Allies over Enemies

I am writing to you from an undisclosed location in a hotel room that is located in a state, which is south of my own city. This is day three of a five day class in which some of the information is new to me. Most of the material is something I have either learned through outside training or in other courses but either way, the course has been helpful. I like the idea of learning new things. I like to see how different assistance programs package their information. It is clear to me that I have earned my place at the table. It is clear to me that I have my own incentives. I have my own intentions and my own personal motivation. I have my own agenda, which is not to say that I am selfish or all too self-serving. Instead, this is more about a dream I have and a new direction I want to take. This is about my choice to improve my career. Nothing else.

It is more than just miraculous to be where I am. And it is more than fulfilling to be regarded and included. But more importantly, I have seen different programs throughout the country. I have listened to people who look to help others in the mental health world. I’ve met people that I would choose to have by my side if I walked into the triage center of a mental health facility. Then again; there are others whom I wouldn’t choose to ask for a stick of gum. But hey, who am I?

Who am I to say who is great and who is not? Am I any better?
Am I any worse? Either way, help is subjective. And I understand this all too well.
I have been in the blood and guts part of the world. I have seen, witnessed, learned and lost. As a matter of fact, we all have. I say this because the benefit of experience and understanding has a greater value than any diploma on the wall of someone who never felt the fears of having to tread water in the pools of their own despair.

The people I would choose to keep in my circle of support is different from someone else’s choice. I get that. I get that not every teacher is the right fit for every student. And that’s fine. But there is always a lesson to learn. There is always a take-away. Oftentimes, it is a matter of our bias that keeps us from learning. But bias or no bias at all; above all things, it is important for me to remain teachable; as if to say, “Hey, Buddy! Watch the ego.”

As we improve upon our journey, along the way we learn about ourselves. We learn about our skills. We improve at a rate that is not always detectable by our own assessment. Over the last few years; I have done a lot of work to strengthen my understanding and improve my skills. I have volunteered my services to learn and gain a visceral understanding of what I do. I have been told that I’m out of my league.  I was told to stay in my lane. I was told to stand to the side and let a “Real” professional handle this—and I accepted my status. I accepted the role of a novice because more and more, my goal was to achieve a better level of professionalism. I was told that I had a lot to learn by professionals yet, somehow, it was me on the front page of a newspaper and on the news. I did not know how to harness this in the beginning. But then again, I am not a beginner anymore.

I think about people who train in martial arts. I think about how masters improve their students in different levels that range from the beginner at white belt to the experts at black belt. I think about Malcolm Gladwell’s theory that it takes 10,000 hours of devotion to one’s craft to say they’ve perfected it. In fairness, I don’t have any idea how many hours I’ve dedicated to my craft. I don’t know where I am with the ranking system but one thing is for sure; I know I am not a white belt anymore. I have devoted enough time to my craft to declare that I am not a beginner either. This means that I have earned my place at the table; however, this also means that I cannot and will not look down my nose at anyone else. I didn’t like it when this was done to me; so therefore, it would be hypocritical for me to do this to anyone else. 

What I have to do is take a page out of Henry David Thoreau’s book and say:
“What I have to do is see, at any rate, that I do not end myself to the wrong which I condemn.”
What I have to do is continue. I have to keep training. I have to keep learning and in some cases; I have to continue to unlearn so that I can begin and relearn again.

It is amazing to me though. It’s amazing to see people from different places, with different accents, different backgrounds, skin color, different genders, and yet, the commonality of us is beautiful. There are good people in this world. There are people who look to better themselves and the people around them. And for me; I am looking to be the sponge. I want to take in as much as I can and be the best at what I do. 

By the way, I have heard of three suicide attempts and two fatalities as a result of mental illness. This is news that came in less than a week’s time. These were people who I knew at least in some small way. This is why I am here. This is why I am writing to you from an undisclosed location. I am here to learn more about my craft, to practice, to surpass my 10,000 hours mark and to do what I can to make my black belt.

I am thankful for today’s lesson in patience. I’m thankful to learn that there are different people in this game. Some look to advance. Some look to hold people down so they don’t lose their spot. But fortunately, some are brilliant enough to realize the fight is real. We are at war. The one thing I have learned about war is it’s best to find allies over enemies. And me, I’m an ally.

At least, I hope to be.

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