KerisWithaK

Big hairy social issues and other stuff

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Relentless

Freedom, Humanity and Relationships

One of the first things I do when returning home from a trip away is to stop by my local coffee shop and get my favorite iced tea. Do I go for the tea… well no, not really. No matter where I live, I have been doing this for years because it is not really about the beverage, it is about the people. The folks that work at my local coffee shop whether it was when I lived in Pasadena California, Rockville Maryland or now in Hollywood California make the day just a bit brighter.

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Black Girl Magic – London and Keris

This story isn’t about the iconic and ubiquitous coffee shop, coffee or tea. It is about “Connection”. Away for a week in Trieste, Italy, I return to my local coffee shop to be greeted by London – there we are Black Girl Magic! She knows my name, I know hers.
When I first moved to Hollywood, I was looking for someone to do my hair – ok black folks know about our tresses and finding that perfect someone who can work with our pride and joy, our pain and our kitchens (translation – the back of our head where hair gets super messy, frizzy and tangled) … who do I ask? London at my neighborhood coffee hangout. She welcomes people, makes the coffee, and the tea, provides service with a smile and makes sure I get my hair done did (as I say) by someone she trusts.

I was so happy to see her when I got back from Italy because she embodies the motto, creed of the shop– Moments of Connection. Every time you interact with a person – it is an incredible moment to make a positive welcoming connection. We need more of that in the world.

In Trieste Italy, I did not find my favorite coffee shop (though there were lots of other iconic American fast food and brand name stores), but what I did discover reminded me of when I visit my neighborhood coffee spot and run into someone like London. I found powerful moments of connection. A community mental health program that lives, breathes, walks, and talks moments of connection and welcoming. Mental health services are grounded in strong values, in a philosophy that starts with freedom first, and is relentless about relationships and trust. Each moment with a person is a moment to make a positive connection. No matter how complex the needs of the person – each person is met first as a human being, not as an illness or a problem to be fixed. The focus on freedom first, helping people to remain in the community of their choice, connected to others with meaning and purpose in their lives. There is no restraint, no coercion, no police – just people. People to people – connected in the most humane of ways.

I wish this is a story I can tell in one quick blog, it isn’t. I went to visit an incredible community mental health program in Trieste. It is world renowned and is a World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre for Research and Training in Mental Health.  Would you like to know more? If so, join me on a visceral journey of sights, sounds and words to experience the city, the history, the people that help contextualize the work done in Trieste Italy. There will be many moments of connections as we journey forth. I have my supersize iced green tea….so grab your favorite beverage, snacks and buckle up (oh right this is about no restraints – no need to buckle up) – just get cozy as we take this amazing voyage.

We won’t find any unicorns pooping fairy dust, puffy cotton candy streets or rainbows greeting people into the city – which is what I started to believe as I heard others tell their tale of visiting this “great magical” place. So, what is it?

Next stop – Trieste, Italy where ‘Da vicino, nessuno e’ normale’   – up close nobody is normal.

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(Thank you to the Open Society Foundations  and  Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care for their support)

The Family Royal….

Royal Typewritter

Click, tap, clack, tap…tap……schwzing……………

“Dad, it’s 3 in the morning, what the heck are you doing?”

It really was 3 in the morning – a late December evening that had turned into morning, the day of my parents famous Holiday Party. Preparations were underway which included, on this morning, the percussive rhythmic noise of the old family Royal typewriter.

My father replied – “its moydasheva!” The grin on his face was reminiscent of a mischievous young boy caught with his hands in the cookie jar. The look on my face was one of utter confusion – what was moydasheva? As the military nomadic Myrick clan, we knew several languages from our travels abroad, our diverse circle of friends and our various educational experiences but this did not seem familiar at all.

I looked over at my Mom and she too looked just as perplexed. “Moydasheva? Huh?”

My father continued to repeat the word and each time the pronunciation was punctuated with both frustration and glee – “Moy-da-she-va”, you know “Moydasheva”. At this point I think my dad was laughing and we were giggling along.

