Thursday, June 22, 2006

A View Of The TEM - The Exhibitionist

Some of you may wonder why I talk about such personal, intimate issues and experiences. People generally are unwilling to talk about depression, suicide, sexually transmitted diseases, the choice to be child free or other taboo topics with their closest intimates - and discussing such topics with total strangers on the other end of a computer screen is seen as a form of insanity. What makes me stand naked before you on a regular basis?

It's simple. I hate taboos. One of my favorite films, "The Aristocrats," was all about the taboo of language. The basic point of the film was simple - if you try to suppress a word or a concept, that gives that word or concept more power. I thought this point has universal appeal. Keeping something taboo out there, and being willing to expose something that makes one uncomfortable or is a source of anxiety to a society allows that taboo to become more of a threat. Being willing to explore the frightening, the forbidden, the contents of Pandora's Box (which, according to Greek myth was actually a jar, but that's another post), means one is willing to go through growing pains to become a more self-actualized full person.

That's why I talked about my father's suicide and the aftermath. To pretend that it didn't happen or, as I've done in the past denied the fact in some form or another, allowed it to be a continuing corrosive element to my life and my family's life. The underlying cause, his depression (and mine), is a similar corrosive element. The only way to fully heal is to acknowledge it and set it free. The need to conceal mental illness and suicide is especially prevalent in the African-American community - my community. We hide the things we feel are shameful; like calling depression "the blues" or saying (as I often did with my dad) that a suicide was "an accident," or telling people, "we're not sure what happened, but...." It's never good for anyone to deny the source of internal hurt, and it's especially hurtful to me when my people continue to harm themselves in this way. This is the subject of a fascinating article by Desiree Cooper in today's Detroit Free Press. Marilyn Martin, a psychiatrist and author of the new book, "Saving Our Last Nerve: The Black Woman's Path to Mental Health," feels the same way. She'll be talking about this subject at a forum tomorrow morning from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at YouthVille, located on 7375 Woodward Avenue in Detroit. If you are free tomorrow morning, it would be a great way to spend your time. Call New Center Community Mental Health (313-961-3720) for more information or to register. The forum is $30 per person. If you can't make it, buy the book (yes, even if you aren't black and/or a woman) and read it. It's on my reading list.

It's also why, after years of pretending and denial, I finally decided to discuss my atheistic viewpoint. The only way I could be a full, happy and functioning person was to be open about who I am. Hiding my spiritual views was in some ways easier when interacting with people, but in the end was tiring. Too many lies, too much wasted time attending church services that were personally unfulfilling, downright frustrating because of the difference in core beliefs, and destructive in some personal relationships - it was time to stop and let go. Being out in the open about not holding a belief in a god or a religion, while awkward in some situations, is much healthier (mentally and physically) for me and encourages open exchange because pretense and deception are eliminated. It encourages candid discussion, and we all know that knowledge is power. A fellow blogger (and fellow atheist) holds this same point of view and is interested in open discourse about the nature of belief. If you have some time and aren't afraid to challenge your point of view, check out this post on Exact Approximations. It's a fascinating read and makes you think, no matter what your creed or denomination, and you're offered to share your viewpoints.

Madonna said it best: Express yourself, don't repress yourself. Strip away your inhibitions; be it your religion, your sexual orientation (it's not a lifestyle choice - accept it, deal with it), your political views and be naked to the world. Once you get past the initial self-consciousness, you'll love the freedom and you'll be more willing to be open to other viewpoints.

More to come, naked and unashamed.

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