Perspectives: Mental Wellness

September 12, 2006 Print version       Other articles by this author

Wave ONE. (Friday August 18th, 2006)
Today I cried.....
I cried for myself, I cried for my friends, I cried for all those I don't even know, but I know are suffering. After watching Mary's video for "Take Me As I Am" for the third time today, I cried.
I'm sitting here in the airport crying. Out in the open, in front of others. The song came along and touched me at a time when I was exactly one year into living with HIV. I had been feeling completely isolated, and all I know is when I heard the lyrics, coupled with the dark haunting music, I felt this song. It was the song and the album "My Life" all over again. The only difference is, it was from the other side of the world. It was from years of suffering, self loathing, hating, fearing, and not really living because of all the darkness. Now after watching the video, and seeing the stories of these women (all portrayed by Mary) unfold, it hits home even more. The storytelling used in the video is the kind of outreach that any of us who have ever felt like we weren't enough, can easily identify with.
"Take Me As I Am" speaks from a place of conviction, a place of power, and a place of vulnerability so real, that it can only be conceptualized through actual experience. The remedy, the solution(s), the pride, the courage are all in this song and at that point in time (about a year ago when I first heard the song), I was beginning to feel a shift. December of 2005 was the beginning of me saying to myself, and to anyone else whose path I crossed that I am unashamed, I am who I am, I am HIV positive, and I will not deny myself my experience of living or being. Although I didn't know exactly what would happen, I knew that I was, at that point, CHANGED.
I sit here watching this video today while en route back home 2 DC from Toronto. The last seven days have been inspiring, grueling, enjoyable, stressful, but extremely worthwhile. I sit here, in a Black AIDS Institute "GOT AIDS?" T-shirt and the week's events at the World AIDS Conference still have me feelin some kinda way. I witnessed action, intervention, interaction, and connections happen throughout this conference. Particularly, as it pertains to Black people living with HIV/AIDS in America and all other countries, I witnessed some of our bravest artists, leaders, and individuals put their heart, soul, emotion, and time into making sure that our lives, our stories, and our current predicament(s) get addressed. I'm left with a lot of hope in spite of what I know tends to happen with things of this nature and in spite of me being all too familiar about what will happen and HOW it will happen during a 'gay' holiday such as the one on the verge, happening in Atlanta.
Brave Soul Collective's workshop happening that weekend is a great opportunity for me to recycle all of what I experienced this week and turn it into something that helps to save at least ONE life.

Wave TWO..(Tuesday September 5th, 2006)
So here I am some three or four weeks later, again...on my way home to DC, this time from Atlanta, and I just sat here on the plane, in the air.... and cried....again, while listening to "Take Me As I Am" . That song, something about the music, the strings, and about the conviction in Mary's voice does it to me EVERY time. I won't try to figure it out, because truthfully, it feels good. Feels good to be able to connect, to FEEL like that every time I take in something as simple as a song. My piece on Self Esteem and Self Worth (as part of the Mental/Emotional Wellness topic this month) was 'supposed' to be in before I left to go to Atlanta, and somehow, what you are reading, is what it's become, albeit about a week behind the 'planned' schedule.
I think about things that happened in Atlanta. I think about what I saw, what I witnessed, what I experienced and I dunno....It just seems to all make even more sense that I still deal with feelings of unworthiness and low self esteem. This is not to insinuate that I blame this on anyone. Not even myself. What I am saying is, given all of what I was in the midst of this weekend, coupled with all of the other 'stuff' of life, it makes perfect sense that my worth and my value is diminished. However, what I have found myself doing (which is certainly a sign of growth for me) is taking action. Where I used to acknowledge my sadness, my despair, my confusion, and allow myself to wallow in it for some time, (which almost always led to a multiplication of such), I now choose differently. I SEE it for what it is, and from there instead of allowing it to 'snowball' as I always say, I ask myself ok....HOW DO I MOVE BEYOND IT? HOW DO I LET THIS BE WHAT IT'S GON BE, AND STILL KEEP IT MOVIN. HOW DO I CO-EXIST WITH THIS SHIT? What I'm doing now is one answer to those questions. I write, I document, I kinda psycho-analyze myself and give myself some 'work' to do in unraveling WHY I feel the way I do, and HOW to move through it. That is a silver lining if ever there was one--at least for me it is. I think about certain artists like Mary [J.Blige], like Minnie Riperton, like Donny Hathaway, and I think about the love, the light, the darkness, the despair, the pain, the EXPERIENCES that informed the music they made, I draw inspiration from that energy, and I move on that.

WAVE THREE...(Friday September 8th, 2006)
A few days later, and I pick up where I left off, talking about, thinking about, feeling, and understanding myself through the music. The focus of this writing is self worth, self esteem and self value. You would think by now that I'd have this down to a science, given all of the stuff I've overcome to get here. However, even with all of that, lately I still find myself plagued by these feelings of unworthiness, and hatred. It cannot be blamed on anyone or anything in particular. It is what it is. Even 'it' serves a purpose.

