I dropped off my bag and waited for my aunt. This would be the first time since St. Catherine’s that someone would be with me. The first time in a long time that someone would access a window into the world that was psychiatric emergencies. 

When we got to the ER, everything was taken away from me. Notably, my backpack that contained a book or two, pens, the Bible, and my headphones. I was allowed to keep the Bible. I didn’t think to pack a few clothes. My brain was too disorganized to think of anything besides what my mom calls the seven famous words. I was placed into a room, similar to that of a jail cell. Stripped down bear with white walls and nothing but a small bed. Later my aunt would call this room the “me and you must never part” room, because these moments we shared felt as if I were Nettie and she was Celie from the Color Purple. We sat, her on the outside, me on the inside with walls oceans wide between us for hours. Hours during which blood and urine were taken. Hours during which many people asked, “So what brings you in?” So many times that I had memorized a default response. Hours after which it was determined that I need to be hospitalized, yet again. Stay # 3 within 2 months, stay number 5 within a lifetime. Quite the track record. At last, my aunt was allowed to come in. She asked if I was okay and gave me a hug goodbye. And then like Nettie I went and journeyed towards my own sort of Africa- a foreign, faraway place, for a time period that only God knew. 

My next stop was CPEP- Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program. CPEP was nicer, more welcoming. The walls were painted blue; one had a tv on it. There was a refrigerator with food and beverages, and a place to shower, and things to color or do puzzles with. I mainly stayed in my room. Lying in bed staring up to the ceiling, thinking the infamous thoughts. A nurse came in to check on me every fifteen minutes. During one of these checks, the string in my Bible was detected. They had to cut the string out of my Bible. The Bible I had brought the week after I was discharged from St. Catherine’s with birthday money. That Bible represented a new start and now it was severed, just like I believed my chances to survive were. 

Within a few hours, I was told that the ambulance was here. I was being transferred to Westchester as per my request. I asked that I stay within New York Presbyterian and not be transferred to another hospital, even if it meant going to Westchester. It was night time then, maybe 7 or 8 o’clock. The ambulance ride was unremarkable. At the end, they wheeled me in and lowered the stretcher. I let my legs hang down and then I stepped off. Here I was. In Africa. A place I would call home for the next few months. 

Next up, another round of questioning and physical examinations and doctors, nurse practitioners, and social workers- the whole bunch of them. By the time I got to the unit, it was probably about 10. I was greeted by a nurse and a mental health worker. My blood pressure was taken, my weight, and a body map. I was assigned to a room with a stranger, as is customary. I was too tired to worry. I got into bed and quickly went to sleep.

Today marks the day. January 19, 2019. The day my mother and aunt first came to visit me at Westchester. The day they saw me clad in blue paper scrubs, smelling of must due to not being able to take a shower. The day they brought my toiletries and a few clothes. The day they spent about two hours just being with me and talking to me. The day they once again said goodbye and went home, leaving me there as they would many times.

 Yesterday marks the day. January 18, 2020. One year post my admission to Presbyterian. It starts off at 7:45 am. I get up and get ready for a doctor’s appointment, putting my leggings on underneath my sweatpants so that I can go to the gym afterwards. At the doctor’s, I’m reminded of the physical scars of my battle. The tiger like stripes that line my forearm that I show as a last resort as the nurse struggles to find a vein for blood work. The dreaded number on the scale from weight gain. 

At the gym, I try to distract myself from thinking about what this day meant and what it means now. I blast Jesus is Born through my headphones. “Lord I love you more than anything. Lord I love you more than anything.”On the elliptical, I push my legs up and down as hard as I can. On the rower, I pull and pull. On the treadmill, I put the incline all the way up. I’m trying to have a good workout, but I’m still somewhat distracted. I want to start running. But I stop midway. I can’t do this. I just can’t do this right now. Last year, I was in the hospital on this day. I’m still trying to process it all. I don’t know how to feel. Happy. Sad. Confused. Relieved. So many different feelings over something some people might forget. 

