Where can I place my pain?: The intersection between privilege, blackness and mental health

By Nomaliqhwa/ @nomalili

*Trigger warning: rape, self harm, assault

There is a mute and a dimness that overcomes one at times. Sometimes it’s dark whilst still managing to provide the blanket of comfort and familiarity. Where do you turn?

I spent the last five weeks of my life battling for my life, so sure that I was the most uniquely messed up black child to ever exist. Most people are only surely messed up in one or two ways. There’s an absent father perhaps there is a money issue, usually lack thereof, maybe there is a history of sexual abuse, maybe you are a rebellious child, a disappointment. I don’t know. I’m not sure I know a single thing about the struggle of a black child.

When I talk I don’t usually get affirmed on my blackness. My accent is usually complimented on being eloquent and clear. When I speak about my story I usually get quickly reminded about how because it lacks the details of living in a township shack with more than three siblings on the same bed whilst my father drank away cheap liquor out a brown bottle and beat my mother in front of us, it’s not black enough.

So where does my pain fit in?

I know that I have never quite all together been capable of controlling my emotions and rationalizing how I reacted to events and people and things said to me the way I should have been able to be. The way that was ‘normal’. I know that most of the time I would wake up with an unexplained heaviness and would overcompensate by putting my energy into everyone and everything around me because of the fear that I had in confronting what I felt.

How long? Since I can remember the ability to remember things.

Tantrums, the problem child. I remember being sent away when I was being too much with no one understanding that there was no ‘calming down’, instead suppression was taking place. I’ll never forget how painfully I cried when my father brought home a packet of Salt & Vinegar chips for me, a flavour my tongue could not tolerate, and how uncontrollably painful it was as the tears and mucus filled my face.

It wouldn’t stop.

It couldn’t stop.

I was maybe three, no older than four, but I carry that memory with me.

The question is, why?

I do not have the answer. A black kid who went to the best schools, creative and talented I am, with a decent set of exterior genetics has never had anything to struggle about. Nothing but myself. The day I got diagnosed with depression there was a combination of both relief and immediate heightened panic. The depression was identified because of a physical assault that took place two months before. The incident caused me great anxiety and brought about the inability within me to hide what I felt inside for the first time in my life. I remember how angry I was that this was termed as clinical and not chronic.

That this was just an episode.

As if the darkness and fear and despair I lived with was only a one time passer-by in the home that is my mind. That I was going to get better.

What happened was only a mugging, in the day. There was no gun, no knife, no rape, no punches therefore what on earth was I receiving medication for? Why did I need it when the act of material possessions being violently taken away from someone was a lived reality of so many. A crime of nature had happened to a great deal of other people. I was spoilt in the fact that it had not been ‘that serious’ when people like me, the same age and colour of skin saw worse on a daily basis and they were fine.

Again, why did I need help?

I remember five weeks ago, today that my psychologist told me that I was a danger to myself and needed to take a break from my mind. She’d seen the cuts on my arms. She didn’t know about how much medication I had lined up to take the night before.

But I didn’t. I couldn’t.

I wanted to make sure that the comrades at the meetings and marches demanded that campus be a safe place for rape victims like myself before I truly gave up on living. She still thought that it was about date rape and trauma.

Why didn’t I second the motion stronger about the university supporting mental illness as a disability more? How could I when my own family and friends support the notion that it’s not our culture. Why would I out myself as someone as someone fighting myself for the will to live each and every day since I could remember. Why would I say to a group of people, who were fighting for the right of dignity to be applied to the same black body, that I was cutting and starving repeatedly for four days now.

Should I seek salvation in God? No, I was never been good enough for this god person’s time or mercy.

I stepped into the clinic. Strait jackets and shock therapy is what they are going to think happens there so I am not going to tell them. Eight days in I asked for my diagnosis and heard borderline personality disorder, severe depression and post traumatic stress disorder. This is why I took a total of seven pills a day at the nurses’ station. The reason the nurses checked my room hourly the first four days because I was on suicide watch. I’m not crazy but we don’t go through this.

Who in my family can even tell me that they inexplicably feel terrible on some days?  Who would join me in admitting that they have never felt good enough for anything and certainly never felt compassion for themselves? Who will stand by my in admitting that they hate the body they are in?

I am supposed to be one of the lucky ones, but who will admit with me that no matter how many markers of success I have hit for in order to garner validation, not only from white people, but the many cousins and relatives I carry on my back as I walk these paved streets, there has never been a moment of feeling remotely close good enough?

That there are days spent crying uncontrollably? That there are more days that are dim and dark than there are sunny and hopeful ones? Who would dare admit with me that they too have had 19 years of feeling hopeless and purposeless? That they feel abandoned like me?

No one. It’s not in our culture.

I sit here eight days out of a psychiatric hospital, after a twenty one day stint. Why would I bring attention to myself and my ‘privileged’ struggle? Because I’ve been at the forefront of fighting the struggle of the ‘black child’ but not the struggle that is my own.

Me, this black child.

And I cannot fight for everyone else without recognising that this struggle, the battle with the darkness and loneliness within me, is real. Without recognising that the struggle to release the chemical that allows me to feel good about anything, knowing that that anything good feels artificial whilst the pain of disappointment and sorrow is as real as the razor cut sting after a slash.

Yes, awareness of ones environment and society is so important and is just a real a part of you as the un-brushed kinky hair on your head. But how can you scream to the world that you demand they love you when you can’t even stand yourself?

For more from Nomaliqhwa read her blog on Tumblr Awkward Norman.

For more stories on depressions and mental health see White, It never ends and Almost deaths: on Depression, dark times and finding the light.

There is also a piece on how one contributor tried to commit suicide.

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