Out Of The Darkness…

November 04, 2018.Nov-4-13

 

 

 

A day I will always remember.

A day that I totally had to have in my life.

My first Out Of The Darkness Walk for Suicide Prevention.

A day that opened my eyes to the reality and the magnitude of this problem.

I found out about this day from my nurse at work. I signed up after my good friend Mari told me she had signed up. I signed up not knowing exactly what it was going to be like, but trusting that the day was going to be…in the very least, fine. I signed our team up and placed the info on my website, partially expecting and also not expecting much response to the call for donations. While no donations came indirectly, I managed to gather a team of about 15 walkers through the help of my good friend Mari, totaling about 375usd!.

The day started like any other. We arrived early. The first emotion that struck me was that of amazement, at the number of cars already in the parking lot, even though the walk was to start about 2hrs later.

There was a sea of colors of tee-shirts, most in groups, a few scattered around, all there for one thing, in remembrance of a loved one. There were purple tees, white tees, green tees, red tees, blue tees, and multicolored ones. There were people, young and old, men and women, boys and girls, teens and young adults, toddlers and even a couple of babies. But one thing struck me hard; they were mostly Hispanics. About 99% strong! Where are the Caucasians?? Most studies I have read indicate that White males are the leading sex in Suicide, so where are they? And what about the African Americans? Do we not suffer from depression, do we not commit suicide? Are the recent studies about African American children aged 5-12yr being more likely to commit suicide than their Caucasian counterparts incorrect? Wait! I know what this is. This is the grand state of denial that is so rampant in our community. As a Nigerian, I dare to say this problem started from the Mother-land where mythic quotes like the following run rampant. “We don’t get depressed”, “such things don’t happen to our people”, “we can pray it away”, “it’s a sign of weakness, and of laziness”, “depression is not even real”, “those medications do not help, they actually make you worse”, “therapy? please, that is for Hollywood, we are black folk, we do not do therapy… Or my favorite, “don’t tell anyone you are depressed, we don’t want them to start looking at you/our family funny”.

I walk around distributing my business cards to different teams, introducing myself and explaining what I do, sharing my story about my struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts, and my own son’s depression,(which I totally did not recognize while it was happening) I notice folks sporting different color beads signifying the kind of loved one that has been lost: White for children, orange for siblings, blue for support, red for spouses, etc. I pick up some beads for my team, my wife lost her brother to suicide. On my way back to my team, I hug as many as will accept my hugs as we wait for the ceremony to begin. Some of them have lost multiple family members to suicide.

After the opening ceremony, the names of the victims are read out, I again am amazed that my assumptions are right. A huge percentage of the names called out today are Hispanic.

 

The organizers are happy to announce that over 64,000usd were raised so far,  over 273 teams registered (many more are not in organized teams), at least 300 names are called ( I don’t have the actual count, but the name calling went on for at least 30 minutes or more. They inform us it’s a 5K walk, kicked off by the release of white balloons by the family members in honor of the lives lost. Again, I am amazed, excited at the opportunity to be a part of this, yet saddened by it all.

Along the trail, I speak to dozens of parents and family members affected by suicide. It’s easy to find the parents, they are wearing white beads, they are not as animated as everyone else, and you know that look when you see their eyes. I interview a few of them, I hug ALL of them, I am touched deeply by their stories.

One young man who took his life just last month was only 25yr old. His parents still obviously devastated. His mom says she “sleeps with his picture every night, and talks to it every day”. She has lots and lots of unanswered questions. His grandmother found him in the backyard in Austin, sadly, they were not able to make it on time to the hospital.

Another mother was carrying the picture of her son-in-law. He had first served in the Army, then joined the police force, but his PTSD got the better of him.

When asked who he was walking for, one little boy simply pointed to the picture on his tee-shirt and said, “my uncle”. He had never met him.

I met yet another mom, this time, of a young 10yr old boy, who would have been 13yr this year, she is still crying for her baby lost. He had been bullied. A lot. I hugged and hugged and hugged her, and held on a little while longer. She found him hanging from his bunk bed, his belt around his neck.

Yet another beautiful lady, Ms. Alyssa’s younger sister, Marisa, spoke to me. Alyssa had battled with depression for a long time and finally lost. The words inscribed on the back of Marisa’s tee-shirt read “I have run the race, I have fought the fight, now I lay me down to rest”. Her own prescription antidepressants, her path to said rest. The sisters’ resemblance is so uncanny that Marisa’s own daughter (who never met her aunt) always calls her ‘mommy’ each time she sees her photograph. It has been six years.

