3 Healing Reminders For Young Black Creatives

High anxiety is one of my biggest individual struggles as an entrepreneur and a writer. I can explain most of these feelings away and remind myself that anxiety is something created in my own mind. I remind myself that what I'm creating is worthwhile. I remind myself of the hard work that I've put into my business as a 22-year-old self-sufficient entrepreneur. But no matter how much I remind myself of what I know to be true, anxiety can still creep in. It's the fear that you'll never be "successful". It's the fear that you'll never be "recognized". It's the fear that whatever you're building will crumble to the ground if you look away even for a moment. Anxiety is a common motif amongst young black creatives -- especially young black women. I see brilliant women every day questioning their worth constantly.Anxiety is a common motif amongst young black creatives -- especially young black women. I see brilliant women every day questioning their worth constantly. I'm not immune to this. This week, I wanted to write about reassurance and how to remind yourself that you don't need the world to validate you, especially when it's slated to invalidate you at every turn and diminish your accomplishments.

  1. Remind yourself that anxiety does not always represent reality. You might feel like you are not doing "enough". But this negative self-talk doesn't help you accomplish what you really need to in the long term. When we punish ourselves for not being "enough" by some arbitrary standard, we impede our ability to reach our true potential. This isn't just B.S., it's real. I need to remind myself often that anxiety doesn't help me. It is an obstacle created by my own mind and doesn't represent who I am. In general, when we are bogged down by where we "should be", we prevent ourselves from getting where we need to go.

  2. There is no timeline we need to adhere to when it comes to "success". I tend to find success is a word that we can only define for ourselves. Still, we tend to constantly look outwards for a definition of success to live up to. This plays a role in clouding our self-image and leads to a lot of judgment of ourselves.

    To me, success means accomplishing the goals I have set for myself within the timeframe that I have chosen for myself. It doesn't have to mean the same thing for everyone. Success doesn’t define my happiness — although it does make up a part of it.

    We tend to look around us and see people who are far younger than us or sometimes far older than us who have already arrived where we want to go. (Or where we think we want to go.) We view them as "successful" in juxtaposition to ourselves when we may not even have the same goals as the person we are comparing ourselves to. The comparison doesn’t make logical sense, yet we fully identify with it.

    We may feel envy, we may feel inadequate and all of these feelings stymie our growth. The place we want to go seems further away when we look towards other people as our benchmark for how well we are doing. When we look at how we are managing our own lives, and how we are adhering to goals that we set for ourselves, we often find that our views of ourselves become far gentler. I advocate a more gentle view of ourselves in relation to "success". I advocate for success taking on a different definition than the one we see around us and the world.

    3. Rest and recovery are more important than any “benefit” that may come with working ourselves to death. Sometimes when you become invested in your goals, your ideas, and the things that you want to accomplish, you can forget to take care of yourself. This happens to a lot of creative people and also happens to a lot of entrepreneurs. Instead of continuing to run in circles and exhausting ourselves to the point where we become physically or mentally sick, I want to advocate for rest and recovery.

    We need to take our health seriously and begin to prioritize our health above external goals that we may be chasing. (*Note: in some cases, many people do not have a choice and I do not intend this to come off as judgmental.) Self-care has become almost clichéd in online circles but this is because typically in our society, we glorify people who do not take care of themselves, people who put work and the lack of sleep and accomplishments over self-care.

    It is not necessary to delete ourselves from existence in order to be successful or to feel happy with where we are in life. Young black creatives need to remember that taking care of our health will actually enable us to accomplish more over time. It is easy to get sucked into different messages we may hear that tell us otherwise, but I strongly advocate for paying attention to our internal clock and our internal needs.

    Do not look to the outside world to determine what you need, instead, determine it for yourself. Take care of yourself. Invest your energy into becoming aligned with your internal needs and work towards fulfilling these internal needs. It is not up to other people to determine what you need for yourself. It is up to you.

    All of these snippets of reassurance seem elementary but it is shockingly easy to forget them when we get sucked into the daily grind. Anxiety creeps up and self-care can seem dangerous. We tell ourselves that putting ourselves first is letting down our family, our community or ourselves. However, it is important to ground ourselves in reality rather than listening to the anxious voices that are racing through our minds telling us that we are not good enough.

    Good enough for what? Good enough for who? Our allegiance needs to be to ourselves and to our health first.

    I want to write as a final note to the young black creative folks out there to keep doing what you do best. Make art. Take photographs. Write. Share genuine love with each other. In trying times, all we have is each other and our support systems. We need to build these support systems and make them strong. But we must take care of ourselves in order to do so.