At 3:00 o’clock on a Sunday morning 12 hours into cleaning and preparing a house for a grand holiday party, let’s just say he could have said “dust” and we would all be in tears with laughter. But there we were giggling about some weird word. Secretly, I thought my father was holding out on all of the languages he knew and was sharing some joke in Yiddish!

Who knew? Well he didn’t and he wasn’t speaking Yiddish or anything else for that matter.

I finally stopped giggling long enough to ask him “what exactly is – Moy-da-she-va?”

His reply: “You know that show, the one on TV with the female writer that opens with words on a piece of paper inserted in a typewriter”. Clearly he gets it that we have no clue as to what he is talking about because his response is met with blank stares from my mother and me.

He points to the paper coming out of the typewriter and says again now articulating every letter and syllable s-l-o-w-l-y: “MOY- DA- SHE-VA”. My mom and I followed his pointing finger, looked at the paper in the typewriter that read “Murder”. Simultaneously we both shrieked “Oh, ….. ‘Murder She Wrote’!”

My father swore that he was saying that all along; but alas no. My dad heard himself saying “Murder She Wrote” but what came out of his mouth had succumbed to the effects of no sleep better known as “the 3 am communications effect”…..Moydasheva.

But not to worry, now we have a new holiday greeting to include on our cards to our friends: “Moydasheva!” (Sometimes we add Y’all at the end of the greeting as in “Moydasheva Y’all!”).

And only we know what it means and our friends, well they think we speak Yiddish.

Note-

The Royal typewriter was used by my aunt, then my mom, then my cousin, then my brother to write papers in college or high school. For my aunt and mother- college was something many women of color did not have access to due to racism, yet both used that typewriter in college graduating with several degrees. They paved the way for all of us that followed, using that typewriter in one way or another, to complete our college degrees as well. When I miss them, or when life is hard and I am struggling to push through the pain, sorrow, frustrations, anger or sheer sadness, I can access their spirit and strength through these memories.

The Royal typewriter sits atop a small writing desk in my father’s library just as it has these many years after the preparation for the family annual holiday party. Though long faded, the paper with the one word “murder”, still remains steadfastly waiting for the next word to be typed; the next story to be told; the next memory to be stored.

Click, tap, clack, tap…tap……schwzing……….!

Moydasheva Y’all,

Keris

Watermelon Candy Jam

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Playing with words and sounds is like
candy rolling around in my mouth;
Tongue rolling
Lips pursing
Sweetness

Swallowing  happiness
coating my throat,
down to my heart and touching my soul —
Sweetness

To play with words and sounds
inside and out is like happiness
Making
Vocal visible
Feelings funkable
Being believable
Sweetness

Playing with words and sounds taste like candy;
watermelon candy jam!
You’ll know what I mean because when you join in
Sharing words and sounds adds a beat of souls in sync
Sweetness

What’s it like to jointly play
with words and sounds that become
watermelon candy jam?
Yummy-yam Sweetness !

(Thanks to a friend for joining in on a stimmy-stammy-jam-slam resulting in the creation of “Watermelon Candy Jam” – who knew!!! )

