A Black Woman's Shame

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by Angela Roulette

I have been battling with an inability to love myself for most of my life. I have always felt out of place, awkward, and even worse – not seen or valued.  To many I am this beautiful, brave poet who is not scared to be herself, when the harsh truth is I’ve been living with the shame of not really knowing who I am.

When I was a child, I never felt like I was enough. I was too weird, too skinny, and not black enough. I was not comfortable in my own skin, and all this was exacerbated by a longing to be seen by my parents, namely– my father. He ignored me, and I subsequently chased an unconditional love and validation from people who did not or, quite simply, could not fill a cavern that big.  This, coupled with the abuse I witnessed my dad inflict on my mother, traumatized me. I interpreted dysfunction and self-loathing as normal. I did not feel like I was special, just another face with nothing to offer anyone. I learned to cling to love and happiness, question it and ultimately sabotage it.
Two events in my life crystalized my self-perception. The first happened when I was 16. My parents had been arguing, and my mom came into my room. She was rambling about things that had happened in their marriage prior to me being born. Then she said something about children, “I had to beg for you.” If I knew then what I know now, I would not have asked about it. But I opened Pandora’s Box. She then went on to tell me that I wasn’t supposed to be born. She was forced to have abortions because my grandmother advised my dad that my mom shouldn’t have any more kids. She meant that she had to beg to have me. This confirmed what I had felt all my life – my dad did not want me.

The second event, and ultimately the tipping point, came when my father committed suicide in 1999. He set himself on fire while sitting in his truck in the driveway of our house. The months leading up to the moment, I was angry with him, so upset that I stopped speaking to him. The abuse, the affairs, the chaos he created, and the shame I felt having to act like we were a perfect family had become too much. But I gambled with that anger. My silence was conditional, thinking that one day we would reconcile. His death solidified any chance of that reconciliation ever happening.

It caused a whirlwind of emotions within me. Sadly, grief was the last thing I felt. My initial feeling was relief. Relief that even though it had to come to this, none of us would have to fear him anymore. Then anger. Anger that had been simmering in me for years. I was angry at both of my parents—angry because I felt like they cheated me out of a loving, “normal” family. But the worst  was shame and guilt because of the relief I felt that July day and the knowing that we would never have the chance to reconcile. He left this world knowing that the last thing I said to him was that I hated him.
It’s been 17 years since he passed, and I wish I could say that all is well. But like a city that survived a disaster, I am functioning and getting by but never the same. By the grace of God, poetry found me and gave me purpose. Performing and channelling my pain and hurt on stage gave me something I never experienced– the ability to be seen, to be heard, to be validated.

My personal relationships have been collateral damage. I was in love once. I was happy once. But then I questioned it. Then I sabotaged it. Deep down I didn’t think I deserved to be loved or to be happy. Then I was in an emotionally abusive relationship that broke me even further. I didn’t feel safe enough to speak my mind without repercussions. I felt inadequate as a girlfriend and as a woman. I wasn’t enough. The regret of destroying the love of my life and the shame of staying in an abusive situation, solidified my fragility.

It’s been eight years since I lost the love of my life, and almost four years since the abusive relationship ended. In the years since, I have started to have moments of depression and feelings of anxiety. I cry myself to sleep or don’t sleep well at all. I’ve become more sensitive and introverted. And now I have panic attacks. At first they were from time to time but then they became more frequent. That’s when I knew I needed to start seeing a therapist.

After going through a few of them, I found someone. I would like to think God works in really mysterious and awesome ways. This year, I decided to challenge myself by doing some theatre. I was in a play named The Session, about women who are ordered to attend an anger management class by the court. During our rehearsals, we were introduced to a woman named Britt Frank, a licensed therapist, who acted as our liaison subject matter expert. We each had a mock session. But for me it was transformative. I set up an appointment with her after our run, and that has been the best decision I made.

After a few sessions with her, she diagnosed me with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Initially, I felt relieved because I finally knew what was going on after all these years. But then the fear and shame returned. HOLY SHIT – I HAVE PTSD. Would people understand? Would I be looked at as crazy? Who would want someone so damaged?  Whatever idea I had of identifying as “normal” was gone. I officially felt othered.

As a Black person, mental health is still a taboo subject, especially because of our cultural ties to religion. Do you know how upsetting it is to explain to someone your mental health issue and they respond with a dismissive, “Just pray about it.” As if I haven’t prayed. It’s annoying how Sister Jones can get sympathy for her fried catfish induced diabetes but when I talk about my PTSD it’s, “Baby when was the last time you prayed?”  With all due respect Mother Jenkins, have the whole church pew and sit down.
See Black folks? We don’t do therapy. Black women? We are strong. We are independent. We are not weak. But here’s the thing – I, Angela, am tired.  I’m tired of being strong. I’m tired of being married to the hurt, the pain and the trauma.  So I said enough because I can’t do this on my own anymore.

I struggle with loving myself. I struggle with giving myself grace and mercy. I struggle with looking at the woman in the mirror and knowing how powerful she really is. Some days are good. Some days are bad. But I’m learning. I’m learning to choose me and say I am mine. I’m learning to be brave and trust that I am enough. I’m learning that I deserve love and happiness. I’m not quite where I want to be. Not even close. But one day soon, I will be because that is what I choose for myself.

Born and raised in South Kansas City, MO, Angela Roulette (also known as Mz Angela Roux) has always been a fan of language. venues. Currently, she published her debut poetry book “The Sinbads Sessions” in November 2015 and is the host of “Roux On The Radio” on www.kuaw.org.

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