black women and mental health

February 10, 2014

I realize it’s cliché to say this, but I never thought it would happen to me. Mainly because I’ve been out of high school for 16 years. I don’t socialize in petty social circles or report to a Queen Bee. I’m 33; if I don’t click with someone, I move on. My guard was down; therefore, being cyber-bullied was the last thing I ever expected.
I work with young adult addicts and if it’s true “you are the age you started using,” then I basically work with teenagers. I’ve been at my job for almost two years and it has been a challenging experience. While the environment is emotionally stressful, I try to remain positive and stay grateful for the perks my job offers. Like the sense of family, a gym membership and the opportunity to teach college-level creative writing.

By Chantell Monique *

Last week, my Human Resources representative called me into her office to tell me that two ex-clients who were still in the area took it upon themselves to text the whole community of our clients, nude pictures of a woman who they claimed to be me along with derogatory comments. One of the clients who received the text came forward, telling her who sent them, and that people actually believed it was me.

At first it didn’t sink in; my knee-jerk reaction was, “whatever, they’re jerks” but as the shock subsided, the severity of the issue became real. Although the pictures weren’t of me, my mind began to process what they looked like and what the degrading comments were. My black body was not my own; it was offered up for lascivious commentary, reduced to nothing but an object. Although they could’ve picked any female staff at my company, they chose me: the only plus-size, Black woman.

My Human Resources representative gave me the number for support services and told me to take the rest of the day off. Thankfully my mom was still visiting me so I had someone to go home to. The closer I got to my apartment, my façade began to crumble. I cried; unable to restrain my humiliation and pain. I felt helpless, then stupid for feeling helpless. I was supposed to be tough—ready for anything, definitely able to handle a prank. But this wasn’t a just a prank, it was defamation of character; it was sexual harassment and for the first time, I couldn’t handle the waves of emotions bearing down on me.

After all the mental anguish I had endured at my job, this was the proverbial last straw. I worked 40 hours at a company that made me feel incompetent and useless and to add insult to injury, I was a victim of harassment.

I didn’t go back to work for three days.

I cried when I dropped my mom off at the airport the next morning. I cried when I woke up later that day and started looking for another job. I cried when I came home from meeting with a potential employer. I cried when I woke up on Friday morning; unable to get out of bed, I slept and slept—not out of exhaustion but despair. I looked at the support services number and decided to give them a call.

“You are entitled to three free counseling sessions,” the lady over the phone told me. In tears, I took down the names and numbers of her referrals and began calling therapist to see if someone could help me process what had happened. I don’t come from a background where seeing a therapist is commonplace. As a Black woman, I’m used to sucking it up, not being a victim and powering through whatever issues I may have, but incurring this sort of harassment on top of everything else that was going on with me finally became too much.

I found a therapist who sounded somewhat kind and sane and made an appointment. In the meantime, I got to thinking about mental health and Black women. From my own personal experience, we as Black women are seen as resilient—rocks that cannot be broken. We are single mothers, professors, doctors, lawyers, businesswomen and matriarchs of loving families. We always have a brave face, a kind word and a happy tone of voice—just to ensure everyone is comfortable around us. While Black women can handle anything, I have to wonder at what cost?

Where does it all go—our hurt, pain, disappointments and fears? Where does it go when our own men won’t love us and society feels our bodies are a free for all? Where do we put our tears or disillusionment? When does it all become too much? Although we are strong, we are also human—we’re real, we bleed, we cry and we hurt.

We need someone on our side, someone to protect us from the weapons of society. This is why I called a mental health professional to help me process being cyber-bullied. I finally admitted to myself that I wasn’t stupid for crying through my humiliation—that my feelings were legitimate. I called for help because I felt alone, unsafe—unprotected.

I’m not saying we all should see whether our insurance covers mental health and start cold-calling therapists but I do believe Black women need a reprieve—a break from the onslaught of negativity. Society may look at white women as delicate flowers that need to be protected, but I feel we need that same protection too. Why? Because we are just as vulnerable, delicate and precious as anyone else. To me, mental health is as important as physical and spiritual health; as we start eating right and exercising in this New Year, I encourage you to also do a mental assessment of where you are. We don’t always have to be strong and unbreakable. We can cry, we can hurt and we can feel—and when it all becomes too much, we can ask for help.

* Chantell Monique is addicted to Harry Potter, loves Peyton Manning, 90s music and Rom-Coms. She’s a Creative Writing instructor and screenwriter; she currently lives in Los Angeles. Twitter @31pottergirl

via BlackGirlNerds: Jamie Broadnax is the writer and creator of the niche blogsite for nerdy women of color called Black Girl Nerds. Jamie has written for Madame Noire and is the VP of Digital for the online publishing hub the She Thrives Network.