Posted in Blog, Mental Health

Learning to Self-Care and Share My Pain

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.

Healing Words

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:

  • self-care
  • self-education
  • 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:

  1. Community and support
  2. Promotion of positive co-mentoring
  3. 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:

  1. Belief in a punitive god
  2. 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? Punitivejust… 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.

The Future

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.

Posted in Blog

“I’m Half Dutch and White, Hear My Tears”… URGH [We DO NOT Love Holland, Pt2]

My previous post on Amsterdam was quite a hit! Even with Lovers Canal! (Yes they read it LOL.) I’ve been in contact with them regarding my complaint. I’ve also had messages from many people of colour regarding their negative experiences while in Amsterdam. They’ve all had very similar experiences, therefore they have found my post not only interesting to read in that times have not moved on culturally and intersectionally, but also they also found it therapeutic to share the experience.

And then I received this on my facebook page:

I’m half Dutch and I completely disagree with what your saying. Your making assumptions on a whole nation from one experience, and personal this really offends me as I’m proud of my heritage. You are entitled to your opinion but maybe you should think a little bit more before you write such damaging words as your judging the majority on the minority group you have unfortunately had to deal with, which is awful and I’m sorry you went through that.

Ok first of all:

This girl is best friends of somebody I used to be friends with and she grew up in South-East London… NOT Holland but London, and she still lives in SE London therefore, she doesn’t know Holland or the culture. She knows LONDON.

Second of all:
YOU’RE not YOUR you dumb bitch. If you’re going to send me a message, check your grammar. There are more, but this one offends me the most.

She also clearly doesn’t know how to read, because I didn’t judge my experience on one experience. I lived there unlike you, you dumb bitch.

Third of all:

Proud of your “Dutch Heritage”

So you didn’t read the piece then did you, you dumb bitch, because that would make you a massive racist!

So you’re supposed to be an adult, who cannot spell and you’ve also confirmed everything I believed about the Dutch!

And here’s my final question… what was your goal, you bum?

What was your goal in telling a highly educated Black, disabled woman and her highly educated Transgender girlfriend, who were both subjected to SO MUCH harassment and witnessed SO much discrimination against their minority groups that they’ve been put off going back to that country, about your white feelings and your white tears?

That you haven’t lived in, but the highly educated Black woman has, just remind you LOL

Thank you and good night!

XOXO

Posted in Blog, Mental Health

My Mother & I… Freedom

After my last blog post which you can read here, I spoke to my mother and we finally addressed our past. It’s been a looooooong time coming. We finally openly spoke about what it was like for me growing up after my father left, but also what it was like for me before. While talking, it also dawned upon me that I never ever told her about the final conversation I had with my father on the phone and his final words to me:

You need to be an adult now.

Words that I had carried for twenty years. I didn’t realise the weight behind the meaning of these words, until I uttered them to my mother last weekend. My father wasn’t just telling me to be the adult, to be the second parent; he was telling me to bear the burden of his sins and to keep my mouth shut. For so many years, I blamed my mother for not being able to talk about what happened to me and for the memories that I repressed however, what we both came to realise in those words was that he was just as much to blame for both of us not being able to speak to each other.

Black women are burdened with carrying so much pain – it’s a curse.

15-beyonce-lemonade-screenshot-2016-billboard-650

(Image source)

I watched the visuals for Beyoncé’s album, Lemonade last night (finally (!) – if I’m honest, I’ve always been more a fan of her sister Solange – who to me was more woke and more real, however lately I feel like Beyoncé’s been calling out to me lol). The visuals are stunning, but the lyrics and the spoken word parts are incredibly more resonating, because she speaks about Black female pain and its curse – the curse being that we as Black women are never permitted to feel pain. This is why Lemonade spoke to soooooo many Black women.

The exclusive world premiere of Beyonce's 'Lemonade' on HBO

(Image source)

I’ve often thought to myself, why did B stay with Jay-Z when he treated her so badly? He cheated on her, he caused her such psychological stress that she had multiple miscarriages. There’s a lyric that resonates with me in one of her songs, where she sings:

Let me see your scars/ show me your scars

Again, this is breaking the curse.

