As a woman of color who struggles with mental illness challenge and controversy has become a theme in my life.
I always encourage myself or at least try to take things one day at a time. Imagine waking up everyday upset that you in fact woke up. Also, imagine feeling that way and not being able to let it show because you are expected to be strong and take things in stride. This has been my reality off and on for over half of my life. Not an everyday occurrence, but more often than it should occur. In my community, the odds of someone acknowledging a mental health concern are slim. Why? Don’t want to be viewed as weak, unstable or making excuses. Also, I’ve been told more times than I can count to just “Pray about it”. God placed medical professionals on this Earth full or wisdom and knowledge to assist in my treatment. Not only will I Pray but I will also reach out to hose who were put here to help me. This is my 2nd hardest entry, thus far, so bear with me.
“You’ve got it good for a black girl”
Comments like those weren’t too uncommon growing up and still aren’t. Whenever you mention a disease or illness plus single out a specific group of people, people tend to get antsy and often defensive. I’m only here to educate and let you into my personal experiences as a Woman of Color who struggles with mental illness on a daily basis.
Invisible. For a long time I hid who I really was because the fear of being ostracized and treated differently, even more, plagued me. The representation of POC (People of Color) and mental illness is, in my opinion, rarely shown. I didn’t know one Person of Color who struggled and dealt with mental illness. POC in the mental health community do not/did not seem to be a priority. Cultural Competency lacks — tremendously. I would use resources that were give but in my opinion were not intended for me. Being invisible meant not speaking up and often laughing off my differences. Many, if not most people feel invisible when dealing with mental illnesses. It is okay and appreciated when others acknowledge that my experiences with mental illness as a Woman of Color will be different from others. Changing norms and the ideas of others will take days, months and years!
Start now. Ask questions. Research. Listen.
Honest. During my teen/young adult years I put on the face of honesty. Part of me often thought that people didn’t need to know what was going on with me. Mental illness in my case was seen as a “crutch” or an “excuse” — not the case. One encounter in particular is and will always be ingrained in my memory. My freshman year of high school during an extreme low I remember staying up to work on a project and paper. After printing my paper off I remember crying until I fell asleep. The tears fell leaving my paper warped in the morning. I kept thinking to myself how much I didn’t want to take one more breath. I decided I was going to speak with my teacher regarding the night before to see if I could have additional time on my assignment. After being honest (subconsciously seeking help) letting my teacher know I had suicidal thoughts, couldn’t focus and needed an extra day, the request was denied.
“No, maybe talk to your counselor or something this is the real world now and you won’t get extensions in real life. Forte, we all go through things and your problems aren’t bigger than anyone else’s. You can’t use your emotions as an excuse”
For two hours I went to the bathroom and cried. I received a green slip (discipline referral) for those two hours I spent unaccounted for. I also received detention for being honest with someone who was supposed to have my best interest, and using my emotions as an “excuse”. After advocating for myself and getting punished for it I realized the importance of truly remaining honest and speaking up about my daily experiences. No matter the reactions or consequences.
Your words go a long way.
Hurt. After many encounters with people who don’t empathize or care to even try to, my honesty soon turned into hurt. Hurting alone is a feeling one should never have to deal with. It hurt seeking for help, unknowingly, just to be ignored. As a Woman of color — I should be grateful for this life I have, right?. Well, yes but the context in which you say that only contributes to the stigma. I hurt knowing that my mental health and essentially my life were being punished because I spoke up for myself. Hurt turned into something positive.
Mission. I believe my greatest asset is my voice. As a Mom, Educator and Coach the main lesson I hope each and every kiddo I encounter is the importance of speaking up for themselves. You are given one voice, so use it! Whatever outlet that might be…art, poetry, writing, dance, singing, poetry, public service, volunteering, mentoring and the list goes on. As a Woman of Color my voice is no less than anyone else. The many faces I have worn in my 26 years have helped me become the person I am today. Taking my life one day at a time has aided in overcoming the many faces I’ve had to wear and will continue to wear until my journey ends.