Mark Tuggle speaks about Black men and mental health

Updated November 21

Photos Courtesy of Mark J. Tuggle

Mark J. Tuggle is an author, educator, and same-gender-loving spiritual being. Along with his activism, he is a filmmaker, mentor, playwright, and poet.

Mark has been published in numerous magazines, newspapers, and online publications such as, Afrikan Poetry Theater, BET Tonight with Tavis Smiley, BLACKLIGHT Online, BLACK NOIR, The New York Times, Nuyorican Poets Cafe, POZ, PULSE, Rolling Out New York, Venus, VIBE, Village Voice and many others.

PrideIndex had the honor of engaging in an enlightening tea session with Tuggle. We discussed his book, “Cultural Silence and Wounded Souls: Black Men Speak About Mental Health,” an intergenerational anthology where thirty men share their personal and professional experiences on everything from anxiety, depression, isolation, and loss to PTSD, trauma, drug abuse, and other mental health issues.

PrideIndex (PI): How are you today, Mark?
Mark J. Tuggle (MT): I’m in good health and spirits today. Thank you for asking. I am thankful you reached out to me and wanted to share my work with your readers.

PI: It is my pleasure to speak with you. I enjoy talking with the many authors, activists, and others making a difference in our LGBTQ+ community, whomever they may be. The pleasure is mine because you are allowing me into your space to tell your story. The first thing I would like you to do is introduce yourself. Tell us a bit about your background and how you’ve come to be where you are today.

MT: My name is Mark Tuggle. I was born and raised in South Chicago in the summer of 1960, and I’m from Hyde Park. I am currently living in New York. At age 63, I still have a baby face, and I have my own mental health journey. In February of 1995, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Three months before that, I had been diagnosed as HIV positive. I am currently also in recovery, and I’ve been clean for over 28 years. A lot happened to me within six months.

About four years ago, God put it on my spirit to write about my mental health journey, which I hadn’t done. I wasn’t sure how it would manifest, whether it would be a poem, a haiku, or an essay. I began writing and called a friend. He suggested that we ask other black men to share their stories. We decided that it should be an anthology. We began with only fifteen men, and it grew to thirty men. The book, “Cultural Silence and Wounded Souls: Black Men Speak About Mental Health,” is an intergenerational anthology. Thirty men have shared their personal and professional experiences and views. They’ve written about anxiety, depression, isolation, loss, PTSD, stress, trauma, drug misuse, paranoid schizophrenia, suicide ideation, and other mental health issues.

The book also includes a number of resources for others to use, such as other books to read regarding mental health and mental illness. Readers can also find helplines to call into and podcasts to listen to. There are listings of videos they can watch, and they can visit the listed organizations to connect and speak with their clinicians. I wanted to offer a comprehensive community resource. The book was published on March 5, 2023, and is available on Amazon. It is out in the world. I’m hoping that the people who are part of your PrideIndex community will look at my website and consider getting a book either for themselves or as a gift to someone they know, love, and care about.

My intention in writing the book was to break the cycle of generational trauma in my family. In my family, we didn’t talk about how we felt. We talked about the weather, the game, or food, but we have yet to discuss our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. That is really what mental health is all about. I wanted to break that cycle and also be of service to my community. Muhammad Ali once said, “Service you do for others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” That is why being a service to others is very important to me spiritually to build capacity and help others grow.

PI: What do you say to people to get them to relax, open up, and talk about their problems or emotions?
MT: I try to get people to emotionally engage with me. I ask them to tell me how they feel inside. When they begin telling the story, I’ll stop them and ask them to give me one word to describe their emotional reality. They’ll respond with, “Oh, I feel some type of way” or “I feel fucked up.” Those are not feelings. Then, “I feel upset.” Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. I feel stressed, or I feel uncomfortable, or angry. Those are feelings, and now we can work and get into what’s disturbing them. Their peace of mind is serenity.

