The past month has been a roller coaster ride of sorts, the type of ride where as a writer, my head swirls with words that rarely leave my head. A few days after my last post, I found myself spending a very long night in the local emergency room with a 2am diagnosis of panic attack. It only took six hours and a battery of tests to learn that middle age and bad genes weren’t about to take me to my final resting place but that my old nemesis has returned with a fury not seen in years.
I suffer from generalized anxiety; it’s been a fixture in my life since I was 19 years old with a four month old baby and a floundering marriage. For years, relief was found in breathing into a brown paper bag or taking psychotropic medications that, frankly, seemed to create as many problems as the ones they were supposed to solve. A number of years ago, I broke up with Western medicine’s solutions to my anxiety problem after realizing that I wanted to solve my problem, not soften it. My type A self likes to get to the root of the problem and neither brown paper bags nor medicine did that for me. Enter yoga and meditation.
I started to dabble in yoga six years ago to see if the woo woo could solve my problem, in many ways it has, but the truth is that I am an anxious person. I am a woman living in a body that some deem to be inferior and in a world where I must always be on guard. It’s tiring. The upside though of six years of yoga and meditation along with a growing mindfulness practice is that I know my triggers. I know how to care for myself and how to keep the panic monster at bay, but sometimes life doesn’t work with you. Sometimes the load become too much for one person to carry. In my case, my support system isn’t large enough and often it’s too overloaded and there are too many nights where I go to bed stuffing the unpleasant shit down. Why I didn’t have a large panic attack before is a testament to the strength of yoga in my life.
The night of my panic attack, I live tweeted and Facebooked my ER visit because after two hours, the husband had to take the kiddo home. I was alone in the ER with no one to call. Yet another reminder of what happens when you don’t have support or don’t feel you can ask for it. I was aware of how utterly alone I felt in those moments.
For days after that attack, I wanted to write about it but it felt too raw for public consumption. Especially after a casual acquaintance remarked that she was sorry that I felt so stressed; it was a well-intentioned comment but struck a nerve with me. What I feel most days when I am sitting with myself is rage, rage at a world that seeks to invalidate my very existence. Rage that I am rarely given space to be as raggedy as I need to be, rage that I must wear a mask for my own safety and protection. Rage that I rarely feel safe in my own community to take a walk down the street on a beautiful day for fear that my difference will make me a victim. My struggle is the struggle of many Black women in a country that doesn’t honor or respect Black bodies. We cope in a variety of ways, but sometimes the struggle to cope becomes too much and when it does, we seek to end it all.
I was reminded of this a few days ago, when I heard about the death of Karyn Washington, a 22 year old beauty and lifestyle blogger who created the site For Brown Girls. Karyn committed suicide. A beautiful soul gone far too early and a reminder that the myth of the strong Black woman needs to die; there is beauty in strength but there is also beauty in the frailties and vulnerabilities of life. But for too many Black women, we rarely are allowed to be vulnerable; we are never allowed to just be. It’s too much. A video made by a friend of Karyn’s that was made public today revealed that Karyn had struggled with the recent loss of her mother. For many Black women, the relationship we have with our mothers while complex is often one of the few places in this world where we will ever know acceptance even when it’s messy acceptance.
In general I am no longer comfortable with these types of posts because inevitably someone with good intentions will remind me that all women struggle. Yes, we do but the struggles of a non-white woman specifically a Black woman in a society that puts white womanhood on the pedestal of what womanhood should be means that our struggles aren’t the same. All womanhood is not a created equal and when certain women never have access to safe spaces or validation it sets those women up for a life not fully lived, where even our joy requires that we work harder than others.
In this moment though, I take my mask off and lay my burden down inspired today by a hashtag on twitter where Black women reminded each other of the beauty we can find in this life despite the pain this society throws at us on an almost daily basis. Reminded that despite the fight for full humanity; love, joy and peace are my birthrights and that they are obtainable by any means necessary.