"Are you sure you wanna be well, sweetheart ? A lot of weight when you're well."
- The Salt Eaters
The first time I had peach yogurt, I was visiting a friend in a mental institution.
Chris was young, black, charming, and struggling with his sexuality. He was having trouble with life and ended up here. Within these walls, decisions were made for him and everything seemed quiet and orderly.
Chris was vocal, passionate, and funny.
In this environment, none of this was allowed or encouraged. I want to call attention to the need for constant and serious examination of the mental health industry and the need for men to seriously win the battle for mental health.
In the incredible, life-changing book, The Salt Eaters, there is much discussion around the need for healthy minds and the responsibility that goes along with it.
Recently, I read a post on my Facebook page that talked about gay male mental health. There was some back-and-forth discussion as to whether this was a black problem, a male problem, or a gay phenomenon.
It is a problem that doesn't discriminate.
It is an issue that is silently eating away at the world community . I would like to address the point at which I have been most affected by it. As an artist and creative individual who is also black, gay, and in his 40s, it is expected that I should be a little off my rocker.
In the aforementioned worlds, we are allowed a bit more leeway in the crazy cakes department.
It is expected that we will be nasty, bitchy, cutthroat and addicted to something. If you are not strung out - if you address people and problems directly with compassion and a sincere interest in solving the problem and not cutting down the other person, you are viewed with much suspicion.
Often, I have been mistaken for being too quiet or passive when I am looking at a situation and contemplating a particular response.
However, when I am passionate about something, fierce in my devotion, and I take decisive action, I am perceived as angry. I find this funny and disturbing. Having a clear, well-developed mind should not be looked at as an anomaly. Spending time maintaining and growing a wonderful mind and the incredible gifts this brings should be celebrated.
Instead, all the parts of me, when combined with the commitment to stay healthy, are often viewed as magical, unprecedented, and just plain scary.
Like my mentor, bell hooks, I have spent an incredible amount of time reading and thinking. When I tell people that at one time in my life, I read four to five books a week, they are visibly shocked. If I said that I spent six hours a day in front of the tv, nobody would be taken aback.
While I have been somewhat lucky in that I found out ways to stay healthy early and often, it has not been an easy road to travel.
We live in a world that supports and relies on us being victims. The media trots out reality show after reality show with folks who seriously need a good therapist or support group -not a starring role on a national TV show. Along with the reality craze, there is constant and pointless coverage of celebrities.
Whenever I see these people who are so rich and popular and have been given the position of cultural icon, I am a little sad.
My mind always goes to this idea: You have all of this money, celebrity, and notoriety, and and yet you can't stop drinking, drugging, shopping or messing up your relationships? This is the cost of a lack of attention to what adults require to be mentally healthy. The fantasy - that if we focus on everything else, we'll be happy and things will just naturally fall into place - has to be looked at for the sham that it is.
As an artist, someone is always critiquing my work.
In some extreme cases, I am the one personally who gets critiqued. Could you be younger? Taller? More hood? Less hood? At a certain point I needed to make a decision regarding how much of this crap I was willing to let in.
Was I going to let the culture decide how I thought or felt about myself, only to have it changed in a week because that was no longer "hot"?
I knew if I was going to make it in the world that I better get myself some tools and make developing and nurturing my mind the first priority.
To the gay men who have not made this connection and are still walking around looking for the perfect mate, the acquisition of the perfect six pack, mojito, apartment, or whatever, my heart goes out to you.
We can start a movement.
It is clear that so many of us are completely crazed about our bodies and keeping them healthy, so why not transfer that obsession to getting and staying mentally fit and adept?
We've probably got to make mental acuity very sexy.
Why not encourage all of the advertisers - the taste makers - to feature ads with people reading or talking about dealing with their crap and growing up?
We advertise medications that can ensure you have sex all night long, but no attention is placed on what we are doing other than each other.
Where are the ads for commitment to growth via discussions and mutual sharing? Where are all the webcams whose focus is on two men saying, "I want to talk - I feel like I'm losing it, and a cocktail and a new sex partner won't improve or help the situation."
If we all made this issue our issue and demanded that everyone we involve ourselves with do the same, there would be a serious decline in the number of new HIV cases, depression, and isolation.
We would have loads of energy to attack the next series of challenges with joy and understanding of our capacity to be self-governing and the knowledge that an incredible mind and loving heart can change the world.