Getting Wild about Wellness: My Mickey Mouse Encounter

A few months before my birthday this year, my mailbox was inundated with postcards, letters and invitations from AARP. All I know about AARP is what the acronym stands for, American Association of Retired Persons. From its name that it is a group for…well, old people. It’s fair to say that this year marked a milestone birthday – the 50th. Thanks to AARP for the reminder of sorts, as on some level, I was trying to ignore, avoid, and seriously pretend that I would not be an “old” person!
But age is relative right?
With that thought I embraced my birthday (all-be-it 2 days prior to the actual date) and made plans to celebrate. Age and birthdays are extremely relevant in my case. For many years I fought hard to keep demons at bay and not hurt (or even kill) myself. Daily living was at times an insurmountable task and celebrating birthdays was not a priority.
Back in 2000, a friend who shared the same birthday encouraged me to join her for a “Girl’s Day” celebration at Disneyland. She promised lots of birthday fun and surprises. I was feeling horrible, hopeless, and isolated, definitely not in the mood for the frivolities of Disneyland. Her insistence and my concern that I would ruin her birthday led me to join my friend for a trip to Disneyland. Although I was able to be “present” and seem engaged with my friend, inside I was a mess. The picture taken with Mickey Mouse at the end of the day was all the evidence I needed that indeed I was the saddest person at the happiest place on earth. When I got home at the end of our Disneyland adventure, I did 2 things – ripped up the picture of a forlorn, far-away gazing Keris with Mickey Mouse and called my therapist for help getting admitted to the hospital.
That was a long time ago, but that memory is etched into my “birthday celebrations” memory bank and ultimately resulted in my never visiting Disneyland again …until… I got Wild About Wellness!
The latest disturbing statistic for those living with/diagnosed with a mental illness is that our lives our cut short. In fact, the research states that our life expectancy is nearly 8-25 years shorter compared to the general population! That means that while the general population can on average, have a life expectancy of 78 years, we (as people diagnosed with mental illnesses) are predicted to have a life expectancy of 53 years! And all due to preventable and treatable diseases (diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary disease etc), smoking and substance use as well as such confounding factors as poverty and poor nutrition. Please see the SAMHSA Wellness Campaign web site for more information.
Celebrating my 50th birthday this year has taken on a new and emergent meaning. I have lost too many years already to the effects of mental illness and I am darned if I am going to lose any more. I am determined that my friends, family, coworkers and peers are educated about this mortality gap and that together we do something about it; getting Wild About Wellness!
This year I also had another goal – to “Conquer the Mickey” …Go to Disneyland on my 50th birthday, get my all too well deserved birthday call from Goofy, ride “It’s a Small World” and sing along – during the ENTIRE ride and of course get some great pictures with Mickey that I will treasure for the rest of my life as proof that I can be the happiest person at the happiest place on earth!

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I hope we can all find times to celebrate important milestones and live long lives through engagement in our wellness. Want to know how? Here is a start, share your wellness activities on social media. Use the hashtag #ShareWellness to help inspire others.  It’s simple and it’s fun – share  your stories, pictures and poems about your for activities that help you live your life well.

Live well by Getting Wild About Wellness! – Keris Jän Myrick

(Repost from a few years ago – not saying how many but I’m older and wiser and well!)

Inside Out

Sometimes we cry because we are left behind

Sometimes we laugh from a memory that fleets by

I can touch her clothes made by her hands that are

So her

And so me

Vibrant colors, tie-dye Pucci and polka dots with flowers

And see the whimsy we shared in items left behind

The funny cute faces on a random item, boot protectors of all things

So her

And so me

Inside her breath, her air, blown by her is most precious – never to be deflated

Missing mom

My heart is broken

A void left I can not fill

Inside, I carry you in my soul and spirit

Outside, in action I exude you

Love, keris

Reverence 

Beauty

Exhale

The ‘a’ Word

The ‘a’ word- it’s been used on me about me without me but never by me for  me.

Most people can’t pronounce the word, spell the word – even spellcheck doesn’t know how to spell the word.   Read more…

Yes, We Can

My Visit to the White House July 26, 2010

(reposted in honor of Black History Month 2017 and just because I was thinking about it too)

I suppose everyone has a time in their life when they pinch themselves to ensure that what they are experiencing is real. As a person diagnosed with mental illness, sometimes reality testing isn’t that img_0240simple, but I certainly wish that it was!    On Monday July 26th, my wish came true as I experienced firsthand that moment of reality testing through “pinching myself” when I entered the White House gates as an invited guest to an event hosted by President Obama to com- memorate the 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act! NAMI selected four people with lived experience of mental illness to attend the event with Executive Director Michael Fitzaptrick.  As a NAMI national board memher, I was selected along with the director of the Consumer Council also a NAMI board member (Michael Weaver), a long-time advocate and consumer council member Glenn Koons (PA) and consumer council member John Coon (NY).

