We experience and witness Black Girl Magic everyday. It’s hard not to be in awe of our ongoing accomplishments. From the creative geniuses and non-profit queens, to the corporate glass roof shatterers and emerging social media icons. We have mothers making family life look like the stuff dreams are made of and it’s hard not to be in the awe of the power and perseverance of the Black woman. Impressive are we, yes. However, we can be impressive, yet, at the same time, we can be struggling.
I often wonder how we got to this place: ruled by “or” and not “and.” We must be strong or fragile. Why can’t we be strong and fragile? Imagine if when asked how your day was we said: 20% really good, 60% ok and 20% terrible. That’s a much more accurate response in my opinion. This is one of the reasons I love the show Being Mary Jane. It’s one of the more realistic portrayals of the existing in a world of “And.”
As a therapist with over 9 years experience and specializing in care surrounding depression, anxiety, trauma and PTSD, something I think a lot about is how alone people feel. Not necessarily alone as in lonely, but more so alone in their problems. The phrase “I am the only one that…” is quite common in therapy, however, in the one to one experience, many individuals don’t realize that they are not the only person to feel this way.
This is not to be confused with comparing problems and who has it worse, but feeling unwanted solitude in the emotions and actions of a struggle. My position allows me to hear the thoughts clients are brave enough to let out of their heads and are not always easy to speak out loud to another person. Being a therapist allows me to hear the behind closed doors feelings, thoughts and actions of people. This is not a world everyone gets to experience. In many ways, it helped me work through some of my own stuff.
In addition to stigma, pride and the desire to solve problems on our own, the feeling of loneliness is one of the many reasons we stop ourselves from seeking out mental health therapy. According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African-Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. I often find that women, especially Black women, feel ashamed or embarrassed by their struggles. Ashamed of the feeling they feel or are in a position to where they can’t. A 2008 study found that more than one third of African-Americans actively seeking treatment believe that talking to their peers about their feelings and anxiety would lead them to being called “crazy.”
Black tears are not greeted with the same compassion the tears of our White counterparts are; therefore we build up resistance to them. We don’t speak about the things that may draw them out. We suppress them until we can’t anymore and by then something harmful has usually happened. We break in a way we would not be forced to experience, had we been allowed the space to release some of the pressure earlier. The prevailing thought often seems that we are the backbone of our communities, the backbone of our families, the backbone of ourselves: there is no space for a break and to deal with our problems. However, the thing about problems, is that you have to address them to rise out of your issues. The moment we let our guard down, our problems are waiting for us. We deal with them silently, alone and keep the process to ourselves. We might decide to share our story once we make it out the other end, victorious and only acknowledge our struggle once we have a success story attached to it. It makes a great and inspiring Facebook post, however I find everyday life tends to operate a little differently, and what individuals are projecting on social media, may not always be truth.
We live in a world where many wake up and feel blessed to see another day; however, we also live in a world where many do not. What happens when you fall into the latter half, wishing you had not? It’s a bit different than experiencing active suicidal thoughts, but a place in between. A place where you don’t want to cause pain or suffering to loved ones, but wouldn’t be upset if an Act of God took you out. It happens most when we are unsure of where to find the strength to deal with the tasks the day, the week, the month will demand. It’s a place of conflict, guilt and confusion. Instead of being able to deal with the issues causing the thoughts, we are forced to deal with shame of having these feelings. We feel so alone; however we are not. I repeatedly hear this and topics like this in both my work in community mental health and private practice.
You are not alone in some of darkest places of your mind. Your thoughts are not weird, abnormal and do not automatically make you bad person. I always thank my clients for sharing difficult information because saying it out loud is sometimes the hardest part. It makes the feeling real and more difficult to ignore. The strength it takes be honest with yourself, acknowledge your feelings and let yourself be vulnerable should be rewarded alongside the strength it takes to reach major milestones and accomplishments.
Let’s use heartbreak as an example. Most people, if not everyone, has experienced some form of romantic heartbreak in their life. We know this in theory, but it’s still one of the loneliest moments for a person in the midst of the incident. As common of an experience it is, somehow in these moments it still seems that everyone else is flourishing in their relationships and you are sitting alone hoping your inner strong Black women is shinning bright. My clients share the thoughts they can’t seem to get out of their heads: “I’m the only one who can’t seem to get it right” “I know I should be better than to let him/her get to me like that.” I find that we are apologetic and feel bad for being so affected by the loss of a relationship. I often start my sessions with acceptance of what we are feeling that day. If we are mad today, then we are mad and that’s ok. If we are excited about something, then let’s be excited. If we are scared, then let’s be scared.
We spend so much time and energy fighting our feelings and pretending they don’t exist, rather than actually trying to spend some time with them, getting to know them and learn what they are trying to tell us. ~ Stacey Younge, LSCW
We as people are incredibly complex. We are constantly trying to figure out our place in the world and where we fit in. Even if we are fortunate enough to find our place, then begins the struggle to keep it. I want you to know that you are not alone in whatever your struggle may be. While the setting, the details, the paths that led it may be unique to you; the feelings, the thoughts, the behaviors tend to be where a shared experience occur.
Do not be ashamed for feeling your feelings, for thinking your thoughts and forgive yourself for actions you may not be proud of. If you feel you are ready, therapy is an amazing and safe space to work through these things. Own your feelings, don’t let them own you.
Stacey Younge, LSCW is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and owner of Sixth Street Wellness. Her private practice focuses on utilizing both traditional therapy and tele-behaviorial health specializing in depression, anxiety and trauma. She is also the Senior Youth Clinician at a community mental health center in Harlem, New York specializing in adolescents and justice involved youth. Stacey is a California native, runner and mental health advocate who is here to help you.