What It’s Like to Be a Black Woman With Chronic Pain and Mental Illness


Living with chronic fatigue and pain, as well as migraines, often leads to bouts of anxiety and depression. Insomnia follows and exacerbates my symptoms.

As a pastor, I know the benefits of and responsibilities to engage in self-care. Being a Black woman means always showing up at my best, as close to perfection as I can muster. My culture of communal care often places the onus of that care on Black women.

There is great joy in being Black and a woman. Celebrating every day and special days is part of my experience. The burden of joy is knowing that, in an instant, racism or patriarchy embedded in the fabric of society can choke the life out of my dreams.

I monitor and measure my interactions, never wanting to be either abrupt or just too much. I stay on duty, my mind on the lookout for signs I need to battle or celebrate. The signals come swiftly, sometimes nearly imperceptible, but I am trained to survive.

Recently, due to changes in the classification of one of my prescriptions and the policy change in my provider’s office, I was without two pain medications. The agony of the crushing pain took a toll on me.

Trying to navigate the maze of contacting my provider and communicating with the pharmacy sent me spiraling and reeling. My anxiety ratcheted up each time I called. The lack of progress depressed me.

I realized it was July, the celebration of independence and observation of minority mental health awareness. I am not free to live without the double consciousness of being Black in America. Moreover, that lack of freedom to be Black without being stereotyped, hassled or just careful impacts my health.

I had my medicine after a week of painful waiting and inquiring. My pharmacist called to apologize and blame my provider. My physician sent a curt email suggesting I get a new provider.

I celebrate the progress and promise of America. Yet, I am anxious about how chronic pain informs people I encounter. The lack of consistency and quality of care is made worse by those who derail or gaslight me when I point out the inadequacies and inequality in service and treatment.

Folks who say white women, men, and all people have difficulties with care: These well-meaning, ill-informed people burden me and other Black women. Sometimes, the pressure is so much we give up creating further mental and physical complications. Let’s identify and eradicate the barriers of obstacles.

If we come together and support one another, we can find moments to celebrate so our chronic illness is not compounded with chronic misery.

Photo by Tess on Unsplash


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