Having A Mental Illness Is So Much Different When You're Black

Having A Mental Illness Is So Much Different When You're Black

We force ourselves to hide our tears, to mask our sadness, to not allow ourselves to stray away from the one dimensional role of a black person in this country.
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You may recognize us as the people who always say funny jokes; who are brutally honest; who are physically strong; or who have stayed strong through all of the struggles life threw their way.

What we do not present about ourselves, however, is the mental and emotional stress that we, too, have to cope with. If we allow our mental illnesses to reveal themselves, we may no longer be viewed as the funny, strong, or talented person anymore. We're scared that others will view us as weak and invaluable because of our mental illness.

Black mental health is a different kind of discussion.

We see black celebrities like Rihanna, Serena Williams, Beyoncé, and Lebron James who exude such a strong and powerful persona.

Rihanna seems to be bothered by nothing; she always snaps back with a snide remark and powerful smirk. When we see all of these images of seemingly emotionless and incredibly powerful and inspirational black celebrities, we feel weak for allowing such an intangible thing as anxiety or depression to cripple us.

When we walk around, we automatically feel that we have to prove ourselves.

We have countless numbers of stereotypes that we actively work hard to shut down (ex: angry black [wo]men, criminals, irresponsible, etc); however, the possibility of not following the “strong and carefree” stereotype is terrifying; so terrifying that we would rather blame ourselves for feeling vulnerable than actually allow ourselves to sometimes just feel vulnerable.

We, as black people, already have to prove that we are capable, so to have another attribute that others may perceive as “inferior” or “weak” sets us at a level so incredibly low; a level where one's self-confidence and social comfort can tumble.

Because of the “strong black person” mentality, little boys are taught to be as strong as an iron man.

Black boys are taught to rise up and defend the women of the family –– black men are never allowed to cry. Black women are taught to have an intense emotionless guard. Black women have to be self-sufficient and never depend on anyone other than themselves to take care of themselves. While this strength and carefreeness are great and vital qualities to possess, it sets us up to hate ourselves when a mental illness –– one that we cannot control because of the chemical imbalances in our mind –– is imposed on us.

We force ourselves to hide our tears, to mask our sadness, to not allow ourselves to stray away from the one-dimensional role of a black person in this country. We all want to be as carefree as Rihanna; we all want to be as strong and inspirational as Lebron James -- but we don’t feel like this when we are sitting under our covers having a panic attack or crying about how sad and hopeless we feel.

As a black person, the idea of being "complex" doesn't seem to apply to us.

We have to either be the “token funny friend,” the “token brutally honest friend,” the “token sassy friend,” the “token strong friend,” the “token activist,” or the “token athlete.”

We have to only partake in things that attribute to our label because people simply do not care about the other aspects of our personas (or at least, that's how we feel). We are treated as if our only purpose in this world is to obey, entertain, and fight; but we are so much more than that.

Being anxious while black is an incredibly overwhelming experience. We feel as though society has no place for us. We feel as if we’re disappointments to our elders who fought for our spot in this country. We feel as if we’re falling behind on the road to defy the odds of systematic and social oppression.

But we never tell ourselves that it’s okay to feel anxious. It’s okay to suffer from depression. If we already have this chemical imbalance influencing us to act against our own interests, we cannot take that side of the illness –– we have to keep fighting for ourselves, not surrendering to our mental illness.

The best way to cope with a mental illness is to get help, but many people of color do not have access to the support that they need.

Some of our parents or family members will probably tell us to “man up”, that we are only suffering from our illness because we have “too much free time”, or to just, “get over it” because it’s “all in our heads”. And not everyone has access to a licensed therapist; when one does have access to a therapist, they may not be able to automatically develop a bond in which the client feels supported. Local and affordable rehab centers may also not provide the needed support, leaving the person stuck with their non-understanding inner circle.

