On Saturday, April 8th, my friend Abeku Wilson, in his mid-30s, was fired from his job and in a fit of anger, stormed back into the gym in which he was previously employed as a personal trainer, shot and killed two people, then committed suicide. Two days later, on Monday, April 10th, an acquaintance from the same group of friends, Abeng Stuart, in his late 30s, died of a heart attack while he was driving.
The depth of grief felt by our friends, by the families of both men, and by the families of the people Abeku killed is one that I cannot begin to quantify. For us, the University of Miami community who lost two of our own back to back, the breadth of anger, confusion, shame, shock, sorrow, emptiness, and more is not one I think I will be able to describe. Sometimes there are things I just don’t know how to unpack so I’m not going to try. These were things that were things. They were dark and unfathomable until they happened.
In the days after, I put up a few posts about mental health and taking care of ourselves that I wanted to go ahead and re-share here, for the sake of them being somewhere in case someone needs them.
April 8, 2017
We have GOT to do more to address mental health in this country. I don’t like being dramatic or reactive, I don’t like speaking ill of people, I don’t like assuming I know what happened, but it is what it is.
The facts are, Abeku got fired from his training job at Equinox, went back in and shot two people, then killed himself. I won’t put on airs about it. We can’t address what we can’t talk about.
I am so fucking sick of my friends – my black male friends in particular – not being able to exist in this world. Not being able to talk. Not being able to reach out for help when they’re breaking.
Condolences, sure. What he did was wrong, absolutely. But fuck if I won’t tell it like it is – something wasn’t right. He was clearly hurting. The Abeku I knew would have been laid back, eating skittles and junk food, calm as anything. The Abeku I knew would be letting me use him in fashion shows and be a good sport about absolutely everything. The Abeku I knew had my back whenever I needed it, never expecting public accolades for a damn thing, because he was just a good person who had his people’s back.
I don’t know what switch flipped. But I do know that, for an otherwise calm and collected person, something wasn’t okay.
We must pay more attention to mental health in this country. We must help each other and teach each other and normalize conversations about how we’re doing mentally. Fuck.
RIP just seems disrespectful at this point. Men I love, I don’t want you to rest in peace. I want you to fucking talk when you need to. I want you to know that you don’t have to subscribe to some bullshit patriarchal ideal of how tough you have to be. I want you to stop fucking dying.
April 9, 2017
I’m going to try to keep writing about this because, well, it’s me. But also I think it’s important that we keep open about this. I will say – I’m ridiculously grateful for our community, UM folks. And I’m glad for weird things like social media where we can attempt to process this together. Because fuck. How else can we if not together? Also – I’m blunt. Most of you know this. Forewarning to those who don’t.
When Peter committed suicide last year, I know it was a shock for everyone. I know it was a ‘but he was so positive’ shell shock for so many. I know that most didn’t want to address what happened. But he hid a lot of torture with his positivity – he always had – and, while it pains me to say it and of course am truly sad to not have our friend here, it didn’t surprise me. Not justifying, but if any TINY, TINY consolation, at least the decision he made freed him from that torture. It left his family and his loved ones to deal with it. But that’s a thing… that’s a thing. I don’t know how to unpack that. I don’t think anyone can.
Abeku… I don’t think anyone thought this could happen with Bake. I think that’s why we’re all having such a time with it. We lost our friend. It really fucking sucks that we lost our friend. Our calm, collected, kinder than he had any right to be friend.
But we also lost our friend in such a truly heart-wrenching way. He not only wasn’t supposed to be gone – which is hard enough as is – but certainly not in this way.
And it is another thing entirely – and one I in NO way have the tools to do – to unpack the fact that he took two lives with him as he left.
Our friend murdered two people and then killed himself. It’s what he did. It’s a fact that makes me shake as I write it.
And in no way can we possibly figure out how to deal with that. That is a truly impossible thing to even begin to understand. I don’t think we’ll ever be able to. This will always be a thing, years down the road as we sit across from each other at dinner tables, that will only ever result in a ‘yea… fuck.’ There is no way to be okay with this.
And I think if anything, that’s the only thing we can take from this. It is okay to not be okay. Nothing else can be expected. But I do hope we also take from this that we all can – and should – talk to each other.
We exist in such a small community. There is something incredibly special about our UMiami family. But it can’t stay special if we’re not leaning on each other.
Please reach out. BEFORE you think you need it. If anything at all feels off. Randomly show up. You know how we are – we show up for each other. It’s something I’ve always loved about us. But I need you to ask.
April 10, 2017, noon
The most important lesson I hear, over and over again, is to accept people as they are. It’s the key. To relationships, friendships, encounters with strangers on the street.
People are always going to be who they are, and the kindest thing we can do for anyone – and ourselves – is to accept them where they are, as who they are.
For a long time, I was such a fighter. I would get so combative, so indignant, about how I felt people *should* be. Not only was it ridiculous – you can’t control anyone except yourself and that in itself is a life-long challenge – but it made me so worked up all the time.
My mom used to try to help me, in the particularly bad family moments when I was younger, by counseling me to learn to “let go.” But letting go, for me, felt like giving up and that was the last damn thing I ever wanted to do. I don’t give up.
