“We wear the mask that grins and lies. It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes”. This is the first line from poet Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem We Wear the Mask. From my interpretation of this poem, Dunbar was explaining how Black people had to hide the fact that they were suffering from oppression and racism in America and pretend they were happy. Blacks hid their anger in the face of white people to make them feel comfortable.
This poem, however, has another meaning for myself. I grin and lie, often. When people ask me how I am doing, I always say, “I’m okay” or “Excellent, how are you?” or “I’m decent”. Most of the time, I’m telling the truth. Other times, I’m lying. I’m hiding the fact that I’m screaming on the inside and suffering. The International Women’s Day photo of me at the beginning of this post was exactly how I have been feeling for the last few weeks. I usually don’t smile often in my pictures on my snapchat because smiling isn’t something I like to do. But this photo (that I took on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2018) was more than me not smiling. That was me trying to make sure I made it through the day without breaking down. This was my “I’m really tired of feeling the way I do” face. By the end of the day, I had had a break down on the phone with my mom.
When I first started this blog, I mentioned how I suffer from mild depression and this blog was my healing space. Creating this blog has given me nothing but joy but it hasn’t stopped my internal suffering. Last Thursday and Friday (March 1st and 2nd), I spent majority of my days feeling like I was drowning. I try to give myself some self-talk before I fall deep into myself but it doesn’t work much. I couldn’t pin-point what was wrong with me. I was at work angry. By the time I left, I was in full hysterical tears. I don’t drive to work often but that day, I drove. I sat in my car and cried for a while. The weight of trying to hold everything together caught up to me. Still, I was feeling so many emotions at once, I couldn’t figure out which emotion was making me cry. But it was all of them. I’m hardest on myself when I feel as if the world is closing in on me. I don’t want to talk to anyone. I want to hide. By Friday, I thought I was going to wake up and feel better. I was wrong. I got to work and stared at my computer for the better part of the morning. I don’t remember if I got any work done while I was there. I just remember bursting into tears in my office. I closed my door and sat in my chair crying for probably 15 minutes before I was able to collect myself. I went to my supervisor’s office, red eyed and puffy, and told him I was taking the rest of the afternoon off as a mental health/sick day. I was in no condition to be at work any longer.
When I got home, I went back to sleep. I lost motivation to do anything. I put my homework on the back burner. All I wanted to do was sleep and eat. I noticed that when I’m stressed or when my depression starts to surface, I binge eat everything. I understand this probably isn’t the best thing to do but it’s what I do to try and feel better. I didn’t get to have my weekend to continue to process my thoughts because I had to go to a conference the next day.
Lately, I’ve been doubting everything I’ve been doing. Questioning why I’m not where I think I should be. Wondering if all of the things that I believe have gone and are going wrong in my life, are a result of me screwing it up. I didn’t realize that I was crying and was down because I never give myself an opportunity to talk about my personal life and balancing my professional life. I feel like every aspect of my life is pure chaos.
Since moving to Madison, I haven’t looked for a therapist, yet. I’m an advocate for therapy and believe in the benefits of speaking to a professional. I’ve tried it in the past but because I didn’t have a good experience with my first therapist, I’ve been nervous to find one. But I need to.
In order for me to completely live out the goals of my blog, is to ensure I am being authentic. I don’t have all the answers and I am my own worst critic. People tell me all the time that I’m bomb and they look up to me but I question what it is they see in me that I cannot see in myself. It is time to stop being silent when it comes to the mental health of Black people. For too long, our resiliency has been measured by how much we can endure and rise from. We are supposed to be strong and not show signs of weakness. In reality, that shit is unrealistic. Our community is so afraid to speak out about our everyday internal struggles which is counterproductive. We need to be encouraging each other to talk about what we are going through. When people come to us about things going on, we need to listen and be empathetic. Don’t just tell a man “Men don’t cry” or tell a woman “It’s not that big of a deal”. You have to validate others’ experiences.
Check on your strong friend. Even the friends who you may think has it all together, need to be checked up on. They could be, like me, being pulled in many aspects of their life and feel overwhelmed with it all. You calling to check on them, could potentially be the call they needed to make it another day. If they don’t answer but texts you and says they don’t want to talk at the moment, give them time to themselves. They’ll come around. But never give up trying to connect with them.
But we live in a world where “telling all your business” is frowned upon or is seen as you seeking attention. Mental health is real and it’s thriving in our community. It’s what is eating away at my 13-year-old niece who is mad at the world and doesn’t want to live anymore. It’s what White people get to have and coddled because of it. We need to stand up and speak out and stop worrying about what other people think of us. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to not always have it together. We are able to break down for a bit. Seek healing.
Hey Tekita, thanks for picking up the phone that one day.
❤ Queen T