Mickeal Pugh Jr.



Living in My Glass House:

Inside A Story of Healing through Reflection 



Volume 02 Issue 02
March 18th 2020



It really is an honor to be here right now. You know how Black men always reciprocate the love by saying “I’m tryna get like you?” Well, I really mean that, here. I’m super proud of you, your creative team and this vision. Salute to all the people out there curating their dreams into reality.

Sometimes, it takes seeing someone you look up to bounce back from adversity. For me, I learned at an early age that life doesn’t stop for anyone or anything. Although this sounds like a tragedy, this mindset has been one of the biggest driving forces in my life; I had to flip it from being a dark cloud over myself to being a beacon of hope for others. I stopped living in fear and started living in love. So, when you ask what shaped me, my answer is love shaped me. It still shapes me and will forever.





Passions.

Instead of telling y’all what my passions are, I think it would be fitting to highlight the situations which birthed them and close out with a lesson.

I’m a four year old kid with the COOLEST dad on the block. He was fit, athletic, hilarious and was definitely the “cool dad.” I vividly remember him taking me to his custodial job and seeing how much pride he took in mopping floors. At that age, I didn’t understand much about working or whatever, but I knew my pops worked hard.

On Sundays, we went to church. I am a God fearing man. The dope thing about my faith is how my parents allowed me to come into it on my own. They never forced me to go to church or to read the Bible, but when I decided I wanted a relationship with God, they supported me.

So back to my father. He was the drummer in our church. The way he would chop was phenomenal. Most people would wanna be the lead singer or guitarist, but the drummer is the backbone of any band. Drummers keep the rhythm, control the tempo and create the experience, but barely get the recognition the lead guitarist or vocalist would get. See, the lesson here is the accolades do not define the importance of your role. Real recognize real!


Hilariously, I am actually passionate about being myself. Imagine, a young Black kid who grew up around Black people (obviously right?). This same Black kid fell victim to the appropriated ideology that predominantly White schools provide better education. Now, to some extent, this notion holds true - especially in the face of zoning and under resourced public schools in predominantly Black and Brown neighborhoods. So, here I am, in little old Hanover, Pennsylvania, as one of two Black kids in the class. Kids were asking me, “How does your hair do that?” “Do what,” I replied. “Stand straight up like that,” they innocently and insensitively asked. This was my new reality. My parents would give me “the talk” at least once a week. At a young age, it was hard for me to hold how I have to be mindful of my speech, behaviors, body language, etc. while also aiming to perform well in the classroom. My father would always shout to me “You are a Black boy, Mickeal - you cannot behave the way you do with your family.” Little did I know, this will have an effect on me for the rest of my life. I couldn’t crack jokes because I’d be the class clown. According to my father, I am not anyone’s monkey, so, how I look sitting up here shucking and jiving making my classmates laugh?




Reality finally set in and made me realize I had to reevaluate how I had fun and cope with the heaviness of the world we live in. Due to these events, I learned to be extremely insecure, especially in educational contexts. I never had the teacher all the rappers talk about - the one who told them they wouldn’t amount to anything. However, I did have a teacher who limited me to just three questions a day. She told me I spoke too much in class, was too inquisitive and asked  questions that didn’t need answers. She mentioned how the Civil War was the bloodiest war in United States history, and I countered by asking, “According to who?” These little fun facts teachers would throw out there would make my skin itch. Colonization, the transatlantic slave trade and the genocide of Natives were the bloodiest “wars” in this country’s history that nobody wanted to talk about. I became the kid in class who always had a question. Every time I raised my hand, she would look irritated. I didn’t care. Karma is real because her daughter had the yams and Mike loves soul food so I ended up being the topic of conversation at one too many family dinner nights.

