The conversation surrounding mental health is never an easy one. This is especially true amongst black men. There seems to be some sort of unwritten rule that a black man that is vocal about their feelings is weak.
For as long as I can remember I have always had the impression that I can handle anything. I lived through situations whereby in my eyes, things could not possibly get any worse. Whatever else comes my way I could easily shrug off. In my language, Sesotho, we have a saying, “Munna ke nku ha a lle!” Loosely translated, “A man is a sheep, and so he does not cry!” This is because as you kill a sheep it does not make a sound, it merely kicks, closes its eyes, and drifts to death. I am almost certain that you are familiar with phraseology along the same lines. Maybe “Don’t let ’em see your tears champ” or maybe even “shed blood before you can shed a tear.” This is how we approach pain, grief, and mental health but unbeknownst to most, the wounds cut deep.
In normal circumstances, we bury our demons beneath heaps of external influence. We try to avoid thinking or speaking about these monsters because in doing so we are vulnerable. Societal norms have taught us that vulnerability is a weakness, so we choose to suppress it. As time passes, they pile up to create bigger problems that consequent permanent damage. We get depressed, anxious, violent, and hysterical but because we are men, “we can handle it.”
2020 came and with it, a big slap of “you ain’t shit!” flooded in our minds as we sat still in isolation. Regardless of whether you were alone or with family, at some point, your mind was your only companion. This time you could not project your demons because isn’t enough to keep you busy. The conversations you have with yourself are dark but necessary. The best thing for you to do at this point is to let it out. Cry if you have to, but find a way to express your emotions and talk talk talk. I found myself doing a lot of that lately and these have been some of the best days of my life. This has been a fucked-up year and the world is going to shit, but because of it all, I found myself talking and expressing myself through various outlets.
When I wrote “I Saw Them Take My Father’s Life on Death Row,” I had been watching some prison documentaries. I was especially touched by the death row inmates that were claiming innocence till they were put to death. Writing has been one of those outlets for me to express myself. I guess with this particular story I wanted to express my sympathy for the families of those that the inmates leave behind.
To you that is reading this, I want you to know that it OK to be vulnerable. You will find the greatest strength during the times when you feel like the load of the world is on your back. Surround yourself with people that you can talk to. Cry when you need to, that is why you have tears, use them. Identify your demons and face them as soon as you catch them. The longer you wait, the bigger the threat they become. Your mind is your engine, take care of it.