On Saturday 24 February 2018, I attended a Mental Health and Healing day, organised by Guilaine Kinouani. I discovered her after I lost my job last year, and as a Black, female, highly-educated woman – educated in cultural psychology – she was the first person to validate my feelings of pain and anger towards the traumatic experiences of racism I had suffered during my Teacher Training and the detrimental impacts these had had upon my mental health and Epilepsy, as a Black woman in Britain. Guilaine specialises in radical therapy – specifically for recovering from the effects of racism. Her workshops are incredibly difficult to get onto! Because there are so many women like me suffering from the long-term impacts; there are people – especially white people, who expect me to be able to get over what has happened to me, however if I had been sexually assaulted, they wouldn’t be saying this to me and I expect the same empathy. A group of people ganged up on me, tortured me for almost a year – both physically (if you count my Epilepsy) and mentally, and then a month before I was due to qualify, made up reasons to have me suspended so that I couldn’t qualify, and I lost my job. All of this is because of the colour of my skin. All the while, I was gaslighted to the point of insanity, where I very nearly didn’t even believe my own self.
Even though I lost my job in May last year, I only stopped having nightmares about my employers a few months ago. I did not know that what I was suffering were real effects of trauma and oppression, until I discovered Guilaine on Twitter and her blog, which you can also read here. And this is also why it was so important for me to attend this SCAR4Black Women Self-Care event on 24/02. She’d been a huge part of my own self-care journey, therefore it was an honour to finally meet her in real life, but I also wanted to speak to other Black women – women I’d met on social media too.
The morning began with experiencing silence together, as Guilaine led us in a quick session of mindfulness. Now, although I’ve been to a meditation session before, this mindfulness session was different (I realise that I’m using these terms interchangeably here, but just bear with me), because we were a room full of vulnerable women, sharing slices of vulnerability with each other. I had never felt so connected while simultaneously naked with strangers before, unlike the meditation session I went to at the beginning of the month, and I believe that this is to do with the room containing only women and only Black women.
We then had spoken words by Hodan Yusuf, again, a woman I “know” from social media. She read the following poems: Generational Traumas, When Your Options Are Limited, I’m Not My Brother’s Keeper, Bring A Scoop of Yourself To My Table, My Brain & My Words, When My Heart When My Heart,
The Sentience of A Woman:
I read both people and books
That quote as a fellow observer myself, as well as a Cancerian, stood out to me!
Hodan also gave us a debut of SCAR for Black Women Hashtag (Unfinished):
each time you remind yourself that you are human, is a destination/stop…
…who told us that Black women were the carers and not the cared for?
…Healing is not linear…
…I finally see me for who I am, for where I’ve come from and where I’m headed
Blow Up & Explode
I wish that more people know that no is a full sentence
This line for me, as a Black woman, really stood out.
Lullaby (beautifully sang by Hodan):
Don’t hush… you’ve been silenced for too long in an oppressive world…
This line was the refrain from the poem, such a beautiful line, again for me as a Black woman who personally has just recently found her voice after being silenced for so long.
How Does the Law See Me? The Legal Visibility of Black Women, Intersectionality & the Law
The next session was on Law, intersectionality and visibility, led by Kemi Labinjo, who I’d not met before. I think that this was the session that triggered my tonic seizure days afterwards (!), because it forced me to face up to the fact as a Black woman, the law will never protect me and I learnt the brutal way that equal opportunity is a myth. Social theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw reminds us that the law does not recognise intersectionality, so as a Queer, Disabled, Black Woman, I’m screwed in the world of employment. This hit me really hard. I already knew this, but when Kemi said to us:
Don’t think of of the law of being your saviour
… I went into a stupor, because Kemi specialises in discrimination law and sits on Employment Tribunal cases and she was still saying this to us. A room of Black women. And instead of imparting useless legal advice, she was advising us on what to do to protect ourselves mentally:
- Implementation Intention, for approaching conversations about inequality at work
You have to be your own saviour.