Yes, she could’ve left him, but then they may never have addressed their issues.

She had to stay with him, to compulse him to address his own issues, and this would’ve taken an incredible amount of stamina from both of them. But especially her. And the fact that he submitted himself to her, considering where he’s from and who he is, is again breaking that curse and breaking down so many barriers here not just in relationships, but for Black mental health simultaneously. Hopefully, they have finally re-created a relationship where both man and woman are now on the same platform, where man is no longer above woman, where woman is no longer inferior to man.

And I really do need to write up my piece on the self-care event I went to (I’ve been unwell, so I’m behind on my tings), because this is one of the things we discussed, and it’s also something my mum and I discussed, and why she couldn’t permit me to talk to her about certain things, for so many years. My mother would shut me down when I tried to open up to her about what my father had done to me, especially so when I was older and the repressed memories began to resurface. In fact, when my father left I originally went to a family friend about the abuse, because I couldn’t talk to my mother.

On Sunday, my mother apologised for not permitting me to address these memories with her, because she acknowledged that she hadn’t yet dealt with her own pain. Through prayer and therapy, she’s now done that and I’m incredibly proud of her because she’s broken the curse in our family. Just like Beyoncé did. Beyoncé had to allow herself to feel pain that perhaps no woman in her family had permitted herself to feel before. This then breaks the cycle of the curse, so that her own daughters will go on to have healthier relationships with themselves, as well as their significant others.

My mother has now permitted me to see her own scars, which is something that has not been done in our family before.

My mother had, and still does have a terrible relationship with her own mother, because of this curse, because it wasn’t broken. In fact, they presently have no relationship. My nan carried her pain; my mum carried her’s; both refused to acknowledge each other’s pain and address each other’s pain, until it festered into an incredibly abusive relationship and now they unfortunately no longer talk. I’ve come to realise that this is not uncommon within Black communities.

Hopefully, my mother and I can continue to progress down this healthy road of mother-and-daughter-relationship.

XOXO

Posted in Blog, Mental Health

Heroes (Mental Health)

Tonight I want to talk about role models.

 

With the “collapse of Hollywood” amongst the sex scandals, it’s occurred to me that I’ve placed a HUGE amount of heroism and idolism into mere humans, who I once used to see as so much more than humans: Alfred Hitchcock was the reason I decided to study film, and why I place so much value in it as an artform, even to this day. Orson Welles, David Lynch, Wes Anderson, Francis Ford Coppola….

 

It wasn’t until my early twenties that I began to take notice of women in Hollywood, and I suppose this was because previously, I had been looking for a father-figure – somebody to look up to.

 

My sister and I found that in the actor Tom Hanks. Even in his younger roles like Big and Bachelor Party, we still saw the “dad” we needed in him, and the older he got, the more drawn we were to him. It never seemed to occur to us that we were drawn to his characters and not him as a person. However, the way he handled the difficult situation with his son Colin only fuelled the fantasy, and again it never occurred to me that this might have all been a PR spin in order to protect his reputation.

 

So imagine my heartbreak when I saw Tom Hanks’ name trending on Twitter alongside Matt Damon’s earlier a couple of weeks ago. We all know how Matt Damon feels about sexual harassment, so when I saw that name trending, my heart immediately sank because I knew that it couldn’t be good news… and it wasn’t.

 

I found a link of Tom Hanks being interviewed on CNN (which appears to have been removed now), “mansplaining” assault, and claiming to not have known anything about Weinstein’s alleged behaviour, however the way in which he places emphasises on the word “alleged” is incredibly shady. In another interview for the Metro newspaper, he then criticises Netflix’s decision to drop Kevin Spacey and claims that the company will go bust if they continue to act upon accusations.

 

https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=newssearch&cd=11&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjXm9CO9JbYAhUoI8AKHTcCDJc4ChCpAggmKAAwAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fmetro.co.uk%2F2017%2F12%2F13%2Ftom-hanks-calls-patience-judging-alleged-hollywood-abusers-7155153%2F&usg=AOvVaw3078wNtH8Xb2UE8fmt1a4K

 

My partner and I have spoken about the fact that I place too high expectations upon people, that I expect people to be perfect, which is why I’m always let down. But I constantly dispute this.

