On Friday, June 13, 1975, at the age of seven, I survived an armed robbery, but witnessed the murder of my mother, her boyfriend, and my godmother, in Harlem, New York City.
Although I suffered from a gunshot wound, it was the mental scars that resulted in the most significant damage. Several years after this tragic event, I was clinically diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. (PTSD)
We resided in the Drew Hamilton Housing Projects off 8th Avenue (Frederick Douglass Boulevard) and violence was pretty much an everyday occurrence. I wouldn't say that I'd grown accustomed to witnessing acts of violence on a daily, but I quickly became desensitized to it.
It wasn't that I didn't care for or disregarded the feelings of victims, I just always expected something bad to happen once I stepped in or out of our apartment. At times, my mother's boyfriend would use me as his personal punching bag or for other unmentionable activities. I had no choice but to adapt to my violent surroundings.
One particular morning on my way to school (PS 123-Mahalia Jackson), I witnessed two men arguing in front of a store and in an instant, one pulled out a knife and stabbed the other. The victim then fell to the ground and just had this dazed look that I will never forget.
I then looked towards the store and saw Carlos (employee) looking from the door. He stepped out and advised me to run on to school and forget what I had witnessed. I was later informed that the victim had died. I didn't quite understand why I was instructed to forget what I had witnessed, but it was later explained to me that witnesses to crimes in Harlem could face possible retaliation from friends of the accused.
Prior to this tragic event, I witnessed a plethora of people getting mugged, but never to this extent. After witnessing the stabbing, I literally begged my mom to get us out of Harlem. Deep down inside, though, I loved Harlem and a part of me didn't want to leave. Either way, I knew it wasn't my decision to make. After witnessing this senseless act of violence, I figured I had seen it all. Then came Friday, July 13, 1975, and my life was forever changed.
If I knew then what I know now, there are five things that I would tell my younger self: (adolescent and young adult years)
1. Don't be easily offended that many people will not
understand your dilemma.
2. Hurt people, tend to hurt others so consistently receive
mental health care from licensed professionals.
3. Be more trusting of close friends and family because some
of them do have your best interests in mind.
4. You did nothing wrong to cause the traumatic events that
took place in your life as a child.
5. Finally, everything happens for a reason! Although you may
not understand why these tragic events occurred, it simply
wasn't your time to die! God has a plan for you so hold on
and receive the necessary mental health care to fight PTSD.
I didn't begin utilizing all available mental health resources until 2013. Although I finally decided to fight back against PTSD, the time wasted by not consistently receiving mental health care earlier in life can never be recaptured.
If you're battling PTSD or any form of mental illness, now is the time fight back. Utilize all available mental health resources and don't be satisfied living your life in circles.
Also, if you feel the need to talk to someone, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) to reach a trained counselor.
Current and former service members, use that same number and press 1 to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.