Mom picks me up. She asks how my workout was. I say okay. Could have been better. That’s me; always discounting my efforts and wanting more. We get home. I make us my favorite strawberry banana peanut butter smoothie. I take a shower. Next thing I know, I’m asleep for most of the day. Sleeping away the thoughts about what this day means. Trying not to process. Slightly worried that this tiredness I’ve been feeling may be the start of another episode. 4:00pm. Time to go to work. Work. Home. TV. Then I’m sleeping again. 

Today marks the day. January 20, 2020. One year post the day after my admission to Presbyterian. It takes me a while to get out of bed. For a minute, I contemplate not going to church. Then I think about how good God has been and get out of my bed. I also think about my post church Whole Foods trip that is a highlight of my week. I get in the shower. Get dressed. Make up my bed. Brush my teeth. Wait for the rest of my family and then off to church we are. I feel kind of weird. Not like myself. Still processing what everything means. The ride to church is a quiet one.

The message is entitled “Get up, You Ain’t Dead”. PT talks about the story of the religious leader who asked Jesus to awaken his daughter from death. He talked about silencing the noise. Silencing the noise of doubt. Silencing the voices in your head. The ones that say the seven infamous words. That message was for me. He talked about not listening to the devil’s funeral music. I can’t count how many times I listened to “This Woman’s Work”, the Maxwell edition when I was depressed. That message was for me.  He talked about getting up and knowing that as long as you have breath in your lungs, God has a purpose and a plan for your life. God has the ability to do anything as long as you have the faith to believe. That message was for me.

Yesterday marks the day. The day that I was admitted to Presbyterian.

Today marks the day. The day after I was admitted to Presbyterian.

Both days mark the start of a long journey. A journey that I am still processing. A journey I don’t know how to feel about. A journey I sometimes can’t find the words to say about. But I do know one thing, through it all God and my aunt’s spirit were carrying me. So many times, I saw one set of footprints. So many times, I lost my faith and my hope. But God, You were carrying me. Auntie, you were carrying me.

Today marks the day. January 19, 2020. The day that I decide to silence the voices. The day that I decide to silence the fear. The day that I decide to walk in faith and not by sight. The day that I realize that my life has a purpose and a plan. The day I start writing that movie that’s been burning inside of me.

Sacrifices and Giving Thanks

The other day I was talking to a friend about my medication induced weight gain. Yes, I have gained weight. And yes, I am talking about it. Weight is a topic frequently kept “hush hush”. Mostly only spoken of in regards to weight loss, as dieting and the quest to be skinny are common topics of conversation, especially among women. But the issue of gaining weight or being overweight is seldom discussed, except when it comes to extremes like the stories on My 600lb Life. 

I am not ashamed to say that I have gained some weight. Maybe a little embarrassed, I have to admit. Gaining weight or being overweight is often associated with a lack of self-control and self-discipline, a stigma I don’t want to be associated with or find to be part of my truth. However, I think it is very important to discuss the issue of medication induced weight gain as most medications come with side effects. Especially the ones that work.

Side effects are just another card dealt to us dealing with mental illness, or any illness requiring medication for that fact. In the past, I have tolerated medication pretty well. But also, in the past, I have taken medications that had little to no effect on my symptoms. Hence the term treatment resistant depression. Two medications have had the greatest impact on my symptoms, and with both side effects were included. A medication I used to take made me extremely tired, restless, and stiff. Yet my suicidal thoughts had mostly went away. After a few months on the drug, I realized that I rather manage the thoughts than manage the side effects, which took weeks to wear off. 

With the new medication I am on, I’ve experienced an increase in mood and a decrease in obsessions and compulsions. I’ve been feeling great! Writing again, laughing and smiling just to laugh and smile, feeling like the self without depression. I’ve been feeling like me. But feeling like me comes with a price, a sacrifice. Weight gain. For some others, feeling like themselves may come with other sacrifices like insomnia, sexual disfunction, loss of appetite, nausea, drowsiness, and the list goes on and on. One of the hardest parts of mental illness and seeking treatment is deciding which sacrifices are worth it, which aren’t, and often times choosing between the lesser of two evils. 

