Embracing Sadness as a Strong Black Woman

Two-thousand sixteen was a rough year for all of us. Aside from a head-spinning political season and a legitimate social justice concern every five minutes, some of us experienced strong personal blows, myself included.

That was the year I attended regular meetings with a counseling intern during my last semester in college. She, a Black woman like me, was a spiritual leader completing clinical hours as a graduate intern while earning her Ph.D. One day, she noticed my tendency to bottle up my emotions and avoid dealing with sadness at all costs. It’s one of my coping mechanisms when it comes to hard feelings.

I don’t have time for sadness. It’s time consuming, and I’m afraid that if I give it the time and attention it deserves, it’ll keep me from being my personable, presentable self.  I also grapple with the Strong Black Woman Complex which keeps me believing– among other problematic thought patterns– that crying and venting about sad feelings are a sign of weakness, which is basically the antithesis of Black womanhood. Similar beliefs affect people of all genders from various cultural backgrounds.

My counselor likened the emotion of sadness to a house guest that, if ignored, will bother us until acknowledged. She said a lot of helpful things during our meetings but that stuck with me, even months after graduation.

I recently had a moment where I suddenly felt down after seeing something triggering.

Sadness was knocking.

But I didn’t feel like dealing with her, so I ignored Sadness for the rest of the day. I tried to act like she wasn’t there because I didn’t know what she wanted, or what brought her to my doorstep, and I wasn’t sure how to handle her. Instead I napped, got productive, and watched TV. I tuned her out with busyness.

Ironically enough, Rihanna’s “Get It Over With” from her Unapologetic album was on repeat in my mind that day. The song talks about bottled up emotions and how it’s healthier to just let them out. The first verse wouldn’t leave me alone:

…You’re so afraid to cry

But your heart be feeling dry

It’s time to change

But you keep thundering, thundering

I’m wondering, wondering why you keep thundering

Won’t you just rain

And get it over with

I was so bent on ignoring my pain that I didn’t even realize the relevance of the lyrics.

The song stuck with me all day, up until the time I went to bed. In my dreams, the situation bothered me again, this time with a visual appeal. When I woke up, sadness knocked harder.

I had some time that morning, so I decided to stop fighting. I decided not to push Sadness away. I paused my activities. I let her in.

I didn’t try to distract myself while Sadness was with me. I didn’t try to make myself happy. We sat on the couch together, and I listened to her talk through my journaling. Then tears came. We turned on “Get It Over With” and other songs that empathized with our pain. We were selective in our song choice because my vulnerability demanded understanding.

After that, Sadness was ready to go. Contentment knocked for her. Apparently, I’d entertained her enough. Sadness left Reflection as her parting gift and returned that night when I went to bed. We laid together under my covers and fell asleep to my tears. She was gone by morning. She’ll be back, I know, but not for awhile; perhaps not until something triggers her.

I was glad I allowed myself to spend time with Sadness. It was much better than trying to do normal things while she bothered me with her incessant knocking.

I’m learning through this experience that acknowledging pain is part of the healing process. People with advanced degrees seem to agree with me (and Rihanna). Tori Rodriguez, a psychotherapist, was quoted in a Huffington Post article advising the following:

“Anger and sadness are an important part of life, and new research shows that experiencing and accepting such emotions are vital to our mental health. Attempting to suppress thoughts can backfire and even diminish our sense of contentment. Acknowledging the complexity of life may be an especially fruitful path to psychological well-being.”

The article also speaks of the physical and mental health issues that can arise from keeping it all inside (check it out, girl).

My emotional outlets are different from what Rihanna recommends in the hook of her song. I prefer drowning myself in music, singing, and writing, which is probably my highest form of self-expression. Your outlets might be different. Whatever it is that helps you face your feelings, no matter how brutal your grief may be, take some time to let it out somehow. Even BAUCE women have pain, but dealing with it head on can help us recover sooner than later.

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