After being ravaged by postpartum depression for most of 2015, my 2016 goal was to retain sanity — by any means necessary. Things had fallen apart soon after I gave birth to my daughter, with the pressures of work and new motherhood driving me to depression and sleep deprivation. To overcome this I was willing to manage a tighter schedule, hire more help, take more time off. But the hardest part of my recovery has been becoming an advocate for my own wants and my needs.
Women are conditioned to shoulder alot and think nothing of it. There are dozens of colloquialisms for women perceived as needy, complaining and dependent; ‘basic’, ‘bitch’, ‘shrew’, ‘nag’. And so we become accustomed to doing too much and saying too little. This Crunk Feminist Collective article entitled How to Not Die: Some Survival Tips for Black Women Who Are Asked to Do Too Much, sums it up perfectly;
“I believe the stress of weighty expectations and doing too much takes its toll on us. It doesn’t happen all at once. It happens over weeks and months and years of pushing our own needs and desires down until we can’t feel them anymore. It happens, subtly, until it makes sense to do too much because that is just the way things are, the way things have always been. That, too, is a problem. It is a problem when caretaking (taking care) becomes something we do for other people and not ourselves. It is up to us to survive and not just survive but thrive in our lives. To not put work above living. To not make ourselves our last resort. To not wait until we are tired to rest. To not wait until we are sick to make healthy choices. To not wait until we have pleased everyone else to think about our own needs. To not postpone our own happy. To not just tolerate foolishness…
I worry that our foremothers were worked to death. I worry that they didn’t see death coming because they were too busy taking care of other things. I worry that they had too much to do and ran out of time. I worry that they didn’t get to see themselves as celebrated and loved and worthy of celebration and love. I worry that they worked too much, too hard, and for too little pay. I worry that people saw them as strongblackwomen and forgot to see them as human. I worry that our jobs, our families, our friends, and sometimes our supporters expect too much and we expect too little.”
Speaking up on my own behalf — day in and day out to my husband, family and friends — brought on a lot of anxiety. I soon became acutely aware of just how much I silence myself to make others comfortable. Squeezing my eyes tight and gritting my teeth I forced myself to vocalize my needs for rest, for quiet, for space and time.
‘Will everyone hate me? Will they get tired of me? Will they not want to be my friend?‘ These thoughts swirled in my head as I posted yet another Facebook status about how difficult my day had been, or told my parents, yet again, that I needed them to make the trip out to Chicago to help me with the kids.
And yes, I did lose some friends. Some thought I had become too big for my britches. Who was I, they wondered, to selfishly re-order my priorities around the provision of my physical and emotional needs? I was a wife and mother after all, and that was not wifely and motherly behavior. Others were uncomfortable with how candid I’d become about the ups and downs of my life, preferring my upbeat statuses about how well my various ventures were going or how beautiful my young family was.
But the people who mattered most stayed by my side. And I was surprised to find that my honest words unlocked a world of love and support I didn’t know existed.
My mother rallied around me, getting my father in line with the idea that bi-monthly trips to Chicago were a must, at least while their grandchildren were still very young. My husband acknowledged his need to shoulder domestic responsibility in a more meaningful way and approach it with the same fervor he would a 9 to 5. And my friends became meaningful sounding boards and partners in my self-care.
Perhaps my anxiety is rooted in fear that the real me — the sometimes annoying and hot-tempered and exhausting me — is impossible to love. So I stuffed it away, put on a veneer and tried to shoulder everything myself. But 2016 has been my year of understanding that, imperfect as I am, I deserve devoted love and a village to carry me. After all, part of sharing the load is being honest about how burdensome it really is.