Breakdown: The StrongBlackWoman in Crisis
This week, I guest-authored an article, “Breakdown: The StrongBlackWoman in Crisis,” for ForHarriet.com. In the article, I narrate the true-life story of a StrongBlackWoman who arrived at the point of physical breakdown after failing to care for herself in the midst of crisis. Here’s an excerpt:
Without realizing it, Veronica had been caught in the vicious stress-health cycle of the StrongBlackWoman. Rather than giving herself the space to feel and express her emotional distress, she repressed it. She distracted herself by directing her energies to taking care of the needs of other people and institutions. She crammed even more activity into an already hectic schedule. And she devoted even less time to engaging in self-care behaviors. She had already had difficulty getting an exercise routine going. When cries set in, she began skipping meals and when she did eat, she relied on fast food and sweets. She sacrificed her sleep and leisure time to keep up with all that she had going on. Together, it was a perfect recipe for breakdown. With no outlet, her emotional distress became embodied in physical form. Her existing health problems were exacerbated and she developed new ones: headaches, dizzy spells, fatigue, fainting.
In Too Heavy a Yoke: Black Women and the Burden of Strength, I devote a chapter to describing the link between embodying the myth of the StrongBlackWoman and health problems among African American women.
Be sure to check out Christena Cleveland’s excellent article, “Farewell, StrongBlackWoman.” Cleveland is a social psychologist and the author of Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces That Keep Us Apart. In her article, Cleveland reflects upon her own embodiment of the StrongBlackWoman and her commitment to healing. She writes:
My name is Christena and I am a StrongBlackWoman. I am beatable and human, and I am okay with that. I give myself permission to scream when I am angry, cry when I am hurting, ask for help when I need it, and remove myself from communities that can’t or won’t care for and nurture me as a black woman. Every day is a struggle to put down the StrongBlackWoman façade and take up authenticity, true strength rooted in God and community, self-love, and mutual love. But today I choose to face that struggle and receive the help I need to overcome it.
What’s your commitment to healing as a StrongBlackWoman? Or to supporting the recovery of a StrongBlackWoman? Join the movement and claim your right to a life of authenticity, love of self, and relationships based upon reciprocity. We can do more than survive. We can thrive!
It was effortless, really, the way the tears rolled down my face. In the six days since my breast cancer diagnosis, I have not really cried. I have been a StrongBlackWoman in recovery for nearly twelve years. And even though I vowed not to play the role of the superhuman sister who hides her emotions behind a brick wall, old habits are hard to break. I’ve had a hard time connecting to the grief that I knew was there. I shed a few tears here and there, but never for more than a minute or two.
In part, it was because I was still in shock. But there was something else: I don’t want to be comforted. I don’t want anyone trying to staunch the flow of my tears once they start. Grief tends to make other people intensely uncomfortable. And often they try to deal with their discomfort by shutting down its source. I don’t want anyone trying to cheer me up so that they could feel better, especially not with meaningless cliches like “God won’t give you more than you can bear.”
I need to grieve, and not because I feel hopeless. My mother is a 20-year survivor of a Stage IVB breast cancer. Mine was caught much earlier and I have no doubts that I will fully recover. I’m already picking out the soundtrack that I will dance to when my doctor pronounces me cancer free. But the path to being cancer free is a really arduous one. It is going to disrupt every facet of my life and at a time when life seemed to be on the upswing after several years of major losses and transitions. It will be physical and emotional hell, not only for me, but for my family as well. And for that I need to grieve.
So this Sunday morning, when the tears finally began to flow just moments after I sat in the church pew, I didn’t fight them. I let their cleansing power work, giving release to the grief and anger that need to escape for my healing journey to begin.
Photo credit: Detail of Mary Magdalene crying in sculpture Entombment of Christ (1672). “Sépulcre Arc-en-Barrois 111008 12” by Vassil – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons