By Erickka Sy Savané
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about stress. First it was singer Brandy who recently collapsed on a plane due to the stress of traveling and working incessantly, says her publicist, and not long ago it was modelpreneur Tyra Banks who confessed that while she was at the height of her career, she was also exhausted and sad. Just today I saw a video that’s been making the social media rounds of former ‘In The House’ actress Maia Campbell turning down LL Cool J’s request to get her help. It’s no secret that the once stunningly beautiful actress is addicted to drugs and in the footage she’s running a mile a minute. I couldn’t help but wonder what will make her stop.
And then I turn the question towards me.
Ever since I was a little girl I’ve been running. Running from food stamps, a father who was never there, bills, weight, myself.
I only stop when I hit a wall. Like when I finally had to take care of my fibroids. Or when I was so stressed that I couldn’t pee. I’d sit on the toilet for hours waiting for a stream that would never come. It took walking around with a catheter strapped to my leg for a week, and eventually running to another city to shake it off.
Even when I had my babies I didn’t stop.
“Sleep when the baby sleeps,” people would say. But they were clueless about my life. When the baby sleeps is when the work begins. One time, just a week after giving birth I broke down on the way to Target. Mental and physical fatigue set in and I couldn’t remember what was so important that I needed to get in my car and battle horrific LA traffic. Before I knew it, I pulled over to the side of the road and cried till I ached. Maybe it was just hormones, but I cried like that earlier today and I haven’t had a baby in 5 years.
Lately, I’ve been crashing into my husband and my kids. I’m either dismissive, not present, or just plain mean.
My husband shared a poem he discovered online with me this morning and I was so far away. Thinking about work that needed to get done, bills I needed to pay. It almost felt silly to think that I could stop and listen to poetry. But I didn’t say that, I half-listened with a blank look on my face, prompting him to scream, “After 12 years of marriage you still can’t tell me that your mind is somewhere else?!”
No. ‘Cuz I’m going to try to handle everything with as little disruption as possible, so I can get to the next thing. It’s not that I don’t care. I absolutely care. That’s why I run. It’s how I show my love. If I run fast enough all our problems will disappear.
Sometimes I envy my friend who just shuts down. She’s the only Black woman I’ve ever known to just stop getting out of bed for weeks. I never understood how she could do that because if I’m not moving I’m dead.
This running didn’t start with me. It was my mom and her mom before that. My mom doesn’t sleep at night because her mind is running like a motor that never stops. She’s taken three sleep studies in the past three months and doctors don’t know what’s wrong. I do. It’s called Black Woman Syndrome and it’s been in our DNA since enslavement. I know this because the only time I slowed down was in Africa. Don’t believe that lie that it’s so hard there because it’s not. There was plenty of help. Help for your kids, help to cook and clean, help for your help. It’s in America that a Black woman has to work till her back and spirit is broken. And for what? To be told that she’s a b-tch who wants to spend her life alone? Listen Sherlock, work is all a Black woman knows, and if she let it all go, if she truly depended on someone else and it didn’t work out the joke would be on her and then she might die. I don’t like being this way. I wish I could change, just trick my DNA into thinking I’m a white woman because they don’t have to do sh-t. They get to whine and be soft and vulnerable because the world doesn’t depend on them like they do us.
So I run. And I’m not sure what will make me stop.
This evening my daughter was looking at me with this weird look while I was plowing through the dishes.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” I asked her.
“I’m just watching you, seeing what you’re doing,” she said.
I pushed pause to think about it for a minute…I’m doing the same thing I do every day, and I get faster and faster, I swear I can wash a whole sink full of dishes in two seconds. I saw her life flash in front of me, but the difference was she wasn’t washing dishes she was taking a long walk in the park, smelling the roses. In that moment I realized that this is some straight bullsh-t’ and I sat my ass down.