My day started; however, with the selection of the most appropriate shoes to wear. Really it did, but I am sure no one wants to hear about that part of the day. On the road to the White House, I first wanted to attend a Congressional Event commemorating the 20th Anniversary of the ADA hosted by Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. I contacted my congressman’s office and Congressman Adam Schiff’s staff assistant Patricia Higgins graciously made the arrangements and even escorted me through the “secret passageway” (read: not so secret tunnel that connects the senate and house offices with the Capitol) to Statuary Hall in the Capitol itself. Speaker Pelosi a long time advocate of equal rights for people with disabilities relinquished for that day, her role of presiding over the House of Representatives to Congressman Jim Langevin (RI). This was a history making event as Congressman Langevin, a quadriplegic, would be the first person in a wheelchair to preside over the House of Representatives. Speaker Pelosi passed the gavel to Congressman Langevin and with that they made their way to the House floor and invited guest followed to the gallery of the House to be a part of history and watch Langevin rule! And rule he did, having to ‘scold’ Congressman Patrick Kennedy (a great mental health advocate himself) of going over allotted time while making comments to the House.

As 3 pm was drawing near, we left the gallery of the House and headed over to the White House South Lawn for the moment we had been waiting for the event hosted by President Obama. With Passport in hand, I proceeded to go through several secret service check points in what was a blistering hot, but beautiful day.  Past the last checkpoint, and there I was, at the White House. The blazing sun was img_0242still shinning but a cool breeze suddenly swelled up, as if on cue, to indicate things are really different (and better) at the White House. The event started with the customary speeches by dignitaries and then a wonderful speech by Marlee Matlin quoting from Hellen Keller. Patti Labelle sang while softly crying – The Wind Beneath My Wings and then Nathaniel Ayers played both the violin and trumpet.

I knew the moment was near when several men came out of the White House carrying the wooden desk with the Presidential seal. I had no idea, first of all, that the desk was so small but more importantly that the President was going to “sign” something on this day.

And then it happened, there he was, the President of the United States. And there I was a mere few feet away, pinching myself! The President spoke eloquently about the passage of the ADA 20 years ago and how far we had come, but also how far yet we needed to go. “Yes, We Can” was his call during his election and now during his Presidency. Along with the President we all chanted “Yes, We Can” to his appeal for housing, employment, health care and access to transportation for people with disabilities.

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People in wheelchairs cried out “yes, we can”, people who are deaf signed vigorously in the air so all can see “yes, we can”.  I cried out along with my brothers and sisters “yes, we can”! And President Obama went beyond “yes, we can” and he actually “did”. On this day, July 26th 2010, the 20th anniversary of the passage of the American with Disabilities Act, he signed an executive order requiring the federal personnel agency to develop model guidelines for hiring people with disabilities in order to increase federal employment for people with disabilities. The Order included ensuring access to buildings, bathrooms, transportation and web- sites. “Not dependence, but independence is what it is all about”, stated President Obama.

With that, the day was nearly over as President Obama moved through the first row of attendees to shake their hands – I wish I could have grasped the hands of the President in that moment, but I was content with my thoughts:

  • My mother, who passed away in December 2009, was my biggest supporter and would have been so proud of me today.
  • My father, who sent me off that very morning wearing my mother’s wedding ring on my pinky finger, beaming at the front door and vigorously waving his “thumbs up” in support and who now loves to brag about his little girl!
  • My co-workers at Project Return Peer Support Network who provide me happiness everyday and my NAMI family from across this nation that entrusted me to serve them on the National board and the California board.

I thought about my journey here to the White House as a woman, a person of color and a person who was told by a long since gone doctor that I would have to give up my goals and dreams because I would never experience recovery from a mental illness. Well… Yes, I can and yes, I am”!  With that I did not need to pinch myself anymore because life could not be any more real, recovery could not be any more real and yes, I was really there at the White House on July 26th, 2010 on the 20th anniversary of the American with Disabilities Act! A day that rededicates us all to the knowledge that we have equal rights and protections to achieve our dreams!

Yes, I can. Yes, you can and together Yes, we can.

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(Note – RIP to my dear friend Glenn Koons)

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