Welcome to a new season of my interview sessions. I’m excited to share that we are starting this year off with another family member and I am so happy to share her brave and honest story. Just to fill you in about our story teller Shannon (more commonly known as KneeKnee in our household)- she is a 27-year-old, nanny, who is the youngest of us 5 girls. That’s right, the baby sister. She’s got a big heart (as you’ll see from her interview) and is working on her own healing.
As I got ready for the interview, calling her several times to no avail, I though ‘well damn, she bailed on me.’ About two minutes after that I get a text that says:
“Sorry! I fell asleep. Let me go out to my car to call you.”
I should probably also mention the text I received that morning: “You should just interview someone else. I can’t think of anything significant to talk about.”
Both of these texts are important because throughout our interview we talked about Shannon’s mental health diagnoses. One of those included anxiety.
“Wait… why are you going out to your car? Roommates?”
Both of these are examples of the way Shannon navigates her anxiety. She works hard to keep herself safe as her body warns her that something doesn’t feel right. Throughout our interview those moments continued to come up-
“Wait is this car trying to get around me? Wait, hold on. Oh, no they are okay,” she says with a sigh of relief. “So, I’m parked by this park, and there is like a funeral, and I’m nervous that people are going to hear me talking,” she whispers into the phone. “Is this even a story? I don’t think I’m talking about anything important.”
We, as Robinsons, laughed through most of it. “Speaking of anxiety” we would say as we giggled like we were still little kids playing store in our front living room, one of our favorite games.
Shannon has this beautiful aura about herself. Her skin is always flawless. Her hair a beautiful auburn, brown, blonde mix that has these amazing curls through it. She is the sister you go to if you need beauty tips. Every time I am home to visit I exchange goods (clothes, meals, shoes) for her to do my hair and makeup. As kids, Shannon would spend hours getting ready for school while I would wake up 5 minutes before we left to drive us around the corner. In the interview the natural light, from sitting in her car, makes her face glow and her bright blue eyes shine.
“If I don’t like the interview, will you just not post it?” she half giggles and glances up, already expecting a no from me. “I don’t know where to start.”
“I suppose I would just not post it if you really didn’t like it, but that hasn’t happened yet.”
“I’ll be your first,” she says as she does a side smile and squints her eyes.
I laughed, knowing that this is how she operates. Knowing that she just wants an out, just in case. I placate her and say “okay” also knowing that she is one of my biggest supporters and she knows I’ll do her justice. I then dive into the interview asking her about some of the things that came up from her while she was thinking of what she wanted to talk about.
“Well, like veganism was one thing I could talk about, but I’m like, err, nobody cares.”
Shannon goes on to say that she was trying to pull a story out that would make people cry. She said she read the other interviews and wanted to “tug at the heart strings.” She thought ‘talking about animal cruelty might get some tears in there.’ Again we giggle. She talks about some of the events from childhood that, she believes, converted her to veganism. Each story she tells I can feel her going back to those moments. The memories so vivid and distinct to her. The real story I am hearing though, behind the acts that she witnessed, was her desire to witness kindness over cruelty. Between the lines she is sharing her fear of people that can cause harm.
I am not here, nor is she, to debate this topic though. As she is talking it becomes clear that veganism is important because it speaks to a larger desire for peace of all things and a way in which she can control that feeling of peace for herself. As her family members though, we started to witness something else when Shannon decided to go vegan- her mental health seemed to improve.
“I’ve been diagnosed with depression and borderline personality disorder, anxiety, and uhm, uhhh, what else?” She rattled these off without a wince. I mention this because when she was first diagnosed the response to those words were much stronger. Knowing the person I am interviewing helps me steer some of the questions. I ask her about when she was diagnosed.
“Probably 23, or 24, and it was helpful at the time but also… I was excited to know some things that were wrong with me because once I figured that out I was like ‘oh, this is not normal behavior that I’ve been experiencing all my life,’ but, uhm, also, it was hard to hear all of that. I started obsessing over all my diagnoses and how to treat them, and I felt like, kind of like I was a crazy person because I had all of these and I’m like also questioning it. Just cuz they say I have them doesn’t mean I do have all those, ya know?”
