We Need to Heal Together

For the record, I wanted to do this because it is important that we give space to the brothas in our lives to speak their truth. It is important that while we advocate for space spaces for our own, we must support others who need safe spaces too. For my POC community reading this, mental health is not discriminatory. Battling anxiety and giving life to certain illnesses/disorders does not have a particular face nor gender. Anyone and everyone reacts differently to life itself.

I had a chance to sit down with Corbin J. Pickett. He is the CEO/Founder of TheCandidProfessionals - Career Coaching and Culture Consultancy, and a personal mentor of mine. I was grateful for him to trust me in giving him safe space to share his story.

“All this shit was just pushed out there in a messy way. It was just there like dirt. We grow up knowing dirt is there, we know that concrete is there, but we don’t know what it’s made of.”

Growing up for Corbin was a family dynamic who had its quirks, but was a supportive family nonetheless. Corbin has witnessed firsthand what mental illness can do to an individual and what were the measures in order to deal with it. “There was no language or understanding of what she was dealing with. So solutions looked like short stints’ in medical/mental facilities and medicine that would not make her feel happy. And as a kid, in a family, with the lack of understanding of mental health….it gave me perspective that people can be drastically different.” Corbin does say that from that experience, he has learned to understand that you can never know what is going on in a person’s head or what they have made themselves to believe. You can feel you know someone, but have no idea what lies deep within. Mental health is not something that is new, but it is simply the lack of exposure to something that has always been there. From going through traumatic experiences and not acknowledging how someone is affected, mental health conditions or illnesses can alter your life in the long term more than we would like to admit. It also comes into play when our communities are unable to recognize the signs/symptoms of a mental illness and it prolongs its impact on someone making the assumption they can just ‘snap out of it’. Anxiety has been used as a word in conversation, but it is distant in a knowledge-sense of the complex narrative what it actually looks like. We need to do better with not using these words with the lack of respect of what it could really mean to be in those states.

“I feel like in our country we have these oppression wars that whoever is oppressed the most can speak the loudest.”

While growing into adults, we do not do what our parents say, we do what our parents do. What we witnessed becomes habits and norms for us when it comes to interacting with people, especially in relationships. For Corbin, being a Black man in society, it is important for him to meet people where they were and not to make assumptions that everyone is the same. For him, living within the constraints of ‘what a Black man is’, it is difficult to be in spaces where that stereotype can be challenged and he is not judged. “We overlook black men who rise to be the head of their household, before they are even 18, and I know so many brothers who battle anxiety and depression because they follow this narrative of you have to get a degree, get a job, and then provide for your partner and family…We are told to be the pillar of the households, you have to get a good job, you have to date a Black woman, but we can’t find them, because the narrative we feel we need to follow leads us to working for companies and living in communities filled with people who don’t look like us.” The idea of masculinity and femininity being only exclusive to one sex or the other, hinders a black man embracing vulnerability and being able to express himself without being told that he is whiny, sensitive, or gay. It is difficult for a man to feel stressed, dealing with depression, and not 'rock the boat’ of the idea that he is not living up to societal expectations and being perceived that he is less than what he is meant to be. Statistically, women are most likely to suffer from anxiety or depression in comparison to men, because we are expected to be “emotionally unstable”. Which is bullshit. “… and as I would share with family the amount of anxiety I am going through or that I was going through a bout of depression. And I’d say these things and there’s never a ‘Oh, what’s going on?’ or ‘How are you now?’ its more like ‘Oh… OK…, so what I said in my text was…” But for men, the notion that ‘men are not supposed to cry’ and ‘black men don’t go to counseling’ has shaped the negative connotation for seeking help in the first place if you are going through something. “The negativeness and toxicity around the conversation of mental health or lack thereof in my family really made the idea of therapy prevalent.” It forces men to focus on other things than dealing with their own emotions and be the definition of structure and stability. Giving way to the category of ‘emotionally unavailable’ men.

“Black women hold it down on so many levels for Black men. But then in the very next sentence, they won’t shy away from saying black men ain’t shit.”

My women, my women, my women. I asked Corbin that as a black man, what has interacting with black women have been like for him and what can we as black women do to support our brothas more. “Have faith that what you want can be achieved and don’t bend on that…I see a lot of settling and lack of faith of what one can achieve in a partner. Coming across so many great black women I step to and immediately I feel I am seen as their generalized view on black men as opposed to Corbin and given that opportunity to go from there.” As there is truth that us as black women, we feel we have a standard to uphold for our community, we must acknowledge men do as well. “There is a whole barometer of comfort that a black woman can bring for me as a black man, but unfortunately sometimes, it’s hard for me to be seen beyond a black man and so what other women, outside our culture, may have a leg up on, is being able to see me as Corbin.” As women of color, we must not forget that a story different from our own is not less significant or impactful. There are teachings that we are told to be a certain way that counteracts with how we view the opposite sex and have irrational expectations of them, especially in romantic relationships.” Some black women feel that the black men owe them in the black community… show his love to the black women in dating and marriage. And I raise the question, are there other ways of showing black women love, support, and praise? And I believe there are many ways to show my love towards the black woman…I find myself in a position of mentoring Black/Afro-Latin women and it has equally provided a safe space by them to fully express myself which rarely happens in general society or romantic relationships.” There are ways of seeing the black man as a traitor of his community, when he expresses that in some moments he has felt more comfortable with a woman who was outside of his own culture. Who is to say he is wrong; when the pressure of being a black man has been instilled within our own responses as Black women, without even realizing the behavior. Stereotypes and societal standards can go into the bucket of things that impact mental health and how to dissect personal identity and clarification on self-worth and purpose. While we have our own battles, it gets so loud in our own heads that we can no longer hear the others point of view. We constantly yell at each other and come to a loss of realizing there is no right or wrong way to be a black man or woman. “I am acknowledging that these stories are wildly changing within the last couple of years and helping me see that its okay for me to be seen as Corbin and not have to hold this mantle of being the best black man for everybody.

In the black community, we have so many factors to take into account to make sure we can make it in this world. You would think there is one solution to fix a problem that has been around for centuries. That there is only one stone that can be turned over to reveal the cause of XYZ, but in actuality, it is really many stones that have gradually stacked on top of each other. Which comes to the main point of this article, and that is to be intentional in starting the conversation of hearing different stories from different people. It is important to be aware of your own biases and judgement, be open to educating yourself, and that the battle can not be won from a one-sided viewpoint. We must have similar and opposing viewpoints to abolish the problematic traditional roles of the who, what, why, and how we are, dealing with mental health or not, altogether.

Kiara Byrd