For black men, historically, it has not been part of our cultural practice to openly talk about how we feel. Talking about how we think is not something that we have been taught to value. We always talk about and value external stuff like cars, women, jewelry, alcohol, sex, degrees, and property. There is nothing wrong with any of those things. We do live in a capitalist society. But I know from my own experience that I didn’t know how to talk about how I hurt. I didn’t know how to talk about my pain, trauma, suffering, or misery. I simply ask people, “How do you feel emotionally?’ I’ll be persistent and ask them again. That’s how we begin to have that conversation.

PI: You want people to describe their feelings and specify exactly what’s wrong to reach a conclusion. Is that correct?
MT: It doesn’t have to be a conclusion. It’s just part of the journey. Emotion means energy in motion. And as long as God gives me breaths, my energy will be in motion unless I sleep. I’m constantly experiencing something internally. But previously, I never had the vocabulary. When I was diagnosed HIV positive, I became obsessed about my death, like Biggie and Tupac. Every day, I kept thinking, “I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die.” I remember in 1987, when my partner at the time was diagnosed with HIV, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, they gave him five hundred milligrams of AZT, which was enough to kill a horse. There were no clinical trials for Black men.

I really didn’t trust the whole medical community. They wanted to put me on medication right away. Still, I had a friend who lived with the AIDS virus, and she suggested that I get a holistic health practitioner, do an HIV-positive support group, and get into therapy. I took her suggestion and learned how to cultivate an emotional vocabulary in therapy. I could now tell people, “I feel betrayed, I feel insecure, I feel unattractive, I feel grateful, I feel blessed, I feel worried, I feel anxious, I feel excited, I feel sad, I feel disturbed, or I feel rejected.”

Before therapy and support, I didn’t know how to talk like that. Being in therapy really helped me to learn how to identify how I feel because how I think drives my behavior. It doesn’t define who I am, but for a long time, my feelings became secrets. Again, in my family, we don’t talk about how we feel, and secrets and family are dangerous. When you tell a secret, it can break your family, but when you keep a secret, it can break your spirit. I thought I came from a broken home, but I learned I came from a broken spirit. I needed to get into the healing process, which is an ongoing journey.

PI: Regarding your book, how did you start to open up, write, and commit those things to paper- candid, unfiltered, raw, and as naked as you came into this world?
MT: I have an essay in the book, which is also on my website, I began writing whatever came to my mind, into my heart, and across my spirit. I just started to write, and I kept writing, and writing, and writing. Eventually, what manifested was an essay. I shared it with the friend I mentioned earlier, and he suggested inviting other Black men to do the same.

Maya Angelou said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” I wanted to be inclusive. There are thirty Black men in this book. Ten out of the thirty Black men self-identify as either bisexual, gay, queer, or same-gender-loving, as I do. That is important to me because representation matters. I’m not afraid to tell you who I am, nor am I scared to write about who I am. I’ve been published before and have written publicly about my challenges in life. If we can prevent one Black male from dying by suicide, then our collective pain will not be in vain.

PI: Let’s delve more into your background. Were you specifically trained in the clinical area of counseling? How did that come about?
MT: That came about through a friend who, at the time, was working at a community-based organization called Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD) in New York City. He informed me that they were looking for peer counselors. I attended an eight-week HIV education training program called Exponents/Arrive in New York City. I’ve worked with other organizations where I earned credentials through training. I started working at GMAD, and I worked there for four years. I eventually became a supervisor, and I had my own staff. I’ve done other work throughout the community with organizations like Black Men’s Xchange-New York (BMX-NY), Housing Works, and GMHC. Simply talking to other people who care about the mental health of Black men has been a value to me. I am currently retired and do not have a full-time job. God gave me this new career, and I am now an author, editor, and health advocate. I have joined different groups and organizations and held seats on various boards. It all took off.

