These are my confessions:
sometimes often, throughout the day, I would randomly pause and think, what’s not wrong with me? I’m clinically depressed, have PTSD, anxiety, am a Black woman in a country that has yet to recognize my full humanity, am voluptuously gifted. Being a woman of color, a woman of size, a person who rocks their natural kinky hair, as soon as I walk out the door I’m judged by my appearance. Hecklers like to tell me what they think of my existence, and more often than not, it’s atrocious.
So why add all these mental illnesses on top of it? Why is my brain “sick?” I would ask myself, unconsciously internalizing that I’ve done something wrong, that I actively do things in my life to make myself depressed, triggered, a walking ball of nerves. It was another hurdle I had to overcome. That I can’t have too many strikes, that being a plus size black woman is already 3 strikes against me. As I picked up an ube cheesecake from Uwajimaya, I would overhear judgmental teenagers laugh among themselves, “of course she went right for the cake.” As I walked home from work, men cackled as I walk down the street a cacophony of
Hey lose a few pounds ape- you’ll be prettier,
Can I take a ride on those trampoline tits,
Hey you Harriett Tubman pickaninny!
Not every single time I’m out in a public space, but often enough that I subconsciously felt the need to put my armor on before leaving the house. How covered are my breasts? Is my hair moisturized? Is this twistout perfect? Do these patterns make my hips look wider? Giving in to societal standards, how presentable am I now? Can I acquiesce to European beauty standards enough to not be called a pickaninny today but do I still look Black enough to hold on to my identity?
All in all, since I was about 10, I didn’t quite feel in control over my body. I was a B/C cup by 5th grade, a DD by 8th grade, and circling between a G/H cup by the time I was 18. When I was 12 and walking into a grocery store a grown ass man, with a gray beard and smile lines galore placing him around middle age, licked his lips and followed me around the store whispering about how happy I would make a man. I crossed my arms across my chest in an attempt to hide those mounds of flesh making my hoodie rise. Apparently that makes em look bigger; I innately recognized that lustful, disgusting smirk. Immediately after he left, I was yelled at that I was being fast, that I always wanted attention and was always wearing those too tight tops.
No matter what I did, how I dressed, if my top was a v neck or a turtleneck, if I wore skinny jeans, leggings, my brother’s old sweatpants, my body was scrutinized and value placed on it by what men wanted to do. I dressed myself every morning, but as I left the house it felt like my body was displaced from me, disjointed and placed in someone else’s hands.
The fragmented feelings of losing control over small parts of myself throughout the day never quite left as I got older. The way I styled my hair, the clothes I bought, the confidence, the morals and values I had- I clung to those parts of myself, as I became more cognizant of how I was viewed by the “outside world,” as I learned clearly about those strikes against me.
I’m a black, plus size woman with PTSD, depression, and anxiety. My lived experience taught me, from the time that I was a pre-teen, that I would be body shamed, fat shamed, encounter racist, misogynistic people in daily interactions. Without knowing the vocabulary, I could recount in acute detail experiencing housing, medical, education, and workplace systemic discrimination. By 26, I thought I had come to terms with it. There was still a ball of rage that would simmer inside me when I felt people didn’t get it or minimized my lived experience, but for the most part I thought I had accepted that prejudiced people weren’t going anywhere any time soon.
A doctor visit in 2017 after gaining about 200 pounds in a little over 2 years and having to buy L cup bras online led to a confused discussion around binge eating. How can I have an eating disorder? I’m too big to have an eating disorder.
After a referral to The Emily Program that I never followed up on, after a bi-weekly therapy program that only allowed for 8 visits, a quick search on http://www.therapyforblackgirls.com a consultation that I cancelled day of, thought records and a couple of sessions with a psychologist, it felt like my bodily autonomy was melting off of me, swirling, and dumping itself down the drain. The opposite of what was supposed to be happening. I never quite thought the diagnosis was helpful, mainly because I didn’t know what to do with it. Sure, it was reassuring to figure out an underlying cause of my weight gain. But this was just another strike.
Now I had an eating disorder. Now my brain was sick in another way- I would eat plates more of food after I was already full, couldn’t stop eating until I was spoonfuls away from nausea. Don’t I control my brain and my thoughts? Couldn’t I kick this habit with just a little more discipline?
I thought that about most of my mental illnesses: wasn’t it just a matter of being more focused, to be a little more disciplined? I couldn’t control my race or the size of my breasts, but didn’t I have some power over what I ate and my mood? Eat less, think happy thoughts. Bing, bang, boom; I’m cured.
That was the root of the problem- I wanted to have some sort of power over my own brain. I had unknowingly created a power dynamic and was fighting with myself. I didn’t see it as one body, one continuous being that deserved wellness and compassion. I turned myself into puzzle pieces, grasping at parts I thought were still my own and weren’t affected by my mental health.
When the eating less and thinking happy thoughts didn’t magically cure me, I revisited my thoughts about my mental health. What’s not wrong with me? How many diagnoses am I gonna get? Well, there are a lot of things I think are right about me: my blackness is divine, my legs are long, shapely and make me feel sexy, I’m smart, compassionate, inquisitive, unique, quirky and cute as hell. I’m strong: becoming more vulnerable and open makes me feel stronger, for years I felt worthless and like a shell of myself and asked for help in the depths of all that.
Each diagnosis doesn’t change the fabric of who I am, it’s not a piece of the puzzle I’m now missing. But it does give me a blueprint of what resources I need, what I can give myself and what I sometimes need a nudge in the right direction to begin doing, of how I can achieve physical and mental wellness. That last one I consider one of the major factors of being self-content, which will hopefully bring a little more “phuck the outside opinions, them being a prejudiced jerk isn’t my problem,” and a little less “how can I make myself more presentable to stop the comments.”