Despite my negligence, I still struggle with insecurity today, often asking myself  “am I talking too much,” “am I thinking too deeply about this,” or even saying “a smart person should know this.” Although my teacher never told me I wouldn’t amount to anything, I ended up believing the worst about myself. Interestingly, Frantz Fanon wrote, “the oppressed will believe the worst about themselves.” A major piece of liberation is recognizing the accolades, awards, or accomplishments. Do not fill the void of insecurity because you think you are undeserving of said accomplishment. For me, my liberation comes from two places: having others believe in how I believe in myself and remaining steadfast in the calling God has for me in my life despite failure. The lesson, here? Reflection leads to liberation. We react in ways that are to give us immediate safety. Isolation, shutting down and detaching from the outside world can leave us feeling safe in the immediate moment, but can lead to a lonely and isolated lived experience. Reflect on your immediate reaction to any praise you receive. Your greatest battle and reward may lie within it.


Growing up, my dad always took me to the movies to see comic book related stuff. Star Wars, Transformers, Iron Man, Avengers etc. I vividly remember us leaving the theater and he would always act like he was one of the heroes in the movie. One time we talked to his car and he pretended as if it was a transformer. I was like “Dad, why would a transformer want to be a Geo Prism?” But seriously, when I think about comic book stuff I get super passionate. Yeah the heroes and story lines excite me and of course I love the creativity behind the making of these characters, but nothing compares to the special places these stories take me. Every time I engage with comic book media, I find myself thinking about the bond that my father and I share over this stuff. This may be one of the passions I have that is not born out of pain or trauma which is something I will forever hold on to. 


“I guess the lesson in this is to realize darkness can inspire, but the light can provide life. ”




Goals.

It is so interesting how I have had such an invalidating experience with education but I am a career student at the moment. My graduate student identity doesn’t define me, but it is more so of a means to another means with no end (don’t let that go over your head). I graduated with my Master’s in Clinical Psychology from Loyola University Maryland in 2017. Shout out to everyone and their spirituality, but for me I knew God was looking out. I truly don’t believe God plays favorites, but it really feels like my experiences in grad school were all orchestrated by God. I got into two master’s programs and zero doctoral programs out of undergrad. I graduated with a 3.2 GPA and made honors the last five semesters of my undergraduate career. During my senior year of undergrad, I enrolled in an Inside Out course, which paired current college students with individuals who were incarcerated at the time. All of us met in the Philadelphia Detention Center on State Road. There, I met someone by the name of “Mark” - I can’t use his real name for confidentiality purposes. Mark and I were the same age, complexion and stature. Both creative writers, loved hip hop, read philosophy and had a passion for social justice. The biggest difference between Mark and I had to be where we grew up. Mark is from North Philly - a place ridden with poverty and unwarranted police presence. Mark was indicted on drug possession charges and had to serve two years in prison. A non-violent offense changed his life forever. I feel completely selfish for this, but Mark really changed my life. Here I am, a privileged college student, talking about how Mark changed my life. After we ended our semester, Mark told me I changed his as well. He stated he was committed to criminal justice reform and asked me to my face, “What will you do about it?” Mark’s question is added to the reasons why I wake up everyday. Yes - I face oppression and discrimination daily and those are valid. However, I am rewarded with the opportunity to simply have an opportunity because I get to skip over that box that asks if I’ve ever been charged and/or convicted with a felony. When I say God was looking out, I mean that none of what I’m doing right now would be possible if it wasn’t happening at the time it did. I wasn’t ready for the challenge, but God knew I was prepared to face it. Man shout-out to God.

Currently, I am at Virginia Commonwealth University, getting my Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology. I do health disparities research on neurorehabilitation and incorporate a strengths based approach that assesses, identifies and builds personal and collective culturally-relevant strengths. However, much of my focus is at the policy and systemic level, but these things take time. In the meantime, I plan to work with people in need of mental health services and collaboratively identify community-based resilience factors.

As a psychologist, I plan to be a triple threat - appointment at an academic medical center, private practice and a legal and community-based consultation business. Honestly, it is inspiring for me to talk about and I really enjoy sharing these aspirations with y’all. However, there’s so much more to me and my life than being a psychologist one day. I cherish it, a first-gen student really making the most out of this opportunity, but I’m not doing this for me.




