As 2010 draws to a close I find myself in a rather introspective state, there has been a lot of meditation and reading and plain old trying to figure out my place in this world and in my life. This year has brought a lot of changes for me personally, seeing my eldest child turn 18 and head off to college has most certainly been one of the bigger milestones. Since the laws state that at 18 a person is an adult I have been grappling with redefining my relationship to him and what that means. I am always going to be Momma and he is always going to be my baby yet I know he needs space to find his place in the world.
This year has also seen me take a more active role in the life of my own Dad who is my remaining parental unit and who we will be presumably welcoming into our daily life in a matter of days. I have also seen the organization that I run grow by leaps and bounds, our annual budget has doubled yet we are still a small grass roots organization and it means that even though I have a fancy sounding title, I still deal with much of the minutia.
My marriage this year has experienced some shifts, mostly good but at times painful as we both seek to find ourselves in middle age and adjust our new selves to the larger union of our family. Then there is my body, I am at the age my mother was when she started a cycle of regular doctor visits and an ever growing arsenal of pills to manage conditions. Thankfully the shifts in my body have not necessitated medical interventions but I am officially at a point where the body I reside in has informed me that it is no longer the body of a young woman.
Needless to say in juggling a year of change it is easy to overlook one’s mental state yet coming from a line of women who never paid attention to their mental state and in my opinion reaped the disastrous effects of that decision in their body, I seek to break with that tradition. Yet I was reading this piece that once again reminded me as a Black woman, I am not alone in when it comes to how I treat my mental health.
Let me be clear, all women regardless of race or ethnicity carry heavy burdens; it’s the legacy of a patriarchal society. But for women of color specifically for Black women frankly most of us are just not used to addressing our mental health, I think about how many years ago I sought therapy to learn how to deal with my family…yes, I did. I love em but they were driving me crazy. However at that time in my life I was ashamed that I was in therapy because as a Black woman I felt I should have been strong enough to deal with these issues on my own. Though over the years I have noticed with my white friends they have no problem admitting they are in therapy and or using medications to address depression, anxiety, etc.
So much of what holds Black women back from addressing mental health is frankly half baked stereotypes that only “crazy” folks need that stuff and frankly it’s killing us. This year I saw many of my Black peers lose parents but what is crazy that for friends in their 30’s or early 40’s they are losing their parents at ridiculously young ages like 57, 58 or maybe 60. Of course I lost my Mom when she barely 50, so I know all too well how hard this life is on us as a people yet the idea of checking out early scares me so I strive to take care of myself despite the fact that it’s hard.
Sistas, just as we take care of our hair, the kids, our man, and others…we have got to start taking care of ourselves. It’s really that simple. You and I both know it’s not normal to walk around with a continuous pit in our stomachs, headaches, panic attacks…yet we do. Why? In many cases fear. I admit there is a shortage of culturally aware clinicians to work with us, fact is in addressing our issues culture is an issue. I know I have had many white friends tell me that perhaps my family of origin is toxic and I need to cut em off. They probably are toxic but they are the only family I got so I need to learn to live my life and deal with them but at the same time preserve my mental health. I was lucky that when I was in therapy I found a therapist that got it, she understood the dynamics of Black families and knew that cutting them off was not going to work instead giving me tools to work with them and allowing me to preserve my sanity.
So as we bring 2010 to a close I invite you to join me in my quest to take my mental health as seriously as I take my physical health.