Toughen Up, Buttercup.

As is the custom of many people who have had multiple traumatic experiences, I am a compartmentalization queen. If it overwhelms; infuriates; deeply saddens; or triggers memories of previous trauma, I can quickly and adeptly place it in my This Isn’t Really Happening/I Don’t Have Time for This Shit suitcase. Most of the psychoanalytical powers that be aren’t huge fans of the behavior; they would assert that while it can be a necessary and useful tool, it tends to cause more harm than good.

To be frank: Depending on how I’m feeling, I often place that very assertion in my brain’s alternate reality box.

It’s lowkey compartmentalization inception; amidst suppressing something, I realize that it’s unhealthy to do that all the time … and then suppress thoughts related to the fact that constantly suppressing is not good for my mental health. The thing is, though, suitcases have maximum capacities. You can’t constantly flood them with items and expect to continue neatly closing them back up.

I’m fully aware of these facts. Ask me if I’ve adjusted my behavior, though.

There’s a lot that I push into the corners of my mind so that I don’t  lose it completely, but most of the things I find too unbearable are related to my mother’s illness and death. Memories, holidays, important dates, random items–they all bring up thoughts and feels that I refuse to make time for. A couple months ago, I staved off a breakdown after seeing bottles of Ensure. They were a reminder of my family’s fruitless efforts to restore my mother to a healthy weight toward the end of her life; she was 5’9 and weighed less than 100 pounds. Over the last couple of weeks, the ubiquitous nature of Mother’s Day has put my compartmentalization into overdrive. It also didn’t help that for about a month and a half I’ve been navigating extremely heightened levels of depression and anxiety.

I needed to sit with what I was feeling. Instead, I tried the traveler’s trick where you repack all your stuff and sit on your suitcase in hopes that it’ll close this time. Last week, when my body began to respond to what my brain wouldn’t, it was clear that the trick hadn’t worked.

That’s how it goes every time; I go weeks or months without processing painful experiences or rehashed trauma, and then my body is like “I’m not about to keep playing this game with you, sis.” A switch is flipped, and just like that…

I struggle to get out of bed. I can’t eat. I either sleep too much, or I can’t sleep at all. Most frustrating of all for me, an obnoxiously stoic individual: every single missed opportunity to cry shows up at the most inopportune of times to cash in a sob session. Once I’ve recovered, I might have a couple of good months of actually processing and allowing myself to feel my feels, before I’m back on my bs. The cycle is exhausting and absurd, and I’m tired of it. Furthermore, it’s rooted in what I know to be trash logic around what being “strong” looks like, particularly for Black women. And what it looks like, all too often, is suffering in silence, or pretending to not be suffering at all.

That is not strength. In fact, it drains a person of their strength to constantly devote time and energy to dissociating themselves from experiences and realities which have profoundly impacted them.

Vulnerability is strength. Acknowledging and processing pain and trauma is strength. Seeking therapy is strength. Reaching out to people who care about you, instead of withdrawing, is strength. And for some people–myself included–taking medication for anxiety and/or depression is strength.

I don’t know how long it will take for me to completely buy into that truth; not only am I stubborn, I’ve also somewhat normalized a lot of my unhealthy coping strategies.

But being willing to admit that to myself, and share it with others, is a pretty good step in the right direction.


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