Sisters Suffering in Silence
I’m a therapist, so people who know me think I should not have any problems or issues. I must admit it has taken some 20 years for me to get to the point where I embrace the reality that situations in my life have been difficult to deal with. The problem is I chose to suffer in silence. I can only imagine how that first sentence is resonating in the mind of people who are reading this right now, but I can almost guarantee they also have issues they have chosen to suffer with in silence.
I have to say, my childhood was not tragic, but it was far from ideal. My silence started there, and as a child, I suffered because I didn't know who to tell that my dad was physically abusing my mom. Now you might say, “that happens all the time, just get over it.” Believe me I would love to, but I promise you I don’t choose to hear my mom’s cries for him to stop or the sound of her gagging as he choked her in my head. Sometimes I’m driving down the road, teaching a class at work, or just sitting in my living room and her voice is so vivid it’s as if she is suffering right next to me. As a teenager, I wanted to ease her suffering, do something to make life easier for her. I thought if I were gone it would be one less mouth to feed, less clothes to buy, and less reasons for my parents to argue. I contemplated suicide more times than I can count, even made a plan a few times. I think the fear of God and what that choice would mean for my eternal comfort kept me from going through with it. I never told anyone of my thoughts of suicide, but I plunged myself into my school work and graduated with honors, a scholarship, a hole in my heart and something broken in my psyche.
Fast forward several years, I’m a single parent with a dead-end job and a burning desire to help others. I went back to college when my son was eight months old and completed a Bachelors and Masters degree by the time he was seven. It was hard and at times I wanted to give up, but you know what I did; I sucked it up and I suffered in silence. My mom passed away during my first semester of grad school. Having to drive past the exit I had gotten off of for months to visit her in the hospital before going to class, started triggering panic attacks. I would get to school and not be able to go into class because the anxiety was so overwhelming. Some of my classmates knew and would sit with me in the hallway, but my family and friends never knew; I was suffering in silence. In my life, I suffered through rape, depression, and grief...all by myself.
So life goes on and I am a working “professional” helping others manage the difficult situations in life and wouldn’t you know it; I’m having conversation after conversation with women who share that they too have been “suffering in silence.” Now I’m intrigued, and I want to know what it is that seems to naturally freeze us, women of color, in our tracks when life comes along and knocks the wind out of us. What makes us push our feelings, thoughts, and behaviors so far down that we begin to disappear. We get so consumed with putting on airs for others so that we don't appear flawed, but we begin to lose pieces of ourselves.The scary part about this is that we will convince ourselves and others that this is okay and, “the real me.”
I recently conducted a seminar on the topic of “Mental Illness in the African American Community.” 14.6% of African American women experience mental illness with the most common diagnoses being Depression, PTSD, and Bipolar disorder.We are not okay and it is time someone encourage us to accept our flaws and become vulnerable in order to heal. Not acknowledging our symptoms does not mean they do not exist. It means we have to go to work, take care of the children, pay the bills, keep our significant other happy and satisfied, keep our hair and makeup flawless, keep our social media pages updated, maintain the household, and make sure our waistlines are snatched. While doing all that we don’t trust anyone enough to tell them honestly, “I just want to scream; enough is enough. I can’t take it anymore. I’m tired, I just want to cry and I don’t know why. It would be nice to be able to take a break from my life, but people wouldn’t understand.” We begin to isolate from others and inside our heads we replay all of the pain and misery we experience that we feel no one cares enough to notice. We stay silent because we don’t want people, “in our business” or “talking about me.”
I’ve heard my elders say, “When you get sick and tired of being sick and tired you will do something to change.” I have been working as a therapist for years before I finally became “sick and tired.” In 2012 I scheduled my first therapy session with an African American female psychologist and my life has changed significantly. She helped me to realize I didn’t have to work so hard to be something that I was not and that I am human therefore, it is okay for me to experience the same issues I help other people overcome. She challenged me to change the false internal dialogue I had that I am a therapist I should have it all together and if I do have issues I have to deal with them on my own.
Although I was never diagnosed with a mental illness, I was in therapy off and on for five years with the same amazing psychologist. I learned a lot about me and became more passionate about wanting to help others, especially those that look like me. African American women are phenomenal by the sheer fact that we have endured every obstacle thrown our way by society and other sisters. Once we understand that we do not have to suffer in silence, that knowledge alone releases us from the psychological shackles that have held us bound. Self-care is a new concept for us, but one we must choose to embrace in order to change. Talking to a therapist does not make you weak, it actually demonstrates the amazing strength and love you have for yourself. No one is perfect, and we do not have to strive to be.
I now realize what the world would have lost if I had allowed my negative thoughts to get the best of me as a teenager. I have a purpose in life and it is to help others learn to appropriately cope with their issues in order to identify what their purpose is and how to go about fulfilling it. I made a choice to change and I want to challenge my sisters to do the same. Talk about the things that bother you or impact your ability to adequately function on a daily basis. Speak to someone who can help you change the internal dialogue. Remember this, when you share your story you release the issues which have held you bound; you set it free. In order to do that you take away its power over you and no one can use it against you. Choose to change, choose to grow, choose to take control of your life and the narrative you listen to about yourself. Choose to stop suffering in silence.
Yulonda is a licensed Professional Counselor and a Nationally Certified Counselor. Information on her services can be found on Purposedbydesigncounseling.com