Category Archives: social justice

Let’s Talk: Racism and Mental Health

How are you, friend? 

Ok, now how are you really? 

The past 2-3 months have been trying for many reasons. A global pandemic, financial insecurity, job loss or change of work routine, and most recently we are fighting literally and mentally to end police brutality and breakdown systems of oppressions and white privilege. That’s a lot to unpack. We’re gonna need more than a bubble bath to battle this one. 

Racism in the United States exists on every level of our society. From where funding in education goes and doesn’t go, to who is more likely to be screened, pulled over, questioned, incarcerated, or killed by authorities, and also in the accessibility and affordability of health care. 

Right now, more than ever, we have a job to do. We (white folx) gotta do the work. We benefit from the systems in place and they were built by us, so we need to be the ones to tear it down and move us forward with equity. A Hmoob friend of mine once shared in an antiracism training something that will always stick with me. He said white people are not allies to people of color. People of color are allies to white people. The systems were built by white people and so white people need to reform them. It cannot be left upon the minority to reform the majority. 

Don’t mistake me, we need to be listening to POC right now and amplify their voices so we can learn about their experiences and what to address, but we can’t place the burden of fixing *waves at a broken country* on them alone. It is not enough to like their posts. We have to do the work too. Every day that it takes. There is no finish line. We have to keep learning and unlearning and learning. 

Scene from a local protest in Wisconsin.

Now, I’ve been involved in social justice work off and on (and I recognize my privilege to step away) for fifteen years. I’ve led an entire week’s worth of diversity events and a peace march to combat an anti-muslim group, I’ve worked to promote nonprofit partnerships that made the store I worked for a safe space for LGBTQ folks to shop and hired the most diverse team as my staff, I’ve been a community health educator that worked in schools and juvenile detention centers tackling the ways we talk to men about consent, I’ve used my power of press to share stories about people of color in my community, and I helped to found our local Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) chapter. I have done the work, but I have also ignored it when it got to be too much. The number one reason I’ve stepped away each time is burnout. 

This work is hard for everyone. And white folx, we have to deal with our own guilt when it comes to tackling it. So what I don’t want to happen to my white friends who are now “fired up, ready to go” (to quote my favorite president), is to see them march and use their social media to share so much that they disappear a month later. 

And what I don’t want to happen to my friends of color who are dealing with their own trauma and being infiltrated and triggered by many of their white friends’ adding some of theirs on top of it, is for them to be disappointed yet again by white folx fizzling out. 

So I think it needs to be said again. There is no finish line. We do the work together, or it doesn’t get done. 

I also know that we need to take care of our mental health for that to happen. 

I am not a licensed therapist, I have no magic solutions. I will be honest with you that I myself admitted to needing counseling just before the virus hit and everything closed. (Oh, the irony of making the difficult decision to seek help and having your options shut down.) 

So, I stepped up my use of the following and found some new resources. These won’t cure your anxiety or depression. I am still battling mine. My hope is that if you are struggling right now, for any reason, they offer you some respite. 

Resources to Help with Mental Health Management

Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn has been leading a live meditation series every weekday at 1pm CST for two months now and continues to offer this global connection. Jon is the founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and his livestreams with Wisdom2.0 have shared parables, poetry, and pause as he guides thousands of people around the world. Past meditations can be viewed on youtube. One of the best parts of his livestream is at the very end when all attendees are unmuted and you can hear thank you’s and goodbyes in a multitude of languages. In a country where politics and media has divided us so greatly, this has made me feel connected in a very isolated time. Every country is facing this pandemic, and every country faces racism. 

The Calm app. With resources offering mood check-ins, daily meditations, masterclass series, and sleep stories, I’ve used this app for years. You can use a free version to start, which I did for months before subscribing, and still access many meditations and a few sleep stories. I typically use this for sleep stories or meditations to help me turn off my anxiety brain, but I’ve also used the music selections more while working from home. Some famous sleep storytellers include: Eva Green, Danai Gurira, Lucy Liu, Stephen Fry, LeVar Burton, Laura Dern, and even Matthew McConaughey. 

Additionally in the realm of sound, I’ve discovered Sara Auster, the author of the new book Sound Bath. She has been offering free sound bath sessions via her instagram live every tuesday and thursday, which are then available for 24 hours to listen to, they are about a half hour long. Sound baths are a meditative practice that focuses on breathing and listening to the sounds around you, granting you a moment of pause. Sara uses a mixture of singing bowls, tuning forks, chimes and more and leads listeners in and out of the meditation with breathing exercises. She has also been raising funds for NY area hospitals and food banks throughout the pandemic. 

Phenomenal joy maker, actress, vegan chef, and self-proclaimed “World’s Favorite Mom” (it’s true), Tabitha Brown is someone I started following a couple months ago. Her instagram account is full of messages of love and self care, hilarious vegan cooking demos, picture book reading (which is a form of self care in itself, yes, for adults too), and she does a series of chats on marriage with her husband, Chance, too. Tabitha is walking color therapy in her dress; I LOVE IT. She’s a champion, a light, and a healer in these times. 

Kojo Nnamdi, the host of The Kojo Nnamdi Show, is a Guyanan American journalist and radio interviewer. This is more educational than therapeutic, but his conversations are so dynamic I find I learn a lot and appreciate the questions he asks. If you’re looking for a place to start, I recommend where I did, which is his Kojo for Kids program, in an interview with YA author Jason Reynolds, answering kids’ questions about the protests. This is a resource because it will give you hope. We need hope more than ever.  

Lastly, for sleep, I am secretly in love with ASMR videos and have used them to help me relax and/or fall asleep for about a year. ASMR stands for autonomous sensory meridian response, which occurs in the form of a slight tingling sensation along the crown of the head and can go down one’s back. It’s created by various triggers which ASMRtists provide through whispered talking as well as tapping, brushing, and stirring sounds, mostly, but not always, filmed in a role play style. My three go to ASMRtists are Chynaunique, Latte, and my absolute fave, TingTing. Check out a sample of her ASMR videos below. 

These are the resources I have found particularly helpful during this time period. I am also journaling and reading more, but did not highlight them as they are known, available resources to most. If you have additional resources you’re using, please share in the comments.

I also hope, if you’re able, you’ll pay it forward. Black mental health matters. I have often forgone professional help because I’ve been uninsured or under-insured. Access to therapists in general can be a struggle, but in particular finding ones who are well-trained in antiracism and can best support POC makes a difference too. If you’re looking for ways to support black people and help dismantle systemic issues like accessibility to health care, I hope you’ll join me in donating to one or more of the following: 

The Gathered Fight is an initiative launched by Bree Jenkins, a black woman and licensed marriage and family therapist, who is asking white allies to support black women’s mental health. Show your support by donating to White Women for Black Women Therapy, offering 4-6 sessions to a black woman who needs it and covering outstanding bills for black women patients so they can continue sessions. 

BEAM, or Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective, provides advocacy, teachers, lawyers, therapists, artists, religious leaders and more to black communities. Their nonprofit supports black trans rights, education about toxic masculinity, and numerous mental health initiatives that help provide therapy, wellness, and advocacy coaching. 

Black Mental Health Alliance is a nonprofit that offers in school mental health services and after school programs, workshops and forums for the community, and partnerships with clinicians to provide easier referrals and access for black community members. 

You can learn more and find additional organizations doing this important work by visiting NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and their list of organizations that support black health and wellness. 

Be well, friends. Your mental health matters. 

 

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