The Mary Jane Syndrome
By Kesia King
Being labeled a "strong black woman" used to be a badge of honor. A "strong black woman" takes on every battle life throws her way, while smiling with all thirty-two teeth, wearing 6 inch heels, a brief case on her shoulder, a baby bottle in her right hand a spatula in her left while on the phone listening to someone else's problems, when deep down she knows that she's actually the one that needs to be laying on somebody's couch, airing it all out!
It's funny because a couple weeks ago when I threw this particular outfit on, I was dealing with some internal struggles myself. Now, add in my homemade, bone straight wig, red shoes and matching red clutch, when I looked in the mirror I immediately felt like Mary Jane Paul, from Being Mary Jane! I can relate to Mary Jane, because on the outside, she always looks like she has it together. If you've watched the show on BET, you know when she walks into a room her presence demands attention. She has the perfect physic and is always rocking fashion forward designer threads. Ontop of all that, she has the high profile, well paying job and lives in an extravagant home. On paper and in front of the world she appears to have the perfect life.
What I love about the show is you see Mary Jane's insecurities, her faults, her desperation, her anger and her shame. "Strong black women," mask so much pain just to prove to the world that nothing can defeat or weaken us. No matter how traumatic, tough or painful a situation is, I will not allow myself to miss a beat. There are no "time-outs" for me. I tell myself to keep smiling, cry only when those around me are sleep, and lie to myself that I'm good, when I know damn well I'm not. The more I write the more I really think my appearance is my disguise. I need to look like I have it together, when Lord knows there are plenty days I really don't.
Don't get me wrong, God has blessed me in so many ways and I am grateful for all he has given. I'm talking about the day to day grind, the grit if you will, and how overwhelming it can all be. Lately my biggest struggle has been the transition from one to two kids, while being a full-time employee, wife and aspiring entrepreneur. Trying to make sure I give each aspect of my life the appropriate attention without feeling like I'm neglecting my children, husband, job and my own personal dreams of success.
There's really no simple way to say it, It's hard out here in these streets!
Tardiness. Any article you read about habits of successful people you'll see that they wake up early and they are always on time. Unfortunately, I haven't mastered either one but I do not like to be late nor do I find it acceptable. I absolutely hate the fact most mornings I'm huffing and puffing to get out the door and drop off both kids. Even in the rare occasion I pack things up at night, my one year old loves to poop as soon as we're headed out the door. As much as I'd like to tell myself that having two kids is a great excuse to be late for work, it really isn't.
Submission. With my husband having a more senior role at work, he has more meetings he can't miss. He also has a team that reports to him so he is accountable for others beyond himself. This means when the kids are sick, mommy's leaving work to pick them up. This one is a double whammy for me. Yes, moms are generally the "nurse" to their children by nature, but I won't act like it's not a hit to my ego since I always pictured myself to be that independent, career focused women, but reality is, my kids have to come first. One thing people don't tell you before having kids, is that you really do give up pieces of you. There's no room for selfishness, when duty calls you must submit to your family.
Priorities. Momma "D" was famous for understanding her priorities, she was quick to tell us "In that order!" Me, not so much. After God and family, I'm stuck. I tend to try to give everything I work on the same amount of weight and this is so unrealistic and is a huge component of my stress.
Pressure. In high school I was in everything:
Minority Student achievement network
Reading tutor for ESL students
Captain of Varsity Basketball
Editor of the opinion column
Senior Class President
As I reflect back it makes total sense why I still have this natural urge to do a zillion things! The pressure comes when it's not enough to just be apart of something, I feel like I have to be the best. I think I took on more and more hoping to break the chain of being good at all things but never THE BEST at one thing. I wasn't the star player on the basketball team. I could never get first chair in orchestra. I wasn't the last leg on our 4X100 relay team. I was always searching for my niche and to this day I believe I still feel the pressure to find that one thing Kesia King is the best at.
After hearing and reading about Karyn Washington (blogger/activist) and Titi Branch (co-owner of Ms. Jessie's natural hair care products) both of whom committed suicide, when they seem to have had everything going for them, it started to make sense. So many of us are afraid to show weakness and we tend to take on this superwoman/superhuman complex.
After reading articles like, "The Truth Behind The Strong Black Woman Stereotype" and "4 Ways Strong Black Women Syndrome Keeps Us Poor' I am further convinced that this syndrome will start making more of us sick both mentally and physically, if we don't start talking about it openly and make the appropriate efforts to change.
Once upon a time I would never imagine hearing or witnessing young black women committing suicide. Yet as I've grown, I've been slapped in the face with challenges ranging from having a baby out of wedlock, facing unemployment at a time I needed money the most and worried about being able to make my next rent payment. I also experienced dealing with identity issues and having a child in the ICU for a month after delivery, the list goes on. I'd be lying if I said I never contemplated the idea of giving up.
Life is so much more than stupid accomplishments. It's more than being wealthy and having a senior title. It's more than passing an exam or closing on a deal. We can't go around thinking we can solve everyone's problem, pay everyone's bill, bail out all our hommies. At some point we can't support every need a family member has, we have to let our kids grow up even if that means giving tough love and telling them it's time to move out of the house. That partner that's living off of you, needs to go! If they're not making you better the truth is they're stifling your growth.
Everyone of us is wearing some sort of disguise. Know when to take yours off! Talk to another sister, to another brother, to your mom, dad, Godmom, husband, wife, child, pastor, counselor, whoever it may be in your life. No one in this world is exempt from pain, no matter how good they look (laughing at myself). Everyone has struggled with something. As the saying goes, "No, is a complete sentence." Learn when to say no and when to move on, don't let the the Mary Jane Syndrome, kill you.
Love and blessings!
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