If Being Mary Jane has taught me anything it’s that the strong black woman is a myth.
We hurt, we cry, we bleed, and we suffer, too; but we’re taught not to speak about our struggles and pain. Instead, we’re conditioned to put on cape, an S on our chest and take on the world. Thing is, that cape covers our scars, hides our truths and protects our secrets. God forbid it should we reveal that we’re not altogether! That is a luxury not allowed for Black women.
We’re expected to carry the world — the good and the bad — without sharing our troubles. Talking about them makes them real and the load we’re already dragging can’t handle that. We are to put on our strongest face and handle shit like a boss. And to our credit, we do without the blink of an eye. However, behind closed doors, we’re suffering to the point of battling depression, anxiety, and juggling thoughts of suicide when life’s pressures become too much.
I’ve battled with depression since I was 13 years old. It wasn’t until I recently started discussing it and opening up about my struggles did I begin to find some relief. Until that point, very few people knew my pain; my prolonged sadness. It came as a shock to most people because I always seem well put together, but the truth is that I am not. You can imagine their surprise when I not only announced having long-term depression, but that I was also suicidal. With that being the tip of the iceberg, I chose to shelve that conversation as I could sense the judgement and concerns they were having.
The overall consensus was that a Black girl couldn’t be depressed, let alone suicidal to the point of causing herself bodily harm, because those were white people’s problems. My truth is that I used to cut myself for years until my 21st birthday. I wish that I could say I stopped cutting myself because I had a breakthrough and wanted to get better. My reality is that I only stopped that kind of self-harm because I felt like at 21 I should be drinking my problems away instead of cutting them away.
I struggled with myself by myself for years because I didn’t know how to handle what I was feeling as a Black woman. Should I seek help? No, because that’s what church is for! We’re taught to pray to God and everything will be alright, you know, the good ol’ black way to do things. After a while, I got tired of praying and wanted real answers and help. Besides, who ever said that God can only work through church and ministers and not psychiatrists? God only helps those that help themselves.
Even though we now live in a time where mental illness in the black community is slowly becoming more accepted, I still feel a sense of shame and embarrassment. I feel like I will be judged by my people for having these feelings. I feel naked even admitting that I’m not happy with my life. Maybe I’m a hypocrite who’s a part of the problem for still believing that it’s taboo for people of color to have mental illness. Even though I’m trying to break that taboo and change the narrative through personal advocacy, I still find myself uncomfortable discussing these issues. I’m uncomfortable with the idea of seeking a professional all while being Black and having these troubles. I often wonder if adding this conversation to our ever-growing list of struggles within our community is even necessary. Is there truly a way to fix those like me?
Black women have carried the world on our shoulders since the beginning of time. Thankfully, we’ve made some progress in creating open dialogue about what mental illness is. My hope is that instead of constantly carrying the world on our shoulders that we finally find the wherewithal to carry ourselves.
Soleil Santana is the author of Happy Accidents and creator of xoSoleil.com, an inspirational lifestyle blog for millennial women of color. She’s been featured on Ariel Says Now, The Right to Real Love podcast, and more. Santana is based in Charlotte, NC, and is currently pursuing a Master’s in the counseling field. Catch her on Twitter @xoSoleil and Instagram @soleilsantana.