May 12, 2011

Category: Real Talk

When Mother’s Day is Anything But Happy



I know Mother’s Day just passed and most of us were caught up in festivities of merriment with our moms and/ or our children. There were brunches and beautiful bunches of flowers and boxes of gooey chocolates all happily served-up in celebration of mothers. All day long though I couldn’t stop thinking about Lashanda Armstrong, the 25-year old single mom who, exactly a month ago today, drove her mini-van down a boat ramp ending her life and the lives of three of her four children. I can’t imagine what was going through her mind as she lifted her foot off the brake and the car begin to sink. We know from the account of her son, La’Shaun, who survived that she had second thoughts, but it’s her first mind of reasoning that I find so heartbreakingly sad and scary. At first I was angry at her for killing her children just because she found out her babies daddy was cheating on her. I felt she didn’t live up to her bargain as a mother. But then I really thought about Lashanda at the tender age of 25 with four children and no job and my anger melted into compassion and sympathy. She clearly was a woman on the edge and no one was there to pull her back. That type of anguish leaves me shook. And then I think about La’Shaun and how confused he must have been when the car started filling with water and how terrified he must have been when his mother said they were all going to die and how resilient he was to get free and swim through 45-degree murky waters to live to tell. He survived but the pain his mother endured will now surely consume his life if he doesn’t get therapy.

And he’s not the only one. So many of us need to get out of our amen corners, stop fronting and talk about our pain. Black folks especially have this silence around topics of molestation, rape, abuse, domestic violence, divorce and death and whatever else drives us to cold, solitary corners of regret, depression, drub abuse, loneliness, and obesity. Black pain. I know about this pain. After a year of my dad being sick and in the hospital and him sharing with me that he was not ready to die my spirit shattered into a million fractured pieces of helplessness, anger, frustration and deep sadness. While in this valley I admitted to someone that I was depressed. “Stop it Nicole. You’re too blessed to be depressed,” he quipped. “You’re just sad and tired.” From that day on I kept my mouth shut and my pain to myself. I thought that maybe he was right. Maybe I was just being over dramatic. And just like that I too assumed a pattern of silence and kept up appearances cuz Black women are supposed to be strong, right?

“What these women don’t realize is that, by keeping the trauma a secret, they’re not only sowing the seeds of depression but preventing themselves from growing emotionally. Trauma doesn’t go away if you push it to the back of your mind. It comes back stronger through another door.” -Terrie Williams, “Black Pain”

I love Terrie’s book Black Pain. The subtitle says it all, “It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting.” Cop this book! Life can be hard and this book provides a very intimate and insightful look at navigating the pitfalls of emotional pain.

Thank God I had another friend who could not stop raving about his life counselor and how she helped him understand and grapple with the particular hurt in his life. I went to her for a year and she saved me. End of story. Just talking about my fears, regrets and what grieved me so, liberated me. I know mama said don’t air your dirty laundry, but things have changed and emotional pain, depression and hurt is killing our people. So if need be, hang your soiled thongs on the clothesline. It’s okay. It’s better than suffering alone. If we can be driven to the margins of despair and to the bottom of the Hudson, then can’t we as a family and as a community, pull ourselves and those we love, especially mothers, back to the center of understanding and happiness? I believe that we can. I’m a witness to that. Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar said it best: “The battle to me is a matter of joy. It is a battle for the reclamation of the human personality.”

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8 Responses to “When Mother’s Day is Anything But HappyComment RSS feed

  • sharon
    May 12th, 2011 5:37 pm

    amen! good one, Nicole. so important.

  • Justin
    May 12th, 2011 5:58 pm

    Amazing as always, Nicole! This is such an important topic and one that gets swept under carpets, in closets and on the back burner far too often. Depression is real, but not insurmountable.

  • Maiysha
    May 12th, 2011 6:15 pm

    Thank you. Just…thank you.

  • monique
    May 12th, 2011 8:24 pm

    Healing, honoring, surrendering…painful yes, critical hell yes!
    Thank you for this. Pondering action.

  • Latasha
    May 12th, 2011 8:55 pm

    good one lady. just gotta add that Lashanda Armstrong did reach out via Facebook and unfortunately, it was too late and not taken seriously. The irony of it is that while Facebook is high on the celebratory splices of life (we do tend to YAY and GO GIRL 24-7), we as a whole do not know how to engage the lows of someone’s life when they courageously expose them via a status line of but so many characters. That this very tool created as a means of “connecting” actually has been tied to recent reports of severe depression, that therapy sessions often include some reaction to not being “heard” on Facebook (remember who created this device, how he related to folks on a face to face level, how he needed this to appear more “social’) and how it has created a community of individuals actually further from each other (how often do you pick up the phone? how often do you email via FB? How often do you make love to your iPhone in the middle of a concert while you’re on a date?) …there is SO much that the black community needs to do and continue to fix yes. That said, however, we also need to pay better attention, closer attention to how we are and not communicating and how communication has been limited by our desire to appear happy, in charge, self-loving, strong, self reliant.

  • Lori
    May 13th, 2011 12:29 pm

    As always, you never disappoint. Depression is real and this was so needed especially because it is often ignored. Thank you…

  • Anon
    May 15th, 2011 11:53 pm

    We as a people have denied our pain and hidden our ever open wounds because we needed the energy that repression creates to propel us through some horrific times. These practices that were once our strengths are no longer serving us. It used to be that fighting to be free, educated, heard and not be openly and legally abused was all in day’s work. These fundamental goals have now been replaced with the pursuit of general happiness and, although this sounds like it should be a good thing, the definition of happiness has been so tied to material things that I’m not so certain that it is- but that’s an entirely different topic. We now have to learn new ways to mentally and emotionally navigate through this new world where mere survival is not the goal.

    Repression is denial and suffocation of who and what you are and yes, some of that is embarrassing and ugly. But without being in touch with who you are and what you feel you cannot achieve any definition of happiness.

    Educating people that depression is not something that we can be “too blessed” to experience, that it is not something that can just be shaken off and that it directly impacts one’s ability to reason and see the world realistically is the first step. People of color need to understand that repression masquerading as strength will weaken us and only increase our risk of suffering from this (and other) illness. We also need to get a realistic definition of happiness but again, that’s a different topic.

    For those of us who have battled with depression, I wish us the ability to see LaShanda’s last lucid moment as a call to us all that if we fight we too will see that the darkness isn’t real. In her last moments she saw through the darkness and her son survived to give us that message. The darkness is just an illusion. Don’t let go.

    And Nicole… thank you

  • theHotness
    May 20th, 2011 3:25 pm
    Author's Reply

    Glad you appreciated the post. I had to dig deep to write this. So happy that I finally did. Depression and mental health illnesses are not going to go away because we do not address them. So May being Mental Health Awareness month let’s be aware, unafraid and supportive!

    And Latasha they just announced yesterday that psychologists believe there is a direct link to our relationship and interaction on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter that can exacerbate feelings of isolation, low self-esteem, and depression. I think they are calling it FOMO. It’s deep! I try to stay off of Facebook at least on weekends to recharge and focus on me!