Over-Sharing: For Colored Girls (And Boys) Who Committed Suicide When Being A "Strong Black Person" Wasn't Enough
My name is Danielle Belton and I am a woman.
I possess no super human strength. I cannot go it alone. I cannot carry the unnamed pains of the past alone. I can not blindly defend my abusers no more than I can take their abuse. I get mad. I cry. I am confused. I want to be loved. I want to be understood. I don't want judgement or condemnation, persecution or accusations. I don't want to be accused of calling the world to fall from grace as if I were dining on that fruit alone.
God named me "Imperfect" and I can't dance for anyone anymore. I can't pretend because it doesn't help you and it doesn't help me, it just perpetuates the same cycle of "The Strong Black Woman," the "Strong Black Man" and the place where we part to go our own ways in life, bitter and broken.
In 2001, my "strong black woman" fallacies officially broke into pieces as I contemplated a "him or me" situation with a man I'd been with for three years. After all his time taking my once high self-esteem and wearing it down to a nub, the last bit of fighter in me wanted to take myself out, but I wasn't going alone.
(More after the jump)
In the end, I couldn't do it. But I had a problem. A contradiction. I was and still am a Liberal who is for a woman's right to end a marriage, yet I did not want the "shame" of divorce. Very few in my family were divorced. I was naive, believing love was supposed to last forever.
So there was only one way out -- death.
I knew it was wrong to hope that the cops would come to the door one night and just say he was dead. A few months later his own arrogance would lead him to abandoning me, expecting me to follow rather than run 2,000 miles away and start over.
It would have been too easy for it to just be over after that, but you can't endure three years of psychological torture and not come out like a member of the land of broken toys. Our relationship was a Folie à Deux, a cult of two. But I didn't blame him because of how I was. Typical of victims to see fault in themselves, but there was a hunger inside of me that made me an easy target.
The passive nature. The gentle spirit. The obsession with diplomacy and justice. The creative arts. I was always this way a little. I had a host of childhood phobias, many embarrassing. I was sensitive with a gentle heart -- something the world always seemed determined to cure me of.
I learned quickly that no one cared when you cried, especially if you were a black child. You learned early on your tears were to be stifled, tucked away, buried, evaporated. Maybe you mother taught you this. Or your father. Or a grandparent or teacher. But you learned very early on that no one cared how you felt.
If you were born a hard-ass, no big I suppose. If you were born a lover like me, it was like taking a pacifist and putting a gun in their hand and ordering them to shoot others or be shot.
Despite this, I held on to most of my authentic, sensitive persona until I met him and he spun a story of a life of hardship and pain. He painted me as the wide-eyed doe in the woods he needed to rescue. At first I played along, placating his ego, but soon the lies about us became truths and he was my stalwart buck victorious and I was that doe and we relished in the freshly harvested candor of manufactured bliss.
Years later I'm sweating because he doesn't believe in air conditioning and it's 1103 degrees in the West Texas heat. And there's a fish tank in the bedroom that keeps me from sleeping along with his jungle sound tapes and because I am well trained I do not complain when the apartment fills with moths from the lights and the open windows. I do not complain about filth, his lack of job or how he doesn't say 'I Love You.' I am a peacemaker. I care about feelings.
He does not.
When he cheats on me I say nothing. He dumps me in an Olive Garden and I don't make a scene because he tells me not to. I am 23 years old. I have lost 35 lbs and I am always running a 100.1 fever. I had gone from looking charming and desirable to a schlub. But I didn't hate him. I blamed myself.
I blamed myself for years.
It would be too easy for it to end with him 2,000 miles away.
I once mentioned a bomb in my head, lying doormat, waiting to go off. That bomb was Bipolar Disorder. Specifically Bipolar Type II. For years I'd lived with a mild version of it, enjoying productive highs and sad lows, but nothing dramatic. Post the trauma of the divorce I ping-ponged from ecstasy to suicidal.
I was misdiagnosed several times for four years. That meant four years of almost ending it all from bad reactions to Zoloft and Lexapro, going into deep despairs over loneliness, the pressures of being a well-known reporter in Bakersfield, Calif., the fear of any man who looked like my ex and the over all rudeness of those who used my illness to their own gain.
I say all this because for the less than astute my "vacation" was really a 10-day stint in a psych ward after my medication stopped working. I wanted many times to write about my illness, but fear kept me from opening up, but after this, my fourth trip to the hospital in six years, I felt it was time to share my story so that others know they are not alone. That it is OK to seek help. That mental illness among black people is real no matter who those people are. There is no shame in it. There is no shame in asking for help. There is no shame in taking off that superwoman and superman cape and saying some thing are bigger than me.
In the darkest point of my relationship I prayed for three hours not for my husband to leave or die or disappear. I just asked to be happy again, like I used to be.
I didn't have the strength to get rid of that man. I'm not a religious woman, but I strongly believe God tricked that man out of my life. But God didn't work alone. I had friends. I had family. I had co-workers. I had people who loved and cared about me who cared for me when I didn't care about myself. Who protected me when I refused to protect myself.
You can't carry this on your own. We need to carry each other, not judge each other. We need to give each other the real intimacy and tenderness we were denied for so many years.
We need redemption and forgiveness.
We need love. And we need to stop acting like we don't need it. Open your arms and you'll be surprised at what you may receive back.