I just expect people to have fucking morals, and to treat people the way that they would expect to be treated.

 

And I also place my trust in the wrong people…. Parents…. Siblings….. Male celebrities…..Maybe just the human race in general….

-what-meme-41709

 

However, if you place your trust in the right people, you can then trust yourself and your own judgement. This is partly what your formation years are for, and how you then become a “mentally stable adult” who perhaps doesn’t place their trust in arsehole rapist sexual predator men, but in themselves.

Now if you look at my Twitter account, it’s full of Females, not only because I’m gay, but also because when you support the right people, you get “fed the right food”…

 

Ava DuVernay – Black, female director and activist who is incredibly artistic and has the biggest heart for Black females. I look up to her like the big sister I never had.  

Kelechi Okafor –  Black, female actress and founder of her own Fitness Studio, who daily inspires me with her activism. I actually discovered her when I was first suspended and would just spend my days stalking her on Twitter (LOL). I eventually got to meet her at the end of the summer, to tell her what a profound effect she’d had on mental health. She also taught me to speak up for myself; after spending nine months in an institution, surrounded by white people where I was forced to keep silent, I’d lost my voice and Kelechi’s tweets taught me how to speak again.

Tobi Oredein – Black, female journalist, who created Black Ballad as a platform for talented Black journalists to be published and be paid for it. I’d never seen this before I encountered Tobi on social media. And to know Tobi, is to understand her passion for Black, talented people and their struggle in the creative world, because it’s a fucking struggle to be heard. Black Ballad is so beautiful and full of such inspiration.

Izin Akhabau – Black, female journalist and was the youngest ever reporter for BBC News. Izin has been by my side virtually all summer. At first, we became connected because she wanted me to write a piece for her, however we became close during my mental breakdown and she came through for me BIG TIME. She’s also writes for Black Ballad and is starting her own online platform, so keep your eyes peeled.

Terry Crews – actor and recent activist for sexual harassment in Hollywood. I’m so glad I no longer know him from just being this dude from the “White Chicks” movie (which is awful by the way, don’t even get me started), to being the Big Black Man who started a wave in Hollywood. LEGEND. 
All of these people in their own ways, have taught me to be myself.

Self Care

I made a decision that I was going to subscribe to a magazine, and after “shopping around” for a few months, I made the decision to go with Pride and I’m so happy I did: their features on hair, music (I have a new separate playlist just from new acts I’ve discovered from Pride Magazine alone!), current Black culture etc is so fulfilling.

It’s great to just read in the bath when I need a break from social media, Netflix or studying.

It’s funny, I was talking to my best friend about the “Tom Hanks situation” and it seems I’m not the only person within the Black community to be disappointed in him and it’s because we gave him a seat at the table, as an honorary black man, which is so true. My sister and I definitely used to see him as black dad. But in retrospect, how could we all have been so foolish? He could never empathise with us as a “dad” if he’s not the same skin colour – it’s sad but it’s true.

When I messaged Tobi an appreciation message before the end of the year, in her reply she explained that Black Ballad had come from a time of brokenness for her, where she herself had lost dreams and friends, and this came from a place where she could empathise with my struggle because as a young Black female, she knows what it’s like to be hurt over and over again, not only by the people you look up to, but also by the people you trust.

XOXO

Posted in Blog

Coming Out

Last weekend I came out to my family – my uncles – with my partner by my side.

My sexuality is something that I’ve been struggling with since a very young age (possibly around the age of ten years old), and something I didn’t want to admit to myself or to anybody outside of myself, especially growing up within a Black Caribbean Christian home. My mother and I had often had heated conversations about homosexuals (not me), which had often left me in tears while she aggressively quoted scripture at me. I knew what was right and I definitely knew how she felt.

I remember in my second year of University, one of my best friends and also my housemate gave me a ride home during one holiday, and my mother clocked him and decided that she “didn’t like him because he looked gay” and she didn’t want him back around her house again.

He wasn’t gay. My mother was just a religious, homophobic bitch.

