I just spent Christmas away from my family in Virginia for the first time.
I had recently returned from teaching a Mental Health First Aid class for staff at the Los Angeles Children’s Hospital and escaping New York’s oppressively cold weather for a few days. I was still exhausted when Christmas Eve—when I’d typically go home—rolled around, so when asked about my travel plans, I told my parents that I was “going to stay put this time” but that I would come home soon. “One of these weeks coming up,” I told them. To feel less crappy about it.
“It’s just another day. No big deal,” my dad reasoned.
We don’t make a grand extravaganza out of Christmas now that everyone’s grown. Eating dinner with my grandma and whoever else shows up is the highlight. I reconnect with friends still living in Hampton or in town visiting their families. My nieces are both in college now, and marveling at their growth and being within a few feet of a refrigerator filled with love and perhaps my grandma’s empanadas or fried rice is a wonderful way to stock up on thug motivation and recharge while away from New Yorkland.
I first realized that I had been isolating myself more, treating myself like trash and feeling spiritually ashy in the weeks leading up to Wine and Words, our first event for GetSomeJoy in mid-November. I wasn’t sleeping enough, was often tag-teamed by anxiety and self-loathing, and sought joy and short-lived stress relief by eating awfully and fucking people I probably wouldn’t have fucked if I had a better opinion of myself. Too often, I’d realize after a day of plotting, writing, appointments and zooming around town that I was just eating my first actual meal of the day at 9 or 10 p.m.
And as it began to get dark at 3 p.m., given the choice between a nappity nap and social engagement, nine times out of 10: “I reckon I’ll see you at the next function.”
Though my team and I were excited to be creating a welcoming space for black and brown folks to discuss mental and emotional wellness, and I was sharing my baby with the world, I couldn’t stop thinking about death, dying, or how unworthy of love and good things I felt. Sometimes it was a fleeting thought about a snapping elevator cable or how I’d begin a final letter to some friend.
Other times, I was certain that the approaching bus was about to jump the curb and end it for me. Or I hoped that it would. I thought about how, as someone who’s been excited about raising a squad of brilliant little winners for a while now, fatherhood has become increasingly difficult to envision. Shoutout to fear over leaving those brilliant winners fatherless.
I occasionally debated at length with myself about which method of ending my life would be the least traumatizing for everyone else.
Things were all right on the surface.
Jay and I did some cool interviews for the Extraordinary Negroes, I spoke on some panels, was sexing it up as needed after a 367-day hiatus and managed to publish some nonterrible things. Our Wine and Words event was a success. I shared a new piece; Mario led a group meditation moment; folks came from as far away as Connecticut and Washington, D.C., to drink wine and talk about feelings. It was a beautiful night.
Meanwhile, I was scraping the bottom of the barrel for any piece of motivation I could find to keep the party going. I consulted and added to my “Reasons to Live” list as necessary.
When the temperatures dropped and the fog crept in, I tried to stay hyped about the book I need to write and discuss with Oprah. The great things I’ve yet to do with the Extraordinary Negroes and GetSomeJoy. The fact that I’ve yet to eat chicken with Janet or behold the glory of Trevante Rhodes with my own eyes.
I keep telling myself, “Mom and dad have so many things to deal with right now. They don’t need another thing.”
And that if my mom can battle lupus for 40 years, be a beacon of joy and press on as it slowly robs her of her mobility and fully functioning organs, then I should be able to pull it the fuck together and push forward.
And that I’ve yet to meet my goal of paying most of their bills.
And that it’s selfish to even be considering ending my life and abandoning my family while so much shit is happening at home.
And then I think about how wack it would be for them to get that call or that police visit, and so far, that has reeled me back in from the edge every time.
And on we go.
While I was home for Thanksgiving, my mom, grandmother, sister, nieces and I went to up yonder to Aquia in Northern Virginia to see my uncle, aunt and favorite cousins. My nieces rode with my sister. I drove my mom and grandma, who slept most of the way.
I spent most of the two-and-a-half-hour ride either fighting tears or crying in silence, blaming sniffling on a brewing cold, discreetly wiping my face while dragging myself through the mud for dwelling in the darkness. For not being strong and sane enough to traverse this damn valley more gracefully. For not wanting to be here sometimes. Because I felt like I’d be betraying them and everybody else.
And for the weight my actions would add to an already backbreakingly heavy load.
So I didn’t go home for Christmas because I didn’t want to go through that again. I couldn’t muster the energy to do the tap dance in person.
Instead, I spent the day overeating and watching Will Smith’s baffling Bright and Dee Rees’ aggressively saddening and maddening Mudbound on the couch with my friend Michael at his place in the Bronx, N.Y.
As usual, my family congregated to cook and eat together back in Hampton. I smiled and sighed through the phone as they enjoyed, among other things, two of my favorites: my mom’s macaroni and cheese and my grandma’s lasagna. Hearing my jealousy-coated surprise at missing two dishes I don’t think we’ve ever eaten together, my grandma laughed into the speakerphone, “That’s what you get when you don’t come home.”
It’s easier to talk about the darkness with my therapist than it is with my family. Nothing I say shakes her, and I’m not emotionally invested in her opinion of me. I didn’t struggle to tell her that a scene involving suicide and letters left for loved ones in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri led to me sobbing like a motherfucker at Michael’s place because I’ve recently considered those moments and wasn’t ready to go back down that road. Or that the day before our session, when I found a book excerpt discussing gun-involved suicides while researching content for Mental Health Monday, for the first time, I envisioned myself sitting on my bed working up the nerve to pull the trigger.
Being open about the rough patches I had since our last session a month prior helped with the shame around missing Christmas for feeling so shitty.
She also helped me realize that, as morbid as it sounds, postponing any plans to take any irreversible actions because of something I’m looking forward to—or for any reason—is a good thing. A good coping mechanism that, if nothing else, keeps me here.
Since I know I’m prone to self-isolating while it’s racistly frigid out here, I’ve been setting up regular co-working sessions and writerly dates. And I finally got back in ballet after 10 months of tripping.
Though it wasn’t an easy conversation, I sucked it up and shared the depths of my struggles with my parents before publishing this. I shed thug tears but felt relieved to not be carrying the load alone. I had silenced myself in an attempt to spare them of worry, but as expected, they assured me that they’d rather know about the darkness and the ugliness than not know anything at all (and be forced to let their imaginations run wild). I can understand that. Gotta break my family’s cycle of minimizing unpleasant things to “protect” one another.
They were understanding, supportive and levelheaded. I had my moment, we talked for a while, and my mom reminded me of how far I’ve come and of the awesome things I’ve been able to accomplish and the people I’ve been able to reach in spite of what I’ve been going through, particularly in light of some recent great news I can’t wait to share about GetSomeJoy. My dad told me, “Squeeze every bit of joy you can out of each day.”
And on we go.