Essays, issue 11: aug 2016, Narratives
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Mentally Ill Black Men and The Women Who Kiss It Better by Laura Hackshaw

Loving away the mental illness in the men that we love can, to many of us be less a labour of love – and more so a noose around our necks. Confronting that all is not well, that you are not “normal” (or perceived as such by society) can be a damaging experience to any of us. What I’m specifically talking about here is the friction that comes when black and brown women (from our grandmothers all the way down to girlfriends/wives and sisters) try to love the depression/anxiety/schizophrenia etc out of the men of colour that we love so dearly.

For starters, blackness is all too often associated with exactly what the word itself denotes: an absence of light. We are often portrayed and purported to be (whether subliminally or overtly) hard, stoic, uneasy to love and even less easy to deal with.

Black boys often learn to shoulder a lot of responsibility in terms of absorbing the financial and emotional pains of the women in their families they are trying to protect and in turn stunting their own emotional growth in order to process this level of responsibility. They are told to be strong, ‘be a man’ when they are just boys and to assert themselves with hyper-masculinity – a lie perpetuated as the ‘angry and aggressive black male’ and this all too often gets internalised simply as a form of self-preservation in a straight, white dominated world. Anything that falls out of this category is thought of as fraudulent, negative, feminine or weak.

There are brothers, boyfriends, fathers, cousins, co-workers and friends who are chasing former shadows of themselves, projecting them onto the women that dare to love them through it. I’ve recently had to realize that I can no longer afford to drag myself into the vortex of encroaching mood swings, accusations and lies that come along with the man I love undiagnosed mental illness at the expense of my own peace of mind. But for a while I’ve felt torn, guilty, restless and useless over what I felt I could have done or should be doing in order to help. I’ve dealt with depression myself and I know how vulnerable you can feel and how you can push away the ones that you need near you the most.

So where does this leave people like him? Outside the cold confines of white privilege and pushed away from the embrace of his own community, where is there for a young black man to go who identifies as “ill?”

The narrative that many of us face growing up in the Church or under other doctrines of faith which surpass religious and stem into cultural norms and values can often hurt and not help us. Too often we are told to “pray away” our truths without looking at them objectively.

And who do black women call upon when they need someone to be a boulder for them? The notion that black women don’t get sick – they get stronger, for example is one that allows us to continually abuse our emotional, mental and spiritual well-being in order to simply survive life and love. The danger for WOC is the tendency to deny one’s self further of the love, autocracy and fulfillment that we deserve: already a dominant feature in matriarchal homes of black and brown women. When putting others before ourselves comes so naturally, the need to love broken men better is not as much tempting as it is divine.

In a time when just black love itself – romantic and non-romantic love- is seen as radical, just getting by can seem like a victory. But what’s truly wonderful and radical is the ability to commit to the ultimate sacrifice: self-love.. As long as we continue to use our hearts solely as sounding boards for tragedy, while ignoring the weeds and roots of this frustration and pain, the trauma continues to be passed on from generation to generation. No matter how you try, you cannot love, nurture, fight or pray the mental illness out of somebody. Trying to do so may not only drive you to question your own sanity but it can also act as a form of erasure for that individual who is suffering. Let’s confront our demons and heal piece by piece, mind by mind and heart by heart.


 

Laura is a black British-Caribbean girl living in London. A lover of the written word, she has written articles for publications such as; The Body Narratives and The Student Journals. She also writes poetry and short stories and is currently working on a children’s book. You can find her on twitter and wattpad.

Illustration by Francine. You can find her on twitter and instagram.

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