We, as a society, need to shed more light on mental illness within the black community. Almost every black person in America can name at least 5 people in their lives (or even just in their family) who suffer from some degree of mental illness, yet our community continues to act as if this issue doesn't exist. This issue is HUGE, and we need to treat it as such.

Rappers like Lil Uzi Vert, Tupac, and Kid Cudi (just to name a few) do a great job in displaying the natural vulnerability of people of color. Songs like “XO Tour Life3” (Lil Uzi Vert), “So Many Tears” (Tupac), and “Illusions” (Kid Cudi) remind the listeners that what they’re feeling is normal, and expose non-mental illness sufferers to the radical idea that black people feel too.

While these rappers work hard to maintain a “thug” persona, they, too, can feel vulnerable and weak sometimes.

Mental Illness does not make you weak, but we have to remember that we can fight this. The black community often stands together to defend ourselves against branches of our government, but we also need to stand together to defend ourselves from our own personal demons. We have to remind each other that although some of us want to assume the position of the “strong activist”, we have to make sure that our inner selves are at peace as well. We saw what happened to Edward Crawford, and we cannot allow this to continue.

Black people are strong.

Historically, we have fought through slavery, segregation, oppression, and racism(and sexism) that still exists today. But that doesn’t mean that we have to be strong all the time. Being black in America is difficult, and being black with a mental illness is even more difficult. Let’s do better in providing a space in this world for black people to allow themselves to feel. Let’s do better in allowing black men to cry. Let’s do better.

Being black with a mental illness raises societal flaws, but it also raises personal flaws. We cannot keep punishing ourselves for not fitting the slot that society has determined for us. We need to give ourselves and each other the permission to feel, and to struggle. We need to show the people around us that we can be strong, funny, and woke, while still possessing the emotional range of a normal human being. This bravery is certainly a process, but the longer we allow society to control our mental health, the more we allow our mental health to consume us.

Black people cry, have panic attacks, get suicidal, and feel weak, too.

It’s okay to feel weak sometimes. Even Rihanna and Lebron James aren’t made of steel -- we all feel. We are all going through something; we should not be ashamed of our battles. Ignoring a mental illness does not magically make it go away -- it just allows it to grow into a larger problem. And in times where you feel alone and isolated because of your mental illness, just remember that the people around you are probably secretly suffering from the same exact thing.

Cover Image Credit: whoislimos on unsplash.com

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I Woke up In The Middle Of The Night To Write About My Fears, They're Worse Than The Dark

One minute I'm thinking about what I want to do after college next thing I know I'm remembering the time I tried talking to a boy and choked on my spit.

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It is one of those nights when I am tired, but for some reason, I can't seem to fall asleep. So, what do I do? I pull out my laptop, and I begin to write. Who knows where it will lead. It could lead to a killer article or something that does not make sense. I mean it is almost 2 A.M. In my mind, that's pretty late.

Anyways, let's do this thing.

Like many people, thoughts seem to pile up in my head at this time. It could be anything from a time when I was younger to embarrassing stories to wondering why I am "wasting" my time somewhere to thoughts about the future. All of these things come at me like a wildfire. One minute I'm thinking about what I want to do after college next thing I know I'm remembering the time I tried talking to a boy and choked on my spit.

The thought that is going through my mind as I write this is about the future. It's about the future of my fears. Let me explain. I have multiple fears. Some of my fears I can hide pretty well, others I am terrible at hiding. My fears may seem silly to some. While others might have the same fears. Shall we start?

1. My career

I don't know where to begin with this one. For as long as I can remember, my consistent dream job has been working in the world of sports, specifically hockey. A career in sports can be and is a challenging thing. The public eye is on you constantly. A poor trade choice? Fans are angry. Your team sucks? "Fans" are threatening to cheer for someone else if you can't get your sh*t together. You can be blamed for anything and everything. Whether you are the coach, general manager, owner, it does not matter. That's terrifying to me, but for some reason, I want to work for a team.

