“I am on the other side of the rainbow / picking up the pieces of days spent waitin’ for the poem to be heard / while you listen / I have other work to do.” – Ntozake Shange
Dear Sis: Three months ago I considered suicide. I envisioned slipping my brown body under the waters of my warm lavender bath, hoping to end my spiraling sadness, but instead I cried out to God to be whole again – to surrender. I chose to wade troubled waters and awake to the sun in my bones. I repeated this choice every night until I built up enough courage to write this love letter. Maybe it will save me some heartache in the future. Raw and stripped, I am unclear if I’m at my weakest or most powerful right now, but I do know that my ancestors are my champions today. They support me so that I can be a champion for others. Because I know that tonight, there is a Black woman somewhere contemplating if tomorrow is worthy—and I want her to know that she is not alone in the eye of the storm. I will show my open wounds in hopes that it helps heal hers. I will share the tumult that I’ve been through so she sees I am beside her in her own.
This summer, I broke my grandmother’s golden rule and quit my job before I had another. I have spent my entire adult life with her voice guiding my path, but I could not hear her heed over my 63 cents to a mediocre white mans dollar. After over a decade of being a diminished servant-leader in my field, my refusal to be anybody’s mule should have felt like the proudest day of my life, but I was terrified walking out that door. To be an unemployed Black woman with no perceived safety net shook me to my core, and I became a difficult lover, and a self-absorbed friend in the aftermath. I shared my deepest anxieties with my partner as job after job folded along with my confidence, but my heaviness had become a visible burden to him. Unable to withstand the changing tides, he left me, too.
I am neither the first nor the last to experience troubles like this. Living under white dominant systems has a history of wearying Black relationships. Too often, Black women are left to do the emotional labor in and out of our communities to press forward – but what does this mean for our wellness? As Alice Walker puts it, “those who love us never leave us alone with our grief.” I have spent a lot of time thinking about her words in relation to Black women and the world. Who loves and makes space for us when we fall apart? At work? In our relationships? Living in the era of ‘Black Girl Magic’ at times feels like a gift and a curse, because being visible is habitually confused with being equal. Tracee Ellis Ross may be on the cover of Glamour, but she still had to fight pay disparity in 2018.
Reality sunk in that I’d fought for better too, but ended up jobless. I had fought to be understood by my partner, but ended up alone. Fear pushed me into a deep depression.
I wanted nothing more than to be able to take off my strong Black woman cape and hand it to someone who wouldn’t crumble under the weight. Anxiety about my uncertain future threw me into crying spells. Was anyone ever going to be able to deal with my shit? I pleaded for my ex to come back to me, but he took space. I needed to be vulnerable, but instead I found myself unwanted, wailing on my bedroom floor to Aretha Franklin, Ain’t No Way. Longing to be seen, I almost destroyed myself.
Thank God for Black women.
Concerned friends took the initiative to pay my rent, buy groceries, send self help books, arrange for me to sit in solitude, and smile at me on FaceTime every morning as I wore the same dirty white waffle robe for the umpteenth day. They were there.
I have an angel friend who embodies bigheartedness. She phoned to share she was booking a flight for me to be one with nature. While in Big Sur, California I read Audre Lorde’s awe-inspiring cancer journals, see Mars, eat fresh food, swim naked among other free women, laugh and even start to write again. For the first time since my breakdown, I become less concerned about income or whether my ex will come back to me. Instead, I am hell-bent on me coming back to me.
Big Sur affords me the privilege and space to reflect on my own ancestral trauma. If my grandfather struggled to be faithful to my grandmother and my father was not responsible to my mother, then what had I assumed about the dynamics of relationships before the age of five? Was my idea of independence actually rooted in fear? What have Black men been socialized to believe about Black women’s pain? I think about how, when Eric Garner cried his last “I can’t breathe,” I checked in with the black men I loved. But when his daughter and my personal hero, Erica Garner, died, not one of those men called to check in on me. Why did I cry for days in my home instead of sharing how afraid I was to live in this country? Part of my evolution has been gut-wrenching honesty with myself. I’ve realized what I have I internalized that serves me, and what does not—and these truths of how we relate are among them.
Today, I’m in a clearer place. And to others who have felt or are feeling as low as I have, I want you to know this peace will come. I ended the summer accepting the job of my dreams. It is Black-woman-led-work with plenty respect on my check. So, I say with conviction do not question what the universe sweeps away as a result of you choosing yourself. A good friend asked me a question that comes back to me today: “What will you do with the freedom the universe has now gifted you?” In my 20s, I answered with grandiose doings like skydiving or a boudoir photography session, but at thirty-three, I’m making a simple agreement to be present.
I have created a healing list to keep me in tune with my joy in the morning, and I encourage other Black women to do the same. I share it with you here, even though it is vulnerable, as an example and an inspiration. I hope it encourages others to be present, too. So much of the rhetoric around modern Black womanhood pushes us to be always thinking of our next steps, but it is pausing for reflection that saved me. I nearly lost myself trying to prove my worth, but I was found by a community of Black women who taught me that I am worth. Now it’s time for
me to stand in the sun, to let its warmth bring me back home.