I do know. Oh, do I know. And although she was diagnosed in her 20’s she shared that she felt something was off long before that.
“I think from a very young age, like probably 5 or 6 I’ve known. Especially my anxiety is like way severe compared to other peoples like I’m worried about weird things. And ppl I’ve dated have always told me ‘you need to calm down because thats not a thing that you should be worried about at all.’ Like I constantly worry about peoples judgement. Like I would skip out on like school projects and things just cuz I didn’t want people like looking at me. Like isn’t that weird?”
I could feel my blood boil at this point. How dare someone tells her she needs to calm down. How dare they tell her she shouldn’t be worried. I take deep breathes, knowing they meant well, but as I also know, that is not how anxiety works. We don’t just hear “calm down” and think ‘oh, they are right. Guess I’ll just calm down now.’ Anxiety is our bodies way of telling us we are in danger. She felt uncomfortable for whatever reason and she needed support in those moments, not to be dismissed about how she was feeling. Big sister mode was activated, but I tried to remain focused on her story. I asked her about specific times she felt anxious, so you as the reader could understand what anxiety can look like for a 6-year-old.
“My friends would have sleepovers when I was younger and I would just straight up make up an excuse not to go just because I had social anxiety and I would compare myself to my friends and yeah…”
I am now picturing a 6-year-old Shannon depriving herself of sleepovers because she felt like she couldn’t go. Because she felt unsafe. Because her mind told her she wasn’t like those other girls. An innocent 6-year-old trying to navigate anxiety and having no words or understanding of what that even is.
Her conversation about her friends from school shed some more light on the topic. An array of memories of being picked on and bullied or watching others being picked on or bullied and this little girl joining in due to fear that she would be the target if she didn’t. Again, big sister mode is activated and I want to Liam Neeson these little shitheads and be all like, “I will find you and I will kill you.” Not literally, but maybe just send them that gif.
Shannon, however, steers the conversation and she moves from these mean memories to how she wants to use those memories to make the world better.
“I feel like in school kids should have more of a place to go.. like I know there are school counselors and things like that, but I think it should be more. They should like push it more on kids to talk about their feelings with somebody as far as like bullying and things like that. I asked Eli [our nephew] the other day, I was like “do you have,” cuz I know he has anger issues sometimes, I was like, “do you have somebody in school that you can like talk to when you feel yourself getting upset like this” and he was like “no” and like I’m sure he does but also if he said no, he’s not very aware of this person or doesn’t want to talk to them.”
Shannon has taken her experiences and doesn’t want to see the same thing happen to the people she loves. When she is around kids, and I’ve seen it in action, she talks about emotions with them. She is honest and brave with them, demonstrating both safety with her and compassion. She even discusses her experience as a nanny. She tears up talking about the two little kids that she cares for and how she talks to them about their feelings and works with them on being kind. She pours her heart and energy into working with kids to spread more love.
While she is sharing all of this I find myself wondering, how does she show herself love? How, after some really hard times in her life, how does she now work through it all?
“When I’m experiencing depression I get those moments where I look in the mirror, and I’m talking to myself just like mean bullies in elementary school and they would call me fat and I would cry. And that’s pretty much how I talk to myself in the mirror when I’m depressed. I just hate every little thing about myself and there is nothing good about me. But then luckily most of the time I can talk myself out of that. And I know now that those are irrational thoughts and I don’t feel that way about myself most of the time… [And] it’s like, luckily for me I know that I have to heal those things. A lot people keep moving on with their life like it’s nothing.”
“Where did you learn that? Like how did you get the tools to talk yourself out of those negative thoughts?”
“A part of it, when it first started, was because I started talking to this woman named Cheri and I started doing reiki with her and I think, I don’t know, something clicked in me.. And, well, I also did start seeing a therapist around that time too, so I think the combination of those two things. To have someone to talk to who was like Cheri, who was like kind and would tell me what an amazing person I am, it was just so nice. And I just started doing that. And well I talked to Tara (our cousin) too and she was like, she would tell me she would write herself notes on her mirror like “you are beautiful!” and eventually it just changed her outlook on how she saw herself. And I was like ‘oh thats a good idea!’ I started doing that… And so, I feel like I’ve only gotten better at doing that myself at being like hey I am a special person, I am pretty, I am beautiful, I am smart, I am all kinds of stuff.”