2. My family

Julie Fox

Failing with my family, whether that be the family I was born into or my future family, it terrifies me. I have watched families around me fall apart and I have seen how it has affected them. Relationships have fallen apart because of it. I have heard people talk about how much they hate one of their parents because of what happened. I don't want that.

3. Time

This could be a dumb fear. I'm not sure, but I fear time. With every minute that passes, I am just another minute closer to the end. With every day that passes that I am not accomplishing goals or dreams I have, I am losing precious time. It scares me to think of something horrible like "What if I die tomorrow because of something horrific?" or even worse, "What if I don't make it through today?" It's terrible, I know.

4. Forgetting precious memories

When I was younger, I had brain surgery. It is now much harder for me to remember things. I am truly terrified that I am going to forget things I will want to hold close to me forever, but I won't be able to. I am scared I'll forget about the little things that mean a lot. I'm afraid of forgetting about old memories that may disappear. I'm worried that I'll forget about something like my wedding day. That might seem out of this world, but it's a reality for me.

5. Saying "goodbye"

I hate saying bye. It is one of my least favorite things. Saying bye, especially to people I don't know when I'll see again, is a stab in the heart for me. I love my people so much. I love being around them. I love laughing with them. Thought of never having a hello with them again scares me beyond belief.

6. Leaving places that I love

Alright, let me start off by saying this- it takes a lot for me to love a place. It has to feel like home. It has to make me feel comfortable. It has to be a place I can go to and be myself. Thankfully, I have had and still have multiple places that are like that. I have also had places I could not wait to leave. I think that's why leaving places I love is so hard and something I fear so much. I am afraid I'll never get that place "back", for lack of a better term. I guess, I'm trying to say, it's like a piece of me is leaving as well.




These six things are just the start of my fears. Some of these might seem "dumb" or "ridiculous" to you, but for me, it's my life. These are the things that I think about the most. These are the things that feel like a pit in my stomach. These six things are parts of my life that mean a lot to me.

Cover Image Credit:

Emily Heinrichs

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An Open Letter to Soda

You're both good and bad, but you never fail to satisfy me.

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Dear soda,

How do I even begin to describe my connection to you? I have shared countless moments with you that we're both my best and my worst. Above all, you fill me up better than water, milk and juice ever do. And even though you're as equally unhealthy as alcohol is (no offense), you're always the safer, if not the most refreshing choice. But even so, you give me more calories than I want in one meal, although burning off that kind of energy is second nature to me.

Before I lavish you with compliments and thank you for cooling me down on hot summer days, it's time to get the unpalatable truth about you and nutrition, soda. You're a primary reason why I'm not in the best shape of my life. Every time I try to have that extra little bit of muscle, you end up setting me back. It's so easy for me to crave for you, because of how delicious you are, and the sugar high you give me is absolutely amazing compared to what I get eating candy and all those other sweets.

I know it's really puzzling for a writer like me to be writing an open letter to a beverage, but you're actually a pretty big part of my life. Why? Because you don't just quench my thirst on hot days, or affect my upset stomach for better or worse, you give me just a smidgen more energy than coffee and tea do. The caffeine in you isn't good for me in the long run, but I need it on a regular basis so I don't zone out during my classes. Honestly, without you, I don't feel as uninhibited as I like to be.

What I love the most about you is that you come in numerous flavors, and even though it's scientifically proven to be ineffective and also tastes worse than gruel, you come in diet form. In every restaurant and cafeteria, you get your own fountain, and students like myself prefer to go there instead of the coffee machines. The hiss of fizz when I open you up makes my mouth water, chills go up my spine and I never resist that first taste of your sugary carbon. Out of all the flavors you offer, I love root beer, cream soda, grape, orange, ginger ale and Dr. Pepper the most. The possibilities with you are so endless.

Soda, the best thing you've ever done for is satisfy me when I didn't feel satisfied.

From one of your many friends,

Konner Donté Watson

Cover Image Credit:

https://cdn.pixabay.com/photo/2018/01/25/08/14/beverages-3105631_960_720.jpg

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