 

Intersectional Feminism: Mental Health And The West Indian LGBTI Community

Viewing mental health through the lens of intersectional feminism calls for us to examine the specific mental health issues faced by the LGBTI community. While all mental health issues are largely ignored by the greater West Indian community, another group of marginalized people face specific oppression at the hands of medical professionals; they face specific issues regarding their sexuality and gender expression that other West Indians do not face.In a society where non-cisgender and non-heterosexual people face massive amounts of physical/emotional and sexual violence, there is no space for LGBTI+ individuals to receive help or support for their unique difficulties. Not to mention, the people who cause these difficulties don't believe that their problems are real. While I'm not qualified to speak on behalf of anyone in the community, I can advise my readers, especially those in positions of privilege, to pay attention to how our society creates toxic conditions for the mental health of LGBTI+ individuals.

LGBTI+ individuals face bullying and abuse at the hands of their family and friends. Abuse has a definitive negative impact on mental health. (Source: CDC, Google it)LGBTI+ individuals face legal discrimination at work and in society at large. (Source: Anti buggery laws, instances of hate crimes.) It's not difficult to see how this large scale discrimination could lead to depression and anxiety, among other conditions which may end in suicide and overall impact society in a negative way.LGBTI+ individuals must live in constant fear of hate crimes considering our Christian society's inability to empathize with them. Living in fear is not a healthy position for anyone to exist in.

Transgender and non-binary individuals may experience gender dysphoria as well as a whole host of other psychological issues caused by living in a violently oppressive and intolerant society that prescribes one way for men/women to behave and a society that doesn't except people who are neither.LGBTI+ individuals might reasonably see no hope for the future considering their family/friend's comfort in using harmful+violent slurs and may see nothing but hatred from people who are supposed to love them.This is just a short list of ways that our violent society oppresses LGBTI+ individuals in a way that denies them the human right to live freely. Due to this violence, LGBTI+ individuals may need special therapy and medical professionals with deep understanding of their specific needs.

Doctors here might be bigoted themselves or otherwise unable to provide LGBTI+ individuals with proper assistance or medical treatment.Some particularly violent people might believe that this doesn't matter... But it does. While there are commonly touted lies that LGBTI+ identity is a choice or a fad (two things which shouldn't affect civil rights anyways), this is not the case. Most people don't know who is on the LGBTI+ spectrum. You should safely assume that someone you know or someone in your family suffers due to our violence against this marginalized group. Even if this didn't affect your friends or your family, anyone with the ability to empathize should be able to see how these issues are important... All people deserve the same human rights.Differences are not a reason to continue enacting violent oppression.

We would do well to shed these colonial habits of discrimination and prejudice! Going further, I recommend reading up on LGBTI+ identity and learning FACTS outside of what religious fundamentalists present you with. I recommend listening to members of the community and learning about their demands and their specific needs. Since it's LGBT history month, I also recommend learning about the stories of LGBTI+ identifying West Indians specifically... There ARE quite a few out there who are writing and sharing their stories.

This is a great primer to get you started: http://www.amazon.com/Our-Caribbean-Gathering-Lesbian-Antilles/dp/082234226XThe responsibility to care for LGBTI+ mental health is on everyone in our society regardless of your sexuality or gender identity. It's time for the oppressors to take charge of making these changes and assisting in bringing acceptance and justice to our region. Speak out against those who use slurs. Speak out against those who spread misinformation and violent propaganda.

We need to start protecting our greater Caribbean family.

Intersectional Feminism: How We Fail Young Black Girls

(Part 1 of about a million)

We ignore early symptoms of mental disorders.  Since my parents are both educators, I hear a lot about what happens in the education system down here. I also have some of my own experiences and the experiences of close friends that I use for reference.I would automatically distrust any statistics produced by the government of this island regarding mental health, so I'm going to address this issue without hard data because no hard data is trustworthy far less "unbiased".

In school, there are many cases of high achieving students "going mad" either before exams or during the middle of the semester. These students sometimes let out blood-curdling screams heard through out the school. Sometimes they "speak in tongues" or engage in behaviors otherwise deemed "off". There are many other instances of acting out that get students labeled as crazy.

The response of the adults responsible for the well being of these children is dismissive and judgmental. These students are seen as attention seekers and the general attitude towards students undergoing difficulty due to stress is disgust. Counselors down here contribute to this disrespect of mental wellness by breaching confidentiality at every turn. Students are truly left with no one to turn to in earnest.What's going on here? There are a few main issues at play.

  1. The belief that mental illness is not as real as physical illness.

  2. The belief that black students/black people must be strong & emotionless and therefore "handle anything".

  3. Teachers who are not educated about emotional intelligence and who are not invested in the emotional well being of their students (only the results achieved.)

