For Karyn Washington, and For Myself

Karyn washington

This past week on facebook, my timeline was flooded with news about the death of Karyn Washington, the blogger behind For Brown Girls. As I clicked on the different links reading about how this one soul touched so many, my heart sunk as I learned about her depression after the death of her mother and how she ended her life at 22, a milestone that I’ll be reaching in 2 months. Letting her story really sink in, what saddened me was that such a beautiful person was lost so early…and I wondered how many other women could relate to her story. How many of us beautiful, brown girls have lost something so dear, or felt so low that we’ve contemplated the worst? And as much as it scares me to admit it, I am one of those girls.

Growing up, I always struggled with self-confidence. A black girl going to a predominantly white private school, I battled with so many different complexes: I wasn’t “white” enough for my white friends and wasn’t “black” enough for my black ones, All the boys I was interested in never liked me back, I wasn’t filthy rich but my family was by no means poor. I wasn’t a straight A student, but I didn’t need extra help either. I was ugly, average and invisible as far as I could tell; not special in any discernable way. My presence didn’t seem to make a difference. I had mentally degraded myself to the point where I had no concept of self love or value. Sophomore year of high school was my lowest point, I was playing at normality while on the inside screaming to be noticed. While battling anxiety and depression, I denied those feelings, scolding myself because I had no reason to feel the way I did. I had two parents and a stable, middle class upbringing, I had friends, I had privilege…what the hell was I crying about? So on top of my depression was self-hate for feeling depressed. I felt like I was losing my mind.

I had convinced myself that this would be the easiest way. I had planned what I was going to do…had even started planning when would be “a good time.” But one night sitting on the couch with my mom, paying more attention to the swirl of thoughts in my head rather than the movie we were supposed to be watching, on an impulse I whispered “I need help.” Of course caught off guard, my mom turned to me and asked what I had said. It took me a few minutes to gather up the courage to say it aloud again. But I looked her in the eye and told her I had thought about killing myself. Some might say it was bravery or strength, reaching out to her. But in that moment, I would call it desperation more than anything.

I was exhausted. Not all mental illness is visible, especially when you’re trying your hardest to suppress it. I had friends, I went to school everyday, I was “functioning.” But it was a front. Everyday was a battle to keep this facade together. No one was supposed to know about my depression because I wasn’t so supposed to feel that way. I didn’t have the right. But the best thing I did was finally own it. Acknowledge it but not surrender to it. My mom immediately found a therapist for me to go to. And she encouraged me to start a journal. And I started talking to the people closest to me about it. And the more I wrote and spoke, the more reflective I became. About my feelings, my triggers and my insecurities; I had to realize the things about myself that I should accept and embrace and take control of the things that I could change.

And the first thing that I had to accept, was that there was no overnight fix. It was constant work, through the rest of high school and into college, I still battled with bouts of depression. And 6 years later as I’m finishing my last year of college, I can’t say that the battle is done. There are still days or even weeks at a time where my mood sinks and I feel like I’m reverting back to the “old me.” But the key difference between the Me then and the Me now, is that those feelings don’t scare me anymore. They’ll come, but then they’ll go. Depression does not have to be permanent. And today I can say that I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been: physically, mentally and spiritually because I reached out and asked for help.

In January, the theme for the blog was Emotional Health and in my piece “The Myth of the Strong Black Woman,” I wrote about how many black women are socialized to equate emotionality with weakness. Feelings of anxiety and depression are not problems that black people are supposed to face. But we do. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, what you have or who you’re supposed to be, you are perfectly validated in your feelings, both the positive and negative ones. I know this month is dedicated to Black Musicians, but I wanted to make a post dedicated to Karyn Washington. Herself and her loved ones are all in my thoughts and prayers and I can only hope to reach as many people as she did. After reading her story and sharing my own, I hope that anyone who sees either of them realizes that they are not wrong, they are not crazy, and they are not alone. That reaching out can be the best thing you could ever do for yourself and that there is a future that can be very, very bright.

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Praise to the Introverts

For the longest time, I was convinced I had a low self-esteem. I wasn’t the girl that

commanded attention upon entrance into a room, I had stage fright and the thought of approaching a guy gave me butterflies. I was the quirky shy girl who’d rather have a movie night at home than be dancing at the club. I wasn’t the most outgoing, outspoken or bold, I was an introvert. And because I shied away from attention, rather be in the background than in the spotlight…I must lack confidence, right?

Because confidence meant always putting yourself out there and commanding attention, right?

 

Not necessarily…

 

After having a conversation with a friend, I realized that might not be always be the case. We assume that confidence equates being bold and extroverted, because thats what we read and see in movies and books. But confidence is defined as self-assurance. Confidence doesn’t only have to do with how we act towards others. Real confidence translates into how we treat ourselves. Appreciating ourselves, recognizing and utilizing our gifts, acknowledging what we bring to the table and not accepting anything less than what we deserve. To me, that is true self-confidence.

