Black Superwoman Syndrome

Depression and the Black Superwoman Syndrome
Josie Pickens shares her personal bouts with suicidal thoughts, and how counseling and sharing burdens with others makes for stronger mental health
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by Josie Pickens, April 15, 2014
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After reading the news of For Brown Girls creator Karyn Washngton’s passing, I immediately went to tapping away on the keys of my laptop. The late 22-year-old’s story of dedicating much of her daily life to empowering Black women, and even the possibility that she ended her own life, felt eerily familiar and close to home.
The peculiar thing about doing the work to uplift others is, the world often forgets that the worker also needs uplifting, that the work becomes heavy, that frequently the work is being performed to soothe one’s own soul. And that when one lives even a small portion of her life publicly, that public too often expects perfection. The expectation is that s/he has conquered those challenges s/he advocates against, and that s/he is therefore the face of overcoming.
RELATED: IS ‘STRONG BLACK WOMANHOOD’ KILLING OUR SISTERS?
The reality is, however, that there’s sometimes no such thing as overcoming—not wholly, not forever. Overcoming is daily work, and we often fail miserably at it. Many days we are doing our best to survive, and some of those days we may not be 100% sure that surviving is what we truly even desire.
And we are dying…
Masking up as superwomen is killing us—whether we meet that death as a result of suicide or the stresses that lead to heart disease and other serious, life-threatening illnesses. According to Lottie Joiner’s recent post at The Root, stress accelerates the aging of Black female bodies, and Black women between the ages of 45 and 55 are “biologically 7.5 years older than White women” of the same age.

I don’t know Karyn’s personal story enough to comment on why she possibly chose to commit suicide. But I know for certain my own story. I’ve battled depression and anxiety much of my adult life, with some bouts making me feel like I was stuck in a cave-sized hole that I was unable to climb out of.

A most recent period of depression came as I was building a name for myself as a writer, particularly a writer who’d struggled through many of the difficulties Black women face and had come out on the other end. A bit bruised, but smiling. What my readers may not have known was that, upon moving back to my hometown due to some legal and child custody issues, I was struggling daily to get out of bed, to eat, to sleep, and to care for my daughter.
Honestly, there were days when I felt that breathing was an impossible task, and sometimes I wondered if things would be easier if I stopped.

How does one share her struggles with mental illness when she’s convinced the world that she is strong, when she has somehow become an example to others? I suffered silently, and the little I did share was met with the common responses we as Black women frequently hear from our families and friends. “You’re strong,” or “you’ve been through storms before,” or “you just have to pray and trust God.”

I honestly believe we’re so accustomed to delivering the strong Black woman speech to ourselves and everyone else that we lose our ability to connect to our humanness, and thus our frailty. We become afraid to admit that we are hurting and struggling, because we fear that we will be seen as weak. And we can’t be weak. We’ve spent our lives witnessing our mothers and their mothers be strong and sturdy, like rocks.

We want to be rocks.
Somehow realizing I wasn’t a rock (and that I had honestly never been one), I fought my way out of bed and onto my therapist’s couch. I became exhausted with carrying all of the masks and the capes. And I knew if I didn’t get help quickly, I wasn’t going to survive.
I’m grateful to still be here, but my struggles aren’t over. Recently, I’ve been contemplating how my life and the stresses I face are affecting my long-term health. As with many of us, I’m working to improve my diet and incorporate more exercise into my daily life, but the stresses of wearing the capes and masks are doing damage as well.

To battle against the challenges I face regarding both my physical and mental health, I’m taking the following actions:
Practice self-care. I’ve gotten into the habit of scheduling spa time, girl time, therapy, meditation and more in the same ways I schedule work meetings and my daughter’s field trips. We have to remember that we can’t be good mothers, partners, daughters or friends if we’re not good to ourselves first.

Share the load. Often we adopt the idea that it’s easier for us to do it all ourselves, but we have to remember the long term affects of that behavior. We need to begin asking for and accepting help, because we need and deserve it. Start with small tasks and work towards larger ones.

