Black Women and Mental Health

I’m pretty addicted to Tumblr  on Tumblr fairly regularly, and a few weeks ago a blog popped up entitled “This is Black Privilege.” The purpose of the blog was to mock other blogs on the site that dealt with white privilege. One of the posts from this blog was something along the lines of (paraphrasing) “Black women privilege is being able to say whatever you want without being called on it, when other women are called a ‘bitch’ for the same thing.” I mean, if that is not the biggest load of garbage you have ever heard in your life, I don’t know what is. It speaks to a number of issues including white privilege, lack of critical thinking skills, and cognitive dissonance associated with not having to actually live as a Black woman, and be referred to as “the angry Black woman” for simply disagreeing with something. Anyway, as a response, on my blog I wrote “Black female privilege is being referred to as ‘so strong’ and ‘angry’ when you’re actually suffering from undiagnosed depression.” It was a simple statement that I am well aware of from personal experience, and it seemed to resonate with a lot of other Black women, as well, as the post received more than a few notes. And, that made me sad.

Depression and mental health issues, in the media and public at large are often associated with white people. If a white man goes on a shooting spree, it must be due to mental illness. If a Black man does the same, he was just violent (thank you racism). Unfortunately, this misappropriation is not limited to gender. When we think of Black women in general the words “angry” “strong” “independent” often come to mind. I used to read a blog that dealt with Black women and interracial dating, and by far, a majority of the men on the site said they found Black women attractive or appealing because we were “strong and independent.” Sounds good, right? No one wants to be thought of as weak. But then, I think about the notes and comments I received on my post about Black women and depression, and I realize this image of us, has harmed us to the point where mental health professionals, those close to us, and even ourselves, are unable to understand when we are dealing with depression or some other mental health problem.

There are a number of reasons as to why mental health awareness and services are lacking among Black women. Some of these reasons are a result of our own coping mechanisms, and some are societal standards that have been placed on us. If we are supposed to be strong, the supportive “Mammy” figure, and the “independent Black woman, who don’t need a man” how are we supposed to be able to admit to ourselves and others, that we need help? And, will we even be listened to when we admit it? The convoluted history of Black people and healthcare in the US, has lead to the perception that Black people, in general, feel less pain than white people. If we are perceived as feeling less physical pain, even by professionals, it is not a large leap in judgement to assume that our mental health pain is often overlooked, as well. These deeply ingrained racial biases in conjunction with the image of Black women being “strong” (along with less access to healthcare, overall due to socioeconomic issues) serve, at least in part, explain why so many of us are suffering from mental health issues in silence.

Part of self-care, a major part, is taking care of our mental health. As a Black woman who suffers from depression, I realize how empowering it can be to admit to having a problem and seeking help for it. I also found that once I began talking about it with other people in my life, I was met with the stories of others (both Black women and other women of color) who were going through depression or some other mental health issue as well. Unfortunately, many of us are suffering alone and it does not need to happen. We can be strong, independent, and fierce, while taking care of ourselves getting the help we need. I encourage all people, but especially women of color and Black women to learn about the symptoms of depression and other mental health disorders, and if needed, seek out the help you need. You will be better for it.

What is your experience with mental health and treatment? Have you felt that your diagnosis was impeded by your race and/or racial perception?

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Nobody, but nobody, Can make it out here alone

A week or so ago, I was reading a post written on The Atlantic, entitled “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” by Stephen Marche. I began reading this article as part of a work assignment and became intrigued with it for a number of reasons. The part of the piece that intrigued me the most was the part in which Marche quotes NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg, “Reams of published research show that it’s the quality, not the quantity of social interaction, that best predicts loneliness.” Marche goes on to explain that the typical things we believe that help to alleviate loneliness only do so if certain conditions are met. For example, for those who are married are only less lonely, if their partner is a trusted confidant. For those who have a strong faith or religious belief, loneliness is reduced if that person has an individual relationship with God, as opposed to believing in God as some far off entity. Reading these words only helped to solidify my personal beliefs on developing, deep, meaningful connections and relationships with others.

The words in this article made me think about how loneliness works in my own life and the times I feel less alone. As someone who is an introvert, by nature, I can spend quite a bit of time alone without being lonely. However, I am human and recognize I, just as anyone else have a deep need for closeness with others, be they family, friends, significant others, etc. As I have gotten older, I recognize the need not for superficial relationships and connection with others, but for real connections. The type of meaningful relationship where you may not talk to someone in a while, but you can pick up the phone or hang out with that person and spend hours talking about what’s going on in your life, and vent or even cry if you need to.

And, what does this have to do with self-care? Everything.

We all need people to reach out to. When the world is resting on our shoulders a little too heavily; when the words don’t seem to flow easily enough, and all we have is silence; or when it’s 3am and you’re in trouble or can’t sleep due to worry and stress, it’s essential to have people who you know will pick up the phone or at least won’t mind getting a voicemail, and will call you back at their earliest convenience. Unfortunately, too many of us either do not have these types of supports in our lives, or we are reluctant to open up and develop these types of relationships. But, these connections are necessary for our basic survival, let alone the ability to thrive in every aspect of our lives. Self-care is letting ourselves be vulnerable with others, who have proven they care. It is the ability to realize that, no matter how much we enjoy spending time alone, there are times when having close bonds and relationships with others, helps make life a little easier.