PI: What are three things you would suggest to someone to help them resist the destructive behaviors or evil thoughts that cause bad days?
MT: Well, I can’t always control the thoughts that flow through my mind. And I can’t control the feelings that flow through my body. Thoughts will come and go, and feelings will come and go, but if I’m having a bad day, I can decide at that moment and change my attitude. I can create a different day. So, I don’t have to stay that way. I can change my perspective. I can pick up the phone, call somebody I feel safe with, and tell them how I feel. I can get a pen and paper and write about my feelings for 15 minutes. I can also read something that sees my spirit and changes my attitude. So those are three things I can do or suggest that someone do.

PI: What did you learn about yourself as a result of having written this book?
MT: I’ve learned a lot. I realized I could engage men from all walks of life: authors, clinicians, filmmakers, journalists, lawyers, musicians, scholars, and rappers. I didn’t know I could connect with men from diverse backgrounds, like these men in the book, be attracted to them, and have them feel safe enough with me to trust me with the intimate details of their lives. I learned that I can be an instrument of God’s will. I could coordinate stories and resources and utilize them for the greater good of humanity. I could use my pain for a purpose. That has been very transformative as well. For a long time, I thought I would take all my secrets to an unmarked grave because I felt so unworthy, unloved, and unappreciated that I didn’t know anybody cared who I was or how I felt. I never talked about how I felt, you know, and so I’d be at the bar or at the club and just drown my sorrows. Eventually, I got sick and tired of being tired and ill. I got some help, and here I am with you.

PI: Do you think we will ever live in a society where we will tell Black men that it is okay to get help and that it is okay to not be well but to work on being better?
MT: Well, it’s happening now. It’s happening around the world. I connect with people in different parts of the diaspora. There was a film screening in South Africa, and I had an interview on a podcast called “Where’s My Masculinity,” and they showed about half an hour of the interview. We had a discussion about it. I’ve spoken to someone in Canada, the UK, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and DC. I’ve talked to men slowly taking off that mask and letting people know what’s happening inside. We have so many challenges. We live in a world that is heteronormative. We have to deal with white supremacy, mass incarceration, police brutality, unemployment, gun violence, and more. There is so much racism and anti-gay bias that so many of us go through. People are still learning how to deal with molestation, incest, and rape. There’s so much that we have to deal with and cope with. There are still tons to become aware of. Again, healing is a journey. Deepak Chopra says, “Healing is a natural tendency to restore balance when lost.” People of African descent in this country have a really unique pain. Nobody has pain like Black people. With the suffering that we’ve endured, and we’re still here? I can talk to you about it, which shows progress to me. I remain hopeful and optimistic, but we have a lot of unlearning and relearning to do.

PI: Have you ever considered doing a podcast or YouTube channel to help others?
MT: I have considered it. A friend of mine actually wanted us to do a podcast together when we were talking about sports, politics, and Black people. I wonder if that’s going to happen. A few people have suggested that I consider it, but I have other priorities.

PI: What are your immediate priorities?
MT: Well, God put other things on my spirit with this book. I’m learning to pay attention to my instincts. Intuition is not owned by women; men have intuition as well. One of my objectives is to create a documentary on Black men and mental health. Another objective is to partner with an NBA or NFL team and be a vessel for mental health with that organization. Finally, I want my book to be used as a curriculum on an HBCU campus. When people go to school to study social work, my book can be one of the books they will be required to read to help them in their social work journey.

PI: It is wonderful to aspire to something like that. My next question for you is, what is one thing you want people to take away from your work and what you do?
MT: I want Black men to know they are valuable, loved, and appreciated. I want them to know they can heal, grow, mature, and evolve. It’s okay not to be okay; talk about how you feel when you’re not okay. That’s how we heal. We talk about how we feel and how pain, misery, suffering, and trauma can elevate our self-esteem and worth and help others.

PI: What does the future hold for you?
MT: God is the best planner, and I pray for his will every day. His will led me to you, and that’s good enough for me.

Mark’s Social Media handles:

FB: Mark J. Tuggle

IG: markjudgetuggle

LinkedIn: Mark Tuggle

Twitter: @MarkTuggle4