*Trigger Warning: Suicidal Ideation*
If you’ve read the title of this piece and your eyes widened, the hair on your arms stood up or you’ve cringed thinking “they’re going to talk about that,” breathe. It can be awkward, difficult even, seeing the part of you that you may keep hidden, addressed on display. I’m cringing as I write,myself, but that discomfort has fueled my need to share this piece.
We’re over a year into what seems like a neverending pandemic and suicidal ideation and deaths by suicide are rising alongside the covid-19 cases. Personally, I know I’m included in that statistic. I’ve fought and won battles against depression and anxiety before but the pandemic introduced a new layer that makes me feel like a beginner fighting an expert level final boss when it comes to managing my mental health. Specifically, the mixture of isolation, working and being expected to perform normalcy from home, watching and participating in a concurrent movement for Black lives and justice, general fear about my health, and coping with living through a global emergency has introduced a sense of existential dread that seems just as neverending as the pandemic. Which has had me thinking “what is this all for” and “it’d be better if I wasn’t here” more often than I’m comfortable admitting.
I haven’t read for leisure in a while but I revisited Ntozake Shange and “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When then Rainbow is Enuf” recently when I was having one of these bouts of suicidal existentialism. Shange beautifully tells the story of Black women navigating themselves and their love lives in this book, and reading it again during this moment was oddly refreshing. The poems in the book can be intense but I’ve found that the lessons transcend circumstance and are useful in these moments when I need to be reminded of my personal power and that it’s necessary to feel a full range of emotions, even if that includes suicidal ideation.
“I usedta live in the world
then I moved to HARLEM
& my universe is now six blocks”
The “Lady in Blue” character laments. These lines felt eerily familiar since lockdowns and isolation are contributors to my existentialism. As someone who, precovid, loved to be out and about, dancing and meeting new people, reading this made me feel seen. I, too, used to live in the world and one day, for reasons beyond my control, my universe became however many blocks between my apartment and the grocery store. The Lady in Blue, like me during the pandemic, doesn’t have a solution or a timeline of when she’ll be back in the world but reminisces about it while accepting her reality. Whenever I experience these suicidal feelings that accompany my extended stay inside, I’m learning to accept my reality and reminisce, whether mentally or by creating Pinterest boards of things I did or will do when I’m back in the world, like the Lady in Blue.
My pandemic related suicidal ideation has also been catalyzed by the incessant Black trauma we’ve witnessed alongside the pandemic. Simply existing while Black can be exhausting but existing while Black, during a pandemic and the largest civil rights movement in history incited by Black death, can be deflating. Earlier I said I found myself asking “what is this all for” which is short for “if people who look like me are going to continuously be disrespected, undervalued, and forced to debate our humanity, if we’re going to be fighting an uphill battle for the rest of time, what is this all for?”
“Are we ghouls?
Children of horror?
Shange questions about where Black women stand in the world in “Dark Phrases’ ‘, speaking truth to my exhausted parts that ask similar questions with each tragedy. She ends this poem with a wish for black girls to “be born and handled warmly”and when my thoughts about the future are bleak and make me feel like I don’t need to be there to see it, visualizing a world where that dream is reality has gotten me through the dread.
Working and being productive from home is also a trigger. I struggle with relaxing, now, since my home has become my office, study and living space and it’s hard to truly be “off” when my environment has become so conducive to being “on.” “Today, I’m going to reset and care for myself” I’ll tell myself only to be met with “If you really cared for yourself you’d work on your thesis, or record a podcast episode, or write a blog post” by the part of my brain that only sees my rest as reward for productivity. Too much of this back and forth between these parts of my brain can make me think, again, “what is this all for if the only value that matters comes from what I produce?” I remind myself then that “my love is too delicate to have thrown back in my face” even and especially if I’m the one doing the throwing. I chant the words from the “My Love is Too” poem,
“my love is too… delicate
and saturday nite
Whenever I notice myself trying to throw the rest that my love for myself requires, back in my face.
Suicidal ideation, especially as we cope through this pandemic, is normal. I’ve found myself leaning on For Colored Girls, Shange, other authors and other works for lessons on how to get through and they’ve made it that much easier to cope. The lines from this book and article aren’t treatment though. They’re a piece in a larger plan that I’ve crafted alongside my amazing therapist. If you have been experiencing suicidal ideation and need immediate care, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 and if you would like to learn more about resources for therapy, visit therapyforblackgirls.com.
Olivia Brown, MPH, CHES, is a NYC based health educator, writer, Black liberation advocate, digital creator and culture critic. She hosts the podcast Stream of (Social) Consciousness where she uses pop culture and trending topics to analyze and teach about social systems. She is also a fashion enthusiast, bibliophile and loves yoga, roller-skating and adventure.