It was also incredible to meet women who had suffered the same/similar experiences to me, where some are too frightened to return to work. Like me. I also have my Epilepsy to contend with, however I have massive fears that I’m struggling with presently, and I’m dealing with those through private therapy because the NHS deemed me as too high-functioning; some women at this event weren’t even offered therapy – it’s disgusting.
You have to be your own saviour.
Self-care, Religion & Spirituality
The next session was on Self-care, Religion & Spirituality, led by Samara Linton. I follow her on Twitter and I’ve also submitted a piece for her anthology on Black Mental Health: The Colour of Madness, which I’m hoping will make the final print!!! Samara is incredibly spiritual, grew up in a Christian Pentecostal home (as did I). She’s currently studying a PhD in Psychology, therefore she battles this internal turmoil between spirituality and religion. Her benefits for religion upon psychology are:
- Community and support
- Promotion of positive co-mentoring
- Promotion of positive well-being and there being somebody else in control at the helm (during my meltdowns, I can see the benefits!)
Her points for detrimental impacts upon psychology:
- Belief in a punitive god
- Negative encounters with peers/ leaders
However, prayer has given her a sense of practice and empowerment, teaching her that her voice matters. This is in fact, what identity through my colour has given me. Samara does identify that prayer, on the other hand has also been used to attack and belittle and degrade. This has been done over thousands of years to Black people, to disabled people, which is eventually why I had to severe my relationship with God.
When I was listening to Samara speaking about her relationship so romantically, part of me did wonder if I could possibly redefine a relationship with God?
Can I redefine religion? Punitive… just… can I redefine these words?
Can I redefine the pronouns?
Can I worship a white man?
And the answer to all of these questions are… no.
If you’re new to my blog (https://thewallflowerinwonderland.com/), then you won’t know that I was born and raised a Catholic, before my family then became born-again Pentecostal Christians, where we worshipped in Black-African churches. I then chose to worship in white-Evangelical Christian churches in my twenties. Then, before I started working for a Catholic school, I had a personal relationship with God, where I wasn’t worshipping anywhere at all. My point is, I’ve tried to redefine religion and I’ve tried to redefine “God”.
So although I respect those who continue in their faith, my answer is still no. I live a spiritual life, in tune with my surroundings and my mind. As a Christian, I was always drawn to Buddhism (it always felt like I was cheating), so it’s nice to just finally be living this way of life.
Lifting for Wellness & Healing: A Personal Testimony
This session was led by Andrea Corbett, who used to be a teacher – in fact, the Head of her Department, who then suffered a mental breakdown. She went to her GP for answers. Her GP gave her a doctors’ note and a prescription for antidepressants. She was signed off work for almost a year and was never referred for therapy. Andrea found her own therapy – changing her diet, exercising (both of which, have a profound effect upon mental health) and lifting weights.
This is not the first time I have heard a testimony from a Black woman who has gone to her GP about mental health issues and hasn’t been offered talking therapies and this is an issue with Black men in particular. Unfortunately Black people suffer racial biases when it comes to our healthcare. Racial stereotypes claim that we carry a higher pain threshold and Clinicians are more likely to diagnose Black patients with a mental health condition from the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), which is the product of white euro-centric symptoms. From this, we are diagnosed, prescribed antidepressants, rather than actually treated for symptoms, which is what talking therapies does. Thankfully, Andrea was able to find that exercise helped her mental health significantly and she never went back to teaching (I don’t blame her). She now coaches people and performs in professional body building competitions. She also recommends Five Ways to Wellbeing.
Self-compassion & Blackness Centred Self-Compassion
This session was led by the host Guiliane herself, who described self-kindness as a revolutionary act, which at first does sound hyperbolic. But when you think about the emotion of compassion, you need to be moved to act with empathy. Therefore, self-compassion is the action of taking away our own pain. However, as Black women, it is something we naturally do not do, or even think about. Even in our anger, we forget that we are feeling pain. In fact, in a room full of Black women we disassociated ourselves from the emotion of pain when talking about experiencing trauma and oppression. It was quite an ah-ha moment.
