Month: May 2015

Intersectional Feminism: Mental Health Isn’t Just For White People

“Mental health” isn’t just something for wealthy white people. Intersectional feminism calls for us to examine the intersectionality of experiencing sexism, racism and mental disorders. Of course, practically no one in the Caribbean believes mental health isn’t a first world invention, barring perhaps a few therapists, psychiatrists and psychologists. (NOTE: I must add long after I wrote this post that most Caribbean mental health professionals are incredibly ableist.) Even then, I’m skeptical about the depth of understanding considering what I’ve heard about doctor/patient confidentiality down here (although willing to listen to dissenters who may know the truth). If we look at statistical data across the West, which likely mirrors the trends here, we can see that mental health issues are serious and pervasive.

For example: 

  • Poverty and mental illness are inextricably linked. Poverty is thought to cause mental illness and mental illness is thought to cause poverty. [x]
  • Long term stress exacerbates existing mental health problems and create them. [x]
  • Black Caribbean people in the UK have high rates of schizophrenia, a condition we know to be at least partly influenced by genetics. [x]
  • Cases of depression may be underreported in black Americans due to stigma within the community. [x]

These articles represent some of the many pieces of evidence that suggest mental health issues are relevant to the Caribbean community. Yet, we continue to ignore the facts because of stigma and strong beliefs based on misinformation. We have a lot of work to do when it comes to breaking the silence around mental health issues and ultimately creating a healthier society. The mind and body are integrated and when one suffers, the other does too.

What supports our culture’s view of mental health is the notion that expression of black suffering is “complaining” or “exaggerating”. This is rooted in the racist belief that black people can tolerate more pain and should tolerate more pain.  We see lapses in mental health as weakness, attention seeking or much worse rather than recognizing them for what they are: valid expressions of emotional pain. The “strength” of the Caribbean people can be a good thing but not when the cost is something as significant as honest communication about our mental health and how to care for it. We are far behind the scientific research in our perceptions and attitudes towards mental disorders and maintaining mental health. (Rum is not a solution because it makes you temporarily ‘stress free’!)

While many may respond to what I’ve said dismissively, suggesting that the region is just backwards, I don’t think that’s an entirely accurate view of what’s going on. Like everything in the region (history, culture, religion) there is a powerful colonial legacy at work here that’s created these views and perceptions that are slowly poisoning our people. Poisoning our people? Isn’t that a bit theatrical? Not particularly when you consider that the outcome for many untreated mental disorders is suicide. Ignoring mental health results in death. 

While suicide may be the “worst case scenario” it’s not the only reason we need to care for our nation’s mental health. Untreated and undiagnosed cases of depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety and schizophrenia all contribute to lowering national productivity. If the population is too mentally ill to work and not getting better because they lack diagnosis and treatment, national productivity will dip.

Additionally, the ability to contribute to the capitalist economy is also not the be all end all of life. When we have a mentally ill population we have an unhappy population, a population with lives defined by violence, abuse, alcoholism and possibly much worse. (Experiencing these things as children can lead to mental disorders later on is just a part of what I’m getting at here, not suggesting that mentally ill people cause violence etc.)

I haven’t quite worked out yet what would be a good solution to our massive problem with mental health here. We could start advocacy groups or perhaps increase the number of suicide hotlines across the region. This still might not be enough. We can’t examine mental health without looking at how it intersects with other identities like class, disability or LGBTQ identity. That adds another layer of complexity to this whole issue.

Hopefully though, there are people working on solutions. What do you think? I haven’t ever explicitly done this before but I welcome readers to begin discussing this with me in the comments!

 

Diva Cups Aren’t That Gross.

What the hell is a menstrual cup? According to Wikipedia:

Menstrual Cups: come in pre-childbirth and post-childbirth sizes!

A menstrual cup is type of feminine hygiene product which is usually made of medical grade silicone, shaped like a bell and is flexible. It is worn inside the vagina during menstruation to catch menstrual fluid (blood), and can be worn during the day and overnight. (Plus they last fifteen years!)

Before I tried one of these for the first time I was VERY skeptical. Here were a few of my major concerns:

 

  • I have to empty blood out of this… in PUBLIC?
  • This looks dirty, how will you CLEAN it?
  • It looks really big and uncomfortable, how can I get it up there?

Well, I have the answers to all these questions and I also have some benefits of using a menstrual cup that I didn’t consider before I owned one.

  • You can wear the menstrual cup comfortably for 12 hours at a time. So if you put it in at home in the morning you can remove it at home in the evening! No public mess, very hygienic.
    • Note: Personally, I have an unusually heavy flow on Day 1 so I actually had to wear it for a little bit less time.
  • You do NOT clean it with soap, which I was concerned about since soap can mess up the pH of your vagina. You clean with boiling water after use. This still might gross some people out, but if you think about it, this makes it a lot safer than using a tampon which might still have bacteria in it. We’ve all come across those really gross pictures of moldy tampons…
  • It’s SUPER easy to put in. If you think about it, BABIES can come out of vaginas. This is much smaller than a baby, therefore it definitely fits.