Having attended a Catholic school, my friends were all religiously straight, including my best friend of sixteen years. We’d also spoken about homosexuality; I’d mentioned my celebrity girl crushes, however I always did so in jest… Rihanna, Julia Roberts, Drew Barrymore, Helena Bonham Carter,.. and my friend would call me a massive lesbo. I would also secretly check out girls. The guys I fancied in real life were quite androgynous looking and very unobtainable – there would always be a reason why I couldn’t have them, and I think I secretly wanted that.

However, when I met my current partner, a transgender girl, I could no longer deny my sexuality. In her I met my best friend and the most beautiful girl in the world. When we first met, I didn’t know that she was trans, but when I found out, the first person I wanted to tell was my oldest friend, who I naively hoped would be able to see beyond her religious upbringing and understand that up until now, my happiness had been compromised, because I was finally starting to accept my sexuality.

But she couldn’t accept it. I’m not sure if she was more freaked out about my coming out, or my dating a transgender woman, but my oldest friend couldn’t deal with it. We last spoke in June, which is when I told her and we haven’t spoken since. This broke my heart.

I also told another close friend – the one who I invited round for dinner and although she seemed to react supportively to this news, she was suddenly opinionated about my future career plans in a negative way, then blamed me for not receiving her opinions. And we haven’t spoken since. However, it was such a bizarre scenario that I think it was a reaction to my coming out.

Friends seem to treat it as a personal affront when you come out, especially when you’ve had previous relationships with the opposite sex. I felt like both friends were accusing me of lying because I’d had relationships with guys, and for also having not been completely upfront about my feelings. But when you’re struggling with your sexuality, the only person you really trust is yourself. Plus these were my most religious friends – I was hardly going to run to them with my struggles!

I have been frightened to tell anybody close to me since – most importantly my uncles and cousins. Friends you can replace, however family has come to mean everything to me again, especially after being so let down before by other family members.

 

What if they were repulsed?

What if they didn’t understand?

What if they didn’t want to understand?

What if after all of these years, I lost them again?

 

I told my cousins separately first, who were so warm and receiving. However, they are younger than me, and therefore a hell of a lot younger than their dads!

One scenario on constant replay in my mind, was the one uncle whose house I was going to for Christmas would be so disgusted that he would retract his invitation (well actually I invited myself) and I’d have nowhere to go for Christmas Day!

Last Sunday was the day… I was so stressed that I could barely eat breakfast. The Jubilee Line from Finchley Road to Stratford was as packed as a Black Friday trolley and I nearly threw up. I had the stupid idea to ask them all to guess what the announcement might be, to break the tension that only I seemed to be feeling LOL, which actually just built up the moment even more for me. But I did it and I also told them about my partner.

They were all so embracing, it was unreal.

 

I had a seizure during the meal and spilt tea all over myself. But I came out!

 

Homosexuality within Black culture is definitely a conversation that is transforming, especially amongst the older generation and that’s thanks to the younger generation bringing it up with their parents and getting them to talk about it. Two of my uncles who had had conversations with their daughters (my awesome cousins), both said that the conversations have stayed with them and that it had really opened up their minds to some new ideas. These two uncles in particular are older than the third and were teenagers in the 60s, which was a completely different world, where you couldn’t speak about things like this.

When my partner – who is German – was relaying her experiences with transphobia back home and how homosexuality is still regarded by some as a Mental Health condition, my uncles could understand this, because in the 60s, 70s and for some of the 80s, this was the mindset towards homosexuality in UK too, until the explosion of pop culture, with the New Romantics, and pop figures like Boy George and George Michael helped to break the stigma.

We also talked about the stigmatism of homosexuality back home in the Caribbean – particularly Jamaica, where according to my Uncles the times are changing; it’s the people who have to change with the times, which is usually the case with prejudice and discrimination.

I feel for the men and women back home, I really do. I wonder if the prejudice against homosexuality is more to do with power, (because antagonists like to hold authority over their prey) than it is to do with thoughts and feelings on what anybody is actually doing with their bodies.

My mother never gave a damn about what people did with their bodies anyway. She seemed to thrive on the power of religion and judgement.