This week I was reminded of a poem by one of my favorite poets, Maya Angelou, that sums up what I am trying to say:

Alone

Lying, thinking
Last night
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don’t believe I’m wrong
That nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

There are some millionaires
With money they can’t use
Their wives run round like banshees
Their children sing the blues
They’ve got expensive doctors
To cure their hearts of stone.
But nobody
No, nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Now if you listen closely
I’ll tell you what I know
Storm clouds are gathering
The wind is gonna blow
The race of man is suffering
And I can hear the moan,
‘Cause nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Maya Angelou

Did you have a moment in your life when you realized the difference between being alone and being lonely? How do you cope with loneliness?

How to Care for Yourself When Life Gets Busy

I must admit, I am not someone who enjoys being busy. I have never liked the idea of multi-tasking, much less the necessity to engage in it. I am the type of person who does not even like having too many tabs open on my internet browser, it stresses me out. Unfortunately, for years, I thought this just meant I was lazy or not like other people, particularly women, who seem to be able to do two or three things at once. I felt as if I just needed to learn to multi-task better in order to keep up. We live in a society that not only appreciates, but encourages busyness in the form of multi-tasking. It’s almost sacrilege to say you are going to relax or do one thing at a time.

As I have gotten older, I have come to realize my lack of enthusiasm where multi-tasking and busyness is concerned, is not a personal flaw, but just how I am made. I am a hard worker, who puts in the time when I need to, but my preference is to work on one thing at a time, to have time to process it in its entirety, before moving on to the next. My lack of enjoyment in multi-tasking or busyness is not limited to work. I also do not like having numerous social engagements in the course of a week, or a weekend. On the rare occasions that I do engage in a good amount of social activity or work related projects, I try to ensure this period is followed by a few days of calmness and alone time, so I can recuperate. If you haven’t noticed, these are the traits of an introvert. While I do appreciate working and being productive and spending time with loved ones, for me, this has to be balanced with a fairly decent amount of down time. Luckily, over the course of the past few years, research is coming out that suggests our multi-tasking and busy culture is actually counterproductive.

Recent research on the idea of being able to handle two or more things at once is demonstrating that the perceived ability to multi-task is actually a myth. Surprisingly, studies are proving that we are not able to multi-task, save for the very rare occasion. Sounds like a lie? I thought so too, but according Dr. Susan Weinschenk’s Psychology Today article, by trying to multi-task you could actually be reducing productivity by up to 40%. Does trying to multi-task seem worth it now? Didn’t think so. Dr. Weinschenk’s article gives to good tips for helping those who feel the need to multi-task, yet want to ensure that their productivity remains intact. Some of Dr. Weinschenk’s suggestions, I had already began to implement in my own life and professional career, in order to better accommodate my needs.

One thing that helps me when I am feeling stressed trying to multi-task or just busy in general, is taking periodic breaks. Even back when I was working in an office setting, whenever I became overwhelmed, I would take a five minute trip to the office kitchen to make myself a cup of hot tea. Simply getting up and walking away from your desk for a few minutes can be helpful, and if you’re like me, sipping on warm tea can be very relaxing. Now that I am a freelancer, I still take breaks throughout the day, when things are busy and I am feeling overwhelmed or stressed. These mini-breaks help me to take a step back, decompress for a little bit, and come back to my work with a fresher frame of mind.

What are some ways you can take care of yourself when you are busy at work or with other obligations? Are you a fan of multi-tasking or have you never liked the idea? Do you feel multi-tasking makes you more or less productive?

 

 

Stop Being So Mean to Yourself

            You know those times in life when you’re going about your day, living life happily, and you get a phone call that changes your entire mood? Now, I’m not talking about the Earth shattering types of phone calls, but the ones that just remind you of a past due bill or an unpleasant meeting you need to attend, or something of that nature? Well, I had one of those phone calls the other day. My dear friend Sallie Mae made that dreaded call and afterwards I began doing a downward spiral into self-hate. That spiral is familiar territory for me, and one that I have worked for years to avoid and find productive outlets for. Thankfully, with age and experience I am more attuned to my own habits, triggers, and potential pitfalls. This knowledge has allowed me to reduce the amount of time I spend being angry or mad at myself, and change my train of thinking to be more productive.

            Now that I am older, I wish someone had told me that being mean to myself is not only self-abuse, it’s counterproductive.  For years, I have struggled with my weight and no amount of calling myself names, has helped me to lose weight, just as no amount of calling myself a failure the other day was helping me make money to repay Sallie Mae. In fact, my little pity party was distracting me from work I had to do to actually earn an income. After a few moments of my own self-pity, I used a few strategies that helped me get back on track, so I could refocus my energy on what it is I needed to get done that day, and back on the road to earning an income, so I could repay my loan.