Seek professional help. I always say that if I had Oprah dough, I’d pass out therapy the way she passes out her favorite things. Your girlfriends, as well meaning and supportive as they are, have their own Superwoman capes to throw off, and they honestly don’t know the answers either. Seeing a mental health professional to confide in and ask direction from can mean the difference between life or death—for real, for real.

Josie Pickens is an educator, cultural critic and soldier of love. Follow her musings on Twitter @jonubian.

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Some Fact to Know 

 

This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart.. when’s AIDS first came out I had a guy I knew in school die from it.. back then it was the gay people disease.. Gods punishment for being homosexual… and like so many I brought into until .. I did the reach for myself.. as you know these are not my thoughts just some facts..

 

HIV AND AIDS IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (USA)USA map

Map of the United States of America (USA) and country HIV statistics

The United States of America (USA) currently has around 1.2 million people living with HIV, with one in seven people unaware that they have HIV.1 The size of the epidemic is relatively small compared to the total population, however it is heavily concentrated among several key affected populations and geographically in the southern states – where 49% of all HIV new infections occur. Since the beginning of the HIV and AIDS epidemic, 659,000 people have died of AIDS-related illnesses in the USA.2
Although the USA is the greatest national funder of the HIV epidemic globally, it is still facing a major ongoing HIV epidemic itself, with around 50,000 new infections per year. Stigma and discrimination continue to hamper people’s access to HIV prevention, testing and treatment services, fuelling the cycle of new infections.
The USA lacked a comprehensive plan on HIV until 2010 when President Obama created a National HIV/AIDS Strategy. The latest strategy, released in 2015, is structured around four core aims: reducing new HIV infections; increasing access to care and improving health outcomes for people living with HIV; reducing HIV-related disparities and health inequities and achieving a coordinated national response to the epidemic.3
Key affected populations in the USA
The impact of the HIV epidemic in the USA is more seriously among some groups than others. These key affected populations can be grouped by transmission category i.e. men who have sex with men (MSM), but also by race, with people of colour having significantly higher rates of HIV infection over white Americans.4
A complex set of economic and socioeconomic factors drive risk to these populations, including a lack of access to care, discrimination, homophobia, stigma and poverty.5 Sexual networks is also a major determining factor for HIV risk in the USA, with populations at a high risk to HIV tending to have sexual relations with people in their own communities.
Men who have sex with men in the USA
MSM are the group most affected by HIV in the USA, accounting for 68% of all new HIV infections in 2013.6 The group has seen a rise in new HIV infections between 2009 and 2013 from 28,000 to 31,000.7
Only 66% of MSM living with HIV in 2011 were aware of their infection, and young MSM aged 18-24 were even less likely to know (49%). There are significant disparities by race as well. 86% of white MSM were aware of their status, compared to only 63% of Hispanic/Latino MSM and 54% of black/African American MSM.8
Higher numbers of sexual partners, greater numbers of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and having unprotected anal sex are some of the reasons why HIV transmission is more common among MSM.9
Black/African Americans in the USA
Black/African Americans accounted for 46% of all new HIV infections in 2013, and make up 43% of the total number of people living with HIV in the USA, despite only making up 13% of the population.10
Between 2009-2013, black/African Americans accounted for:
63% of all HIV infections among women

67% of all HIV infections among children below 13 years old

42% of all HIV infections among males.11

Black/African American men and women are most likely to be infected through unprotected sex with a man, or by injecting drugs. Other factors such as heightened levels of poverty, lack of access to adequate healthcare, and stigma surrounding MSM also increase this group’s risk of HIV infection.
Young black/African American MSM (aged 13 to 24) are most affected.12 In 2010, they were more than twice as likely to be infected with HIV as young MSM of any other ethnic group.13
High HIV prevalence within this community, and the increased likelihood of black/African Americans to only have sexual relations with others in their community, heightens their risk of HIV.14
PLHIV in USA
Hispanics/Latinos in the USA

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