Politics & Lifestyle

To be black, lesbian, poor, and diagnosed with mental illness means I cannot always exist wholly.

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On Oct 5, 2015

By Thenjiwe/ @TeaJay_001

In the book, Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde, the introduction speaks of Lorde’s interlocking struggle of being black, a mother to two sons, and a lesbian. Re-reading this introduction, this was as far as I could go. Perhaps, it was because as I write this I am feeling exceptionally fragile. I still fail to find the words, to describe the emotions that come with my being fragile. All I know, all I can say is that there are parts of me that feel overly vulnerable, that hurt easily.

I feel too deeply about too much, too often.

I often wish I could switch off my brain, and/or heart. Whichever it is that makes me feel that deeply. Some days are better than others, some not so much. Some days, I stay in my bed and want to wallow in a pain that I cannot explain, a pain that I cannot quite trace the roots to.

All I know is that it hurts.

Even as I type this I am thinking about how problematic the train of thought I am about to embark on is. However, this is how I feel, so, I will feel. If we could choose who and what we could be born as, I possibly would’ve chosen to be a white cis-gender heterosexual rich man in Europe, who would live in a beautiful lie. I would live this lie, all day every day. I would not begin to read about my male/hetero/cis/white privilege. I would simply think, ‘I didn’t choose to be all these things, and so why must I feel deeply about them?’  However, I am not these things. If that man was the earth, I would be whatever planet that is furthest from him.

It has been hard accepting my diagnosis, as a black womyn mostly because, I believe in the pan-Afrikanist discourse. Believing in that for me means, I question the western idea of psychology. My diagnosis isn’t so much a diagnosis, than a statement of my being. I am depressed, because I am oppressed.

My every day is a struggle. To wake up and get out of bed, even if it is to spend the whole day on Twitter, is a victory for me. The alternative of that is I am angry, I am livid, ngiyabila. In fact, I am a ticking time bomb. If I am not sitting on Twitter all day, I am reading. Perhaps over-reading. I am internalising, scrutinising my every day experience. Exposed to perpetual violence, and trying to not exert violence back.


Yesterday, I stated that people often define me as a strong womyn. I on the other hand, see myself as a dangerous black womyn. A black womyn who is ready to exert a greater violence than the one I have been exposed to. I spend days on end, contemplating how to blow up the world, and start again. I am sure psychologically this is something worth diagnosing, in my head, however, how it works. I am forever and always responding to the abuse that I am exposed to. Trying to figure out how to deal with it, trying not to internalise it, wondering how much longer I am willing to exist like this, wondering what the last straw will be before I explode.

I fear that my explosion will not simply destroy me, but destroy those around me.

Worse still, this does not scare me. I am fine with this, the world is a disgustingly horrible place (even those two words do not quite capture how repulsed I am with the world). Thus I am fine with the world stopping, just stopping. Mostly because I fear, if the world does continue it will remain the same.

As a black lesbian womyn, there are spaces and places where I feel I must not be a lesbian. Which is easy for me as apparently I do not ‘present’ as lesbian. Whatever that means. Every time that I do find myself in these spaces (which is often), I feel bits of me die a slow and painful death.

As a black person, there are times where I cannot engage with my political ideology, where I cannot say what I truly feel about whiteness. Whether, this is in the workplace or in spaces of white ignorance. Again, I feel myself die a slow and painful death. These deaths finally catch up to me as I wonder why I did not speak my mind. I wonder why there are parts of me that I need to suppress. Often, when I get to these reflective spaces e.g. in the workplace, I quit. I have levels of self-love that says run away from this level of trauma.

Except, as a black queer.

When I am exiting places of whiteness, I am often met by spaces that are black, homophobic, misogynistic, and patriarchal. In these spaces too, there is the comfort of being in blackness, but I still do not exist in my holistic being.

Having to pick to be able to be black in certain spaces, queer in others but seldom am I able to be all these things at once. This everyday experience of oppression, this existing in numerous worlds. These experiences together make it hard to exist, hard to “get out” of my depression. Harder still is to exist in all these spaces, that are not safe for mental health. Where mental health is still a joke.

I am often vocal about my mental health on Twitter, but I can’t say that is the case in the ‘real’ world. Which makes me wonder, as a queer black womyn, living with Bipolar II; do I ever exist? Are there spaces that are truly intersectional, how long can I continue to exist as five people in one body? Existing not for myself, but to suit the environment within which I exist? Does intersectionality exist? If so, please point me to where because I am struggling to exist in the world as it is today.

For more stories on mental health and depression see Almost deathsI tried to commit suicide and It Never Ends. We also have a series on mental illness, read it here.

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