In the end, I started talking to my friend about how life is all about sacrifice. In life, you can’t have it all. There are gains and losses, ups and downs. Sacrifice. An act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy. That’s what life is, and in this holiday season, I’ve discovered that’s what being thankful is too. Sacrifice. Realizing all the sacrifices in your life- the ones you have made, the ones made for you, the ones you will never have to make. 

So here are 7 (my second favorite number) things that I am grateful for:

1. God, Jesus, and My Faith

As a Christian, I believe that Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice. For His life, the forgiveness of all my sins and imperfections was exchanged. And now I have a duty to present myself as a living sacrifice unto God. (Romans 12:1) For me, this means embodying my favorite scripture, John 11:4. Despite the challenges of my mental illness, I will endure and not die. This part of my life will strengthen my testimony and glorify God. Just the act of having faith is a sacrifice as you give up doubt and despair in acceptance of God’s love. In some places and times, there was and is the added sacrifice of persecution. So, I am very grateful for the right to practice my faith.

2. Family and Friends

For this one, I almost have no words. I can never repay these people for their love and support, especially during this trying year. From visiting me in the hospital, just hanging, writing me encouraging cards and emails, calling, bringing food, praying, texting, sharing their own stories of struggles. So many things. So many sacrifices made to give me love. So, shout-out to my people: Tara, Cody, Thalia, Zia, Mikayla, Laura, Eileen, Alana, Chelsea, Feliciano, Ms. Cecille, Ms. Mary, Ms. Lucy, Ms. Cynthia, Bianca, Aunt Lorita, Auntie, Gram, Dad, Bryce, Mom, and anyone that my mind but not my heart has forgotten to mention.

3. Food, Water, Clothing

One often taken for granted. Something I’ve never wanted for. But for some, all they want for. For some, these are their sacrifices. Not buying groceries to keep the lights on. The people in Flint, Michigan. A parent wearing a worn-out pair of shoes to save money for their child’s field trip. And that’s here in the U.S, not even to mention third world countries. Be grateful. I sure am.

4. Education

A gift that can never be lost or given away. A gift given to me by my parents. Despite not being rich, they afforded to give my brother and I a private education. I am grateful for the schools that I went to and how they have shaped who I am today. Just the experience of going to schools with much richer classmates made evident how much of a sacrifice my parents were making. Very humbling. I also am thankful that I have received an easily accessible education despite my race and gender. And that I experienced some caring teachers that sometimes made sacrifices such as buying supplies and necessities for students.

5. My Treatment Team

Past and present. These individuals have sacrificed much to preserve my life and my spirit during difficult times. Financial responsibility for their education and training. Their time. Their feelings, opinions, and judgements to be unbiased listeners and evaluators. Without these people, I don’t think I would still be here. I am so grateful for the sacrifices they make to do their jobs, and do them well.

6. Home/Shelter

My parents made many sacrifices in order to move to the house that is the only place I have ever called home. It has never been easy for them as they were products of low-income projects apartments and the urban lifestyle. But because of their sacrifices, I have a place to call home. I do not take that for granted. Some have not a home or even a shelter. It truly is the little things in life that matter most. 

I am also grateful for being home for the holidays with my family. For half of this year, I was in the hospital, yearning for home. Some days I just wanted to give up treatments so I could sleep in my own bed. Or be in my own room that was filled with books, music, and pens! Pens are such a luxury to those who have been in a psychiatric unit. Especially for me, as I have a bit of an obsession with office supplies. I hope you don’t take for granted being home for the holidays.

7. My Life/ Being Me

Today, I shouldn’t be alive. I should have died at age 18. But thank God for giving me the strength to live another 3 years despite battling mental illness. I will keep fighting as hard as I can to not let my life be sacrificed to mental illness. Because we all deserve to live. We all deserve to be happy. We all deserve to be ourselves. Including me. And it’s pretty cool being me. The way my brain works with all of its quirks. The things that make me laugh, smile, and, on rare occasions, flap with excitement. The great support system of family and friends that I’ve been blessed with. My love for books and writing. All the things I have to be grateful for. Life is good.

