“I can’t breathe” you’ve probably seen these words plastered on images of the late George Floyd. As news of the wrongful murder of George travelled across the world everything turned ablaze. Inability to breathe is collectively how the black community are currently feeling. Perhaps you’re struggling to breathe during this anxiety-inducing time, due to an influx of images and videos of slain black bodies flooding your timeline, or perhaps from having a daily reminder that you as a black person are four times more likely to die if you were to become infected with Covid19. If you are a frontline worker or have family and friends who are, this is incredibly daunting, especially as we currently do not have any guidance on how we are going to combat this health inequality. If you’re feeling the pressure I am here to tell you that you are not alone, I’m a young black British woman who is currently in a balancing act with my own mental health, trying to process everything that is going on is exhausting and heartbreaking.
Historically speaking black women have been given the unfair burden of having to uphold a stoic stance throughout the constant adversity we face. I’m sure you’ve heard the tired words “you’re a strong independent black woman”. It is true we are strong but not through choice but necessity often we feel alone in our perils, with white supremacy permeating its way into every corner of our lives, we have learnt that society has not got your back so you better buckle up. Through experiencing adversity and eating many storms we develop a strong armour, and like armour, there are only so many battles you can use that armour for before it eventually breaks. We are currently in a pandemic which in itself is unsettling, not having access to support systems and being alone with your thoughts can be incredibly isolating. Everything that you once knew has been overturned, thoughts of the future are clouded with uncertainty. I’ve had too much time to ruminate over these thoughts, this compounded with the recent murders of innocent black people has wreaked havoc on me emotionally. I know I’m not alone in my thinking. We are at a time whereby the world is being introspective about its anti-black attitude, white supremacy, and systemically oppressive institutions. This is obviously positive, however, many black people are unwillingly delegated to be the educators on such issues, this is extremely harmful to us mentally as often white people do not consider how triggering this is as it requires a large amount of emotional and mental labour.
We understand that the wool has been pulled from your eyes and you may want to seek all the knowledge you can to help dismantle our racist society, please do this, but do not put this responsibility on black people to guide you there. We have been carrying the weight of these issues our whole lives, often not being able to vocalise our pain without being gaslighted on the validity of our lived experiences. I personally feel conflicted as I want to speak about all the inequalities that my people face and I also want to engage in important conversations surrounding racing issues, but at what cost? I think it’s very important for us black females to put our armour down when we feel the need to, the self-preservation of our mental health is equally as important. We don’t need to adhere to the stereotype of being the strong black woman, many of us are having our hearts broken every day and it is completely acceptable to want to switch off. This can come in various forms, taking time off social media, painting, listening to music, meditating, speaking to loved ones on the phone. We need to create safe spaces for ourselves to heal, stress has a great impact on our physical health and our health is something we cannot afford to compromise during this pandemic. For me personally having a daily exercise routine and taking time to cook nourishing meals for myself has greatly impacted me mentally as well as physically, with the structure of my life being snatched from me, creating this routine gives me some sense of control. As well as the rush of endorphins I get from my exercise routine has helped me with regulating my moods. Within the black community mental health is seldomly discussed, much to our own demise the barometer for our suffering is far too high, even if our mouths do not talk about our suffering our bodies will do the talking for us. Our stress can manifest in physical aches and pains, digestive issues, disrupted sleep, and shortness of breath. I’ve battled with this before and what helped me the most was talking to someone about my troubles, letting go of those thoughts made me feel lighter in every sense. If you need someone to talk to try talking therapies.