Some of the other benefits include:

  • For the one time cost of $29.00 I saved myself fifteen years of buying tampons ($20 * 12 months * 15 years = $3,600). Which would you choose: spending $3600 or spending $29?
  •  Never awkward to carry around! No more awkward wrapper crinkle in public restrooms, no more wondering if your tampons are going to fall out of your purse. The menstrual cup can be kept in an adorable little bag for storage so you can bring it anywhere, at any time, just in case.
  • Environmentally friendly. Tampons, pads and all their wrappers produce a LOT of waste. Over fifteen years, the lifespan of a menstrual cup, I can’t imagine how much waste we produce using tampons and pads. This cuts down on waste, making sure we live in a more sustainable way.
  • NO overnight leakage! I didn’t believe that I could possibly sleep through the night without creating a huge mess. I’ve ruined countless sheets, underwear and pajama pants throughout my life but the menstrual cup seems to have stopped this, even with a heavy flow.

I’m not going to lie to you though… it hasn’t all been smooth sailing.

My first time trying to remove my menstrual cup was similar to the first time I tried to remove my contact lenses. I thought it was “stuck” and proceeded to panic. Thanks to google, I realized that there’s simply a technique to removal and instructions exist for a reason. With the recommended technique, it’s become easier to remove over time. What I’m saying here is that it IS an adjustment.

For me, the benefits far outweighed the cost of that traumatizing “it’s stuck and a part of my body forever” moment. I especially love the fact that I won’t have to deal with another cardboard applicator (only type of tampons available in Saint Lucia that I’ve seen) for the rest of my life. Seriously, who invented those?! I think menstrual cups are an amazing innovation for everyone who menstruates. There’s nothing gory or gross about them. All my concerns disappeared the moment I actually tried it out. I highly recommend this product to anyone interested in handling their menstruation in an environmentally friendly, inexpensive and sanitary way.

Black Feminism: Healthy Mind, Healthy Body

intersectional feminism health
Fat Chance by Robert Lustig

I’m a twenty one year old woman in the land of plenty eating like a diabetic and I FEEL AMAZING! Recently, I read the book Fat Chance by Robert Lustig and through this book, I was convinced by a friend to give up sugar and most complex carbs (like bread and potatoes). I was seeing the results happen to this friend before my eyes. With each Skype conversation he seemed to look healthier and seemed to feel better so I figured I would give it a try.  I had the evidence, theoretical and practical. Nothing was stopping me. Eating “well” leads to having a healthy body, and since the mind and the body are one and the same, a healthy body leads to a healthy mind. All of this is crucial to self care, one of my biggest personal priorities.

Sugar is a major addiction that most of us have in the United States; this addiction is growing world wide. Cutting that addiction out has been difficult and I haven’t been perfect. One cheat day and six days of “clean” eating per week has opened my eyes to the possibilities for my physical health and overall well being. It’s been three weeks since I started this new lifestyle and my diligence has increased over time. I don’t have the cravings and I don’t sneak bites of dessert anymore. I’m well on my way to cutting sugar completely out of my life, as well as these extra pounds.

Cutting sugar out of my life has been difficult mostly because of my environment. Since I’m on my school’s meal plan, I’m forced to eat what’s in the dining hall and often, the options are not pretty. For example, today as a part of my breakfast I shaved off apple peels to dip in natural peanut butter just to avoid the available food that was jam packed with high fructose corn syrup and sugar.

I’ve always found eating healthy so much easier in the Caribbean. We complain that our grocery stores don’t have options. We fantasize and dream of a world where we can access all the McDonalds, Cocoa Puffs and Cadbury chocolate that we could ever possibly need. Maybe our lack of access to these unhealthy options isn’t such a bad thing. Healthy food is relatively affordable in the Caribbean compared to fast food (even with VAT). The cost of burger doesn’t beat out the cost of lentils and chicken. You can’t say the same for many regions of the United States. 

 

This is the choice I want to make… yum.

As I’ve traveled from home to the United States a number of times over the past nine years, I’ve noticed changes in the health of the population. Metabolic syndrome, hypertension and diabetes seem to be on the rise and I can’t help but wonder if a part of it is an increase in unhealthy eating. If healthy eating is easier in the Caribbean than it is in the United States, why do we still make the unhealthy choices? Perhaps, we associate these unhealthy foods with the sought after American lifestyle. We associate the American lifestyle with wealth. So in our quest for wealth or perceived wealth, we forget something much more important: our health.

In the coming years, what we need more than anything isn’t to give West Indians more access to fast food chains or cheap sugary foods. These glorified American foods are not necessary! We need to work on ensuring that the population is encouraged and enabled to make the right choices when it comes to health and eating. This doesn’t mean increasing education about health. That relies on the faulty assumption that people want  to and choose to be unhealthy. They don’t always. We need to make sure there’s access to the healthy foods so that making the right choices is easy and automatic. Rather than fighting heart disease or diabetes as it comes, it would be wise to focus on prevention to make sure our population is spared these harmful effects of unhealthy eating.

Feminist Meaning In The Fifth Agreement.

Sometimes finding feminist meaning and peace of mind in my every day life can be difficult. I spend a lot of time thinking about oppression and how it affects my life and the lives of those around me. However, I still need to decompress. I still need to find a way to live and a way to have meaning in my daily life. It’s a part of survival.

The Fifth Agreement is a book that I just read on personal freedom and sequel to the best seller The Four Agreements. I read this book this morning over a cup of coffee, a morning ritual I’ve come to enjoy since completing all my coursework. While reading, I couldn’t help but mark down some quotations that inspired me and caused me to think more deeply about spirituality, psychology and existence.

As an activist, one of the most important questions we can ask is “What can I do with all this information?” Reading books like this and internalizing these philosophies,  thinking about how they can be incorporated into activism can be revolutionary. Additionally, thinking in this way can lead to an overall more positive life filled with self-love and self care.

So that’s what this post is dedicated to: self-love, self-care and revolutionizing our world through doing so.