I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving. I hope you remember during this holiday season all the things, big and small, that you have to be grateful for. And with all the good holiday food, I hope you don’t gain too much weight. But if you do, that’s okay too. It’s always a perfect time to practice self-compassion. 

Dear Grandma Williams

Through the door, I see her. Clad in a navy-blue sweat suit. Surrounded by her peers. A sad, pale looking bunch with nothing to do but stare. She sits in her wheelchair. I remember when I was little, I would play around in her wheelchair. Trying to squeeze through the tight space of the apartment, from one end of the table to the other. It was only a distance of a few feet, yet navigating the path was a challenge. Like most paths, it had an obstacle. The exercise bike. On the right side of the wall near the kitchen. I liked the challenge though, for it was fun wheeling myself around in the wheelchair. She didn’t need it then. Nor did she need this place where I now go to see her.

Dad says he’ll bring her out; so, we don’t have to deal with the rest of the crowd and their personalities and their frustrations. Mom, Bryce, and I walk over to the sitting area with a couch and a few chairs. I take the couch. Maybe so used to taking the couch from therapy. Mom and Bryce take a seat in the chairs. A few seconds pass by. Silent and still as each one dies. Then, she’s rolled in. The person of the hour. Our honoree. The birthday girl. We greet her with hellos, kisses, and happy birthdays. 

She keeps saying that she can’t believe it. She forgot that it was her birthday. And no one there had reminded her. She’s so happy that we came; so surprised to see us all here- her son, her daughter-in-law, her grandchildren. For that I am ashamed. I should visit more. But visiting causes me so much pain, especially since 6South. 

I used to think we had nothing in common. But now that I think of it, we’ve always had one thing in common. And it’s one of the most important things in my life. Music. We each have a love for music; one that she passed on to her two sons, that was passed on to me, that hopefully I will pass on. I remember asking if she could have a MP3 player, so she could listen to music whenever she wanted to. That idea was shot down; she probably wouldn’t know how to use it and if she did, she would probably end up losing it. It saddened me that she couldn’t have her own music. Music is so simple yet so vital, especially in that kind of setting. I would know. I did know. 

I used to think we had nothing in common. I used to think that she didn’t even see me. She saw Bryce though. Maybe it was because he is a boy and that’s what she was used to. Maybe it was because he was always the baby. As she reads our names from the card and stumbles over Bryce’s, I wonder if she ever knew his name.  She always just called him the baby. I remember her always saying that the baby needs juice. Almost every visit Bryce would ask for juice. So did I. She and Uncle David always had apple juice; and I loved apple juice. But I was old enough to get it myself. 

I used to think she had nothing in common with anyone. My Grandma Williams was such a mystery; and I wasn’t a good detective. I wondered why she gave Christmas gifts like beef jerky and cheese from the catalogs. I wondered why she had only one friend, Mary, and why she didn’t hang out with her. I wondered how she was with her sisters and what they did growing up. I wondered who she was. I never got to know.

Now I wonder who she is and who she will become. Now I wonder how what we have in common has changed her and will change her, as it sure has changed me. Now I wonder how what she has in common with so many has changed her and will change her, as it sure has changed me. 

We both know what it is like to be in a clinical setting for an extended period of time. I was on 6South for 6 months, she has been in the nursing home for 3 years. It seems like a huge disparity in time, yet when you’re in such a place, time stretches and contorts so that days feel like weeks and weeks like days or years and years like weeks or generations. You come to the point where time is just all the same. Time becomes just that, time. And each second longer you live, it dies. The hospital food, the unruly patients, the doctors, the social workers, the nurses, the staff who loves their job, the staff who hates their job, the activities. All on repeat.  I remember feeling like the Israelites in the desert. Like I’d been wandering for 40 years. Feeling like I had lost all sight of God and His mercy. I wrote a song about it. 