Now that I better understand my obsession with language, I know that what she meant more so than “let go” was to “accept.” To learn to take nothing personally, but accept that people are going to be who they are, in the season of life in which they need to be, working through what they’re working through and there’s not a single thing I can or should do to alter that course.
We support each other best by accepting each other. Always holding each other to high standards, sure. Seeing the promise in people we love and expecting that. But without our own expectations of who they must be forced upon them.
April 10, 2017, 8:40pm
*sigh* I don’t even know, loves.
I know there’s a lot going on in the world right now, but when your little world is so severely affected, you have to take care of home first.
UMiami family, I love you. I’m around if you need to talk.
Beng, I didn’t know you well. People CONSTANTLY told me about you. I heard stories all the time about how much you were loved, how people couldn’t believe I didn’t know you better – our paths just didn’t overlap much.
But I know how much you were deeply cherished. My heart breaks for those whom I know loved you so, so much.
Friends, I know how much you’re carrying right now. Please reach out. Please lean on each other. It’s completely okay to not be okay – there’s no way you could be right now. Deal however you need to deal, but know you are so loved.
So, so deeply loved.
April 11, 2017, 4pm
I’ve been privileged to have a lot of conversations about mental health and self-care over these last few days.
Yesterday, I had a conversation with a friend who rarely feels as though he’s in the same place as his peers. I pushed back, “but who are your peers, though?”
We do so much to compare. So much to beat ourselves up when we don’t feel like we’re in the “right” place at the “right” time doing the “right” things. And yet we know nothing of the people we’re constantly comparing ourselves to.
For me personally, there are a million things I want to accomplish. They’ll come. We severely underestimate the progress we’re making because we’re too close to our day-to-day. We forget to be proud of ourselves for all that we do, all that we’ve overcome, all that we carry.
In the end, I’d much rather be carrying my own set of burdens – which my life has conditioned me to carry and make me who I am – than look over and wish for someone else’s. Because when you’re comparing yourself against someone else’s good, you’re negating the fact that they’re carrying things too. Maybe your stuff is harder, but maybe their stuff feels heavier to them because they’re not as strong as you. It’s all relative.
Acknowledge yourself for where you are. For the load you carry. For your strength and perseverance.
And never be afraid to operate in your own plane. Different isn’t bad. It’s just different. None of us are supposed to be on the same path. How boring would that be?
I know I talk about mental health a lot, but to be honest, it’s usually me writing/talking at you and not a lot of back and forth. For whatever it’s worth, I’m glad we’ve been forced to change the dynamic. I appreciate you all greatly for opening up. It means a lot.
April 11, 2017, 9pm
Hey, love. This weight is still really heavy. There’s no way it can’t be. But if you’re not eating, if you’re not sleeping, you cannot hope to be able to deal. If you’re depriving your body of the basic things it needs – rest, nutrients – it cannot pump out the brain chemicals you need to help process things.
Your brain and your body want to help you feel okay. It’s how they’re designed – to make sure you survive and thrive. But your brain CANNOT make those feel-good chemicals if you’re not resting, not eating, eating crap, putting things into your body that inhibit its ability to work normally, or can’t unplug from tech (the constant screen-time is fucking with your head and circadian rhythm).
Eat real food. Breathe. Drink a lot of water. Breathe. Put down the caffeine or the alcohol or the pain pills. Big, deep, belly breath. Laugh with your friends at the dumbest crap you can find. Breathe.
And whenever and however you feel better, you’re good. You’re on your own timeline here. If you already feel better, wonderful. You don’t have to feel guilty for feeling okay. If you’re not there yet, cool. You don’t need to feel weak for still working through this.
But wherever you are, dial it back. Make sure you’re doing the basics first. You cannot build your health upon a crap foundation.
(And if you’re still really struggling, here’s your script for asking for help – “hey. I’m not okay.” Don’t overthink it. People want to help you. It is a gift to be able to help each other. Just reach out.)
April 12, 2017
All of us go through a tremendous amount of bullshit. All of us. And a LOT of it. Whether we inadvertently create it for ourselves or it is brought to us by others doesn’t really matter, it’s about how we deal with it. 80% of it can just be shaken off, passed through. It’s the little, inconsequential stuff we’re meant to learn how to let go of.
But for the other 20%, the heavy stuff, I think we need to accept the value of recognizing it, acknowledging it, saying “you know what, this is too much. Give me a minute.” We all try to be so strong and act like nothing phases us and there’s value in that strength, sure.
But there’s also value in being real about the particularly sucky stuff. Being a human and not just throwing away a feeling because it’s uncomfortable. Letting yourself feel how you feel.
I think learning that it’s normal to be sad, frustrated, angry, lonely – that only helps in the long run. Because when you get to the next place that makes you feel those things, you can say “hey, I recognize you. I know you’ll be gone soon. Have a seat over there while I keep going on about what I was doing. Feel free to leave without saying bye, I’ll be busy.”
Because then you’re not fighting it. You’re letting yourself live with it. You’re not overwhelmed with it because you’re not consumed by making it go away. There’s a certain kindness to ourselves in that. In knowing that not every day is going to be perfect, and that’s okay. It’s life.
April 12, 2017, 7pm