Here are a few strategies that help me stop being mean to myself:

  1. Yell STOP! OK no, I don’t say this out loud, but I do say it in my head at a high level. When I start saying things like, “I’m a failure” or I start lamenting on my “shoulda, woulda, couldas” a firm STOP! Often helps the thoughts to scatter. It’s sort of like a mind trick. The thoughts seem to be on repeat, where they just keep going and going, and yelling something simple like stop, helps to break up the momentum, and send those thoughts on their merry way.
  2. Tell yourself something you either did well or appreciate about yourself. For example, when I get down about owing student loans, I tell myself how much I paid last month, or the credit card bill I recently paid off. Sometimes, it can seem overwhelming when we are only thinking about how much we still have to pay, or how much weight we still need to lose, or any other task that seems so far away. However, when we are able to think back and look at how far we have come, it helps the burden seem a little lighter.
  3. Make a plan. Big overwhelming tasks, goals, or challenges are discouraging when we look at the entirety of what needs to get done. If we are able to break these down into smaller, more attainable objectives, we tend to feel less paralyzed. When we are constantly berating ourselves, we end up paralyzing ourselves. Making a plan, no matter how small the individual goals are, is the first step in the chipping away process.
  4. Do something nice for yourself. I will go into more detail about where I first learned this phrase and who taught it to me, in a later post. For now, I will say that we all deserve to put ourselves on our own ‘to do’ lists and do something nice for ourselves, on a daily basis. This can be something small and minute or all the way up to treating yourself to a once in a lifetime vacation. Simple, nice things you can do for yourself include: painting your nails, taking yourself out do dinner or a movie, putting a small amount of money in savings to save up for a vacation, wearing a cute outfit, or even taking a nap when you’re run down. These things are small, but they remind us to treat ourselves with the love and respect we deserve.

These are just some of the things I have used over the years that have helped me, when I really want to get down on myself. While, at times, it is a challenge to quit being so mean to myself, I find having some quick “go-tos” help me to get out of my negative mindset, and help me to refocus on what it is I need to do, and who I need to take care of most—myself.

With all that said, have you ever berated yourself inwardly? What do you do to stop being so mean to yourself?

 

Why is Self-Care Important

About eight months ago, I injured my back while working out. I was working in the weight room at my gym, and while doing the back extensions, I moved too quickly and immediately my back felt odd, not painful, but definitely something was wrong. When I got up and found I could hardly bend over I decided cut my workout short and go home. An hour or so later, the pain kicked in and my lower back hurt for days after that. I decided to take some time off to rest and heal. About a week later I returned to the gym, and while my back felt better, it still hurt a little bit. Nevertheless, I continued on my heavy weight lifting routine, because I did not want to lose the progress I made over the previous months. A few weeks later, with my back still hurting, I went to visit my brother and his family. I have two young nieces, whom I babysat while my brother and his wife went to work during the day. The youngest wasn’t walking at the time, so I had to carry her a lot. For the week I was there, by the end of each day my back was in major pain. The day after I returned home from visiting my brother, I woke to discover I caught my youngest niece’s cold. I was in bed for nearly a week, as this turned out to be a particularly bad cold. I didn’t even think of working out. I only got out of bed to eat and use the bathroom.

After a week, I felt better and found myself moving around more and suddenly I realized, my back wasn’t hurting anymore. My body had gotten the rest it needed. I realized this had not been the first time this has happened either. The past few years have been challenging, and I have found myself having more and more colds than before. I have come to realize this is a sign from my body that I need to take a break or a rest. The old saying is true “the body takes what it needs.” Times when I have found myself up until 1 o’clock in the morning working, have all come at the expense of my health. We are not machines, and neither are our bodies. Self-care allows us to take time for ourselves to tend to our physical, mental, and spiritual health.

If we are in bed from a cold or illness because we got rundown, and weren’t taking care of ourselves, then we cannot be there for others. As women of color, it is practically ingrained into us, that we need to care for others. We tend to be the sole or main source of physical, emotional, and often times, financial care for our children, parents when they get older, family members and even our friends. We care for those at work, whether they be customers, colleagues, or clients. But, who takes care of us?

I have watched many women in my life take care of others, but neglect themselves. I have seen how the stress of self-neglect wears on the body and results in high blood pressure, anger and resentment, because our very spirits have been malnourished. Self-care is an essential part of everyday life, just as breathing and eating. How we take care of ourselves, is a testament to how we let others treat us. If we are unwilling to put aside time for ourselves for self-care, it goes to reason that others are unwilling to put in that kind of effort on our behalf.

Self-care manifests itself in a number of ways, from how and what we eat and physical activity, to the types of boundaries we set for ourselves in relationships. Self-care plays a role in every aspect of our lives, and only we can define it for ourselves. Self-care is an act of rebellion because it forces us to ask tough questions and make hard decisions in the name of our own best interests. It is not always easy, but once we begin to taking care of ourselves in little ways, it becomes easier to manage self-care in bigger ways. Self-care is not a choice, it is our duty, our covenant with ourselves, and if we fail or put off self-care, we are the ones who end up paying the consequences.

Why is self-care important to you? What are some ways in which to practice self-care? Leave a comment below.