 

Anyway, all I’ve ever wanted is to be loved unconditionally, and last weekend I realised that I’ve always had it and I always will. I loved it when my partner said to me that in my uncles I now also have three dads. 

It’s an incredible feeling.

And I have come out to a couple of other friends who have been incredibly supportive of both me and and my partner.

It’s great to finally be me.

Gay

 

XOXO

Posted in Blog, Mental Health

Friendship – Check Please

I want to talk about friendship and when you allow the boundaries to be overstepped, in the sake of friendship, how many times, before it all becomes too far?

I’m a good friend, I build people up, I see their insecurities and I use that to encourage them. I guess lately because of my state of Mental Health I’ve expected the same back from my friends, however the reason why my circle of friends has diminished is because I haven’t gotten this back.

One of my best friends came over to my place last weekend, it was the first time we’d seen each other in about a year but we speak on the phone almost every weekend. I was extremely excited, I cleaned the flat and I cooked. When she came, my partner and I showed her around as it was the first time she’d seen the flat.

She spent a lot of time on her phone, but I also still had to finish up dinner…

She didn’t show as much enthusiasm for my Wall of Black Magic (my pride and joy), as I thought she would. But then, you can’t expect everybody to share your passions…

Wall of Black Magic

She made inferences about my not being “woke” enough and she’s always done this, because I’ve always had interracial relationships, however now it was really starting to touch a nerve, because of everything I’m doing on social media to raise awareness for Black Mental Health.

There were also inferences like, because I don’t wrap my hair at night, while watching “Girls’ Trip”, I’m therefore not properly Black. Perhaps it was a joke, but because of everything else that had happened, I didn’t find it funny, because taking 14 pills a day leaves me too exhausted to know my own name, let alone remember to wrap my fucking hair every night.

Which brings me to the real dagger of the event: we were discussing my plans for once I finish my MSc in two or three years time. Currently, my partner and I are discussing the option of my working part-time as a therapist with ethnic minorities, while also pursuing the option of working in Cultural Psychological Research part-time, perhaps a part-time PhD.

My friend felt that because of my health issues, I shouldn’t have contact with people and that perhaps, advocacy would be the best option for now. Not two or three years from now. Now.

I challenged her about this, by saying that we don’t have enough people of colour in therapy, plus we’re not talking about now, but two or three years time, however she still disagreed. I also challenged her by saying that research is incredibly stressful, especially for people with mental health issues – my other friend is doing a PhD and her supervisor is unforgiving, plus just look at the challenges I’m facing with research at MSc level.

But then I’m crazy, what do I know? And too disabled.

I messaged her about it the next day and she backtracked, saying that she claimed that she thought we were talking about my plans for now.

But you asked the question: what are my plans for after?

She still stood by her opinion however, and although I don’t have to take her opinion (which I told her that I won’t), she only wants the best for me.

My theory is that she also wants to be a therapist, sometime in the future, therefore why not have people like me do all of the hard work in the field of research so that she doesn’t have to.

So it was a disappointing day, even little things: to not have seen a friend in a year and not compliment them on their appearance? And I know that I have to check myself here, because I waste way too much mental energy on shit like this, analysing the absence of compliments, ESPECIALLY when I have a partner who tells me how fucking hot I am every day!

And I don’t build my friends up to get something in return… I’m not building savings accounts to dip into whenever I need them 🤔 but the lack of validation from childhood still runs deep and my close friends know this. And with the absence of therapy/ access to therapy, Women of Colour need their friends to build them up.

For example, my weave is just one of the things that makes me feel more Black, so a compliment from my closest Black friend about my hair would’ve validated my Blackness.

Or at least given me some confidence, which I really need right now, which embarrasses me to admit…

Instead, although she ate the chicken I cooked for her, she picked at my rice and peas and made constant inferences on my “woke-ness”.

Now I just feel deflated.

There is a proverb about friendship:

“One finger cannot hold up a thing”

which illustrates the need for others in our lives. Relationships can be communal or exchange; communal relationships benefit the well-being of the people within the relationship, like a community; exchange relationships are where people give benefits with the benefit that they will receive comparable benefits in return.

