Hey Sis, You Ok?
Cheslie Kryst. Jas Waters. Lashun Massey. Brenda Rawls. Lauren Smith-Fields.
We’ve got to talk about what’s happening to Black women. We are slipping away to suicide, questionable deaths, and unexplained disappearances.
The tragedies we continue to witness reignite the mental health conversation. There is a collective discomfort and dis-ease when another Black woman is gone too soon. We often spin cycles on the why, but I’m more interested in what. As sisters, cousins, aunts, and friends, what can we do to protect, support, and heal Black women?
Normalize mental wellness.
Among Black women, strength is a superpower. Visible displays of weakness signal failure or an inability to handle the pressure. But when the weight applied is greater than our weight limit, we buckle. Black women are pressed on all sides to perform at home, work, school, and in the community. We often feel it’s our duty to meet every need and fix every issue, meanwhile neglecting our mind, body, and spirit. All three must be in balance. We all grow weary, and sometimes it’s our mind that needs rest.
When we have trouble with blood pressure, fibroids, or menopause, we talk with a physician to find the right treatment. We even ask friends who’ve been through similar health challenges, did this happen to you? But when our mind is troubled, we self-medicate, cover, or ignore. We tend to explain away anxiety, depression, insomnia, and weight gain or loss. It’s not until the emotional pain sears like third degree burns that we seek help.
This is our signal to engage in the discussion and normalize mental wellness. To treat disorders of the mind with the same care as a thyroid or kidney disorder. When we remove the stigma around mental health, and speak freely about the triggers that threaten our mental wellness, we open the door for healing to begin.
We are more socially distant than ever. And COVID is not the reason. Social media is not social connection. We post filtered selfies with beat faces, perfect brows, gorgeous hair, messages of “securing the bag,” but what we display outside doesn’t always match the inside. Social media is a mix of truth and fiction. We put forth what we want folks to see and when the unthinkable happens, our “followers” are shocked. I’ve seen the posts “Check on your strong friends” plastered all over social sites and I wonder, is that happening?
The adage “it takes village to raise a child” doesn’t end at adulthood. We need our village, our tribe, to care for us as we age. The hills we may have to climb require companions. Caring for aging parents, death of loved ones, divorce, widowhood, starting over. We need each other to survive this life. If we didn’t learn that through this pandemic, we’ve been asleep.
Those who are clinically depressed will tell you, they are not likely to reach out. That’s why reaching for them, repeatedly, is so important. It’s on me, you, us to check-in, show up, call. As the old folks would say, “lay eyes on them.” My old pastor would call it, the ministry of presence. Ministry simply meaning, to serve.
Create safe spaces.
There is a truth among (many) Black women, we don’t tell our business. Even if our business is in shambles and threatening our well-being. This is true within families and among friend groups. There are myriad reasons we don’t share our troubles. Fear, embarrassment, culture, upbringing, trauma, betrayal. Rather than speak our truth, we just deal with it until “it” becomes too much. But when we connect with others and see ourselves in their story, a safe space unfolds.
Safe spaces take time and must be nurtured. One critical step toward building safe communities is listening. Listening does not require a certification, license, or credential. It requires us to sit still and simply ask, Hey Sis, You Ok? Then hold space to hear her answer.