Weathering Our Personal Storms|On Call in the City

Dr. Aletha Maybank reflects while working in an evacuation shelter about the people that inspire and shape our perspective in difficult times.

First, I hope that you and your loved ones are safe in the aftermath of Sandy.  For those who have lost loved ones or personal belongings, my prayers go out to you.

Over the past 48 hours while working in NYC’s emergency preparedness and response efforts, I have encountered many souls-grateful, tired, sad, anxious, funny, curious, frustrated, and some even happy. All of which have elevated my spirit and have reminded me of the transformative nature of sharing and connectedness.

…It was a NYC summer evening, and I was headed, rather rushing, to an afterwork networking reception on the rooftop of the Strand Hotel.  On the way into the lobby, I ran into another doctor friend of mine who was also running behind.

We couldn’t wait to get upstairs, sit down, relax, unwind with a glass of wine, and eat! Such goes the life of many young professionals in NYC…day job rolling right into the “night job” and becoming savvy at squeezing in all that city life has to offer.

The elevator doors opened to the rooftop. There were men with grey and black suits and women in heels; some sitting while others stood talking and laughing as they sipped from their cocktail glasses and nibbled appetizers from the 4 inch party plates. 

Now if I chose my preference, I would have made a b-line to the appetizer table, picked up my glass of wine, and sat down on one of the canopied couches. However, experience told me to shake a few hands first and make some self-introductions.

Done. Now onto the food table… As I reached for the pecorino and olives, I heard, “Hi, are you Aletha Maybank?” “Hi yes I am,” with a smile as I stretched my hand out to shake his. He was about 6’2”…a handsome man in his late 20s to early 30s dressed in a fashionable dark suit.  “Several people said that I should speak with you.” 

“Oh yeah…cool thanks” …now he may have shared a few more words in his next response, but the main thing that I heard was “My name is Hakeem Rahim and I am bipolar.”  He proceeded to let me know that he has managed his disease well with treatment and is a currently a spokesperson for NAMI – National Alliance for Mental Illness.  I admit it was one of those moments where my outer smile did not match my inner surprise.

Three things popped into my mind. First- what courage this person standing before had in sharing something so personal that typically carries with it heavy stigma. When someone gives you that gift of authenticity and openness, it is fully natural to become open in return. Second, a month before, I hosted the second Love + Politics event as way to promote health awareness, specifically HIV awareness, in a relevant way to young professionals in NYC.

So I immediately said to him, “You and I are doing an event or something to elevate the conversation on mental hygiene for the young professional.” Third – my thoughts circled right back on me. I don’t have any particular official DSM-IV, which is the formal terminology used for mental health diagnosis. However, what I began to reflect upon was the blessing and the hardship of being a young professional in NYC.   

A blessing because it is NYC, and it is pretty exciting and energerizing being around other like-minded, brilliant, and hard-working individuals.  A hardship because it is NYC, and it can be daunting and draining being around other like-minded, brilliant, and hard-working individuals.  There are so many expectations that we have not only for ourselves but expectations that we perceive and take on from our friends, family, and colleagues. 

I think for many of us it feels like a lot and just plain overwhelming.  And we rarely ever talk about it.  We hide it and hide it well.  I liken our lives to climbing in and out of manholes on the street. Part of our life is above the street visible for everyone to see and the other part is under the street in which no one has a clue but you of what is really happening in your life and in your mind.

This summer I was humbled by life. In a place I had never been. Making decisions I never thought I would have to make.  To make this brief…I was audited by the IRS, my former taxman lied on my taxes, got a new taxman and lawyer, settled but the payback hit me hard in my wallet (along with not having any major savings; convo for a future blog), and therefore, chose to sell one of my two places (a blessing). 

While waiting for the closing, which dragged on, life looked me straight in the eye and said deal. It was tough financially.  I did not hang out all summer and avoided certain meetings in which I had to pay for my own dinner or drinks. This is NYC, and it is expensive. There were so many “tricks” that I picked up in order to make sure I had money to get by. 

For example, taking out $500 in cash immediately when my paycheck hit my account knowing that by the following Monday the rest of my money would succumb to my bills’ auto-debit processes. One particular two-week period that $500 did not stretch so well, and I found myself standing in the supermarket one morning putting back a healthy mango for $2.49 and buying the processed Cup of Noodles which were 2 for a $1.00. I couldn’t afford the mango and it was humbling. I felt defeated at that moment. 

