There is a major disconnect when it comes to mental health and what it means to black parents and their children (at whatever age). I can imagine this is happening in many households right now as we struggle to make it through literally each day and try our best to deal with covid19 and the black lives matter revolution! My heart goes out to those who find themselves in this situation, living with a family who does not understand mental health and therefore are being more harmful than helpful. And I can say that because I understand what kind of challenges and emotions it creates. I’ve lived it.
Many black parents believe there is just no room or time for mental illness. If you profess your struggle to your family it’s often met with frustration or even anger. But I want you to know, you are not alone!
When I first got sick my Dad’s favorite thing to say to me was, “If the house is on fire, the house is on fire.” And he would add a very animated “Get out!” at the end of the quote.
He would say this to me in my times of despair. It was his advice when I would bring up issues I was depressed or anxious about, perhaps it was about school, my career, my personal trauma or my relationships at the time. I know he was trying his best to help me but it used to. Piss. Me. Off.
As I step back and look at the last 20 years of dealing with depression, OCD and anxiety while also considering the current state of the world, I realize this advice is very West Indian. It relates to that notion of you have food, water and shelter, what else is there to be upset about? I think for him as an immigrant and a black man, he did not have time or the luxury to address his mental health or even think about it. To him, you have to be logical and simplify the situation. Which is likely what he had to do as a young black man in a foreign country trying to make a life for himself and later for his family. Metaphorically, the “getting out of the house” leaves no room for questions like who started the fire? What personal belongings do I grab? Will insurance cover it? Forget all that, you need to get out of the burning house! It also leaves no room for emotions.
“If the house is on fire, the house is on fire. Get out.”Tweet
It took nearly 20 years before I started to understand this quote to be honest and it…well, kind of makes sense!
The guy you like doesn’t like you, he doesn’t like you, move on.
You failed the exam, you failed the exam, what are you going to do next?
You didn’t get the job, you didn’t get the job, what other jobs can you look at? How else can you generate income?
It is about accepting that the house is on fire and that you must get out, let go of the house and move on. Don’t discuss the fire! Get out of the damn house. Don’t ruminate! It has helped me accept certain realities. These things you can’t control are happening (you can’t control that house fire), you have to look beyond them and look at what you can do, what you can control.
But let’s be real for a second here, this analogy does not take into account well, everything else! Pain, regret, sorrow, time to process, grief, a broken heart, broken promises, the list goes on forever. It’s a practical person’s advice and can only really be processed, once you’ve dealt with your emotions. It can be about owning your life.
I do believe if you are in the right frame of mind this idea can help you right now. We have to try to be logical when it comes to certain things, grieve but also try to be think about what can help you right now, whether that is self-care or taking breaks from work or your family. I’m not downplaying anyone’s pain and suffering right now but I think it is helpful to try not to ruminate because we all have to figure out our situations and next steps.
I talk about this example because it’s important to understand the approach black parents take and what they are thinking. Some parents are truly trying to help you, they just don’t know how yet. We need to acknowledge and address that gap before we can move forward as a community!
Has your parent, therapist, teacher etc. ever used seemingly inane quotes, analogies or metaphors to comfort you in your time of need? Did you understand them at the time? Were they helpful?
RESOURCES I LOVE:
“Meditation, breathing exercise, conversations, calming music and soulful yoga flows to soothe and restore your mind, body and soul. Led by Black Wellness Practitioners to address the needs of the Black Community. Open to all members of the Black Community. All Genders welcome.”
“So often the stigma surrounding mental health issues and therapy prevents Black women from taking the step of seeing a therapist. This space was developed to present mental health topics in a way that feels more accessible and relevant.”
“These organizations focused on the mental health and well-being of Black communities can offer some much-needed support right now.”
Read about my book here. Coming this summer!
Read “Why I wrote A Hidden Life” here.
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