“Contrary to what we may have been taught to think, unnecessary and unchosen suffering wounds us but need not scar us for life. It does mark us. What we allow the mark of our suffering to become is in our own hands.” –Bell Hooks, All About Love: New Visions
In the summer evening’s stillness, I sat in the darkness off my studio apartment. I mustered up enough strength to typed a message: Please tell my son that I loved him. Then, I searched. It took twenty minutes to find the right objects. I settled on my cold bathroom floor with a bottle of Benadryl and a blade. Then, I recalled a story of a family whose son committed suicide. He left no note, and they had no closure. As it was the least I could do for my loved ones, for the next hour, I scribble my thoughts on three doubled-sided pages. The central question: Would my three month old son’s life be better without me?
Deciding to write my suicide letter released the force of the death call. I just need some sleep. Instead, I took four Benadryl to shut down my mind. But it was too late.
My text to my son’s father commenced a series of events, resulting in an involuntary commitment to the hospital. They had my note. I couldn’t convince them I was fine. And so began my third in-patient hospital stay to save me from the threat: My mind.
The first evening, I slept eight hours uninterrupted. The first time since my son’s birth. I awoke to the sun peaking through the gated windows and tickling my skin with its warmth. I felt balanced and refreshed. Anxiously, I left my room ready to meet whatever I might encounter in the hallways of the Psych Ward.
“What are you doing here?” the desk nursed asked confusingly.
I knew what she meant. They always asked me same question. I didn’t look as disheveled as the other patients. I could articulate my thoughts and reasons for being there. I didn’t fit in. “You don’t belong here,” she assessed within two minutes of meeting me.
I silently disagreed.
My mind was a prison. Obviously, one better suited for outpatient services. I hoped I could return home that day.
“When will I see the Psychiatrist today?” I muttered. She cocked her head sideways and flashed a disappointing smile. “The ward’s psychiatrist travelled to a conference,” she explained.
“Great! No evaluation. No decision on my course of treatment,” I thought silently.
Almost bored with me, she began to order the various paled colored pills into small white dental paper cups. Noticing I was still there as she prepared the morning’s distribution, she asked in a motherly tone, “What can I get you in the meantime?”
I asked for the only thing known to get me through a 72 hold, “Pen and paper please.”
For three hours, I examined myself. How did I get here again? I scribbled my disjointed memories of the prior night. What’s the plan for when you get out of here?
I had been home with my son for three months after a six-month stint on modified bed rest. I attempted to work part-time from home, but it did not work. My life consisted of feeding the baby, napping when he napped, and going outside for both our sanities. Unbeknownst to anyone but my therapist, I was depressed and using every bit my energy to care for my new baby and attend my biweekly sessions. Here I was entering month four with no plan for next steps.
Writing helped me to realize my situation. I had given up. It was time to reclaim my life the only way I knew how. I conclude my reflection writing this epiphany: I am stronger than this.
The hospital released me the next day. Although I have a diagnosed mental illness, the attending psychiatrist concluded, “I think you needed some rest.” They released me the day before the Fourth of July, Independence Day.
2012 marked the fifteenth year I lived with my emotions operating outside the norm. In the struggle with my mental illness, I rejected the varied advice from my family that I needed to increase my mental fortitude, to just get over it and to stop behaving like a “White woman.”
One belief sustained throughout various life’s struggles, such as living my drug-addicted mother and grieving the murder of my brother: I can do anything I put my mind to. But I began to doubt my strength as my mind resolved to kill me. I slowly gave up the strength the family matriarchs instilled in me.
When I gave up the foundational strength of my foremothers, I fell into despair. My circumstances conquered my being. I realized the hollowness of just surviving wasn’t the answer. If I desired a life worth living, I realized that I needed to thrive beyond the limited definition of strength I inherited.
Ironically, there’s been a series of Black women bloggers who have proliferated a problematic call to action: the assassination of the Strong Black Woman. Critics conclude that she is the cause of the Black woman’s suffering, singleness, anger, obesity, and failure.
The real culprit is the limited definition passed onto Black women. Undeniably, without our strength, our Black foremothers wouldn’t have survived civilization’s harshest slavery period. However, survival has its limitations and imprints psychological scars.
Their strength helped them to endure, not transcend. Real living materializes past survival. Greater strength awaits beyond endurance. My current life as a business owner-even my former life as a nonprofit executive director, graduate student, community activist, mom and partner are a testament to redefining this ancestral legacy.
Today, I embrace a “stronger” Black womanhood. A strength that I hope you will adapt too.
Certainly, I understand that the stereotype of the strong Black woman is problematic. However, denying strength is not how Black women will thrive beyond their current circumstances. We cannot limit strength to one definition.
Articulating the fullness of Strong Black Womanhood gives us more. Because Strength heals. Strength loves. Strength transcends.
Here’s are 7 Ways to Regain Your Strength
1. Strength is Ownership
Take 100% responsibility for your life. Strength is not shrinking. Strength is not silently acquiescing to a life of despair. You are in control of how you react to life circumstances. As a result, you impact the outcomes. Create a life on your terms- a life worth living.
2. Strength is Surrender
Jesus informs us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Loving yourself is knowing how and when to surrender for your highest good. You can’t be all things to all people. Letting go, forgiveness and being present are all forms of surrender. They put you on the path to a truer self.
3. Strength is Vulnerability
Vulnerability takes fearlessness. Dr. Brené Brown explains, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.” Vulnerability is shedding the mask. Letting the world see you.
4. Strength is Resourcefulness
Our Black ancestors made the best of limited resources. Today, we have more opportunities and services at our disposal. Black women are no longer limited to the Black Church for community and healing. Modern and alternative medicine, psychotherapy, higher education, and multicultural environments offer a range of possibilities for growth.
5. Strength is Identity
The Strong Black Woman saved us from a real threat. Now, you can redefine her without disowning her. Know who you are. Know what you stand for. Know where you came from. Know who you “be”. You don’t have to be twice as good to succeed. Navigating different environments while maintaining your core is a skill. Authenticity grounds.
6. Strength is Womanhood
Black Women matter. We exist. We have needs. Equality is not achieving maleness. Womanhood is a social construct- its meaning varies from woman to woman. Aspects of who you are rooted in a feminine energy. Celebrate those aspects of your identity.
7. Strength is Legacy
Strength is building up the next generation. Provide them with the skills and the resources you acquired. This is an advantage. This is how we move beyond a heritage of survival.
Be a Stronger Black Woman: Embrace your imperfection and prioritize self-love. Radically accept that you cannot help anyone else until you help and heal yourself. I believe loving yourself is knowing when and how to surrender for your highest good and resilience is believing in your ability to bounce back.
I share my story because I love you. Will you be strong enough to love yourself?
Yours In Strength,
Photo Credit: 23andMeBlog