I remember when I lost my job and I was listening to Drake and Kendrick. I was so angry and in my head, I thought, “well I’m finally that angry Black woman they told me I was”. At first, I didn’t want to let the lyrics penetrate me because I didn’t want to let myself feel anything but anger, but I remember the night in the shower in our flat on Eden Grove, just off of Holloway Road, I finally decided to allow myself to feel pain and it was a different type of crying. To be self-compassionate, you need to notice when you feel pain and you also need to notice what it is doing to your body, because contrary to what Kendrick preaches (LOL), Black does crack on the inside, which is such a powerful statement because from a mental health aspect, we are decaying quicker than our white peers. Guilaine’s advice for the room was to find what brings you joy; What is going to keep you well, and practice self-care in being wise with your battles (you cannot fight everything), because:
Black joy is your liberation.
Guilaine reminds us that not allowing ourselves as Black women to experience pain is cultural, as well as generational, because we are taught to be givers. But studies show that people who are kinder to themselves are less impulsive, have healthier relationships and are more successful.
Black Excellence Panel
The final part of the event was a panel session with the following participants: Kiri Kankhwende, journalist, Marai Larasi, Black Feminist Activist Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, co-founder and Director of UK Black Pride (I worship this woman!), and Marsha Gosho-Oakes, a freelance writer, editor and consultant (& my new fave Black Feminist).
The panel were in agreement that Black excellence is about having the space to fail, community and accountability.
Someone in the room asked the panel to define success, and Marsha answered:
When you look around you, there is always somebody better than you.
This is especially true when you suffer from mental health issues, which is why it’s so important to live your own life and to live your best life.
When the panel discussed excellence, they shattered my assumptions when they told us:
Excellence should not be something that we should aspire to.
Marsha added that excellence is a white standard and a white burden, which therefore doesn’t belong to us. I remember striving for excellence during my teacher training and it was a standard that I could never EVER achieve, because my employers and tutors were constantly moving the goal posts in order to dehumanise me. The panel then went on to suggest that the opposite of dehumanisation is not Black Excellence, but to set our own goals, which as a community we will then be held accountable to.
The day ended emotionally, with me hugging Guilaine and speaking one-to-one with Marsha about my family situation, because I have professional/ educational goals, which I also want to utilise to create a better care situation for my Grandmother, however due to generational barriers (my Uncles and Aunt) which are stopping this, she’s currently living in relational poverty and although my cousins and I are trying our utmost to overturn the situation, the older generation are blocking our efforts. Although I have the skills, I do not have the stamina like my cousins and this is where the issues lay. Last week, during therapy I had a tonic clonic seizure (my first one since May last year). Marsha’s words of advice reminded me that there are women of colour dropping out of Psychology due to ill health, when we need to be taking pains to preserve our own mental health.
I’m a postgraduate Mental Health and Psychology student; my own therapist is a Black woman and it is truly awesome to be able to share my darkest thoughts with a Black woman, to be able to make references to “Get Out” and she gets it! I want that for other women. We need relatable relationships in therapy for other Black women. I’ve been to therapy before, however having been in therapy with white therapists, I’ve been forced to compartmentalise.
My uncles and aunt will be held accountable, however I need to show myself some compassion and as self-care I do not need to have these conversations with them anymore when they are harmful to me. I can still help my Grandmother from afar.
We did get homework! Which I’ve yet to complete… It’s an activity scheduling diary. However, I have downloaded the Calm app for future mindfulness sessions (which I’ve already used a few times) AND I have been actively trying to be a revolutionary joymaker for myself. When I lost my job in teaching, I also lost my joy for poetry. Now, I’m writing again and using all of the influences I gained from reading mama Maya Angelou and papa James Baldwin while I was grieving, to create brand new art.
The next #SCAR4WOC event is in April and I highly recommend it.