Trying to Be a 'Strong Black Woman' Kept Me From Getting the Help I Needed
As I am sitting here writing this piece, I am thinking about the many stigmas that are associated with mental health. I am thinking about my own mental health and how I used those stigmas to stop me from getting the help I needed on more than one occasion. Why? Because I am a black woman who was taught to always be strong and any sign of mental illness would portray me as being weak, angry and downright pitiful.
I remember the first time I realized my mental health was in jeopardy. I was 16 years old and lived in a household that looked perfect from the outside when in reality, I was living in my own internal hell. I looked in the mirror many times and could not even recognize the young girl I was looking at. I was broken, depressed, suicidal and I needed help — however, I did not want to be known at school as the girl who tried to take her life. My mother and I were going through some terrible times. We were always at each other’s throats because I did not know at the time that she was going through a severe depression, too. She would come home, lash out at me and say things that would truly hurt my feelings. She would lock herself in a room and cry for hours or leave the house for hours without a destination. She wanted love and attention, yet she could not express that to me. She was hurting so badly, yet she had to prove to everyone that she was a strong black woman.
I also did not want to let down the women in my family who taught me to be strong. Whenever anyone went through rough times in our lives, I was told to get over it or pray about it. I can remember my great-grandmother telling me scriptures she thought would instantly heal me from my burdens. I am not against anyone praying their troubles away, but that did not take away my pain or give me the help I needed. I needed help, but I still had a sense of pride to live up to. If I decided to get help for my mental health, I would be looked at as the troubled teenager who was just dying to get attention. Even after my suicide attempt, I was told to get over it. My troubles were always compared to someone who looked successful. That comparison made me feel like a failure because I did not fit the description of a strong black woman.
As women of color, we are taught that we are to be “strong black women,” a title that has been passed down for many generations. I am not sure why we are taught to be strong all the time, but I understand our strength is something that is unique. Still, it is important that we continue to have the conversations about mental health within the black community. I wish someone had told me it’s OK not to be OK. I wish I had the opportunity to heal sooner, especially as a young woman. I wish someone told me that having a mental illness does not make you weak. It makes you human, despite your gender or race.
Unsplash via Thought Catalog