Conversations with Black Women: Checking on your Strong Friends
I am not superhuman, I shall not give you the satisfaction of assuming that I am willing to take on so much that it nearly kills me. No. I am resting, I am welcoming ease because I deserve it, I will not carry all of this baggage.” -me
Reading the words, "check on your strong friend", I was curious to understand how one may perceive the phrase. I decided to participate in a conversation with Black women in particular about it. My perception on the term "strong" is one I believe that should have never been associated to us because of its placement in society and how we have internalized it for many years. We have heard and even told the women in our lives like our mothers and grandmothers, by praising them for their strength through motherhood, hard work and much more. Relative to some, I have witnessed the exact except exemplifying a softness because of feeling that it wasn't allowed. I no longer agree that being "strong" is a compliment and because I choose to not be identified as such, surely it does not mean the opposite, "weak", which is also a known statement that is feared throughout our community. Releasing the burdens and expressing emotions is not weak at all. It is a necessity for taking refuge of our well-being, especially our mental health.
When you hear the phrase "check on your strong friends" what is your outlook on that? Would you automatically associate it to the person who is not as emotionally expressive? How do you determine who is the strong friend out of your friend group?
Based on the responses, the majority associate the phrase to the one that does for everyone around them but rarely ask for help in return and that the strong friend usually has no one they can rely on. It was noted that the strong friend may not be able to express themselves in a manner that seeks the very thing they are willing to give out. It was also a reminder of how we, as Black women were preconditioned to be strong. I think of my mother as a representation. A single mother, doing the best she can to survive with four children in the household. Outside of motherhood, I have learned overtime of the adversity she has faced as a woman, better yet a Black woman. Not once have I seen my mother break down or show her emotions. In society, that's a strong Black woman and it's not because she wanted to, it's because she had to. The responsibility is extensive, and that responsibility couldn't be pushed to the side so easily, so again there is praise and it isn't to say that it isn't deserving but might I include that it is exhausting. When I think about the emotional aspect, it's a huge load to carry. Where does the emotional baggage go? This is why I am an advocate for eliminating the Strong Black Woman trope and to create an effort of seeing it from our perspective but most importantly coming to an understand the detriment all together.
"Statistically speaking, 58.2% of Black adults with serious mental illness will not receive mental health treatment. While Black women are twice as likely to experience an episode of major depression in comparison to men, sadly only half of those women will actually seek help (MHA, 2021). According to Dr. Allen’s research, the superwoman schema is comprised of the following five elements: 1) an obligation to present an image of strength, 2) feeling an obligation to suppress emotions, 3) resistance to being vulnerable, 4) a drive to succeed despite limited resources, and 5) constantly feeling an obligation to help others (Manke, 2019)."
Furthermore, a point was made regarding how it is effective to know that just because a person may not show it through their appearance, it doesn't mean that they aren't going through it and for everyone to be checked up on, not only the "strong" friend. In the media, we are exposed to news relating to those that have died by suicide such as Cheslie Kryst and Arlana Miller who served as exemplars of that statement. More than likely, there is a comment referencing how the person appeared to be happy but deep down that person may have experienced living with depression and again the message that is spread is to check on your strong friends. Contrary to what the message is saying, I become frustrated with seeing it because it reminds me of the other famous line, "depression is real". As if it is another popular thing to say and because it is posted on social media, then that is enough. It would be foolish of me to assume nothing more is being done though it is critical to pay attention to the signs and symptoms that wouldn't be considered normal behavior for your loved ones such as isolation or withdrawing which is one of many. In my experience, that isn't an indicator to draw yourself further away but to check in. It's important to note that certain situations are way bigger than us to handle and may require professional help. We may not know how exactly a person feel, but paying close attention to their behaviors, their words and appearance it can help but to genuinely check in.
Continuing on with this engagement, there was admittance to struggling with the expression piece. Coming from someone that have bottled their emotions, I get it. I have shared my experience with abuse with others and on my blog, but it wasn't easy at all. It felt like pulling a leg. Though it was the hardest thing I have ever done, I am happy that I had that courage. I would say that was the steppingstone in recognizing my voice and knowing that it matters. What struck me in agreeance was the requirement of the "strong" friend learning how to seek and receive help. It's not easy to ask for help but it is a practice. I do agree that people can do better with checking in on others and I also agree that people can work on communicating. The outlook I have is that friendships works both ways. The outlook I have is that I cannot claim that I have no one when I haven't given those in my village an opportunity to support me because I refuse to ask for it but yet I insist on expecting it without a word being said. I think it's important to figure out who you may go to in whatever aspect is needed, whether it is a relative, a friend, or a therapist. It can serve you to designate your friendships, although some may oppose that they don't want to feel used in that way of only being there for one particular reason. Personally, I can say that it works for me. Generally, you come to a realization that certain people aren't or never were that person for you. You could expect to be able to vent to a close friend but in the end, you learn that this person doesn't have the capacity to pour into you as you may pour into them. Different people serve different purposes. Take inventory of your village.
Lastly, how can you be genuinely supported? How can you genuinely support your friends?