I got in my car, let the tears roll down a little, and finally chose to reach out and call a friend of mine who, as great friends, do reminded me that ‘this was only one moment in time. It will pass.’  After that, I started opening up to a few more trusted people and the majority of the responses bordered on ‘I know exactly what you are going through because I have been there too’.

For those of you who have been “there” or not, we should all have materials and tools to help us prepare for and respond to our personal storms.  As a start, I suggest:

1. Talk with each other. We, as young professionals in a big city, often undervalue the power of sharing and the importance of genuine connectedness.   The more I shared about how I was feeling the more relieved I felt and that I certainly was not and did not have to be in this alone.  While I fully appreciate it is not necessarily easy, I believe the strength of the human soul rests on one’s ability to be courageous, vulnerable, authentic, and resilient.

2. Limit your hesitation or fear of asking for help when you need it.  In some cases, help from a trusted one or your faith community may not be enough, therefore seek help from a licensed mental health provider.

3. Take care of your mental health before you think you need it.Even if you are not feeling sad or going through difficult times, especially if you have health insurance and it covers services for mental hygiene, still think about periodically seeing a licensed mental provider.  We tend to think we do not need these professionals until someone is sick or going through something.   But just how prevention is key to having good physical health, the same goes it for mental health.  As another one of my friends says ‘you got to keep your mind right’.   In NYC, you can call 1-800-LIFENET to speak with trained mental health professionals that will help you find mental health services.  Or you can also get help by calling the National Alliance for Mental Illness at 1-800-950-NAMI.

I thank Hakeem Rahim for sharing his reality with the world and inspiring me and others to do the same. Many of us know October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. However, National Mental Health Awareness Week fell in this month as well. So I leave you with a poem Hakeem wrote to close out the Awareness week and share his journey.  Please be safe.  

And remember a healthy you is a sexy you!


By Hakeem Rahim

Depression was so real when I was down and doubled over. Fetal positioned in my dorm room bed, I was certain math could not add up, The abyss of my darkest moments.

My couches were like coffins—They held the seat of my dreams.  Lethargy was stitched into cushions of my love seat. I was merely a shade of my zenith.

I lay in silent effigy of myself. But sleep did not pronounce my name. The sounds of hopelessness crept Into the crevices of my mind. My emotions pinned me down.  My tears waltzed to the corners of my eyelids, And pirouetted on freefell to the ground.

When there is so much to live for How can the bottom most point of My existence ever convince me of death.  Even within the Lazarus of my moment I had faith that resurrection was possible. My kite of hope had to withstand the winds of chaos. Past the wellspring of my tears, My mind was not obsolete. Past the grave of my fears, My mind was not desolate.

The keys to my recovery Lay in the profound acceptance that I was depressed–That I needed help through treatment. Because come what may, I know I needed to rise to my feet. I know I needed to rise from soiled spirit of depression. I know I needed to rise to walk into hope again.

Never, Never Give Up

Hakeem Rahim, Ed.M, M.A. holds a BA in psychology from Harvard University and dual masters from Teacher’s College, Columbia University. He is the Co- Founder and Co-President of a Uniondale based non-profit, UFEE and is a certified NAMI In Our Own Voice speaker. He is also the proprietor of Live Breathe, LLC, a professional coaching and consultative services company that empowers individuals and organizations by helping them achieve alignment between their desired and current situations.  He can be reached at hakeem@livebreathellc.com.

For more posts from Dr. Aletha Maybank, please visit www.oncallinthecity.com, follow on twitter @drmaybankoncall, and like on facebook www.facebook.com/oncallinthecitywithdralethamaybank

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Tracey Capers November 03, 2012 at 11:23 AM
Many thanks to you Dr. Maybank for raising up the issue of emotional health. It is so relevant as we all weather this storm. Other than the petty inconveniences of not being able to find a cab, enduring crowded buses, and feeling trapped in Brooklyn I've been unscathed by the devastating affects of the hurricane, Thankfully, my family, friends and colleagues have escaped bodily harm too. I know I am so truly blessed. At the same time, I ache as I watch the news, read the headlines, and see the frenzy on the sidewalks and streets. It is clear to me that so many are inwardly and outwardly suffering. I love how you use your own reflections and experiences to give us lessons and tips for today and always. Thanks!
Bruce Ormond Grant, PhD November 03, 2012 at 12:00 PM
The importance of understanding the connections among mental health, stress and the environments which we live in need to be appreciated......This piece does just that. Once we all remove fear of shame and stigma, our conversations can be so much richer....as you stated...we could really talk to each other.


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