FOURTH/FINAL WAVE....(Tuesday September 12th, 2006)
A few more days later, and here I sit at work, and I'm finally reading one of the other pieces from this month's topic, "Remember To Breathe" by Tim'm. Now keep in mind that I was 'supposed' to have read this some time ago, and just didn't due to timing, and other factors. I'm now not only reminded, but convinced that NOTHING happens by accident. There is indeed a reason why I haven't finished writing this piece until now and a reason why I am just now reading "Remember To Breathe" . The entire piece resonated with me, and made me FEEL. It all made me feel good, it made me feel sad, it made me feel that I am never as alone or crazy as I oftentimes feel. It left me with the feeling that no matter how 'bad' things look, I am a being sufficient unto myself. All roads, all solutions, all happiness begins and ends with ME.
The one passage that sticks out for me is the following:

"Rickey did what many of us activist minded people do-- save everyone but ourselves. It's easier to offer the solutions to others-- harder to face the reality that despite the knowledge and information you have at your disposal... that you still struggle with feelings of inadequacy, lack of self-worth, and utter dejection. There's blood memory that we carry with us that is the unresolved pain of silent and silenced generations. I suppose we should be proud that we are a strong (black) people. We suffer so much and are still here. But some of us grow impatient and irresponsive to that pep talk. We need a big black proverbial couch and to be reminded by that shrink God that we are loved unconditionally. Here on Earth, we are more often than not reminded of how conditional love is."

That statement is EXACTLY what has been at the root of my current state of mind, body and spirit. The very reason we decided to settle on Mental and Emotional Wellness for September is because of what was going on with the three of us personally in July and August. For me personally, hearing about Rickey's death in July was quite a blow, especially considering that I didn't even know the brother. However his connection to Tim'm, his story and subsequent fate all resonated with me and hit me right in the heart. That was right in conjunction with me being in the midst of a frenzy of work, activity, stress, and lack of sleep, which I would later learn was having an effect on my numbers (CD-4 count and viral load). This news of course did little to reduce stress. If anything it caused me to worry even more, which I knew wasn't helping anything. By this time, it was early August, and I was on my way to work as a journalist with The Black AIDS Institute at the World AIDS Conference in Toronto. I had been told before leaving for that trip that it would be one filled with work, stress, & activity. All of that was true, but what I also was left with, is what was mentioned at the beginning of this piece, given that I was on my way home from Toronto when I began writing. From there, I stepped right back into lots of work (bills gotta get paid), activity (preparation for BSC's Labor Day workshop in Atlanta), and just usual everyday stuff. During this time it was my intention to finish this piece on self esteem/self worth. What I now realize is that I had to continue to live thru the next few weeks in order to complete this piece. Being in Atlanta during Labor Day weekend for Black Gay Pride provided even more context. I remember being in Toronto and reading the statistics, predictions and reports about the numbers of HIV infections and immediately my mind went to what would take place in Atlanta. I kept asking myself, "how can I take everything that I experienced at the conference and affect some kind of change when I get to Atlanta to conduct this workshop?" I think by the time I arrived for the weekend's activities, I was completely unable to effectively answer my own rhetorical question. I felt stumped, defeated, and insecure in the face of a sea of seemingly unaffected brothers who were there to party. All of this was presumption on my part, as I have no idea what anyone's intentions were but my own. What I did gather from sitting back and watching was that 'we' have mastered the art of the masquerade. Clearly all of the things we discussed during our workshop were relevant and applicable to the masses, yet we only had 12 participants present. I found myself feeling the effects of the inability to answer that rhetorical question I posed to myself some three to four weeks earlier while leaving Toronto. I had to quickly remind myself not to get quantity mixed up with quality. Our workshop was effective, and did indeed serve a purpose, albeit to a much smaller number of people than I would have preferred. The beauty of it all was that I had people like Tim'm to remind me that the turnout of our workshop just re-affirms that we are doing necessary work, and that there is plenty more to be done.
The rest of my weekend in Atlanta however was enjoyable, even though I had a bit of personal 'stuff' right toward the end which left me in a bit of a fragile state as I traveled home. True to fashion for me, I glossed right over the good things that happened while in Atlanta. My first day there, I had an amazing performance with Tim'm at the Apache Cafe. This was a big deal for me for a couple of reasons. One, it was my first time singing and performing anywhere outside of the DC metropolitan area, and two, I was the only background singer which meant it was imperative that I was on point with my performance, in backing up Tim'm. The show went off without a hitch, and I really enjoyed myself. Getting that performance under my belt has definitely helped to increase my level of confidence in terms of singing LIVE. My point in mentioning this is that as I review the weekend's happenings, I was so easily able to pinpoint the things that didn't go the way I thought they could, should, or would have gone. Meanwhile I tend to breeze over the accomplishments, the things I have to be thankful for, and proud of. Bringing things back around to the focus of this piece, I realize that I still have LOTS of work to do on loving, and celebrating, and accepting myself. At times I retain things with such ease that I think I'll never doubt myself again, and conversely I oftentimes get so wrapped up in feelings of lack, and inferiority that I wonder if I need to have my head examined. From a larger perspective, looking at the events of my life and the lives of my peers in the last couple of months, I am grateful for the experiences. Through them, all of the 'dark' in my life has been brought to light. From there, its on ME to not only remember to breathe, but to remember to stay in my light, and to remember that before I can ask anyone to welcome, accept, or love me, I have to be able to TAKE ME AS I AM. Sometimes that's a tall order, but it's the only way that will really work for me. So when the next wave hits, as it inevitably will, I wonder how much of this I'll actually retain and apply...

Monte J Wolfe