Sunday, March 16, 2014

Black Women and Stress: It is a Condition, Not Who We Are


I've realized that one of my greatest obstacles to happiness and self-actualization are my ties to stress. I have used stress to define myself and to understand my life existence. I am not who I am unless I am inordinately busy, unless I am struggling to fit in all of my responsibilities, unless I have minimal time for myself.

I am wedded to struggle more than I am attached to doing what will benefit my own happiness and that has taken a real toll on my emotional health.

Unfortunately, mental health is not really a priority anywhere. However, it has the tendency to be especially viewed as facetious or a joke for many Black folks.

However, the greater truth is that the same people who are not very concerned with mental health are also not very concerned with physical health either since both are inextricably connected. If I am not emotionally healthy, that will always impact my physical health.

Being tied to struggle is mutually exclusive with emotional health.
 It is easy to say that some people simply have the privilege to separate themselves from struggle. Some people don't. Most Black women don't. And that's all there is to it. But I don't believe it is so simple.

I think that it is possible to internalize oppression and forget that it is a condition we are put in and not a birthright or part of our identity. Stress kills us.

Black women are dying from stress related diseases at rates higher than many other groups. This is true across socioeconomic class. It is the silent killer. We watch our mothers, aunts, and grandmothers die at young ages from heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and numerous other illnesses and ignore that many of us are on the very same path.

There are many factors at play when it comes to health, but a major one is stress.

That is the uncomfortable truth. It is much more fun to talk about how Black women stay looking young forever because "Black don't crack" and talk about how "strong" we are. But we don't want to talk about our succumbing to stress-related diseases. We continue to act surprised that many of us are dying young and pretend like we have no idea why this is happening or that it is just bad luck or random.

But it's because of how we're living. It is because we think we can survive without caring about our mental health. When we can't.

There's a plethora of studies that analyze Black women's connections to stress. Maybe not well disseminated but the literature is there. I am concerned with how we reverse these statistics. How can we learn to center our mental wellness when we've spent all our lives doing the opposite?

I have decided that today is the day to decide to dissociate my identity from stress. Today is the day to recognize that it is not my birthright to struggle. Stress is not part of who I am. I don't have to keep waiting and waiting to start living my life and to start doing what pleases me and what makes me happy.

Even if that is what I see around me. Even in my own family. I cannot afford to do the same if I love my health and my life.

I realize that I waited all through college to do me... to make moves purely for myself. And it has made my life unnecessarily stressful. I could make a million excuses for myself. I could say that it's because I've had to pay my way through college and tuition doesn't pay itself. I could say that it's because of the pressure of being Black at a PWI and having to work twice as hard to gain any kind of respect.

Those are legitimate realities for a low income Black students studying at a PWI (or any university). But it's also a reality that it was my choice to forget that those were my circumstances and not who I am.

I have found that my tendency to view stress as part of my identity has made me blind to the opportunities I have to live simpler and easier. It has made me mistakenly think that I have no better choices in how I live my life.

That is the problem with the conservative rhetoric that all we need to do is "work hard." First of all some of us have to work harder than others. And secondly, oppressed people who internalize the notion that all we need to do is "work hard" never stop working hard even when they have the opportunity to.

Many of us need to learn how to celebrate! How to self-congratulate and relax. But we also need to learn how to have a lifestyle change where peace and relaxation is centered and never an afterthought.

Imagine if we cared about our emotional health so much so that we listened to our everyday tiredness and discomfort and addressed it instead of saying that's how it's "supposed" to be.

Imagine.

This is all part of the arduous but important work of ridding ourselves of anti-Black and misogynist notions of the self. It is about saving our lives so that we do not become part of the statistic.

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