“Why was my instinct to mask and hide? It was the superwoman in me, the little girl conditioned to never cry or be in need.”
In her inaugural column, writer Gloria Oladipo shares why Black women’s emotional experiences deserve not just a footnote in the conversation, but a spotlight. “Superwoman Takes a Seat” is a raw, unedited examination of the lived experience of Black women’s mental health — by a Black woman, for Black women.
When Black women stick together, we are the most powerful force in the universe.
— Alfre Woodard
Black women are the backbone of the world.
Black women power the universe. We fight for everyone and everything.
Who’s leading the fight on reproductive justice? Who’s leading calls to action and protests for all Black lives? Who’s there, time and time again, for every crisis, every problem, every pain? Black women.
Too bad no one’s there for us. When we’re at our lowest, we slap on a smile and kneed our hands in productivity.
But I learned the hard way that the only way to overcome pain is to go through it, side by side with my sisters. That’s where this column, Superwoman Takes a Seat: Exploring Black Women’s Mental Health, came from.
It was a Sunday night, one of the most depressing days of the week. Something about Sundays always makes me sad: the finality of the week, the gray etching of Monday morning.
On this particular Sunday, I sat in my bed in shambles. My hair was knotted and in a nest. I had been wearing my pajamas for days. My room was stacked with books and papers, a jungle gym of clutter and debris. The smell of stale cigarettes was woven into my nightdress.
I was officially in distress.
I had just ended a 6-month relationship with someone I really liked (loved?). All I could do was cry, nap, cry, and engage in harmful, self-injurious behavior.
When we’re feeling broken, shattered into pieces, we reach for anything to put us back together.
My mentally healthy self went out the window. I felt hollow, alone, unloved, and worthless so I did things in line with the new me.
However, to my family and friends, I seemed fine. I seemed normal. Happy, upbeat, productive, and sane — even though I felt none of those things.
When we’re at our lowest self, it’s hard to make commitments to mental wellness. We feel unworthy. We feel cursed. We feel empty, used, pathetic, and a litany of other negative emotions.
We’re unable to do what needs to be done or commit to another way. We wallow, lingering in self-pity until we’re drowning in it. There is almost no way up.
But why was my instinct to mask and hide? It was the superwoman in me, the little girl conditioned to never cry or be in need. She’s bleeding from a thousand places but smiles anyway.
For sad Black girls, we sometimes hide our pain. We try and paint pretty pictures for our friends and family.
We’ll dress up nicely throughout the week and slide into sloppiness during the weekend. We wear make up — blush to come alive and mascara to brighten our puffy eyes. We can’t wait to wash our masks away.
We mimic happiness so we don’t sound the alarm bells, but we’re dying inside. Every day we fight for our lives.
The world tells sad Black girls to buck up. Our emotions don’t matter.
We are either subservient or angry — never sad, never devastated, never, ever in need. The world thinks only white women cry. The world believes only white women can be hurt and need support.
We are spoon-fed this narrative as children that “big girls don’t cry.” It applies to our 6, 7, 8-year-old self because by then, we’re already seen as women, not girls.
This is for the heartbroken Black girl, the one who gets hurt and doesn’t have the momentum to “just toughen up.” For the one who’s bruised and broken.
How do we heal again, if we even can? This, my love, is for you.
As I sat in my heartbreak, what did I do to get out of it? What can any of us do to emerge from suffocating feelings?
It wasn’t by my own power that I suddenly decided to stop being depressed.
I had to sit in my shame. I had to sit in my ruins. Only in the devastation would I once again find peace.
I was humbled by my explosive depression and only found alleviation through intense treatment and intervention.
Now, as I am emerging on the other side, I’m here to learn and grow with you all. I wanted to write a column that would give me the option of having my heart healed without having to be in charge, without having to be productive or perfect. A written safe space to be my messy, complicated self.
I was Superwoman, trying to do it all while feeling so rotten on the inside.
For now, I’ve hung up my cape and decided to try a different way.
This column is for all Black women by a Black woman.
We’re talking about it all: depression, anxiety, sex, love, heartbreak, eating disorders, and everything in between. If a topic’s taboo, I’m covering it. Nothing is off-limits. Everything matters if it’s in the service of Black women’s mental and emotional health.
Once a month, you’ll hear from me as I report on my own mental health journey. This column is revered and I will give you nothing but the “rot, gut truth” as Ms. Iyanla Vanzant would say.
Other times, we’ll host round tables where you can hear as other Black women share their triumphs and struggles in honest, vulnerable discussions.
This column is committed to a diverse amount of perspectives.
I’m a Black, queer, mentally ill woman, but there’s only so much my cis, middle class, college educated, physically-abled perspective can understand. When my perspective can’t compete, I’ll bring in others who can speak their truth to power.
Diversity is how we learn, how we grow, how we conceive of worlds outside our experience. It’s critical that different perspectives aren’t just highlighted, but centered.
I am so excited to be writing with you, learning with you, talking with you! This won’t be easy. There will be times when you cringe, when you cry, when you can barely read another word.
But we’re in this together. We’re powerful. We’re not going anywhere.
Gloria Oladipo is a Black woman and freelance writer, musing about all things race, mental health, gender, art, and other topics. You can read more of her funny thoughts and serious opinions on Twitter.