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What It’s Like Being a Black Woman With Anxiety

My anxiety always gets the best of me when it’s time to start writing. That blinking cursor can feel like a ticking time bomb in my gut — that whatever I write down, it won’t be good enough. Not being enough (or in some cases, being “too much”) is an issue that often plagues Black women, but as a Black woman with chronic anxiety, there’s another layer of inadequacy.

Sometimes I refer to being a woman of color with mental illness as a triple-paned glass ceiling. When it feels as though you’re cracking through one obstacle, you’re faced with another. And while mental illness can be tackled and treated, my Blackness and womanhood are cherished parts of who I am. Women of color are constantly struggling with seeing their identities as beautiful parts of themselves, while knowing these same identities can also be used against us in the world — as a means of control, to demean or degrade.

I think the worst part about this triple-paned glass ceiling is that often we can clearly name our enemies: racism, sexism, ableism. But to the outside (read: able-bodied, white male dominated) world, these enemies are nebulous or often invisible, much like mental illness is known as an invisible disability.

Sure there are outward signs: irritability, lack of concentration, forgetfulness, but everyone has bouts of those. Anxiety is about having to swim through those issues all day, every single day. And just like everyone can experience discrimination of some sort, BIPOC women (especially in the LGBTQIA+ community) must wade through these “invisible” injustices and try to survive each day. And try to be happy. Try really, really hard.

Now when I think about forced happiness, I’m reminded of Allison Hargreeves, from the television show “The Umbrella Academy.” (If you haven’t finished season 3, this will be a light spoiler.) Allison, a Black woman, has the ability to force people to obey her by whispering, “I heard a rumor” and then making a command. She’s struggling the most with loss in this season, and she tried to “rumor” herself into feeling happy. It didn’t work.

I’m learning (and re-learning) that taking care of my emotional, physical and mental energies are the key to living a full life. I also believe that simply being happy or positive is not how we should attempt to change the world. True, long-lasting change involves dealing with the difficult stuff, the parts of our lives that are messy and tangled up in harm or shame.

I want to encourage other people of color, particularly women, genderqueer, trans or non-binary folks, that the struggle is minute by minute. Some days are better than other days, but every time we wake up to a new day we’ve made progress.

Getty image by Maria Ponomariova

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