“Depression in Black women is more common than many people realize. The old adage of “being sick and tired of being sick and tired” is quite relevant for these women, since they often suffer from persistent, untreated physical and emotional symptoms. If these women consult health professionals, they are frequently told that they are hypertensive, run down, or tense and nervous.
The root of their symptoms frequently is not explored; and these women continue to complain of being tired, weary, empty, lonely, sad. Other women friends and family members may say, “We all feel this way sometimes, it’s just the way it is for us Black women.”
| Barbara Jones Warren
Black girls don’t cry. We serve. We sacrifice. We suppress. But we don’t cry.
We swallow the knots in our throats and ignore the weight in our hearts for the sake of all that we represent. There is no room for weakness because our men, children and communities need us to be strong. So, we dig deep, set aside our pain and hold up the light. We put everyone before ourselves and sacrifice our own stability to do so. We compare ourselves to our predecessors – proud and resilient – and we think that we will fall short of this standard if we show any signs of uncertainty. The world’s subliminal message that we are not enough and that somehow we are inherently flawed poisons our collective subconscious, affecting our mental and spiritual health. But we’ve been fooled into thinking that vulnerability is weakness, so we don’t cry. We tuck our shadows away and put on a happy face.
It all starts early on in our lives, when the seeds of self-hate are planted by cultural traditions and unenlightenment. Black culture is cluttered with messages of self-denial, and American culture cashes in on our insecurities. As little girls, our budding notions of self-image are often soiled by old belief systems that say we aren’t loveable in our natural state. We are so commonly labeled as too light, too dark, too nappy, too curvy; that we soon begin to value ourselves and each other based on this critical posture. We chase after a standard of status, beauty and success, whether we fit into that standard or not. As we grow into women, instead of looking in the mirror and celebrating our unique beauty, we see all of the labels and criticism that we’ve absorbed over the years. We overcompensate and hide our perceived flaws until one day we don’t even know the woman looking back at us. Many of us struggle silently through this identity crisis, while our relationships suffer and the cycle of unawareness continues.
What happens when our secrets go untold and our individuality is suppressed? We suffer through the collateral damage of unaddressed trauma and avoidance. We seek solace in everything from drugs, to alcohol to retail therapy but nothing ever gets us high enough or pretty enough to ignore our pain. We ingest the jagged little pills of complacency and inertia, taking false comfort in the numbness that they bring. We sabotage ourselves, robbing the world of our full potential. We live life through our representative characters trying to be everything to everyone, while our true selves languish inside of us. We waste our energy on guilt, regret and doubt. Things fall apart and we lose ourselves.
We don’t have to wait until we are in crisis to cry out for help. Crying is not a sign of weakness. Our tears are nothing but the sweat of our spirits as we wrestle with fear and confusion. We should welcome the tears as a sign that we are growing closer to the truth of who we are. We should insert that raw honesty into everything we do. When we hide ourselves to avoid judgment, we become generic and devoid of the nuances that make us the soulful creatures we are meant to be. As black women, our strength comes from our struggle. Our struggle to be heard. Our struggle to be understood. Our struggle to heal the cultural wounds that scar our self-esteem. But there will be no healing if our tears are not allowed to water our parched consciousness. The pain that has no vent in tears will surely flood our hearts and minds.
We must feel. We must expose. We must communicate. We can no longer suffer in silence. At the top of our lungs, from the bottom of our hearts, we must cry and use the power of our cries to create awareness and change.