“You are” I reiterate to her. I then asked her my favorite question of any interview I do “What advice would you give to someone in a similar situation?”
She talked about the importance of seeking therapy, and I swear I didn’t prompt her to say this.
“Definitely seek therapy. I feel like that’s the best thing I’ve done for myself and I feel like that’s the advice I’ve been giving my friends who are struggling mentally. But it’s a choice. You have to make the choice to put the effort in to do it because you can come up with all the excuses in the world. I have a lot of friends who are like “I can’t afford it,” “I don’t have the time for that,” “my life is too busy,” and it’s like if you actually care about yourself, and you want to not hate yourself, and you want to live life in a healthful way, then you will. You will seek out therapy and try to get help for your problems because honestly that’s the only thing that’s made a huge difference in my life anyways.”
As most of us are, there is resistance to therapy. The stigma, the fear, the overall commitment to change.. it’s a lot. So, I also probed a little more about what it was like for her to overcome that resistance.
“The first time I went to therapy I was the most depressed I had ever been. I was trying different medications and they caused me to become suicidal and that was really scary for me. I couldn’t get out of bed, I was crying every single day. All I would do was lay in bed and watch Les Misérables. It was like a sad movie just made me sadder, but for some reason that was comforting. ‘Cause it was like they were going through so much in the movie but it was comforting to see problems that were worse… I was like okay this is actually scary and I need to fix things or I will be miserable forever or I will die. So yeah, that was the first turning point and then the second time, now that I’m in therapy again, it’s just like I know that’s that only things that’s helpful to me when I’m going through these bouts of depression. The only thing that does help is releasing these things I’m holding inside and until I sit down in that chair I don’t even realize how much I am holding in. I just don’t talk to anyone about the actual hard things that I’m dealing with emotionally and it’s nice to have someone who will listen to that without telling me exactly what I need to do rather just listening and asking me what I think I should do. It’s a good perspective.”
I don’t say it and I’m not sure I even showed it, but in my head there is cheering and people doing the wave and fireworks going off. Obviously, as a mental health professional, I believe all these things about therapy, but to hear it from someone else, unprompted, doing the work and finding it helpful, it feels so validating. It also just makes me happy as a sister to hear that my sister feels safe somewhere.
So then, I start to wrap up the interview. I tell her when I expect to have the first draft to her. I tell her about the process and I again assure her that if she hates it we can “throw it away” and again we giggle. But then, unprompted she shares she has a “closing remark”.
“My closing remark is just to be kind. Be kinder to people, ya know? You never know what people are going through and usually people are going through a lot. I feel like it makes a huge difference to just to be kind to people. I know like, especially lately, people are in bad moods and grumpy ’cause of the cold weather and like, I don’t know, I think it helps sometimes just to do something as simple as let somebody merge into the lane. Like it just creates a ripple effect when humans are kind to each other. I think that’s my take away from all of this. Be kinder.”
I couldn’t agree more- Be Kinder.
A[wo]men & Shannon Robinson
I sincerely thank Shannon for sharing her story and being so brave and honest with me about her experiences. If you or someone you know has a story they would like to share please fill out the form on my contact page. And if you or someone you know is experiencing mental health issues and don’t know where to start feel free to reach out and remember you are not alone.
Black History Month’s featured Black Artist:
“So I sing a song for the hustlers trading at the bus stop
Single mothers waiting on a check to come
Young teachers, student doctors
Sons on the frontline knowing they don’t get to run
This goes out to the underdog
Keep on keeping at what you love
You’ll find that someday soon enough
You will rise up”
-Alicia Keys, Underdog (2020)
Underdog is one of Alicia Key’s newest songs, released this year (2020). It goes through some of the difficult lives that people can experience and still rise up through it all. Alicia Key’s is of Jamaican and Italian decent. She has discussed in various interviews struggling with some of her differences and self-esteem issues as a child. She has channeled a lot of this into her work. For me and our story teller, Shannon, Alicia Key’s was someone we could always agree to listen to. For our stark contrasts in music preference this was a good middle ground. Her music is not only poetic, but also soulful and has a way of making an anxious mind feel at peace.