An Open Letter to the “Strong Black Woman” Suffering in Silence

SplitShire-6767“Ain’t nothin’ wrong with you.”

“Deal with it. You’ll be alright”

“You don’need therapy. Jesus will take care of it.”

I’ve heard it all before. And there are probably a thousand more dismissive statements like these,  but Lord knows I don’t have time to run through them all.

It’s little quips like these that make mental illness an untouchable topic in the Black community. It’s rarely talked about…if ever.

And if you’re a Black woman? Forget about it. Between juggling school work, kids, relationships, friendships and whatever else you’ve got going on, there just isn’t enough time left to tend to your OWN needs. We all know self-care usually takes a backseat to daily responsibilities, especially when you’re already wallowing waist-deep in symptoms of depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, etc. So what makes black women different from any other woman grappling with mental illness? Let’s back up a bit.

As a little girl, I was introduced to the concept of the “Strong Black Woman.” Actually, it was more than a concept – it was my reality. I had strong, beautiful Black women all around me: my mother, sister, grandmothers, aunts, teachers, family friends, you name it. So naturally, I caught onto this “persona” and aspired to be her.

She was the definition of independence and oozed confidence from every pore. She served as the backbone of the family, holding everything (and everyone) together like glue. She did whatever she had to do to get the job done, making the seemingly impossible, possible. She was a multitasker, like one of those plate spinners balancing 4, 5, 6 plates at a time. Hell, she was damn near Superwoman. But of course things aren’t always what they seem.

On the flip side, “The Strong Black Woman” is expected to do all this and never break a sweat. She better not cry, flinch, complain, bitch, moan or groan about it because it’s what she’s SUPPOSED to do. All that “emotional” stuff is dealt with behind closed doors – mental illness included.

The pressure to hold it together coupled with the shame of dealing with mental illness in secrecy is enough to make anyone crack. But, the lack of availability/affordability of mental health care for low-income women of color often exacerbates the problem. And let’s not forget about the unfavorable reactions we sometimes get from peers and loved ones when we finally get the gumption to speak on what we’re going through.

And so, with the pressure to be perfect weighing her down, the limited opportunities to get help and the slew of negative stigmas attached to her mental state, the “Strong Black Woman” retires to her bedroom and continues to suffer in silence.

To that woman, I want to say you’re not alone. You never were. You may be hurting and in pain, but it’s not to late to take control and turn it around. YOU are in charge of your own happiness.

“Strong Black Woman” is your descriptor, NOT your identity. Underneath, you’re a human with wants and needs, thoughts and feelings, strengths and weaknesses. There’s no reason to be afraid to let the world see.

Lastly (and most importantly), if you need help, reach out NOW. The sooner the better. It’s time you finally put yourself first. And when you do, I promise this gets better.

Sending all my love and encouragement your way.

Sincerely,

A “Strong Black Woman” who refused to suffer in silence ❤