I’m Good Because I’m Breaking the Cycle of Stigma in My Family and My Community

 

 

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Patrick Anderson – Community worker / Member of Black Men Speak and Pool of Consumer Champions (POCC)

Describe your background. What was your upbringing like? 

I was raised in North Richmond. My mom was a registered nurse and a single parent. My dad was a marine corps boxer. He also used to be an enforcer in the Black Panther Party before he became religious. He had mental health issues but I didn’t find out about that until I was a teenager.

Growing up, I had a learning disability. I never felt like I had male role models. I really looked up to my older brother – he was a former drug dealer but became my mentor. He was a comedian and also a prolific reader who always encouraged me to pick up books which helped me in my personal development.

Later, I discovered I had a half-sister and met my dad’s extended family. I acknowledged him as my dad, but I felt like he didn’t know how to communicate with me. He had expectations, but never really established an open dialogue with me. He was abusive and I couldn’t trust him, or other males my mom had dated, to teach me how to be a man.

The abuse from my dad and stepmother was the beginning of a series of traumatic events that took a toll on me. At 10, I watched a fight between two men in my neighborhood where one of them busted open the neck of the other one with a steel pipe. The violence in that scene really got to me, along with the physical abuse I later endured from my aunt’s boyfriend. I started asking myself, is this really the brutal ways men act towards each other? Is this really our only way of communicating, you know?

Around the same time, I really started experiencing direct racism at my school. I couldn’t talk to my dad about it and didn’t want to worry my mom, who already had enough on her plate, so I grew rebellious, getting tempted by the street life and spiraling into substance abuse to help numb me. Then, in my teens, I’d have panic attacks that resorted to self-mutilation.

Is this what triggered your experiences with the mental health system? 

Yes. I started having hallucinations and in my early 20’s, a breakdown led to my first episode at John George Psychiatric Hospital. At the time, I was studying to become a probation officer and that got interrupted. I was hospitalized a number of times after that, too. Most of the time, I just kept to myself while I was in there – playing basketball and dominoes were my only real outlets during rec time.

That’s when I started noticing the poor treatment of those with mental health challenges. There was this disconnect between me and my therapist. I didn’t really feel heard or seen. I felt like people were always examining me, or how I acted, but never really getting to the root of my issues.

The effects of my medication made things worse. It really put me in denial and made me think I could function on my own when I really didn’t have the support I needed when I returned home.

How did this affect the relationship with your family? 

My mom was terrified of me after I was hospitalized. She finally told me about my dad being hospitalized in the past for the same mental health issues. I was upset about her holding back that information like, why didn’t you tell me? My older brother was in denial of my mental health issues and our dad’s abuse. I realized our family’s own stigma around mental health and them wanting to keep things secret because of the way mental health is judged in our community.

Is this around the time you heard about Black Men Speak and other resources in the mental health movement? 

Well, I started working, but then I had a work-related injury. I became homeless for weeks, living on the streets, or staying with friends. I found myself at a resource fair in Eastmont Mall and that’s where I met a great guy working in the mental health field. I ended up getting really emotional and opening up to him about my experiences. He referred me to the Pool of Consumer Champions (POCC) and said it would be a chance to connect with people who had similar experiences and hear their stories.

My involvement with the POCC eventually led to getting accepted into BestNow!, a program that provides training and Peer Specialist opportunities for those with mental health challenges. That’s when I stopped seeing everything in black and white. I started realizing that anyone’s mental or emotional health could be affected, regardless of their skin color, or what they have or haven’t achieved in life. I graduated from the program in 2016, the same time one of my sons, an Honor Roll student, graduated from 7th grade.

What’s life like for you now? 

I’m very dedicated to raising my children and breaking the cycle of dysfunction, abuse and stigma that I’ve been apart of or experienced. I got saved on my birthday and officially accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and the head of my life at Covenant Church in Berkeley, California. The pastor is by Bishop K.R. Woods, and its very inclusive of all people. I’m currently a greeter there and it’s really changed my life for the better.

I also acted in a play called “The Awakening” about the life of Christ. I remember giving my mom a ticket, but she didn’t show up. Still, it was an amazing experience. Right now, I’m a songwriter and spoken word artist. I’m working on a skit about being a single father overcoming challenges.

Who, or what, is your greatest support system? 

First, the Lord Almighty – without Him, I wouldn’t be here. I remember crying during my acting in “The Awakening”. It was a revelation, in terms of me recognizing the importance of taking care of my sons and breaking the cycle of all that’s gone bad in my upbringing and that of generations before me. I really want to strengthen the relationship with my sons’ mothers for their sake – if they see us fighting, it tears them down.

The church I belong to is also there for me. It’s uplifting, positive, and has shown me ways to give back to the community, like with our homeless-feeding ministry that happens every last Sunday of the month.

‘Black Men Speak’ has been influential with helping me see the power in sharing stories, especially for the younger generations of men, how we need the strength of our elders, and to be compassionate toward all types with disabilities. Again, this isn’t a black or white thing – it’s a mental health thing. It’s a human thing.

Any last words of encouragement for our youth? 

Education is freedom. I think you should get your degrees, take care of your priorities and marry later in life. You have to mature first so you can prosper later. Also, read Proverbs in the Bible – there’s a lot of words of wisdom.

In fact, read a lot, at least two hours a day if you can- all kinds of literature, not just books that define your own culture. I believe your history and culture creates self-pride but look beyond it so you can explore others’ experiences – no one’s superior to anyone. Everyone has the right to take care of their families without being discriminated against or criminalized.

Speaking of family, spend quality time with your kids. Be part of teaching younger generations not to stigmatize anyone and to be resourceful for others’ benefit. The family value structure is eroding and it’s up to us to change that. I define myself not by my experiences and family make-up, but by the greatness I know is within me. We all have keys to unlock our greatness.

 

 

 

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