The Mighty Logo

How Nowhere Feels Safe When You're Black With Mental Illness

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

I opened my Sunday edition of my local paper and it read “10 Dead in Buffalo Hate Crime Shooting.” The last thing I needed to wake up to on a Sunday morning.

I am Black, lesbian, and disabled, and there is nowhere safe for me. I cannot even wander into a grocery store to casually shop for groceries with out fear for my life. To heighten this fear, my Governor just signed a bill into law that makes it legal to carry a concealed weapon without a permit.

I am clear he is thinking of his white Republican comrades when he pushed his bill. I am sure not considering Black people may now move to lawfully arm themselves. We are being hunted in the streets like animals.

News of this shooting lands me depressed and scared. I already deal with depression and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). I already am generally fearful of violence and ending up in a situation where I can be attacked. I wonder how Blacks in the early 20th century felt about the Klu Klux Klan and the Jim Crow laws. I just know they were scared and fearful of leaving their homes and of being lynched. That is how I feel. For now, I see my home as my only sanctuary. I have become more and more reclusive as time has gone on and wonder when I will be too trapped to even leave my home.

When you live with a trauma history and mental illness, you spend a lot of time in your head. You wonder if the world will ever be safe enough for you to be active in it.

Violence against Black people by white extremist is endemic in our society. When you are Black and live with a mental illness and PTSD, you can never find a place in your mind where you feel safe. Violence like this past weekend reminds me that I am considered a threat and nowhere is safe for me. Others wonder why we take to the streets to protest. It is because we have nowhere else to go. The people who are responsible are allowed to engage in society without consequences, and I go about my life living in fear.

All these things keep me up at night. This does not help my mental health, only exacerbating my mental illnesses.

The impact of racial trauma

Racial trauma refers to the mental and emotional injury caused by encounters with racial bias and ethnic discrimination, racism, and hate crimes, all makes me feel scared, angry, indignant, vulnerable, hurt and in pain. I feel out of control and certain that no one is working to help me survive.

I have reoccurring stress and tension about being a target of microaggressions, overt racism, and covert racism.

How to deal with racial trauma when it is seemingly everywhere and claim your own power again

I have got to find a way to exist in this world as it is, since there is no change on the horizon. The problem is that I do not have any easy answers. The answer surely is not go do some yoga or meditation to deal with the stress and try to heal. The answer is more complex than that when you have limited power.

You cannot do it all on your own, but you can take action. I was telling my therapist that I was in despair and concerned that my personal power and safety was drifting away; rapidly she reminded me that I could do positive action within my small locus of control.

She encouraged me to make my own difference in the world. To for instance write articles about how I was feeling and to help my reader see themselves and find some hope and to know they are not alone. To help a fellow community member pay a bill or lend a positive word to someone who was struggling. This way I do not feel so overwhelmed and helpless in the broader since. I could make a difference and change outcomes for those around me.

I also know that I right now have one vote that I can cast. I can influence others to vote. The reality is however that right to vote is in significant jeopardy. The country has become so extreme that I wonder when that time we spend in the voter’s box will be obsolete when the minority voice will rule through disinformation and brain washing. I have in the past worked on the voter’s hotline to help other voters have access to the vote. This helps me have power to influence change in a small but meaningful way. (I did not even need to leave home to do it.)

You too can find your power and make changes in your small part of the world to make life better for you and other people. You do not have to do it all to fix racism. Collectively we can move the needle and push out those who wish us harm. Please know that taking a nap and disconnecting is also an act of resistance.

You still have power, and you are not helpless and change is not hopeless.

Take a Mighty stab at making a difference. I have confidence you can do it.

Getty image by dragana991

Originally published: May 18, 2022
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home