In Which I Babble About Where I’ve Been and Talk About My Friend Erica.
by pronounced "ahhh" like a sigh
It’s been months since I’ve visited this space. I’ve attempted to start a post ultimately abandoning it in favor of short bursts of thought on Twitter or opting to just keep whatever it was I wanted to say to myself. I’ve always prided myself on my ability to be open and expressive but had also figured out a pretty adept method of feigning transparency. I would give up enough to appear as though I was sharing (and I was) but I was also keeping enough to myself to remain properly hidden. The last few months (maybe a year) has been no different. I’ve been thinking about coming back to this space but I didn’t know what I could say here without spilling everything. I have a tendency to talk too much and over share and then spend time worrying about who will read what and use it against me or who will read what and judge the punctuation or who will read what and read more to it than it is. The last few days, especially, I’ve had an urge to visit this place and talk as openly as I could without “hiding behind metaphors or similes”. I’ve put it off again in favor of short bursts of thought on Twitter and opting to just keep whatever it was I wanted to say to myself.
I started “blogging” before it was called blogging in 2001. I had a website whose domain was taken from me called http://www.basseyworld.com and there I had an online journal. On the journal, I would literally write pages and pages and pages every single day. Some of the posts were about the hilarious “only you Bassey” moments I faced while living in Brooklyn but a lot of those earlier posts, now lost forever, also were a window to my early struggles with bipolar II disorder. Before I was officially diagnosed, before I even understood what was happening to my mind and my body and to my emotions. I documented every waking moment hoping that at some point, it would all go away or at the very least, someone would read what I was writing and say, ‘Hey! That’s not that weird. It happens to me too.’ and I did get that. I was overwhelmed with the support and the “me too” I received in that space. But ultimately, as the years went on, I realized that maybe I didn’t want to be known as that person. I stopped using the word “bipolar” and started only saying “depressed”. I figured “depressed” made was easier for people to digest. I felt they wouldn’t be afraid of “sadness”. After I discovered I was pregnant with my son, I realized that the internet was really not a safe space for me to be as open as I had been. My fears that people would read my words and personal feelings and hold it against me in some way were founded. And I was terrified of being told I was unworthy of love or understanding because of this illness that people refused to understand. I didn’t want to be that girl so I paused and went back to creating distance. I started writing about mental illness for other websites but was very careful about how I spoke about it. I kept it safe. Even as I became known as an advocate for mental illness, I still wanted to own the rights to my story and my privacy so I was selective about what parts of the story I would tell. My writing has suffered for it. I’m not a woman who is comfortable with secrecy. I’ve never been good at keeping secrets. I’ve always wanted to share and be heard and understood.
I’m babbling because I don’t know how to get to the point and the reason why I’m sitting here tossing poorly punctuated run on sentences at whoever in the world still visits me here.
My dear friend, Erica Kennedy is dead. I wish I had more sugar for it but they’ve melted with my tears. Erica Kennedy is dead. I “met” Erica about 5 years ago via Facebook. She sent me a friend request one day out of the sheer blue and having known her name and that beautiful face of hers in this small online writing word, I was immediately starstruck. She was everything I hoped to be she was funny and intelligent and snarky and sarcastic and talented and aloof and beautiful and well liked. She reminded me of the older sister I’d always wanted but was also scared to death of not measuring up to. Over the first few tentative exchanges, I would come to learn that Erica and I had far more in common that I would have liked. I’m not here to tell her story because she was fiercely guarded and private and I will honor that forever. But in sharing with me her story and her journey, I was encouraged to face mine. Erica Kennedy is the reason that my work and my writing and my life with bipolar II disorder was taken off this little blog and put on The Root and My Brown Baby and Ebony and Huffington Post and all the other places you’ve seen it in writing. Her ability to tap into your fear and then allow you no excuses to shy from doing “it” (whatever “it” was) was a gift. She was a visionary. She was revolutionary in the way she approached life and work and friendships and networking. Erica and I would have long conversations about everything under the sun. We would laugh until our sides hurt and then with one word she would have my heart aching so furiously that I wouldn’t be able to see the sun if it asked for me. Then out of nowhere, just a quick turn of phrase and I’d be back to laughter. She knew how to motivate and encourage and challenge. She asked the tough questions and dared you to avoid answering them. She was abrasive. She was distant. She had a way of appearing and changing everything you knew to be true about how you liked to live your life and then disappear without a word. But she’d be watching. And every once in awhile, you would get a message of encouragement or pride or a suggestion that made that thing you were working on sit up just a bit higher. And she always knew someone to connect you with. I remember a conversation that started with just a g-chat message, “Bass. You’re so fucking funny. Why are you wasting it on Facebook. You need to be on TV.” and then she was gone. Until the next time she’d hit me up in some other forum. She encouraged me to write about illness. She shared with me alternatives to the medication that was taxing my pockets and my spirit (www.omegabright.com). She was the first to make writing a book something that could actually happen. I protested and all I got from Erica was, “I don’t get it. Why not? You’re a writer. Write.”. She had no room for excuses or reasons why not. “Just do that shit.” And can we talk about the network of fly and talented women she looped me into? She created a secret group and invited these dynamic women who on the surface had very little in common with each other. All she knew is that she thought they were amazing and wanted to know what would happen if she let us loose with each other. And boy did we happen. I won’t get into that because we be on some bitchy YaYa SiSTARhood math but all I say is that, “Erica be knowing”.
When I finally met her face to face in Miami. I was struck by how incredibly beautiful she was. We sat on the beach for hours one day talking about life and love and everything we could. She was trying to figure some things out. When we went to her tiny apartment near the beach, she reached into her closet and handed me a dress. “Here. This would look nice on you.” I’ve never worn that dress. It was far too long for my 5’3 frame but at this point, I might never take it off.
I’ve been vacillating between disbelief and tears and rage and tears all day. I watched as the news started to trickle out slowly over the social networks. I saw how far her reach was and the impact she had on so many people. The girl was loved. We might not have known her as intimately as we would have liked, she was like a butterfly or hummingbird that way but her importance to this world is undeniable. I’m sorry she couldn’t feel that when she was here. I have stories of her sadness and her quiet moments but as I said earlier, that’s her story. What I will say is that I hate this thing. I hate it with everything I own. And I will fight it until there is no air left. Fuck shame. Fuck stigma. fuck you for judging anyone who lives with this terrible thing. You have no idea. None. I’ve said it before, anyone who judges anyone for treating or dealing with illness has never done a brave thing.
As for me, one thing I will take from this and remember is that I will tell my story while I’m here. My silence serves no one. I started The Siwe Project because of Siwe Monsanto. I continue it for women like Erica Kennedy. For Phyllis Hyman. These are my inspirations. For the nameless and the faceless. For everyone who suffers in silence. For those who are often accused of strength. For you. For me.
Fuck fear. Love anyway.
PS. I apologize for the rambling and how poorly written this was but fuck it. My friend is dead and I don’t give a fuck about judgments right now. I give a fuck about life and love and living it and loving it. And doing the very best we can to be okay in this world that constantly threatens are happiness.
Thank you, Erica, for all you’ve done for me. I will honor your life and your legacy by yelling from the center of the universe, “I REFUSE TO LET THIS THING TAKE ANOTHER FUCKING LIFE!”