The Side Effects of Oppression

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by Marsha Philitas

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” – Plato

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and this post is not intended to take the place of meeting with a mental health professional. Please meet with a therapist if you are currently dealing with depression.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 10 Americans suffers from depression. Rates are higher for women, people of color and queer folk. Don’t know about you, but I’m not surprised that we suffer depression at higher rates.

A friend of mine once organized civil rights history trips where she took groups of college students to meet with former civil rights activists. One of the insights that she and her students remembered most were the cases of PTSD among those activists. They shared touching stories of struggles with depression, anxiety and recurring nightmares.

We don’t often hear those stories, but these are the side effects of oppression. Activist or not, we all bear some wound or scar from the microaggresions we experience each day.

We don’t only silence our heroes, we silence ourselves. There’s a stigma on mental illness and on any aspect of ourselves that is not 100% fierce in the face of oppression.

Given the prevalence of depression in our communities, chances are you or someone you know is living with this condition. I am one of those people.

Having Chronic Depression has been hard, but through it, I’ve learned many valuable lessons about allowing myself to keep my heart open for connection.

Over the years I’ve learned that the key to my healing is my willingness to feel the pain. To feel the ache of being a queer woman of color in a racist, heteronormative world. To feel the challenge of having brain chemistry that makes you more sensitive to grief and sadness than others. One way to guarantee that I enter a long depressive period is to try and shut down my negative feelings.

From what I’ve seen in my friends and clients, the danger of shutting down exists for them as well, mentally ill or not. It’s so tempting to not allow yourself to feel. To ignore the impact that microaggresions have on your life. But shutting down only ensures that you will carry that pain with you, only to have it reveal itself in some other, perhaps inappropriate moment.

So how can you safely feel the sadness?

Find friends, a community, that you can share your feelings with, without them trying to fix you or add their emotions to the mix. Ask them if you can share your experience while they just affirm you and comfort you. Be sure to be clear with your friends about what you need in order to feel supported.
This is the part of the healing process that you must approach tenderly and only take on as much as you can safely hold. Trust your gut about this. And remember that what you need to feel supported may be completely different from what your friend may expect. Allow yourself to do what you need.

Journal and write down your feelings. Journaling may seem overrated but it’s a powerful tool for getting your feelings out so that you can work with them.

Offer unconditional acceptance to your feelings. Nothing that you are feeling is wrong. Your feelings are valid. It’s ok to feel hurt or grieve.

See a therapist. Whether you’re dealing with a mental illness or not, a therapist is a wonderful resource for helping you to manage your grief or hurt.

It’s only by allowing ourselves to feel and process our pain that we can truly feel joy.

Marsha Philitas is a certified life coach and the founder of The Trifecta Tribe, an organization that provides life coaching and sacred retreats for queer women of color. The Tribe’s mission is to help queer women of color fall in love with themselves, their lives and their purpose. Registration is currently open for The Trifecta Tribe Retreat on October 18 – 20, 2013.

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