In the midst of everything going on in America, the past week have consisted of disappointing and anxiety-driven news. Jas Waters, a writer for This Is Us died of suicide. This news is particularly alarming to me because one, I’m very familiar with the show and her intentions. Two, it’s another black woman who has died during an overwhelmingly stressful time to be black during COVID-19.
It was frightening to wake up to hear a black, successful writer had hung herself at the young age of 39. A woman so committed to being in a predominately white room to create and share black stories.
It’s unsettling to say the least.
I can’t shake this feeling that it had a lot to do with anxiety during self-isolation, but it further being exacerbated during Black Lives Matter protests of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and the black trans lives taken soon after. Here are some tweets prior to her death, confirming signs of a woman who needed support as she struggled with her mental health.
Even in her moments of darkness, she created space to offer words of encouragement to other individuals and allowed them to be seen and heard.
19-year-old Oluwatoyin “Toyin” Salau, a Nigerian activist who suffered abuse and sexual assault went missing and was found dead hours after joining an organized protest for George Floyd.
I’m tired of black women always doing the protecting, never being the one PROTECTED and never taking a moment to protect themselves. I don’t want to see black women being murdered or feeling like the only way to cope is through suicide. I want to see us enforcing the importance of our mental health and working to remove the stigmas that come along with it.
I want to see #blacklivesmatter extended to black women, black trans women, black queer women, black non-binary folks, black disabled women; all demonstrated in defending and protecting us. And most importantly, I want to see black women taking care of themselves – and that includes setting boundaries when our mental and physical health is at risk.
WE ALL STRUGGLE WITH MENTAL HEALTH
It’s already difficult for black families to acknowledge mental illness, but it’s even harder to deal with being raised in a Caribbean household. There are so many stigmas and microaggressions associated with mental illness. Being invalidated and called crazy, weak or having to always be “strong”. Believing mental illness requires falling apart and breaking down to be validated. Being asked what you got to be depressed about? Or being told you’re too young to be depressed – not truly understanding the severity of untreated mental illnesses.
In my life, I’ve struggled with mental health countless of times. I’ve experienced depression, high levels of anxiety, and have even considered suicide. I’ve abused alcohol as a means of coping with the countless times I’ve felt lonely, misunderstood, or just exhausted.
I’m currently experiencing difficulty with controlling behaviors. I don’t like to be out in the world and feel like I have no control over my environment. I’m constantly tense and unsure of how to relax. I struggle with social anxiety that makes it difficult to have the desire to go out and sometimes even managing my relationships. Even more now, I’m perpetually waiting for another black man, woman, trans person, or child to die.
I have to constantly unplug from social media, re-center/self-isolate and take needed moments for myself. It’s hard talking to people at times because it can be a lot to deal with it, a lack of understanding, or simply people aren’t always in a space to offer emotional support.
STRUGGLES WITH SEEKING SUPPORT
With my struggles, I explored counseling and therapy over the past couple of years, only to be unsuccessful. The first therapist I began seeing was an Afro-West Indian, lesbian woman. Her description represented everything I was seeking in a therapist. A face similar to mine. A cultural understanding and awareness. And a queer identity that understands the intersections of my experience.
Unfortunately, she was out of network; resulting in $250 per session for 45 minutes, (which in my case at the time would have been twice a week, on a weekly basis). That alone put me in a darker space because I just couldn’t afford it.
With the recommendation of a colleague, I took a chance seeing a white therapist who accepted my insurance, with a co-pay of $25. However, with this white therapist, it was all surface conversation and an occasional invalidating response. It all seemed generalized and lacked depth.
Further, I had fears.
One, how do I express my feelings about my personal struggles, which included my experiences with being a black woman in America. How do I express that without making this white man uncomfortable in his space or feel white guilt? It’s hard enough always being in an environment where I’m being watched as the black girl, do I really want to be in this space, as the black girl removing her armor?
Two, it didn’t feel like a safe space – I was too aware of the racial and ethnic differences in the quality of care when it came to black people. I just didn’t trust a white therapist to be vulnerable about the layers of my black pain, afraid that what I had to say would be alarming. Three, I didn’t have the patience to educate him on my cultural background and the context I would be speaking from. With all of that, I gave up and just tried to manage my issues until there was a suitable option. And there are still times when it’s overwhelming.
So, when I read that Jas Waters died by suicide and a black girl was murdered after being abused, assaulted and still having the power to stand for a black man, it brought up a lot of mixed emotions. As black women, we need to acknowledge and tend to our pain and move out of the space of silence. It’s important that we reclaim our lives and to do that, we need our allies to stand with us in unity. We need our voices heard and affirmed.
Seek support in therapy, one who understands your experience. It’s crucial that therapists are culturally competent and conscious of stereotypes. Seek support in trustworthy friends and family; it saddens me that Toyin didn’t have that. And if you don’t have either of those, please visit the link below for black owned organizations that are committed to protecting/defending black lives and encourage healing.
If you know of any additional organizations, please leave the link down below.