Sunday, July 13, 2008

Raw Rehab (or Sisters of the [Dehydrated] Yam

Lord, I've known sleeping women.
Women who've slept for lives at a time
On sunny afternoons, and purple evenings.
Women who sleep sound, and live silently.
Some dreams never to be heard of again …
They've taught myself how to sleep
Having swallowed the moon.
Sleep 'till mid afternoon.
And yearn for the silence of night
To sleep sound once again.

–Saul Williams

I’m not Catholic, but last month found me Googling “convents Los Angeles.”

Even though rocking a nun’s habit and sleeping in a monastic cell isn’t especially appealing to me, I wanted to escape, to “get away from it all.”

More than simply retreating from my reality, I wanted to shut my brain down. The thought of doing the simplest tasks, like vacuuming my apartment or preparing dinner, brought me to tears. I hid my loneliness in Internet porn and white wine. It’s tragically funny, but in the midst of my despondency, I still tried to adhere to raw food tenets and only consume alcoholic beverages that weren’t processed. And yet, I still got drunk, and I still drove home from the restaurant or the club buzzed, almost as if I had a death wish.

Depression is something that I’ve struggled with chronically since I was 14, but I was never officially diagnosed until about seven years ago. At that time, I was also suffering from anxiety attacks, driving myself to the hospital, and camping out in the E.R. parking lot because I didn’t have health insurance. The panic attacks manifested as heart palpitations or chest pain, and I was convinced that I was having a heart attack — once a week. I needed to be close to a hospital so that a doctor could revive me in time.

In my battle with the blues, there isn’t one triggering incident that sets me off — like the death of a loved one or loss of a job. It’s more like a free-floating angst that I can’t pinpoint. Feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness converge in my consciousness. And so I sleep. Or sometimes, I don’t sleep. I just get in bed, pull the covers over my head and cry.

In talking to my sisterfriends, I realize that I’m not alone. Many of my girlfriends suffer from depression in some form. Their blues may manifest as withdrawal, crying jags, and not having the strength or the desire to clean their homes. This cry for help goes largely ignored by well-meaning friends because black women are supposed to be strong enough to deal.

I’m not a martyr to my mental health issues. I have taken Effexor and Xanax in the past to manage my depression and anxiety. At first, I refused to take pharmaceuticals, so I sought out herbal alternatives like Valerian. But the same day I started that bitter supplement, I careened into the parking lots of three different emergency rooms on a sixty-four mile drive from Los Angeles to Riverside to visit a friend. After that day, I got my prescription filled. I hated to be lumped in with neurotic white chicks who popped Prozac and Zoloft like Skittles. But I knew every hospital within a 25-mile radius of my home, and I couldn’t keep rotating Emergency Room parking lots every time my left arm started hurting or my heart pounded a staccato beat in my chest.

The thing that saddens — and frustrates — me is that I can’t get this manic monkey off my back. Depression isn’t a bizarre memento that you can keep safely packed away in a keepsake chest. Sometimes I can go months feeling that I’m loved, my future is on track, and all is well in my world. Other times, I feel lost.

I’m a spiritual person, but in the midst of this sporadic sorrow, I feel as if God has never known my name. Maybe that’s why I was online checking for convents. In my mind, becoming a nun would fulfill my desire for anonymity, communnion with the Almighty and solitude. I imagined myself, hair hidden beneath a black-and-white habit, as I traversed some lonely hillside near the abbey, humming “My Favorite Things.”

Fortunately, I discovered a pit stop on my way to the nunnery. Back in February, a raw foodist friend hipped me to the Optimum Health Institute in San Diego. She stayed there for three weeks when she was diagnosed with cancer, and believes the raw food meals that OHI serves, coupled with the program’s focus on prayer and meditation, vastly improved her condition. I had researched OHI at the time, but didn’t think I could afford the tuition, and I knew I couldn’t take three weeks off from my job. But I needed to go somewhere … before I went crazy. Last week, I inquired into OHI’s program, and discovered that the minimum stay is one week. During that time, I could detox — mentally, spiritually and physically — on organic non-cooked food, wheat grass shots, colonics, massage, yoga and exercise. It’s like an ashram meets the spa!

I don’t write about my neuroses from the perspective of a victim, but as a woman who is engaged in an ongoing process of self-empowerment. Black women aren’t supposed to be depressed in the first place, let alone discuss their interior pain. But as bell hooks writes in Sisters of the Yam: “It is important that black people talk to one another, that we talk with friends and allies, for the telling of our stories enables us to name our pain, our suffering and to seek healing.”

As I type this, my suitcase is lying on my bed, loaded down with self-help books, positive affirmation cards, poetry books and my Saul Williams She CD. I can’t wait to embark on my healing journey in the a.m. If I had the money, I would start a non-profit like OHI for women of color. A chill place the homies can go to worship, be served uncooked vegan meals, be pampered, to commune with each other and to name our pain. Raw rehab. Now that’s a sister act.


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Gigi said...

YAY! i think you'll have fun. Lots of fun. Dr Goss has a place in Arizona that I
I've been trying to get to.

Jnetsworld said...

i loved following your twitter updates. OHI ... wow.