For Black Girls & Tattered Mothers Who’ve Considered Suicide When the Village Wasn’t Enuf
When the Guests Arrive….
Last week, a new acquaintance accepted an invitation to come over for an impromptu playdate after our usual gathering at the local public library. She and I had begun engaging while our sons would participate in the activities offered there. She has been refreshingly outgoing and kind; characteristics that I have been rare to find since my family and I relocated to South Florida one year ago.
As she followed me home, she called to confirm my address in case she lost me and voiced that she too was unfamiliar with the area and not very astute in following directions, especially not being native to the area either. When she arrived, she began remarking on how lovely my home was; repeatedly asking how I was able to manage to keep it so clean while also juggling my two homeschooled children, tutoring other children, chauffeuring them to their extra-curricular activities, cooking near daily, and supporting my husband who travels often for work. “You must have someone,” she declared rather than inquired. If only that were true…
She saw our high vaulted ceilings, but she didn’t notice the height of my anxiety. She saw that everything appeared to have and be in its place, but she didn’t notice how I peeled the corners of my neighborhood to leave her behind in the car, so I would have a chance to flit through the house and seize everything mislaid and toss it behind the closed doors that separated my reality from the common areas. She saw my apparent nattiness in my physical presentation and my foyer, but she didn’t notice the trail of debris cleverly hidden behind every bulwark.
I smile often…daily. It’s expected of me. And, Lord knows I’ve striven to meet the world’s expectations. I have everything I’ve ever wanted as I’m reminded often: a caring husband that I actually really, really like most of the time, healthy and brilliant children, a beautiful home, my own health, the means to acquire everything I need or want, and I’m told I’m “living the dream.” I want for nothing; no physical thing at any rate. From the exterior, it would appear I would have no valid complaints, and therefore shouldn’t present any. So, I veil them all. Or, at least, I have been. Exposing myself threatens the facade and invites critique. It makes me feel ungrateful and weak to simply say despite all of the wonderful things I have and the incredible look of my life on paper,”I’m not Ok.” I can’t remember the exact moment that I began playing “happy,” but I also can’t remember when I last wasn’t expected to be just that. I can’t remember a time when it was acceptable to express discontent or disdain. The restrictions of being southern, Black, or female do not permit expressions of acrimony or sorrow, especially when it appears you are living your dream. Ask Serena.
Years ago, when visiting a friend, she shared with me that her teenage child had been diagnosed with depression. It was a word that I had only erringly reserved for suburban White women who drowned themselves in pill bottles at their kids’ soccer games up until that point. I knew nothing of it or mental instability and illnesses in general at the time because, like everything else, it plagues the Black community, but it is also stigmatized. I asked why her child was “sad,” and she taught me that depression was not caused by any one thing. It was greater than the fleeting feeling of sadness, but a lingering weight of sometimes inexplicable and overwhelming sorrow. There was no one thing to do, but it did need to be treated with therapy, natural outlets and remedies, and possibly medication.
But, Black Girls don’t get therapy, or do yoga, or go for long runs in the park, and certainly don’t pop pills to feel better. The voice of ignorance echoed in my mind as she went on to explain that her only child had considered suicide and she was seeking all options to help them. Memories of my own suppressed collegiate attempt spurted through the dams of my mind. I’m not alone. I offered prayers and an embrace because that’s all I knew, and I kept my former trials locked away for safekeeping. Erupting with the truth of my own experiences would benefit no one in that instance I cerebrated.
“You’ll Be Alright.”
Elders scoff. “It’ll get better,” they retort. “At least you have (fill in the blank with any luxury they were not afforded.) I had to do it without.” Or, they lament, “I had it much, much worse. You’ll be alright.”
Girlfriends aren’t always much better. “Well, at least you have a husband or stability or family, however distant. I have to do it all alone or without all that you have.” Or, they began sharing their own sorrows to compare scars. If you ever want to feel even lower, tell your friends and family who are struggling that you’re also struggling and let them remind you that you have no right to voice your struggles.
Judged by everyone, helped by no one, we, the empaths, the survivors, the only, eldest, youngest, and middle children, the leaders, the strong ones, the community builders, the business leaders or owners, the affluent and financially strapped, the invisible, the extroverts, the extremely recluse, the outspoken and silent, we are the ones that people reach out to for help, insight, encouragement, support, money. We are not often offered the same in return. And, on the rare occasions that we ask for help, it’s often met with excuses rather than supply. After all, we’ll be fine because we always have been.
Considerations When The Village is Not Enuf
There have been times, in my adult life, when I’ve considered taking it. I often consider what the world would be like if I weren’t in it; passive suicidal ideation as it’s termed. The fleeting thoughts of suicide have scuttled through my mind more times than I care to recall. In most of those instances, the only thing that kept me in this realm was the thought of how inconvenient it would be for my family; the horrific thought of my kids growing up in this world without me to help them navigate it has always brought me to a halt. My children have literally saved my life on multiple occasions. The duty of motherhood has kept me alive. Yet, the anxiety of managing all that is required partly because of my maternal responsibilities is what leads to my destructive ruminations. It’s become a despairing cycle to contemplate the unspeakable then obligate myself to live.
I’m Not OK…And, That’s OK For Now
As much as I enjoy my solitude, I’ve never enjoyed being completely isolated. I’m the person that needs the village, the community of elders, friends, and support. I need to offer it as much as I need to receive it. I’ve relocated either alone or with my family every two to five years for a decade and a half. Each time, I felt like I was being plucked from fertile soil as soon as I began to bloom.
The most recent move from my native city back to the Sunshine State has been the most difficult transition for me. As I reflect on this past year, the comminuting feeling of failure threatens and taunts me. Comparison is the enemy of content. According to nothing that matters, by now I should feel more connected to others. I should have established a sense of belonging and community. I should have reached more personal and professional goals. I should have managed the mundane routines of my children and family. I should have developed a system of support, a refuge for us all. Not only are all of those tasks left unchecked, more needs have been added.
When family can’t help because they need it themselves…. When we are expected to be the family and friends that provide reprieve… When it’s not often realized that we also need it…. When support waivers, fails, finds excuses not to provide what was promised….When others just can’t be what you need….When people look to you as the inveterate source of positivity, encouragement, and relief, without replenishing you with the same, breaking is inevitable.
Depression is sleeping endlessly and not at all. It’s plastered smiles, manicured nails, flawless cosmetics, coiffed hair, unkempt strands, weathered skin, not bathing for days, and sour faces. Depression is hyperactivity and lethargy. It is a weight of extremes. It’s feeling inadequate and unworthy. It’s masked by arrogance and extroversive behavior or unnoticed by one’s own seclusion. It’s the feeling of being submerged in a fissured glass box with the pressure of the water surrounding you ready to burst through for your drowning. The tension of that anticipation is high, but sometimes the thought of being completely engulfed is welcomed. It’s the constant feeling of being overwhelmed and underprepared for life. It’s contemplating the thought of the lives of your loved ones without you, and that being your only saving grace. It’s being a horrible friend, negligent daughter, sister, spouse, mother, or pouring everything into every role that serves others more than yourself. It’s suffering immeasurably in silence to keep everyone’s peace but your own. It’s where I am now. And, now that I’m aware, fully aware of this state, I’m committed to saving myself for myself.
Talitha Anyabwelé is the founder of the Black Girl Speaks movement, blog, and theatrical production. She’s also a new part-time vegan who cheats with milk chocolate and butter pound cake. When she’s not fighting for the voices of Black Girls to be heard by day, she’s watching re-runs of Golden Girls by night.