While writing this post, I also spoke to another friend who said that sometimes you just have to shut the door and keep the world on the outside of that door, with you and your partner alone on the inside. Close friendships are great, but there’s nothing like a great partnership and it’s you two against the rest of the world.

XOXO

Posted in Blog, Mental Health

Violence and Aggression against African American Women and Children, by Cece Alexandra Noel (2017)

DV (Image source)

Violence and Aggression against African American Women and Children

by Cece Alexandra Noel (2017)

I believe the theory of evolutionary aggression and violence can be seen in the homes of African American families. People require more than food and shelter to survive, so this aggression is also societal.

Social learning theory (Anderson & Bushman, 2002) caused by institutional racism – either directly experienced or observed – conceptualises the anger, hatred and frustrations of African American men, which are then being displaced onto their partners, lovers and children.

Anderson & Bushman’s General aggression model (GAM), a holistic framework then looks at the multiple theories of aggression, however scholarship has emphasised the male experience as opposed to the female.

Hill Collins categorises violence into three dimensions – the second of which concerns the relationship between actions and speech. We can hypothesise that this quantifies as aggression and violence, designed to belittle, humiliate, and strip victims of their sense of worth, while the powerful individual inflicting the violence has no idea that they – in fact – are reproducing the subverted climate of fear seen outside of their homes. To return to the theory of evolutionary aggression – which would typically come from perpetrators of racism and therefore is designed to belittle and humiliate the minorities, Hill Collins’ theory correctly establishes the ethnography of abuse for African-American women and children: silence will yield better treatment; victims know that their homes will provide better refuge in a world that preys upon the weak (Hill Collins, p.925).

Unfortunately, the man knows his power over his household, as do his victims, therefore he must be playing a role of self-efficacy (Anderson & Bushman, 2002, p.36), for his specific aggressive acts have been chosen with the belief that those he has victimised will remain in fear, just like the generations of Black people before him. Anderson and Bushman also suggest that the anger-aggression linkage is one that humans are evolutionarily prepared to learn, particularly in relationships.

My next hypothesis therefore, considers environmental factors, which have stripped these men of their self-esteem, but which Anderson and Bushman’s GAM does fail to consider. Their frustration stems from relative depravation (Myers, 2013), because the American Dream has failed them, and they are taking their learnt aggression out on their families, which they perceive to be the only property of worth to them. With low levels of serotonin and high levels of testosterone, it is generally accepted that the expression of aggression is caused by a combination of environmental and genetic factors (Laureate, 2017).

Anderson and Bushman suggest Multisystemic therapy, which is not only family focused intervention; it is also a biosocial intervention framework, built around the individual, as well as the family, to understand the cues of aggression and violence, with the goal of reducing it.

But what if you can’t escape the aggression cues such as racism, racial inequalities or societal humiliation? How much will the person really change?

A study on Domestic Violence in the African American Community by Hampton, Oliver and Magarian (2003) found that not only providing employment for Black men was the solution to, but simultaneously re-educating them on their perceptions of Black women, by confronting sexist stereotypes and enhanced male-female relationships, was a solution to helping to reduce violence within families. This was also intrinsic to reforming the Black community.

However, social psychology contributes to the problem because these methodologies do not protect women and children. I challenge psychologists to create interventions with an emphasis on building a biosocial intervention frameworks for women and children within the African American community, to feel safe enough to come forward and break the pattern of evolutionary violence within families.

The repetitive vicious cycle of violence is also a major issue within the African American ethnographic; children are either forced to resolve conflicts or become imitators. The biopsychosocial model explains how children who directly experience violence or observe others’ aggressive behaviour, then replicate the same negative responses outside.

R.E. Davis (1997) raised the key point that providers do not offer intervention to allow this ethnographic the space to elicit information about early traumatic life events (Hampton, Magarian & Oliver, 2003), therefore the psychosocial needs for children are not being met, allowing the cycle to continue into the next generation.

Black women are perceived to be the property of their partners – particularly if they are unemployed, and even if they contribute to the community, because in the eyes of the perpetrator this is not a contribution to the household. The feminist activities during the Black Panther Movement, were and still are significant downplayed and women were appallingly treated by their male counterparts. This was also all witnessed by their children.

