Returning to NYC has been bittersweet. Not that it wasn’t always a little bit of both my whole life but moreso this time looking at my hometown with eyes that have seen so many born in such a short amount of time. My lens through which I perceive my South Bronx reality as a woman of color has been drastically changed both by my own personal journey and experiencing life outside of the borough. The shift has been to one of a deeper understanding of people around me, and the conditions that create their reality. I felt this shift most during a healing circle last year around the time the marches in NYC were going on when we were decompressing from all that transpired after no cop was indicted in the murder of Eric Garner. It was one of the first times I was able to be honest about how I felt. I choked up trying to convey how my very existence as a woman of color has been hazardous to my health.
One of the prevailing falsehoods about people who live in systemically impoverished communities is that we created these conditions. Not only is that the narrative that mainstream society believes and perpetuates but one that someone like me has internalized. It is what leads us to blame ourselves for the lack of resources available to us and also shame each other for what we do and do not have. During that healing circle, I spoke about how being a woman of color has dictated a lot of my life experiences, both past and present. The arduous task of staying alive and afloat as a Black Latina woman is no joke. Sometimes I wish I didn’t know the depth of how deeply social injustice affects me and my community. Sometimes I feel paralyzed by the sheer absurdity of the reality I am forced to fight against lest it kills me in the many ways it attempts to.
I think of this most in relation to my mental health and wellness. Anxiety as produced by trauma has been a major struggle for me my whole life and felt most acutely in the years post college. I feel anxiety flare ups when it comes to my financial situation, sexuality and relationships as well as a general preoccupation with survival and the future. Blaming myself and being hard on myself has not helped the situation, as I’ve come to understand in my current stint in therapy, but rather an understanding that being as mentally ill as I was did not allow for the clarity I am finding now that I’m more healthy than I’ve ever been. But my therapy sessions fall short because they individualized the issues and don’t always have the room to incorporate the macrocosm. I think this is an important point for Black and Latino communities who already have a stigma against the topic of mental health. As a people, we have had our experiences and traumas shrouded in silence for centuries, beginning with the enslavement as a point of entry into the wound we have that keeps bleeding. The stigma then is the silence of generations that have never spoken about the countless traumas coupled with a collective misunderstanding that we should be somehow strong enough to hold it all together under the stress. Our very existence in the United States is a stressful condition. I would bet that every marginalized person in this country has some degree of mental health struggle. It is not weakness; what we must eventually understand is that mental illness, along with the host of illnesses experienced by racially and economically oppressed people, are reactions to a systemic method of death.
I suppose there is never a good time to read “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by Paulo Frerie. Especially being 7 months out of midwifery school recovering from the traumas of that experience while celebrating the knowledge gained, this book is causing a trip down the rabbit hole of examining my state of oppression in the midst of my fight to liberate myself. I think the reason sometimes people don’t know how to react to some of my emotions is because there is a hopelessness I am in touch with that makes it hard some days to keep going. I won’t say that I am defeated by these deep feelings of despair and exasperation but they are there. They are a response to the oppression I fight daily. They are a response to the days I feel like I am not even making a dent in the world. Those feelings that threaten to engulf my quest to help others liberate themselves are real, and have intentionally been placed within my psyche to hinder my progress. Don’t get me wrong. I completely believe and live my life with as much positivity and optimism as possible, constantly growing and evolving. But I do believe it would be quite erroneous to pretend like there aren’t circumstances that make life difficult despite my view on life. This is a hard delicate balance that has not left me without its marks or traces of psychosis.
The other night I commented to a sister friend how daunting it is to be a Black Latina woman. That it is a choice between self-destructing and self-reconstructing, every day. I found a safe space to just be able to say, “It’s hard out here for a Black woman,” without the litany of being told ‘it gets better’ or ‘keep your head up, ma.’ Our heads are up. Our mouths smile and crack jokes, tell stories and speak of love. The sisters I surround myself with love hard and go hard for their personal and collective revolutionaries. But the difficulty of our lives does not escape us. Too often I have felt like I must pretend like the struggle isn’t hard. And damnit, I am very clear on what I’m here to do and there is a joy I have fought to discover within myself that I’m not keen on letting anyone take from me, but I is tired. We is tired. Tired of being executed on every level just because of this vendetta that a white supremacist, patriarchal and capitalist system has on the Black soul. Sometimes the healing process feels pointless, mostly because while I heal from the past, it continues to repeat itself – maybe not in my life but constantly around me through racially-induced disparities, societal ills and the like. I remember the quote, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti, and immediately remember that though I have achieved consciousness in certain respects, I will still be unable to adjust to the conditions forced on me violently.