The past several months have left me feeling sluggish and out of sorts. It’s been a period of rapid change professionally and personally, and to say that I wasn’t ready would be an understatement. It’s also been a time when being middle-aged has become quite real to me. Bodily changes are coming at me fast and furious…and why am I always hot? Seriously, I am always hot or at least that’s what it feels like. I swear, I am running 20 degrees warmer than most people these days as evidenced by the fact that when other people are wearing sleeves and coats, I am quite content sans to bare my arms and shoulders. Frankly, I find myself wondering: Must I wear clothes at all?
So, I am on fire all the time just when my body has also decided that sleep is optional and that my memory is something it doesn’t need to spend much time maintaining anymore. Nothing brings this perimenopause thing home like being in a meeting and forgetting your words in mid-speech. All you can do is laugh at yourself…wait? What is that word again? Then, to add insult to injury, caffeine no longer loves me. Last year when my healthcare provider told me that some of the bodily shifts could be mitigated by giving up caffeine, I balked and agreed to lessen my consumption. Apparently that wasn’t enough, my body is flat out rejecting caffeine and when I do have a day where I don my inner toddler and declare that “I am the boss of me!” My body pretty much lets me know that caffeine is not my friend. Sob.
No matter what this “40 is the new 27” world tries to sell me and my peers, my body is saying “Not so fast” and I suspect a lot of my “I’m still young” fellow middle-agers are getting the same or at least similar bodily reminders. Aging is real and there is a physical and mental component and, despite my best attempts at ignoring it all, the CHANGE is here and is demanding my full attention.
Growing older in a Black female body is a special trip, though, especially because the majority of the health indicators aren’t exactly in our favor. Did you know that heart disease is the number-one cause of death for men and women in the U.S. but, moreover, Black women have heart disease rates twice that of white women. I have an aunt who isn’t even 60 and she’s been living with congestive heart failure for years now. We have higher rates of diabetes, and diabetes is prevalent in certain segments of the Black community. Oh yeah, there is also breast cancer, which is the most common form of cancer that affects Black women. The life expectancy gap is closing along racial lines but that is namely due to the plight of white folks dying earlier than they once did…probably from the stress of realizing life isn’t going so much their way as it used to and that only the really well off have futures with any comfort (welcome to some semblance of the world we Black people have lived in for decade upon decade upon decade).
If that wasn’t enough, there is also the cumulative effects of racism and patriarchy and the sense of being expected to always carry the loads. And yet rarely is there reciprocity. As Zora Neale Hurston wrote so many years ago “De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see.” That pretty much sums things up. We are often the first to show up, the first to do and yet almost always the last to be acknowledged or cared for. For all the work we do, it most certainly isn’t reflected in our economic status. A study several years ago found that, on average, Black women have a net worth of $5. Then again, we do live in a world where the racialized wage gap leaves Black women earning sixty three cents to the white man’s dollar. It’s worse for our other sisters of color.
So you get to middle age as a Black woman and realize that all your hard work probably won’t prevent you from a retirement spent with the occasional kitty chow for dinner inside either your kid’s house, the subsidized apartment that may not exist by the time you actually get to retirement age or a snazzy cardboard box under the bridge. This while you are juggling whatever ailment that you are statistically doomed to suffer.
You can either get pissed off as hell, roll over and wait for the end or you can grab some joy where you can. I recently opted for “grab some joy” and did something that I have never done before. I went on a mini-vacation for two days and…damn it!…I feel refreshed. A few months ago, it hit me that I have never been on an actual vacation. All my travel has been either family or work-related. Never have I treated myself to unscheduled time alone. It’s almost embarrassing to admit that, since my Facebook feed tells me that most of the people I know are always traveling. However, I decided on early marriage and motherhood and spent my late 20s and 30s putting myself through college, graduate school and starting a career. They say shit happens but in my life shit happens often enough that the idea of vacations never materialized.
I am returning today from two nights away that fed my soul. I didn’t go far from home but I went just far enough that I was in an area of Maine that is not part of my daily rounds. I threw caution to the wind and it felt good and while racial bias is never far from the life of a Black person (a racially prompted traffic stop on my way to my getaway, plus being mistaken for the local help and not a lady of leisure by a waitress), it was just delightful overall.
My two nights away made me reflect on the importance of time away and how it is good for everyone. But for Black women and femmes, it is even more critical. Our bodies exist in a society where psychic and emotional abuse and misuse are the norms; we often internalize it, and it is hurts us. Too many of us are juggling too many balls often without a real support system. Too often our support system is simply another form of stress.
How often do we look at the Black women and femmes in our lives and marvel at their strength without asking what that outward strength is actually costing them? How often do we profit from that strength without questioning it? How often do we truly give back to the Black women and femmes who bring beauty, knowledge and so much more into our lives? Do we ever see them as people who need a hand or a hug? Or do we sit so comfortably within the box of white supremacy that we take them for granted because deep down, we think they are indeed the mules of the world?
In a world where we must vocally declare that Black Lives Matter, I am declaring that my middle-aged Black self does indeed matter and that I will honor this vessel that I reside in, treating it as well as I can given my realities. If we say that Black Lives Matter than we need to make sure that we are honoring those closest to us.
If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.
Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense