Whenever I speak about my health challenges, people become discomfited and I have to reassure them that I’ve set aside pride and prejudice and faced myself comfortably with the idea that I could become the voice of those who are fearful/incapable of speaking. My fortitude too, may be well founded, because I know the freedom of spirit from not having to conceal your disability especially since it could “show up” at inopportune times. But understandably, my stance creates mixed reactions. One veteran editor met me recently at an event in Laventille and he hugged and kissed me with enthusiasm, as he’s wont to do, complimented my hairdo and my growing good looks and kissed me again. The second kiss was different. I felt it brimming with sympathy. Or it may just be that his hand had done the comforting thing on my back, whichever; it marked the turn in our brief encounter. “You good?” he asked with a cool disquiet. I reassured him that I was “flawsome”—flawed and awesome—and then it came. “You brave, girl. You real brave, oui. I’ve been learning about you in your column. I admire you. To be so frank and open in this place, though?” I said for me it wasn’t so much bravery as being at peace with my life; that I’d reasoned there’s nothing to fear or lose at this stage, and reassured him if my openness could help someone it’d prove valuable. He took my hand, shaking his head in what seemed a potage of emotions, and bade farewell, smiling sweetly, almost ruefully.
People regard my exposé as courage, but what counts are those who’ve prompted to write sharing intimate details about their experience and expressing gratitude for my candidness in taking on an ill-informed populace on an awkward issue. I asked Karen Lastique, whom I met by e-mail, about sharing the following: “I’ve just finished reading your article in the Guardian this morning and it reminds me of my (mentally ill) close family member relationship. They’ve been married for the past 19 years, it is very interesting, and to know them is to love them. Like Rihanna says: ‘They found love in a strange place.’ “They have two children 19 and 14 years old. It just shows us that this illness, like all other illnesses can be lived with if there is enough information and help for the mentally ill. Too many times we just look away without trying to help because it does not fit into our lives. “Hopefully one day there will be a voice for the mentally ill and their families to get the love and respect as human beings need in order to live a happy and comfortable life, not just be labelled and placed in institutions.” When I was asked about writing on mental-health issues, bravery was not among my deliberations. It was not a moneymaking enterprise either. But the Karens of this world were important to my undertaking. I also knew that there’d be people who’d disagree with this outspokenness.
At least one person thought me “stupid” to expose myself, saying I may never again get a job for “which you’re so well qualified.” Yet he never labelled me stupid or retarded by reason of my illness or its effect on people—just injudicious for talking out. I too wondered if I was being stupid to take on this, knowing I could pronounce intelligently on other issues, and that this could expose my son, Jovan, and me to narrow-mindedness. Jovan concurred with my effort. And when I asked if I was being naïve or obtuse about this disclosure, he shushed me with a kiss on the forehead, saying, “Fix yuh mix, Caro.” Among other supportive gestures, he’s responsible for helping me to be genial in the employment of humour. At the height of the terror for us, in his early teens, I recall when I was in regular therapy and got a prescription that significantly helped my mood swings and edginess he took responsibility to remind me to take the medication. If I seemed agitated he’d ask: “You take your happy pills?” and would jokingly say: “My mother on drugs,” while fetching the meds. He called them “mad-people pills” and even then I knew that he was finding his way with an illness that came before him and with which he must interact. Of my journey, he’d probably say I’m bold in the face of stigma and my nerves flare when prejudice is espoused where better judgment should be demonstrated—I’m neither brave nor stupid. Jovan would probably agree that while I’m not overly sensitive to ignorance, bigotry remains the most painful experience. So, when Minister Jack Warner could callously refer to people’s support for the MSJ as “madness,” “retardation,” or “stupidity” which belongs to “St Ann’s,” Jovan knows better than anyone that my angst is rife. There is much to do.