In honor of #MentalHealthMonth!
I am going to put this article/blog in three parts Otherwise it will be too long as one full article/blog. Plus, it will make more sense that way. The three parts have significant Mental Health experiences in my life. Don’t get me wrong there were more but these three had a huge impact on my Mental Health life.
I am writing this because I have dealt with mental health all my life. I didn’t know it, but it has been an integral part of my life since I was a child. Now this piece is not a pity piece at all. It is a real honest look at my life.
Since I was younger, I always had something going on. At the age of five I was diagnosed with leukemia. I dealt with going back and forth to the hospital for treatment and not being able to go to school for four years. I didn’t realize it back then, probably because I was too young to understand. I also put it in the back of my mind. I guess I felt I needed to put this time away because it was too much of a tragedy. Well let’s just say that my health was just part of the tragedy of that time. You see while dealing with my medical issues as a child I was also dealing with mental health issues and stressors of a life that was challenging.
You see all my life my mother was sick. She had heart problems since she had a major illness as a child. She was pronounced dead at least three times in my childhood alone. One specific time was in 1975, my mother was in the hospital (her 2nd home), she was intubated and the doctor at the hospital was in my mom’s room talking to my grandma. He told my grandma that my mom wouldn’t make it through the night, right in front of my mother. She was in a medically induced coma at the time so the doctor didn’t think my mom would hear him. Well, the next morning came, and my mom had woken up and when she had the tube removed from her throat. The same doctor who said she wasn’t going to make it through the night was there. She looked at him and said (I’ll keep this PG), “F- You” doc. You see she did hear him, and she told the doctor “Hey you! I don’t see any toe tag or expiration date on me.” There is a reason I told this story as you will find out later.
Well while I was fighting the battle of leukemia from the ages of five to nine, I also had to fight a battle that might have been worse. My mother being as sick as she was had to put us in Foster Care. There are four of us, two older brothers and me then my younger sister. Department of Social Services split us up in two separate groups and homes. My two older stayed in one Foster Home while my sister and I were in two separate homes. The first one was terrible, and that is putting it mildly. They were mentally and physically abusive to both me and my sister. You see I was only seven going on eight and my sister was two years old. The people who were watching us had three or four more foster children as well. If you know the system, you will know there are some families that foster because they want to help children and others who do it for the money. You see every time a foster parent takes another child, they get paid money by the government that is supposed to be used on the child’s well-being. Well, our first foster home didn’t care about our well-being or how we were. They treated us as if we were a nuisance in their lives. I was very sick and had to go to the hospital often. It was part of my chemotherapy that I had to do to live. Then it was the other kids picking on me and my sister because I was the sick one and they thought I couldn’t protect my sister. On the second part they were wrong, you see my whole life I was very protective of my family just as my older brothers were of me.
I got in many fights in the beginning, but the other kids realized even though I was sick and so small I was someone who wasn’t going to let them bother or tease my sister. If they teased me, I was okay, but don’t do it to my family. As small as I was, I never backed down. I guess it was a good thing growing up with two older brothers, they taught me to protect myself and my sister who was five years younger. I would get beat up or did I? Looking back it was always them who was crying and screaming “Get this guy off of me!” I didn’t stop until an adult pulled me off them. Some other forms of abuse was if we didn’t finish a meal that would be our next meal and so on. Imagine having macaroni and cheese for three or four straight meals. They never took into consideration that I was sick and was on chemotherapy, so my appetite was not strong at all if existent at all. One episode we were all in the car and somebody put a hole in the car seat. I took the blame because the other kids were going to blame my sister. My punishment was to stay in my room for 30 days straight. The only time out was to go to the doctors or to go to the bathroom. No television, no books, nothing not even a light. To this day that time scarred me. Right after my 30 days the parents were treating my sister really bad. I believe to this day that they thought my sister put the hole in their car seat. So, I decided that we needed to leave. When we had visits from Social Services, they never believed “our stories.” Why would they believe two young kids over two parents?
So, I knew I had to do something drastic. Well, some would say crazy. But you must understand that my life was always protect. Whether it was my sister or my mother I was in survival protection mode. It was the only mode I knew.
What happened next, I wouldn’t have believed it if it didn’t happen to me. I put my two-year-old sister in a little red wagon and a bag I collected of some of our clothes and ran away. Yes, a sick seven-year-old and a two-year-old ran away. I learned I had to grow up fast. I am sure you are wondering where did you go? Well, I remembered my great Aunt and Uncle didn’t live too far. But what is too far for a seven-year-old? I was going to find out. I knew I had to stay by the docks, but I had to walk on a major road sidewalk. As I look back at this, I realize now how crazy this was. At the time I didn’t care. All I cared was how I needed to protect my sister. I was told later that I walked over a mile with my sister in tow. We got to the house, and they were totally shocked. At first, they didn’t believe me, until I showed them a burn mark on me. Not just any burn mark but a cigarette burn mark.
I remember the police were called and then Social Services were called, and they decided we weren’t going back there again. You see no child should have to go through that ever! It turns out my mother was out of the hospital and Social Services let me and my sister go back to live with my mother, but my two oldest brothers stayed at the foster home until they saw that my mother was strong enough to have all of her children.
Unfortunately, that didn’t last long. One of my most vivid memories of my childhood happened. While living back with my mother we got robbed. I wish that was the worse part about it. I was in the bedroom and the head of the bed was right by the door. I saw three guys break into the house. They went into my mother’s room, and I heard them talking. I was able to see each one of them because they passed me to get to my mother’s room. I also heard their voices so I could understand when the one white guy decided he was going to “wreck her face.” The two other black guys were yelling at him “NO!” But he didn’t listen. He used a razor to cut my mother’s face. I remember hearing my mother say don’t hurt my children. Well after that they left. They stole all my mother’s money and left.
I waited a minute or two then ran into my mother’s room. I was horrified with what I saw. To this day I can see it so vividly, my mother’s face all cut up and bleeding. My mother turned away from me and told me not to look at her, of course she was trying to protect me. Then she told me to go to the neighbor’s house and wake them up. For me the only one I knew that could really help her was my now stepfather and his family. They were two or three houses from ours. All I remember was running there and bagging on the side door and what seemed like an eternity, I banged and pushed on the door with all my might, and the door opened. Still, nobody heard me, so I was crying uncontrollably, and I broke into someone’s else house. They heard me when I broke in and I had two adults running at me as if they were going to kill me. They thought someone broke in. There they find a little boy crying and trying to tell them what was going on, that is when my now stepfather took off to my house.
All I remember past that was me seeing my mom on a stretcher being put in the ambulance. That event was so traumatic, and I probably should have seen a counselor. But at that time, seeing a counselor was something you did only if you were “CRAZY!”