Did you know that I’m a superhero? But wait! Before you get all excited, I’m not your typical Marvel Comics good guy. I don’t fly (unless I’m in a plane), leap tall buildings, have Spidey sense, or wear a cape or some cool Spandex catsuit. My afro doesn’t glow, I can’t hypnotize people, and my high heels only have the power to make me look and feel amazing. Nonetheless, I help save lives on a regular basis and have dedicated my life to the greater good. That makes me a superhero…or at least, I think so. In true comic book fashion, let me tell you my origin story, along with some things I’ve learned along the way:
Every superhero is forged by fire. To get your super powers you must go through something that deeply transforms you. Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider and became Spiderman, Bruce Banner got hit with gamma rays and became the Incredible Hulk, and Batman…well, he was just a creepy guy with lots of money who was freaked out by bats.
I gained my super powers when my brother died by suicide in 2004. Grief was my gamma radiation. I never thought I would experience something more painful than childbirth, and there was nothing anyone could tell me at the time to make me believe I would survive losing my brother. Here I am, though: different than I was before, but healing and growing stronger every day.
No one truly experiences grief without coming out transformed. This is especially true in the case of the complicated grief process that occurs in the wake of a suicide loss. You will become stronger…but you have to embrace the transformation in order to get your superpowers.
“As frightening as it can be, that pain will make you stronger. If you allow yourself to feel it, embrace it, it will make you more powerful than you ever imagined.”
— Professor Charles Xavier, The X-Men
Every superhero needs an incubation period: You can’t just jump into the superhero business willy-nilly. It takes time to get control of your powers and learn how to use them. I discovered this the hard way. Within the first year of my brother’s death, I thought I was ready to get out there and save the world. I had lots of plans, energy, and passion. I started working for the local suicide crisis hotline. I overextended myself working extra shifts and volunteering for extra activities. When I left work I would volunteer for other organizations: anything to keep me busy and to keep my mind off my problems. After about six months, I crashed hard! You know how Superman sometimes fell out of the sky and left a crater in the earth where he landed? That was me. I had jumped into working for the cause without first dealing with my grief, and was using it as a way of avoiding my pain. When my feelings finally caught up with me, depression hit me so hard that I had no other choice but to embrace my grief and work through the pain.
So, like Batman retreating to his Bat Cave, I took some time off to go to counseling and work on healing. My counselor helped me develop a plan to (1) create some work-life balance by prioritizing my responsibilities (2) learn how to focus on one thing at a time (with a few small, manageable projects here and there), and (3) learn how to say “no” to others and to myself when I had the urge to bite off more than I could chew.
After about a year I leapt back into my involvement with the cause; this time with more energy, more focus, and a better understanding of my strengths and limitations. This is around the time I found AFSP. I became one of the founding board members of the Southeast Texas chapter and took on chairing the Out of the Darkness Community Walk. Today, I am the Southeast Texas Chapter board chair.
“You’re much stronger than you think you are. Trust me.”
Know what you’re fighting for: Every superhero’s existence has a purpose. Captain America fights for freedom, liberty, and the American way; Thor protects the universe from dark forces.
When I lost my brother, suicide prevention became my purpose. Firstly, I didn’t see many people that looked like me in this arena, and I wanted to change that. I knew there were more African Americans that had been affected by suicide, but the stigma kept them hidden in the shadows.
Secondly, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is an amazing organization to be a part of. I have learned so much about myself, about preventing suicide, and about nonprofits by being a part of this organization. To make an X-Men reference, AFSP is my Xavier Institute.
Finally, it would have been selfish of me to take all that I’ve learned from this journey and keep it to myself. I feel that I have a responsibility to share the lessons I’ve learned.
“With great power comes great responsibility.”
Get a good team lined up: While superheroes are great on their own, there’s nothing like a good team to back you up. Who doesn’t love the Avengers and the Justice League? Sometimes it’s hard to admit when you need help, but there will come a time where you will definitely need it. The greatest lesson I’ve learned as a superhero is that I don’t have to save the world alone. I can join forces with other superheroes, all with their own unique powers, and we can fight this battle together.
“And there came a day, a day unlike any other…when Earth’s mightiest heroes found themselves united against a common threat…on that day, the Avengers were born.”
— Nick Fury
Okay, so I don’t have great powers or a cool outfit or a geeky sidekick. But as Batman once said, “You don’t need superpowers to be a superhero.” The fact that I, and others like me, have the courage to get up and fight through our pain to tell our stories, raise money, be advocates, and tell the world there’s nothing to be ashamed of, makes us all heroes.