When being black, female and sensitive just gets too much…

Earlier I went to the South London Gallery in Peckham to visit their current exhibition ‘The place is here’. It’s actually a decent exhibition with a collection of videos, photographs, mixed media pieces and archives relating to prominent black British art and artists in the 1980’s and 1990’s, at the time of Afrocentrism and riots.

I was there for a fair bit as I wanted to really get a sense of the space and the content. [context – I used to study black British art of this particular period as part of my history of art degree at SOAS…SOAS represent!! šŸ™ŒšŸ¾]

There were artists I knew of like Eddie Chambers, Kieth Piper, Sonya Boyce, Mona Hatoum and Rasheed Araeen. So it was great to see their works close up! Although it didn’t help that when I arrived staff there decided to walk up near me and randomly have a convo about their personal life, like ‘Hello? I’m trying to engage with this video, not your life!’

I digress.

It was after when I exited the gallery that a very panic-stricken woman came up to me whilst I was texting on my phone and asked for money.

I usually just say sorry and keep going (keeping it real here). But she caught my attention so much I couldn’t ignore her.

She was in a right state. She begged for Ā£6 to help her pay her council tax bill as well as food for her children. “I”m suicidal! I tried to take my life earlier. I had to have sex to buy this [points to her carrier bag with a bread loaf in it], and he cummed in me and I have to get tested for AIDS now [and a lot more rambling that I couldn’t figure out because she was distressed]… I’m suicidal, I’m going to kill myself!!”

Wow.

“Don’t do that please”, I firmly said because who knows? She was that manic, that she may have just jumped in the road.

“Look at my feet, they’re all dirty… [mumbling again that I couldn’t make out as she was distressed]” She then took off her right shoe and revealed some dutty feet.

“It’s okay, you don’t need to do that” – This is going far now.

I gave her Ā£2 in the end – “no I need Ā£6” – I still gave her 2 quid and she was off.

Walking up to my bus stop, I was a mixed bag of emotions – what should I have done? Should I have just said sorry and walked away? Should I have googled a helpline for her? Should I have said “Everything is gunna be alright”. This lady looked Caribbean and distressed and I really felt for her but I still felt like I was being conned. But then, I just got out of an exhibition all about the struggles of British black people in the U.K. especially London, and here I am confronted by a real life example. I couldn’t help but to do something for my British black women community. But still.

I just felt helpless.

I knew my money probably didn’t go to her bills, but then this woman doesn’t need money. She needs a support system. People who have her back. People who can help her and won’t oppress her for having brown skin and curly Afro-Caribbean hair, for having outspoken opinions and a different form of banter. She may have had a history of mental health problems or just the struggle to have basic human rights is what made her this way. I don’t know. All I know is this shit ain’t right. And yes it’s upsetting. Today I really felt all the troubles and frustrations that people with brown skin have to endure in London. Sometimes it gets to me more than others and I do have a heavy heart…This shit ain’t right…

 

What would you do?

 

Talk about it! (mental and spirtual health – Part 2)

It seems to me, living in London, being brought up in an African/British household and community, and having reserved, conservative parents have definitely made accessing counselling or psychotherapy really off-putting. Team that up with a society where the previously expected formula for a successful is ‘go to uni + do a masters + do an internship = job’, and it increases more symptoms of decreasing mental health!

‘Sick, twisted people go the mental hospital’, ‘Are you mental? Are you sick in the head?’ – It’s this kind of statements and utterings that are often conveyed within a lot of households. The image of the distressed, rough looking person with a straight jacket and a constant twitch that eludes danger and insanity is commonly in the minds of a lot of people where mental health is involve.Ā THIS NEEDS TO CHANGE.Ā 

Many people are suffering the same things but are afraid that it will make them seem weak. A negative label hanging over their heads like their an outcast to society. It’s simply not true. There are many ways to deal with our stresses and issues in life. Meditation is common place. Going tot he gym. Having sex.Ā (Okay maybe not so much as a long term solution, but it gives some endorphines to us). Praying. Art therapy, dance therapy, drama therapy, etc. Talking to someone about it….like…a friend, stranger, or going to a qualified counsellor at a local health clinic. Even creating online groups to discuss about certain topics like anxiety. It helps.

I’ve triedĀ counsellingĀ and told one or twoĀ people about it that aren’t family, because again of the social stigma. But I’m putting it out there now. And it helps. It’s one of many ways to work on issues that we all suffer from. Having an objective point of view within a completely confident environment and a professional experienced approach makes a difference. I had about six sessions – it was a free service available at uni – but even then it made me see a little ‘out of myself’. It gave me some distance and perspective that I appreciated because I didn’t think about it that way before.Ā Luckily it was free as well. I have to admit, many private health services cost an arm and a leg, which makes it even more inaccessible.

It’s funny that in the States it’s not a big of a deal to have a psychotherapist on hand. Or have a marriage counsellor (or at least its more accepted in society). But in the UK, it seems like a very big deal. Why? Hmm.

It seems that discussing mental health publicly or at least having a person to talk to about is a real demand – even in a world where everyone is ‘talking’ (communicating ) on social media.

Happy #WorldMentalHealthday ! Keep sharing.

On my next post in this series I will be talking about Art therapy as it is a new found appreciation of mine, and more.

Please share your experiences, stories or opinions whatever it may be. I would love to do podcasts or interviews with anyone who would like to share and contribute towards futureĀ posts in the series. You can always contact me directly on my email mm.dubale@gmail.com.

šŸ™‚

Stay blessed,

Meron x