My Tunnel Vision.

You ask, what keeps me up at night and what inspires me to wake up. Ironically, my sleep and wake schedules are so strict. To a lot of people, I’m an “asshole” or “stubborn,” but these things are literally for my mental health.

To my awareness, November of 2016 was my first major depressive episode. During this time, I was suicidal, wasn’t eating, ignored sleep, started drinking alcohol and worked out to the point of self-harm. Growing up in church, I always heard “God would be mad at me if I felt this way,” so I kept it to myself. No one knew and I suffered in silence. To the outside world they saw someone with the world as their oyster. “You’re in grad school, it’s stressful!” “You have so much to be grateful for!” In my attempts to reach out to people, they inadvertently hurt me by saying things like that. So - I learned to keep things to myself as a form of protection. Little did I know that this isolation would lead to a world of deep dark depression.




I think it is so important to give ourselves permission to feel our emotions. Yes - we can overreact to things, but our reaction in that moment should be validated. Before going to therapy, I struggled with validating my experience. As a Black man it is so easy to just be stoic, funny, charismatic and charming, while drowning in our pain. Now that I’m in therapy, I’ve learned that I do not need to get rid of parts of myself, but rather should continue to learn when certain parts of myself should be in control during specific situations. I like to think of my emotional experiences as multiple parts of me driving a car at different ages and points of time in my life. I would argue that we all have a default inner person that drives the car during potentially triggering situations. We are all humans and it is in our nature to survive. However, our default inner person may exhibit toxic behavior. Being completely transparent, my default person likes to isolate himself, become extremely distrusting of people and essentially fall off the face of the earth for a few days. Now, this process is not fair to those who love and support me and our relationship. That is why therapy is so important - we all can benefit from learning when to let certain parts of ourselves drive the car.

As I mentioned, it is critical to note that therapy is a privilege because it is not accessible to everyone. However, if you are a college student, have some type of insurance coverage, or if you do not have insurance coverage, there are ways to get enrolled in mental health services. As a future psychologist, I believe we need to invest in ourselves now while we make the system more accessible.

I have been rewarded the opportunity to share my mental health struggles with the world through a podcast my right hand man, Deon Brown, and myself, started last year. It is entitled “The Tangentlemen Present: Here’s my Two Cents.” Our first released episode is called “Construction Signs,” meaning that we are works in progress and would like to keep you all aware of our status. The name of the podcast was inspired by the conversations Deon and I have. We essentially will go off on tangents about any and everything related to Black culture. We are also striving to be gentlemen, but also ask ourselves what being a gentlemen even means. As we grapple with this identity, we make sure the piggy bank (the nickname for our listeners) understands that we are having a collective conversation, not speaking at but speaking with. The podcast also served as a mechanism to open up about my mental health journey. During Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, Deon being the amazingly supportive right hand man he is, was ready to go when I told him I was ready to open up. I shared a poem I wrote called “My Glass House.” This episode, “#MyStoryMyWay” has served as a conversation starter in friend groups, family circles and in professional settings. Deon and I have taken a break from releasing new episodes but Season 2 is coming soon. We plan to release it on all digital streaming platforms. In the meantime, check out our three recent episodes on the Apple podcasts app and Soundcloud. Search “Tangentlemen Present” and you should be able to find us. Follow us on instagram at @Tangentlemen, @WhereAreUEazy, and @pugosuave.






Ikechukwu: First and foremost bro, I appreciate you more than you’ll ever know. You was one of the coolest cats at ALANA. Many blessings and love to you.

It's an honor to be here my brother. It’s so dope being apart of this. Much love!

I feel like reflection is something that is lost in today’s age. Ironically, it is one of the pillars at the school we went to but never paid attention to. The way our lives are so fast-paced makes it difficult to set aside that time to just reflect and soak everything in. In what ways do you reflect and do you have any tips you would like to share for us on how to slow down?

