Did you ever wonder why so many sisters look so angry? Why we walk like we’ve got bricks in our bags and will slash and curse you at the drop of a hat? It’s because stress is hemmed into our dresses, pressed into our hair, mixed into our perfume and painted on our fingers. Stress from the deferred dreams, the dreams not voiced; stress from always being at the bottom, from never being thought beautiful, from always being taken for granted, taken advantage of; stress from being a black woman in white America. Much of this stress is caused by how the world outside us, relates to us. We cannot control that world, at times we can change it but we can assert agency in our own lives so that the outside world cannot over-determine our responses, cannot make our lives a dumping ground for stress.
Opal Palmer Adisa, “Rocking in the Sunlight: Stress and Black Women"
As recently as the early 1990s, if you were born deaf, nobody would know for years. Parents were left to realize that something was amiss when their toddlers were not learning to talk or communicate at a normal pace. A diagnosis that late meant many deaf children never fully developed the ability to use language.
Today, things are drastically different for hard-of-hearing children, thanks to the efforts of a remarkable woman named Dr. Marion Downs.
It was just chance that Downs ended up as an audiologist. In the 1930s, she dropped out of college to marry and have children. When her children were old enough to spend their days in school, she wrapped up her bachelor’s degree and headed to the University of Denver to register for graduate school.
“It was right after World War II, and there were GIs standing in miles of lines for different departments. And I said, ‘I’ll find a short line,’ ” Downs told Colorado Public Radio in 2011. “So I found a short line that was speech pathology and audiology.”
She was a woman in a field dominated by men — and a mother surrounded by audiologists who insisted it made no difference whether hearing loss was detected at birth or years into a child’s life. Downs didn’t believe that, but it would be decades before research proved her right.
I saw a confession earlier about stereotypes in the medical field. I can totally relate. When I was sixteen, I had a concern about missing my period and I told my doctor that I was not sexually active and that I’ve had a normal period for 7 years. They did not believe me. They made my mom leave the room and asked me repeatedly if I was pregnant. I told them that to get get pregnant you have to have sex and I have not and to prove it to you I will take a test. Test was negative. Then they made me out to be a liar and said that I was making it up and that I had to be depressed because I was a shy quiet black girl.) Three months later I found out my missed periods were caused by cysts because it burst.
A recent study on black women in America delivered a mixed, even contradictory message. The report from the Black Women’s Roundtable found that while black women in the United States are making strides in education and business and affecting political trends with stellar voter turnout numbers, they remain more vulnerable to health problems and violence than any other group. Their strength at the polls is not reflected in elected positions. So, the situation is — at the same time — hopeful and frustrating, many steps forward with persistent, historical hurdles still blocking the way.
What is at first glance confusing makes perfect sense, though. Despite the reality show image of sassy, in control and intimidating black women taking charge and needing no help from anyone, the American story is consistent with the study. It is a tale of black women as invisible, misjudged and resilient through it all –integral and nurturing, yet set apart. They have survived, thrived and led, in spite of obstacles that have often kept them vulnerable, a term seldom used to describe black women.
Powerful yet vulnerable black women: A contradiction rooted in history
As someone whose life has literally been saved by Planned Parenthood, I take all of the attacks on that organization extremely personally. Bitter LOL at U.S. Christian fundies who are so passionately against helping Syrian refugees, even while their own religious cult nurtures and encourages terrorism here. We have our own ISIS already; they’re shooting up clinics and minorities, trying to foster fear and compliance in the hearts of all who do not share their fundamentalist beliefs. It’s so twisted, and sick, and sad.
STOP ROMANTICISING MENTAL ILLNESSES AND RECOVERY CAUSE THEY AREN'T LIKE THAT.
Depression is not special.
Anxiety is not being shy or cute.
Self harming is not beautiful.
Suicide is not poetic or caused by love.
Eating disorders aren’t sexy or glamourous.
Schizophrenia is not being high or drunk.
Mental illnesses aren’t a joke.
Mental illnesses aren’t something white girls pretend to have for attention.
Depression isn’t a Lana Del Rey song. Anxiety isn’t not wanting to do your presentation. Self harm isn’t accidentally bruising your arm on the corner of the desk. Suicide isn’t standing at a bridge in the rain. Eating disorders aren’t forgetting to eat breakfast cause you were rushing. Schizophrenia isn’t nightmares.
You do not choose to have a mental illness nor do you want it.
Mental illnesses are chemical imbalances in your brain caused by environment, genes, or neurotransmitters.
Recovery isn’t your boyfriend or girlfriend kissing your scars, or suddenly going out with your friends. Recovery isn’t dancing in the rain with a smile on your face nor is it throwing away your blades and everything becomes perfect. Recovery isn’t going to see your therapist every day or taking pills everyday.
Recovery isn’t easy.
“We have to resist injustice and talk back to it, but not at the expense of being well. I don’t want to give myself over to the struggle. I don’t want to be superwoman in my twenties, strong woman in my thirties, and suffocated in my forties. We can’t let the work (and there is much work to be done) take us out. We have to be mindful about how we engage others and ourselves, especially when it comes to obligations and expectations of our time, minds, bodies, thoughts, experiences and hearts. I don’t want to give myself away. And the labor of love that is my life is not free, nor is it worth my emotional/physical/mental/spiritual health. I am disinterested in being a martyr.”
One reason it’s easy to dismiss black women with mental illness like this is that the media rarely, if ever, tells our stories. When the topic of mental illness is brought up in television shows or the media generally, the character with mental illness is almost always young, white, and wealthy. I have yet to see a black woman written into a plot that deals with mental illness. Movies like Silver Linings Playbook, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, made-for-TV movies, and the like portray mental illness as something white people go through, and rarely anyone else.