“Stop that crying.”
“Dry your eyes.”
“You gotta keep it moving.”
“Don’t nobody care about your little feelings being hurt.”
“Don’t tell nobody our business.”
These are just a few of the messages sent to little Black girls all over the world. So what do we do with these messages? We grow into women who try to handle it all with a “keep it moving attitude” and a ready smile, hiding the pain that is underneath as we go day to day still being the mother, wife and friend to those in need.
But what happens to the pain that we bury, and how does it resurface, and under what circumstances? What happens to the trauma that is left unresolved and untreated? I’ll tell you what happens – it never goes away because the body and mind keeps the score. The score is never settled nor is it ever even because society does not recognize the additional strength it takes to “make it” as a Black woman.
I carried all of these negative messages with me into adulthood, and if I’m not careful, constantly vigilant, they creep back in like a thief stealing whatever joy I have found in my world. So many would think, ‘wait you have several degrees and professional licenses, surely you are immune to mental health challenges.’ The reality is that no one is immune.
At any given time any one of us could have a mental health diagnosis. This is more the case now in 2021 as our world has been turned upside down with the pandemic and with the critical state of affairs in our world. 2020 was rough and it impacted us in ways that are far reaching. Right now, no one knows what’s on the other side of this and what the next blow to our lives will be. Being forced into the process of learning new ways to cope and deal with life’s stressors was and can still be difficult. Everyone has their own pattern of responding and it is in this response that troubles start to emerge with our mental health.
Most people will feel “some type of way” and never seek outside help because we still have the stigma of therapy being for “crazy people”. Some will learn they have a level of resilience and identify the best manner of moving forward. Others may become stuck and have to falter on their path until they identify there’s something going on. When you are programmed to “keep it moving” you can often overlook and minimize the challenges.
Some of the most common and overlooked diagnosis are as follows:
- Depression is one of the oldest, yet overlooked, diagnoses.. People feel that if you are not sitting around sad and crying that depression is not the culprit. But depression rears its head in many ways. The most overlooked symptom is to be fatigued, and not just normal fatigue but the kind that you find it hard to do your normal activities. This fatigue can render you to feel helpless and thus the cycle begins.
Depression also attacks your sleep and eating patterns. I’m talking about the kind of “I don’t want to get up and be an adult today” response. So usually when women feel sad they reach for the comfort food- ice cream, cookies, chips- almost as if our bodies are craving sweets because life is feeling sour. Now, some of that can be normal and okay in moderation. But when we talk about emotional eating then it’s the “I’m going to snack all day and need to wear a mask in the house to avoid overeating” response.
For most women, this leads to extra weight gain and here we go with a whole nother level of depression. Depression is not all centered in moods of sadness but also anger. Depression is often classified as anger turned inwards. Black women try so hard to avoid being seen as angry that they will bite their tongue and swallow those words so they are not viewed as being aggressive. Depression can be triggered by grief, transition, or just life on its own terms.
- Anxiety is an elusive diagnosis because it tends to strike everyone differently. There are those that have the panic attack moments where they can’t breathe, and others that always feel nervous, even in normal situations. Anxiety can rob you of your self esteem as you grapple with “what happened to me and why did I change?”
In 2021, there is a lot of anxiety stemming from the upcoming transitions in the workforce and from what it has felt like to be on the sidelines in your own personal life since 2020. Anxiety can be paralyzing because it dares you to move because of fear.
- Racial trauma is a real feeling but not a mental health diagnosis from the DSM V. It can leave marginalized people to have the same response as PTSD. The most common symptoms of PTSD include: constantly thinking about the incident and feeling that it is being relived, a sense of depression, and an impact on mood and activity level.
This type of trauma can be direct (experiencing an attack) or vicarious (feeling the pain of others). Even as a therapist with over 30 years of front line experience I’m not immune to being traumatized by life in 2021. On the very day that I was proud of our justice system for doing the right thing and convicting a police officer for a public murder was the same day that I learned of a 16 year old foster child being killed by the police. That day and the next I was just like “blah”, I felt fatigued, anxious and depressed. It wasn’t until I sat in my feelings that I realized that what I was experiencing was racial trauma, that feeling of “will this ever stop”, this made me think of how long it has been occurring with the only difference being in the age of cell phones that now I am able to watch these murders on television.
Everyday stressors can become mental health challenges for anyone and trust me – no one is immune. Our brains are wired in a way that they will not “take on too much” and tend to “malfunction” when the threshold is met. We used to refer to this as a nervous breakdown.
Black women go through so many changes in life that we have to stop and acknowledge that “it’s okay to not be okay”. We also have to realize that at times it’s okay to “not keep it moving”. As a Black woman, I was raised to “handle it” – there was no time to stop and process feelings, no time to sit around feeling sad and definitely no time or space to “not make it happen”. It was a long journey for me to learn to be gentle with myself and my feelings.
My world calls for grace and flexibility as I maneuver around life’s diversities. It is a whole self journey to learn the importance of taking the time to cater to myself without feeling guilty as if other people’s problems are more important than mine. On any given day I will honor myself as I cancel my appointments and give myself permission to “just be”.
Together, we must stop the stigma and shame of reaching out for help when it gets to be too much. Even the strongest of Queens have to take time to adjust their crowns.