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The heartbreaking story of a handsome 17yr old was shared with me by his maternal aunt. She told me he had attempted suicide three times in the past. He had gotten help, he was on medication, and getting counseling, but (in her words) “the demons got to him before we could”, this happened on September 18, 2018. So fresh is it, that his mother could not bear to come for the walk.

Then, I talked at length with one mother whose team carried the flag of the Cycle Around The Globe for Suicide Prevention and Awareness. Her son, a former Special Ops US Marine, spent only 9yrs active duty, but deployed 8 times in that short time! When he eventually got out in 2012, he battled nightmares, sleepless nights, and severe PTSD. He could only sleep when heavily medicated. He eventually tired of “the voices in his head” and one single bullet did it for him, only 3yrs after he got out, a few days after his 30th birthday. “He will forever be 30” she added at the end of her story. Again, all I can do is hug her, and hold on a little longer.

On the homeward trail, I walked up to a nurse and her co-worker, both walking for someone else. She shared that her friend and ex-boyfriend had taken his own life soon after his 60th birthday. His story is unique because she states in retrospect she now realized that, after they reunited 40yr later, he had one day suddenly started “acting out” his desire to end his life, he was making specific requests like going to visit a cemetery to “say goodbye”, returning to the place they had their first date, giving away his belongings and generally no longer caring about the world. She remembers he stopped wanting to hang out with her, and only wanted to talk about death.

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The last two stories are etched in my mind. The first is from my good friend Mari, who shared that a long time ago, her friend and classmate in nursing school had gotten dressed for work one morning, arranged all her nursing books against the walls of the garage, got in the car, turned on the ignition, closed the garage door, and went to eternal sleep. Her husband found her when he returned from work. She had 2 children.

The second is from the only non-Hispanic family that I met during the walk today. There were at least 15-20 of them in their team, walking for the family Patriarch. I recognized the non-Hispanic name right away and wanted to speak with them. I spoke to his wife, his son and his daughter, as well as the rest of their family friends and relatives. He was Indian. It’s been one year.

I, myself have felt the pain of depression. I have felt the need to end it all. I didn’t, my wifener wouldn’t let me. I felt like I was a failure, a disappointment. My first marriage was over, my private practice sold for zero dollars profit. The military was stressful, and I had to file bankruptcy following bad business choices in my private practice, stemming from a poorly qualified practice manager in the person of my ex-husband. Somewhere along the line, I felt I had failed myself more than anything. I wanted out. All my pairs of shoes, my fancy designer handbags, and even my beloved children did not save me. I simply felt that ending it all was just what the world needed. I was a failure. My marriage had failed, my practice had failed, and I had failed, and nothing you could have told me would have made a difference. Luckily, my wife would not hear of it and went all the way out there, in the darkness to find me and bring me back. I owe my life to her.

In the end, I can only say that I am thankful for the Out Of The Darkness Suicide Awareness walk, thankful for the experience, thankful for the stories shared, for the hugs given and received, and praying that the families can find closure, somehow. Thankful for my family that came out to support me, my wifener who walked for her brother; mi Madre, my biggest cheerleader; and my little man-child for trouping along. Mari and her family and friends who walked with team Teen Alive, for the sparkle they added to a cloudy day. And to all those who walk for their loved ones, in the words of a Kenyan proverb, “may the grass you stand and walk on, sprout again”, and may you never have any cause to weep for your loved ones again, Amen.

 

Nov-4-11

“gone, but never forgotten…”

#enddepression, #endsuicide, #endthesilence, #talksaveslives, #itsoktonotbeok, #Icare

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My name is Dr. Uchenna Umeh and I am an immigrant (Physician)

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Dear Blog,

As far back as I can remember I’ve always wanted to be an architect. My journey to becoming a physician started somewhat as a dare. I was born in Nigeria, the first child of six children from middle class parents. My father served in the Nigerian Air Force, my mother, a Banker.

Towards the end of my secondary education (I attended an all-girls boarding secondary school, F.G.G.C Bakori, making me a Bakorian for life!) my father asked me the natural question, “So what are you going to study in the university?” I eagerly answered “Architecture!” He went on to say the words which hit me like bricks. “Nne, you are a woman, architecture? why don’t you study pharmacy like your (female) cousin? I was bewildered but not for too long, you see, in the Nigeria of my father’s and my childhood, certain professions were still “meant” for certain sexes. I gently and calmly explained to him that I would rather study medicine if I must do something in the “medical field”. Then he added, “But medicine is for men, why don’t you do something more feminine?” At this point, I promised him I would work really hard to prove to him that I could and would become a doctor, regardless of my sex. After completing medical school (I was one of a few females in my majority male graduating class) I decided I would like to go to the US for my residency, and I wanted none other than Howard University in Washington D.C. This decision was again met with “But you are a single female”, “America is so huge, and we really don’t know anyone there”, “How are you going to manage on your own?” “I hear that everyone uses drugs out there”, “You are not married yet”, “What about children?”, “Will you meet a nice Naija guy to marry?”, “Don’t forget your Igbo o”, on and on and on …