Naples’ Activist Mothering, is just one example of how African American women in modern memory, continue community work, which not only involves nurturing work for those outside one’s kinship group, but also encompasses a broad definition of actual “mothering practices” (Naples, p.448). As well as adapting their environment, women also opened their homes to young women with children, challenged “traditional notions of gender and mothering” (Naples, p.454) and bequeathed a new legacy to their children.

However, there were consequences such as overlapping demands. Within the community itself this was taken care of with “othermothers” (Troester, 1984) to assist with childcare, but some of the women reported problems within their personal relationships, which I hypothesise is causal to an escalation of domestic violence due to emasculation and jealousy. Some of the women also chose to obtain professional credentials (three African-Americans and seven Latinos), which may further cause provocation of violence at home. Other than the “othermothers”, no other intervention was provided for these women and their children to safeguard them.

African Americans live a bicultural reality (Collins, 1998), where the social process of violence is “hidden in plain sight” of children (Collins, 1998, p.925); Women are accused of betraying their race, should they report their partners and flee a perpetrator. Religion plays a huge part; Women especially, turn to their faith. Spirituality and the Black Church are anchors within the Black community (Billingsley, 1992). Yet, religious ideology undermines Black women and doctrine sanctions women for breaking marriages, while teaching their children that their fathers are the physical and spiritual author of the household (Bell & Mathis, 2000).

Research suggests that children who live in female-headed households do not do as well on several social indicators; for example, there is a higher school dropout rate among these children, and that daughters are at higher risk of becoming teen parents (Allison & Belgrave, 2006, p.64-65) However, this is not a reason to encourage victims to stay in abusive homes. Breaking the cycle of aggression and violence with divorce / separation has a higher psychosocial impact, than keeping children within the conflict.

What these women and particularly their children need, are early intervention. African American children are forced into an early adulthood: there is less warmth at home (Hofferth, 2003), and they are forced to take on adult roles, but outside are still expected to be children (Allison & Belgrave, 2006). What they need is an outlet and community violence intervention resources, which will prevent them from engaging in violence and early sexual intimacy (Allison & Belgrave, 2006).

 

References

Allison. K.W., & Belgrave. F.Z. (2006). African American Psychology: From Africa to America. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, Inc.  Section II, Social Systems & Structures, Chapter Three: Kinship & Family, “Consequences of Family Structure on Children’s Outcomes”, (p.64). Section III, Individual & Developmental Processes, Chapter Ten: “Lifespan Development”, (pp.242-244).

Anderson, C.A., & Bushman, B.J. (2002). Human Aggression, Annual Review of Psychology, 53(1)27-51.

FORA.tv. (n.d.). Genocide to Abu Ghraib: How good people turn evil [Video file]. Retrieved from http://library.fora.tv/2008/01/24/Genocide_to_Abu_Ghraib_How_Good_People_Turn_Evil#Abu_Ghraib_Dark_Side_of_Human_Nature

Hampton, R., Oliver, W., & Magarian, L. (2003). Domestic Violence in the African American Community: An Analysis of Social and Structural Factors, Violence Against Women, Vol. 9 No. 5, 533-557. DOI: 10.1177/1077801201150450.

Hill Collins, P. (1998). The tie that binds: race, gender and US violence, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 21(1)5, 917-938, DOI: 10.1080/01498798329720.

Myers, D. G., & Twenge, J. M. (2013). Social psychology (11th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw–Hill. Chapter 10, “Aggression: Hurting Others” (pp. 352–391).

Naples, N. (1992). Activist Mothering: Cross-Generational Continuity in the Community Work of Women from Low-Income Urban Neighbourhoods, Gender and Society, Vol. 6, No. 3. Race, Class & Gender, pp. 441-463. Retrieved from: http://www.jstor.org.stable/189996

Laureate Online, (2017) Week 7 Weekly Notes: Aggression and Violence [Social Psychology]. Retrieved from https://elearning.uol.ohecampus.com/bbcswebdav/institution/UKL1/201820OCT/MS_LPSY/LPSY_311/readings/LPSY_311_Week07_weeklyNotes.pdf