One day I was in bondage, then I was set free

One day my enemies drowned in the Red Sea

But today I don’t even know what day it is

Or how many have went by

Though it feels like it’s been years

Mumbling, stumbling in the dirt

Crying so many tears

Longing for that land of bondage 

For at least I called it home

The last line really strikes me. How can you long for a land of bondage? Well at least the land of bondage was home. My grandmother and I both know the feeling. Before she went into the nursing home, there were several instances where fire marshals broke down the door of her home to do a wellness check. Thinking she was locked in and had fallen or something. She was fine; thank God. But that apartment was her own land of bondage. She was all alone, pretty much locked in, with no way out. For a while, she kept asking when she would go home. Now she’s stopped asking. She’s accepted that this place, the nursing home, is her new home. For me, the land of bondage was Boston. I loved and hated that town. I had never felt so wild, young, and free in any other place. I had never felt so great. I had never felt so sick, down, and bound in any other place. For a while, I just wanted to get myself together and rush back to Boston. I’ve stopped thinking that thought and have started planning a future in New York. It was once home, and now it is home again. 

We both know how wonderful the feeling is when a visitor comes. I remember the warmth of seeing my therapist every Wednesday and Friday. Just knowing she would be there was something to look forward to. Something that allowed me to hang on and try to keep it together. I considered her to be my best friend during that trying time. I remember the warmth of seeing my mother and brother regularly, us exchanging stories of our experiences on the inside and outside. I remember the warmth of seeing my aunts and grandmother twice. I remember the warmth of seeing my father sometimes. I remember the warmth that almost felt like wrath, an emotion I didn’t and don’t allow myself to feel, when he didn’t visit for extended periods of time. My grandmother and I know both types of warmth.

So how could I not visit my grandmother except on holidays and special occasions? How could I not visit her, not knowing how many days or weeks or years she had left? It’s very hard. Very, very hard. And now the warmth that I had for my father has turned into a different warmth, compassion. He goes to see her every week, sometimes several times a week. Faithfully. And it’s hard seeing your mother age and forget what you told her a few minutes ago and last week and who died and what they looked like. It’s hard seeing your mother unable to walk. But being a child comes with that responsibility. As a child, you are supposed to take care of your parents as they age. You expect to see your parents ailing and dying, not to see your daughter ailing and wishing to die. As a father, how can you bear to see your child like this? This isn’t the way life is supposed to go. I realize that now. I understand, daddy. Your princess was locked up in a tower and you had no power to save her. So, you just waited outside for her to come back. 

We can’t wait outside for Grandma Williams to come back. She will never come back. The truth is she will probably go away forever sometime during her stay in a nursing home. The truth is I never came back either. I mean I am back but not as the same person I was when I went in. And for some of those reasons we thank the heavens and for others we wish they would go to hell. There are so many like grandma Williams and I. In nursing homes, under psychiatric care. Aging. Dealing with mental illness, dealing with Alzheimer’s or Dementia. There are so many families like ours. Dealing with loved ones who have lost pieces of themselves that may never come back. Wondering how to welcome these new beings into their families. But these are things we are supposed to keep secret. Nobody talks about them. I will talk about them. 

A few weeks ago, some of my father’s family came to visit Grandma Williams. They wanted to do a video for her sister Barbara’s 80thbirthday. I remember in the video them asking grandma what she would say to her sister on her 80thbirthday. What would I say to my grandma on her 76thbirthday? I would probably write her a letter, because I’m a writer and that’s what writers do. It would go something like this. 

Dear Grandma Williams,

You may not remember why, and that’s okay, but today is a special day. Today is your birthday. Happy Birthday! You are 76 years old. I know you can’t believe that you are that old. I can’t believe that I am 21 years old. So, I can only imagine how you feel. Aging is hard. It comes with giving up many roles and taking on others. Going from child to adult. Going from caretaker to the one who needs care. But seeing the smile on your face today allows me to remember in admiration that despite it all, you can still age gracefully. I have to be honest, I don’t know much about who you were before the nursing home. But, I am willing to get to know who you are now and what little you remember of who you were then. This year, I promise to visit more because I know what it’s like being far from home for so long. I hope this year of your life is a good one. I hope in this year, you can move closer to our house. I hope this year, you can venture out of the nursing home for family celebrations. I hope this year you find joy and happiness. I hope this year we find a way to get you music. Because seeing you bop and clap to whatever we play when we visit warms my heart. Keep on keeping on. 

Love,

Your granddaughter, Makayla

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