I know that’s been a popular thing to say lately; usually by women who are Black and strong, but who no longer want to bear the burden of the weights they carry for other people. I, however, am not a strong Black woman. And I know this is a weird thing to say in public, but here we are.
I am Black, sure, but I am not strong. I am not an overcomer or a hustler. I am a survivor, but even that I would not have had to experience if I was stronger. I get depressed sometimes, but I deal with anxiety constantly. I am afraid of so many things—failure, success, walking outside alone (because what if… people… bugs… alligators… snakes… those damned Sandhill Cranes!), drowning in the community pool while doing laps alone, germs, pain, loneliness, poverty, hunger.
“But you still get up every day and do your best, and that makes you strong.” Nah, I’m afraid of death too. And hell. Judgement. What happens to my mom, dad, my brother. I’m afraid of disappointing people.
I’m afraid of my own vision for my future. It’s big and beautiful and I have no idea how to make it real. I freeze every time I pick up a pen to start outlining the steps to get there.
And I’m using “afraid” because the people around me understand fear better than anxiety. Becoming more aware of myself means recognizing that anxiety has had me in a death grip since I was a child. And even though I can now see when my negative reaction (or inaction) about doing something is an anxiety response, it is still so difficult for me to push past the wall. It is solid. Thick.
The weight of other people’s judgment is too heavy sometimes. They don’t understand that just because I can push past certain hesitations to do things that make their lives easier (by making myself less of a burden), doesn’t mean I don’t still have physical and negative reactions to doing that thing. I’ve trained myself to say I don’t like something rather than to say that thing makes me anxious for XYZ reason(s), because the people around me can’t seem to understand the latter.
I am not motivated by criticism and judgment. I shrink. Especially when the judgment comes from someone whose opinion is important to me.
I am surrounded by strong Black women—my cousins, my mother… I’m not going to start an entire list lest I forget someone who doesn’t even read the things I write—but I am not one of them. I’ve never had a cape to take off and put down and stand over to declare that I am reclaiming my time and no longer going to be everyone’s shero. I can’t even order a meal over the phone without getting nervous and forgetting something.
I am tired without having worked hard enough to be tired. Moving through the day with all the thoughts that run through my head weighed down by anxiety is like dragging a boulder behind me. It’s exhausting. But, unlike dragging a boulder with a rope I can release when I’m tired, anxiety lives in my head and the only release is sleep. And even then, I dream about having to escape from a house where a cat is chasing me from room to room and when I finally get into the garage and manually lift the garage door and the mesh screen behind it and get to a car, there is a ton of trash in the seats that I have to sort through to find the keys before the cat gets loose or whatever I’m trying to escape from comes to get me.
How do you turn off the knob to your soul once you realize you’ve bared enough—more than enough—too publicly? How do you stop the gushing of words and feelings and fears and bottle yourself back up so you can carry on with your day?
I guess you just… stop.