Reflection is difficult. Sometimes we don’t want to think about what hurts us, but, I argue sitting with that hurt can lead to so much healing. I used to schedule reflection time into my Google calendar so I could make time for it. I would often go to the park, go on walks, or just walk on campus with headphones in and no music playing and just think about something I’ve been avoiding. Also, reflecting with a trusted friend is powerful as well. The biggest tip I have to help slow down is learn how to control your breathing. As a culture, we take short and shallow breaths into our chest. However, if we simply inhale through the nose, and watch our belly rise, exhale through the mouth for slightly longer count and watch our belly fall, we can help ourselves relax. We can’t control our thoughts, heart rate, blood pressure, etc., but we can control our breathing which helps with all of those things.

What will you do about the criminal justice reform system?

I plan on partnering with community activists and providing resources through their programs that combat institutional issues. On the policy end, I would hope to consult with politicians to reform how we make and enforce laws that disproportionately target Black and Latino people. I’m hoping that I can also employ young kids from neighborhoods that have heavy police presence to provide early opportunity for scholarship and apprenticeship. As a psychologist, I can choose to work with defense attorneys as an expert witness which will help identify mitigating factors to reduce sentencing or exonerating individuals. Often, people forget that crime is a social issue that doesn’t need punishment sometimes, but rather empathy, resources, and healing.

There is that perceived idea that Black men have to be and act a certain way - to be strong, charming, stoic, but never vulnerable and open. And it’s negatively affecting us.

Why do you think being open about mental health has a negative outlook and what ways do you think we can slowly change that notion?

That’s a fact. I think that notion exists because of how we expect Black men to relate with their own experience of Blackness. It’s so painful to feel the pressure to perform at all times without showing any weakness, and provide for those around you. I believe Black men pride themselves on safety and protection for our entire community. We also think when we cannot fulfill those responsibilities at all times, we aren’t as adequate. Slowly but surely, we can change this notion by acknowledging when we aren’t at 100%. Additionally, I think we can change what we expect of ourselves when we are safely vulnerable with fellow Black men.

Can you tell us more about your plan to be a triple threat in psychology?

So the three aspects of psychology services I want to provide are research, clinical work and consultation services. Ideally, I’d like to receive an affiliate faculty position with a medical research university in order to mentor students, produce high quality research and even run a lab. Additionally, I’d like to have my own practice to provide mental health services (e.g., therapy, assessments, and referrals) for the community I reside in. I plan to have a pro-bono day and gather many psychologists and therapists to provide free services for people who may not be able to afford the services. Finally, the consultation service is to work with legal representatives, businesses, healthcare systems, and local organizations to disseminate the research I conducted into structural establishments.

What is your sleep and wake schedule like?

I wake up every day at 5:30am. I go super dumb hard between 6 am to 6 pm. I wake up and pray, reflect and then workout. Afterwards I make breakfast, shower and get ready for the day. Whatever I’m working on, I stop at 6 pm - I know I won’t be productive afterwards so why fake the funk? Between 6 and 9 pm I talk to loved ones, catch up on shows, or do housework. Then I go to bed at 10 pm. I’m very strict with this because when I had my first depressive episode I wouldn’t eat or sleep, but would stay in bed all day. This schedule has helped me stay productive even if I’m having low mood days.


Finally, who is your favorite superhero and why?

My favorite superhero is my dad. I remember I used to watch him in awe as a child. He was so invincible to me, but then I saw sides of him that revealed his shortcomings. I learned to love him through all of his flaws and weaknesses because he prides himself on taking responsibility for your actions and acknowledging where you fall short. As far as real superheroes go, my favorite is The Flash. As a kid I was always the fastest kid in the class until someone came along and beat me. I always wanted to be the fastest. And with superspeed you can be super powerful, defy gravity and theoretically, break the space - time continuum.


Photography - Kamilia Arroyo