Out of mind, out of sight

Why do people assume that a “broken” brain means a “broken” mind, heart and soul?

I can’t speak on behalf of the difficulties that people dealing with mental health issues experience, but I can give my perspective as an observer. Mental health, like Black History Month, is a conversation that doesn’t end with its delegated time. This will hopefully be the first of many posts and discussions to ensue from this topic.

Why is mental health so stigmatized? I don’t mean poor mental health or good mental health, just mental health in general. People are afraid to suggest the topic, it’s like the brussels sprouts of conversations. If you have a problem with your heart, leg, lungs or stomach, you can go and see a doctor with little fear of being judged or looked down upon. Why does that change when we shift to the brain? Why do people assume that a “broken” brain means a “broken” mind, heart and soul? You’d think that something so central and vital to the human body, something so intricate and sensitive, would be approached with openness and impartiality.

Mental health, like one’s sex, colour or sexual orientation is not something rooted in choice. No one wakes up one morning and thinks ” you know what, today feels like a good day to start my depression” or “bipolar disorders are trendy, I’ll try that!” These aren’t garments or fashion pieces picked out of a wardrobe. They are garments one is forced to wear, that societal voices make only more suffocating.

Take sex. Sex deals with the physical difference between men and women. We’ve heard this before (sorry if I’m the first person to tell you this): women have vaginas, men have penises, men tend to be taller than women, women tend to bear babies. Then what society does is distort these differences, taking the physical and moving it into the societal, stereotypical, gendered and political. You have sex and then you have distortions of sex in gender, which is similar to mental health, only the distortions are amplified.

Millions of people are affected by mental health issues. With increased joblessness, stress, engineered hormones, media exploitation and other factors, the “issue” of mental health isn’t going anywhere. There are misconceptions about mental health out there, and I’ll admit, I’m in the process of re-educating myself. I wouldn’t want to be judged by my skin or sex, so it’s only fair that I take that approach with others.

Are you a feminist, sexual rights activist or humanitarian? Do you believe people are more than their skin, hair, sexual partner, situation, upbringing or religion? If you nod yes to any of these, then by default you should also be a mental health activist.

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My first…

How did your first time feel? Were you anxious, unable to control your desire? Were you nervous and eager to get the whole thing over with? Did you tell anyone, show off to all your family and friends? Or did you keep the knowledge a secret, as if sharing the experience would take away from the special moment?

Well, for me, it happened at school. I remember restlessly waiting for the bus to pull into campus. As soon as it did I rushed off the bus, apologizing as I hurriedly brushed past people. I made it to the student centre, picked up my university’s newspaper, Excalibur, and flipped through the pages until I found it… my FIRST Publication! I was so giddy, I even thought of redistributing the papers amongst the students that whizzed by. I used any conversation I had that day to unabashedly promote my article.

I know it’s nothing big, but here’s the beginning of the piece. It’s on Black History Month and some of my experiences growing up in Toronto. Feedback is welcome, and don’t hesitate to share your firsts with links to your own publications. We”ll save other firsts for another time.

So, without further adieu or misleading sexual references, here’s my article:

The curly, the coily and the kinky

I dug my fingers into a tangle of thick wires that coiled around and bounced off my hand. This time felt different. My fingers weren’t running through straight, thin strands. I realized for the first time, at the age of 16, that my hair was growing.

For years, I had chemically processed my hair. It had become a regular part of my routine. Every two months, as often as someone may cut their hair, I bought a box covered in smiling black girls with smooth, shiny straight hair, and relaxed mine.

The chemical burns were a naturalized exercise of my youth.

Stiff neck, sore scalp, silky hair: I went through the process without hesitation. I’d shiver when the first glob of white creamy crack tickled my scalp; my mother’s hands were always smooth and precise.

It seemed to be a rite of passage for every black girl to shed her kinks and coils as she entered into adolescence. 

I only knew that something undesirable and unacceptable came out of my scalp and needed to be kempt and suppressed.

The rest of the article can be read here.