In our society, we prize extroverts: celebrities who adore the spotlight, politicians who know how to work a room, etc. They’re the popular kids in schools and the heroes in movies. Introverts are conditioned to envy extroverts, because who wouldn’t want to be the life of the party? But you can be understated and reserved and have as much confidence as the person who loves being the center of attention. And who’s to say that super, outgoing personality isn’t a front? You never know…

I always criticized myself, why don’t I do this?…or why can’t I be like her? I was so focused on what I wasn’t doing that I overlooked everything I brought. I was a good listener, I was the person all my friends turned to when they needed help or advice, I was the rock…and above all, I had a really strong sense of self. I just always downplayed my assets because no one could see them in a crowded room, but doesn’t make them any less valuable.

This post isn’t about bashing extroverts, its just to say that us introverts don’t have to beat ourselves up over the fact that we’re not extroverts 🙂

The Myth of the “Strong Black Woman”

How many times have you heard about the “Strong Black Woman?” What do you

know about her?

She doesn’t take any mess. She’s independent. She sacrifices. She often puts the  needs of her loved ones before herself. She doesn’t always do what she wants to do,

For many of us, when we think of that title, we think of our mothers, aunts, grandmothers, friends and ourselves. We claim that title with pride.

But is there ever a time when that title can cause more harm than good? When many of us see a ‘strong black woman’ we assume she is bulletproof, an impenetrable force that never falters. However, this also leads us to assume that strong black women are unemotional, that they are too busy and responsible to hurt or feel pain. And oftentimes, in an attempt to fulfill this image, many of us ignore our own feelings. Pushing away feelings and people instead of addressing them. Tell ourselves to “suck it up” and “move on.” Never let them see you cry. But strength is not the absence of emotion and showing a vulnerable side does not necessarily make you weak.

In fact, to me, those who can show their pain, speak on whatever flaws they have and express what upsets them but still have the perseverance to keep moving, are the strongest of all. For the many of us who strive to be a “strong black woman” and unfortunately put our needs and feelings on the wayside in the process, we are only selling ourselves short. Internalizing emotions causes unnecessary stress that takes a toll on our relationships and ourselves. Black women suffer the most from undiagnosed diseases, both mental and physical. Often because we have learned to suppress rather than to express and cope. You’d be surprised at what relief you’d feel when you allow yourself to release whatever tensions you’ve pent up inside of yourself.

There is nothing wrong with being strong, but not at the expense of emotional health. So, when you’re feeling depressed, angry, annoyed, frustrated, whatever; don’t bury it. Find an outlet, whether it be writing, running, cooking, drawing, dancing, a girls night or just a day to yourself; make the time and take care of yourself. Emotions are not a bad or irrational thing. Owning them, addressing them and learning to control them takes strength and time, but can be so beneficial and rewarding. Don’t fall for the myth of the strong black woman.

The Most Important Relationship…

For many of us, ever since we were little girls we’ve fantasized about love: planning our wedding dress, getting Barbie ready for her date with Ken, reading magazines about the do’s and don’ts of dating. Even our favorite Disney heroine has to find her Prince Charming. For women, it seems like the pinnacle of life is to find that significant other…

But what we don’t learn about is how to fall in love with ourselves. It seems to be an assumption that we all just have it together, that we’re born with confidence, self-respect and love. But that can’t be farther from the truth, we have to be taught it and practice it. Today, women are constantly in the middle of a whirlwind of opinions:

What makes a woman beautiful? What makes a woman sexy?

How does a lady act? What is a turn off?

How to get a significant other? How to make your significant other stay?

The list goes on and on…But no one seems to be asking the important questions:

What makes you happy? Do you find yourself beautiful? How would you define yourself?

Do you even like who you are?

So many of us are concerned with fitting into society’s preconceived (and often narrow) categories of what it means to be a woman and a spouse in the hopes of being accepted, that we forget to assess our own needs and desires. Being in a relationship does not prove anything. Being single does not mean you’re lonely and being in a relationship doesn’t always make you happy. Before you can give love to anyone in any kind of relationship, you need to have love to give.

It begins with you; once you recognize and own the power and regalness you were blessed with, no one can take it from you. Acknowledge and accept your flaws, they are what make you unique. Don’t compare yourself to others or try to meet others’ expectations, there are too many to satisfy. At the end of the day, the only opinion that matters concerning you is yours. Don’t depend on others for love, because if they go, so does their validation. Self-love is a journey that is never complete; some days you’ll feel like a queen and others…you might not. But despite the ups and downs of life, know that the most important relationship you have to maintain, is the one with yourself.