Updated: Jan 23, 2020
To be Black, female and anxious is a weight held steady on the head by a stiff neck on tired shoulders. For most of our lives, as Black females, we have come to believe that we are just tired, this is just the way life is, or that this is what it means to be a strong Black woman. Even when ill, we believe we ought to be brave and continue functioning because that is what is expected of a strong Black woman. Expectations are hurled at us on a daily basis, continuously demanding more from us. With these expectations comes the access to what we truly desire, our ability to prove ourselves as being capable of success. Hence, we conform, to the point of bending over backward. As we experience this cycle that we have come to know as life, there is one aspect to which we remain ignorant - our mental health.
In Sprawling Legs on a Terrace, a story about Gbemi, a young woman who mourns the loss of her mother, Aishah Ojibara, Nigerian writer, depicts how depression presents in recurring illness. Aishah shows how the trauma of the abrupt and sudden absence of a valued person tips off the balance in one’s mental health. Our life’s experiences expose us to what we come to believe is our fate. In this story, Gbemi awaits her turn to fall under the spell that has been passed down the generations of mothers in her family. The highlight of this story is how grief has not only left the void of a mother’s love but, it has brought with it the inescapable fear of inheriting the condition. Her mother described it as an invisible heaviness, a looming specter. And when it finally sneaks up on her, she knows that this is it. However, this is contrary to the three in every five women that have experienced depression at least once in their lifetime. This statistic may as well be deemed unreal because of the three women, only one knows that she is depressed. When a Black woman experiences a mental disorder, the opinion is that she is weak. For this reason, many Black females have experienced different mental disorders in denial (theirs or their loved ones). They had to keep moving. It was important to keep functioning. To stay strong.
One of the earliest symptoms and signs of depression is the lack of interest and enjoyment of life activities. Black females have often mistaken this for a general change in their lives. There is a time for everything right? As human beings, we are inherently bound to change. Our preferences and tastes are subject to change as we experience and understand life differently. We are subjected to environments in which economic and social pressures demand more from us. In the workplace, Black females experience anxiety and depression without knowing it. After being in employment for several years, a lack of interest in the job comes off as boredom due to being subjected to a monotonous routine. Owing to the amount of energy Black females spend as they balance life between work and home it becomes understandable for them to seem mentally and physically exhausted. However, we miss the signs, as we continue the fight to keep our functionality within society, the home, and the workplace. As we put less effort into all that we do, our effectiveness is reduced. This does not only have an impact on our lives but, the lives of people around us. Depression also impairs our decision-making abilities. This cripples the rate at which you are able to discern the problem and come up with a sustainable intervention.
Outside of the working environment, Black females can also become ineffective within the home and still not recognize that they are depressed. Lack of interest and enjoyment of activities can extend to personal and intimate relationships. This is usually accompanied by low libido, which not only becomes a threat to the relationship but also to the safety of Black females. In some instances, Black females have experienced marital rape, which they have been unable to report, because they could not give consent to their partner’s claim to conjugal rights. If not diagnosed, mental disorders can result in a slippery slope of ripple effects. At the end of it all, it is the health and safety of Black females that need to be protected. With all these factors combined, it becomes hard to be an effective mother, sister or wife within the home. Or to run a successful business.
In conclusion, you are a strong Black female. Keep moving. However, it is important to constantly check on ourselves. Mental disorders, unlike other illnesses, manifest in a wide range of signs and symptoms. Most of which are taken lightly as regular illnesses. Create for yourself a mental health break which allows you to take a break and reflect on your wellness. As Black females, we have a lot of change to impart to the world and our success depends on our mental health. Stress, anxiety, and depression can be managed. In this year of winning together, we can and we will attain mental strength together!