  4. Bigotry surrounding issues of sexuality and gender that may be causing students difficulty.

I find all of these points disturbing. Mental wellness is not a separate issue from physical wellness. After all, our brains are not separate from the body. The racial factor to this is also important and yes, in a post-colonial society that gained independence during my mother's lifetime, race is ALWAYS important. As a society of black people, we have learned many ways to self-regulate and perpetuate colonialism. This inattention to our mental health is one of these ways. Slave masters believed that "the negro" was unfeeling and did not experience pain (see Medical Apartheid by Harriet Washington for more details.

Since our society is rife with bigots who feel free to loudly proclaim their bigoted beliefs about sexuality, including alleged leaders in education, it is easy to see why students who are experiencing gender dysphoria or questioning their sexuality who be distressed. When you are surrounded by bigots and concerned about survival, it's easy to see how mental wellness could falter.

In our commitment to having nothing change and remaining perpetually stagnant, we have not factored in mental well-being into our education system. This does NOT mean students should not be challenged! What it does mean is alongside hard work, students need to be taught strategies and techniques for well being like we teach nutrition and exercise for physical health. We Also need to expunge bigots from our education system. But since bigotry is accepted as "opinion", I suspect that is far off for now.

Denying reality doesn't help anyone especially not our youth. In light of mental health awareness week I challenge adults, especially those in education, to think about how they can be more understanding of students and their various needs. Look into eliminating your own prejudice.  I urge others to educate themselves about the realities of mental illnesses and disorders. Information is at your fingertips; make use of it.

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! 

Intersectional Feminism Means Addressing the Caribbean Mental Health Crisis

Intersectional feminism in the Caribbean means ending the stigma against mental health and actually addressing the mental health crisis as well as our culture's ableism at large. I've tried to write a post about mental health and the Caribbean for months, continuing to draw blanks when I try to put a definition on our perceptions and attitudes towards mental health as a region. I struggle to portray the relationship succinctly in a way that would have the possibility to change the minds of those who believe that mental health is a struggle for the white, wealthy American.West Indians who understand the problems we have with acknowledging mental health (much less treating mental health problems) doesn't need to be told anything more.

So, I figured that I would address the non believers in this post, in some desperate hope of breaking through.Mental health is defined simply by a lazy author's first hit on a google search as being "a person's condition with regards to their psychological and emotional well being". In general, I believe St. Lucians have pretty good mental health from all outward appearances (which may themselves be deceiving). As a whole the nation tends to be very relaxed, and possibly dangerously blasé about most issues. We maintain this lackadaisical cool towards near everything, letting neither poverty nor anything else bring us down.

However, these generalities exclude particular realities about our society that reflect a negative aspect of mental health, and that reflect a society with some fairly troubling undercurrents regarding emotional and psychological well being. There's the common trope of the older West Indian man who spends all weekend nights drinking (and sometimes weekday evenings) only to come home piss drunk and beat his wife who has spent all day working alone to keep house and child. There's the consistent presence of "crazy" people roaming downtown Castries as they move between the psychiatric hospital and the streets.

There is a lot going on at home and in the Caribbean diaspora that indicates poor mental health. We also know that poverty and the high stress of poverty are associated with conditions like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Not so much for the rich and wealthy. Of course conversations surrounding mental health are cloaked in vague language at best and at worst flat out denial that these problems persist despite the fact that they are quite common. We silence conversations on mental health and choose not to believe that they could possibly affect us.Perhaps we believe that black suffering is normal. After all, our nations were born out of blood and trauma. What else do we know? Impoverished mental health feels so familiar, that we don't realize that we don't have to suffer.

There are names for our "eccentricities". There are treatments and therapeutic techniques that mean no one should have to endure suffering, sometimes to the point of suicide.

Mental health is connected to physical health, whether or not we accept it. Taking care of our minds is not a white/American luxury; it's a necessity. While understanding mental health through a spiritual framework may be culturally relevant, we also need to understand that making use of advanced scientific understanding of mental health is even more important to ensuring our nation's health overall.I find it troubling that we have so many people, often times young, able-bodied men, committing suicide in our country [x][x][x].

Other people seem to find it troubling as well and fall back on a spiritual understanding of this problem. While there's nothing wrong with understanding various issues through spirituality, there is a problem when we ignore factual information about mental health to justify our preconceived ideas.We need to learn about and destigmatize mental health issues. This needs to happen immediately so that we can stop losing our citizens to treatable problems. Mental illness is not a weakness that people can just "get over".

Mental illness is not just similar to physical illness. It is a physical illness. Would you tell someone to get over a broken leg? If not, you should never tell someone to "get over" a serious mental health problem.There are resources available at the end of this post to help you understand common mental health issues better. 

Resources: DepressionBipolar DisorderSchizophreniaAnxiety DisordersBorderline Personality Disorder(Personality Disorders are different from the others, but consider this an introduction into some common personality disorders that we may also have in the Caribbean region but not have a name for.)