When I read the articles about the recent murders of people of color by police (and recent doesn't even mean this week; sadly, it has been pretty consistent for quite a while so "recent" can go back as far as you'd like it to), I feel a visceral tightness and pain in my stomach. These stories aren't just "news". They are signalling a sense of danger and fear to my brain all the time because it could be me, it could be my father, it could be my cousin (which it actually was, exactly one year ago,when he was shot without cause by the police).
Every morning this week I've had to dust off my socially acceptable mask, put it on, and wear it to work; talking to co-workers about our health insurance or the weather or what our plans are this weekend, with an impending sense of doom and a growing rage tucked away neatly for most of the day.
I'm not sharing this to say this is every person of color's experience, I can only speak for myself. I can feel my senses heightened, a sense of tension growing, hypervigilance, a gut emotional reaction to any person who dismisses the seriousness of what's happening ("#alllivesmatter", "what about black on black crime", "well maybe if he didn't walk away from the police, we don't have the whole story"), and at times I feel helpless about everything that is happening.
As a therapist, these are the same things I sometimes see in people who have been through trauma; this sense of wanting to freeze and/or fight, of feeling disconnected, isolated, helpless. And I'm not using the word "trauma" lightly; it is scary AF to be black in America right now.
So this week, I read articles and watch the videos when I feel like I can tolerate them; that's for me because I want to be in touch with how I feel about what's happening, I want to feel these feelings and I don't want to disconnect. But then sometimes, I do have to disconnect; I have to come up and get air so I don't suffocate. I watched an Empire episode for the first time all the way through and talked shit to myself about how terrible it was. I went to a yoga class for the first time in months for a sense of connection (I've been doing a home practice lately). I've found a way to move and sweat and feel good about what I'm doing every day this week.
To cope with that sense of helplessness and isolation and to mobilize my anger in a productive way, I'm going to a #Blacklivesmatter community forum this upcoming week (at the Levels Banquet Hall in Albany, Wednesday from 6-9pm); I'm talking to a close friend about starting weekly promotion of black owned businesses in the community, and I'm trying to avoid explaining why these issues matter to people who are so barricaded in their bubble of privilege that they can't allow any REAL information to penetrate that bubble, for fear that their world will completely collapse. There are so many more productive things I want to do with my energy, so I am trying not to "teach" people why racism is wrong (this one has been a struggle!). I am acknowledging my privileges that I experience as a result of our biased systems. As a person of mixed race with lighter skin, who has a platform to reach others through my career, I'm trying to use these privileges in the best ways I can think of to talk about the injustices that are happening and bring more attention to them.
I journaled, I meditated, I cried, I vented, and have put that on repeat this whole week. I've been making more of an effort to put good food into my body because I know what I eat directly impacts my emotions. I've been hitting snooze on my alarm more often to get some extra sleep because I am paying extra attention to my body, to my needs, moment to moment.
I say all that to say, there's no clearcut answer for me on how to cope with the trauma happening around and to us. I just know I can't go around it and I have to go through it, and I feel an obligation to show up as my healthiest best self so that I can be a part of the solution and not the problem. I don't know what that solution is, but I know it has to do with connectedness, community, and wellness, so that's what I'm going for. I also know that the end result isn't me feeling "okay". In fact, I don't want to feel okay with what's happening, I need my outrage and pain to remind me of what's important. I just know that when I say Black Lives Matter, I also have an obligation to take care of me too, so I can take care of others, so we can take care of each other.
Love and light,