Foreign medical graduates take the ECFMG/USMLE exams to get into residency in the US. These exams are tough, they are expensive, and those of us from Nigeria, had to travel to Ghana to take them, because it was the only country with test centers in West Africa at that time. After scaling each exam with one try, I applied for residency. After my experience with the entire process, I became a believer in the power of speaking one’s destiny into existence. I applied (from my home in Nigeria) to a total of seventy-five different residency programs. Eight of them responded, six turned me down, and only two invited me for interviews. In the process of raising money for my trip, obtaining a visa from the US Embassy, and finally “coming to America”, I made it just in time for my interview at Miami Children’s Hospital, but I arrived at Washington D.C, one day late for my interview at Howard University Hospital.

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Now I need to explain to you that while I was in Nigeria, I somehow managed to keep and maintain a line of communication with the secretary of the department of pediatrics at Howard University Hospital. I called her frequently, closely following the progress of my application, and folks, that singular act, ended up saving the day. She amazingly recognized my voice, the lady that had been bugging her all the way from Nigeria! Thankfully, she was able to secure another spot for an interview for me, only by the good grace of God. I must mention here, what my odds were: I was a day late for my interview, there were over 4000 applicants, there were fourteen positions, and I got matched! How’s that for fulfilling my destiny?

As a “newbee” in America, I had many memorable firsts. My first greyhound bus ride from New York to the Nation’s Capital, the first Bratwurst hot dog I ate on the streets of New York, the sounds and smells of the subway stations of Washington D.C and New York, the sheer number of homeless people on the streets, the huge number of teen-aged mothers pushing baby strollers on every corner of the streets of Queens, my first encounter with a flasher on a Brooklyn-bound New York subway train, etc… but the cherry on top was undoubtedly the golden opportunity to train at Howard University, and to have matched at my very first try!

Residency itself, was not particularly difficult. The hospital had enough Nigerian residents and faculty for my comfort. However, as a recent immigrant, I had to adjust my ears to understand the American English, its many accent(s), and its unique vocabulary. I remember especially having a hard time with phrases like “glove compartment” not pigeon hole, “flash light” not torch light, and “diaper rash” not nappy rash. Never mind the new spellings of words like color not colour, tire not tyre, pediatrics, not paediatrics or estrogen, not oestrogen. I also had to re-learn old medications with new names like “Tylenol”, instead of Paracetamol/Panadol, “Amoxicillin” not Ampiclox, and the fact that there are absolutely no antimalarials, or typhoid medications being prescribed anywhere! I was puzzled by the fact that most people I met were impressed by my English language and vocabulary. “Where did you learn how to speak English?” they’d ask, “You ain’t gat no kids at twenty-seven years old?” and one of my favorites was “How did you get to America, did you fly? to which I would usually respond “No, I sailed on La Amistad to the shores of Georgia, and swam the rest of the way”(seriously??, rolling eyes emoji), and there was the occasional “So you are Nigerian, do you happen to know Hakeem Olajuwon?”, to which I would gladly say “No, but maybe you know Michael Jordan?”… I tell ya…! SMH

I eventually completed residency, got married, moved to South Carolina and started a private practice. With a J-1 VISA, I had to start up in a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) in Lancaster county, South Carolina. I adjusted well. I had one son at the time, and my practice was doing okay, until one fateful day, a disgruntled mom reminded me that I was far away from home with the words, “Go back to your country and stop taking our jobs!” I’m like…what? These words came from an unemployed citizen who felt I had to give her child antibiotics for a cold or else…(…more eye rolling) Funny enough, these days, I sometimes ponder on her words, how she could have ever imagined I was taking her job? or how I could have been of any sort of threat to her source of livelihood? Other than that, and a few other interesting comments like “Ma’am, I love your accent”, or “Doc, I don’t want to mess up your name, so I will just spell it out”, or, “You have an accent, is it Jamaican?” life in these united states has for the most part, been good.

It has been nearly twenty-five years since I first came into this country, nervous, afraid, but bright-eyed and determined to get into residency, at none other than the Howard University Hospital.

H.U!

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“Obstacles do not block the path, they are the path”       -anonymous

 “I didn’t come this far, to only come this far”       -anonymous

“Believe in yourself and all that you are, and know that there is something inside you that is greater than any obstacle…”          – Christian D Larson

 

PS: My website dedicated to fighting teen depression and teen suicide, teenalive.com is LIVE, click the link to check it out!