Uncategorized

The Realism and Dreams of Black Women

Recently, I watched the episode of This Is Us, titled “The Little Island Girl,” and I found it to be such a mirror into the lives of Black women, into my life as an Afro-Caribbean woman. This episode depicted the Black woman’s journey when facing life transitions. While all paths aren’t the same, there are some common treading among Black women when longing for liberation in our lives. Liberation from utter realism that has kept our survival mode in gear but impedes on our dreams; liberation from the sense of unwavering “obligation” we feel to others when we are given an “opportunity” that capitalizes on our productivity. And liberation from the perceptions of ourselves and the roles that we juggle.

 We’ve previously watched Beth be terminated from a workplace where she invested 12 years of her life. It’s at this juncture that she encounters a cracked door of mystery. Previously, she had been so consumed by being a “strong” pillar for her family, analyzing the needs of her workplace to remain a “top boss” employee, while simultaneously trying to catch her breath through life. She had not given herself permission to slow down or whole-heartedly reflect on her trajectory over the past years — if it was truly aligned with the depths of her dreams.

Our natural instincts are flashes of light, guiding us to dream big. When we deny ourselves permission to turn those dreams into fruition, our natural instincts will continue to follow us like a shadow. In Beth’s case, dance was her shadow and it had been following her for years. It was waiting for the moment where she would “see” what had happened to her. 

“When the time comes, I hope you’ll choose yourself.” The advice given to her by the late William foreshadowed her job loss and the stripping of old perceptions, along with the many roles she felt she had to juggle. It’s safe to say that Beth felt like a wanderer, but we later see that she wasn’t lost.

Beth’s trip to visit her mother further signifies the treaded path Black women experience with life transitions. She returns to her childhood home, while the stripping of old perceptions and roles continue to occur. Similar to Beth, this can cause us to feel at our most vulnerable. Especially, when needing to confront aspects of our past that create present barriers. Beth does this through a truthfully unveiling and mutually vulnerable conversation with her mother. The scales come falling down, and Beth is walking into the shadow that leads to the mystery door.

Treading the shadow path to arrive at the door of mystery, we’re shown the value of facing who we thought we were and how we resigned ourselves to live. Here, we’re also challenged to confront the barrier between our current selves and what we would unknowingly become when entering the door of mystery. It’s hard work, but it’s fresh air to our souls. As Black women, the path of liberation in our personal lives might feel uncomfortable, but we’ve been through difficult and uncomfortable circumstances before and have survived. Beth does the work and so can we.

In the end, we see Beth look at her partner in the eyes. She shares her dreams without ambivalence and she walks into the cracked door of mystery that had been waiting for her all along. Beth dances from depths of her being. When she falls, she smiles. There’s an extended exhale because she’s breathing in fresh air and getting back in the groove of her natural instincts. There we know that she has met liberation and will get back up. And I can’t wait to see how this newly founded liberation of her personhood continues to unfold.

As once the “little island girl” who immigrated to this country at the age of two, and a therapist who has been helping clients face and tread their own life transitions for years, I now find myself at a new juncture in life. I’m in transition personally and professionally. Here’s what I’m learning, as I’m hoping it can help you along life transitions of your own.

1.) Give yourself permission to slow down. I know juggling the balls of life has become an art form for you, but allow yourself to place the balls down one by one. With each ball that you place down (whether it be a carried role or self-imposed expectation), ask yourself if this ball is giving you energy or taking it away. I was asked to reflect on these several weeks ago by a wealth strategist and it’s been helping me channel my focus toward what gives me energy. And guess what? What gives me energy is very much aligned with my natural instincts. What takes away energy is usually self-imposed expectations or responding from a sense of unwavering obligation where it may not be warranted. 

2.) Choose yourself. I can hear the resistance all the way from here, and I can also hear the imposed guilt chattering away, “but that’s selfish!” To which, I can happily respond, a world where we personally experience liberation and fulfillment is a safer world than when we are treading around, resigned to being unfulfilled or constricted for fear of being “selfish.” The latter, I call neglect and soul deprivation of fresh air.

3.) Your transition may go contrary to who you thought you were for years.
In the midst of treading unknown territories, don’t worry about being “right”. Give more attention to being wholehearted. Get out of your head, and start to experience life from your body. Decisions can be made much simpler. Just notice, “how is [my] body responding throughout each phase of this transition?”

4.) Transitions are a vulnerable time for anyone (therapists included). How we respond to certain challenges can sometimes fall out of our normal range of response. When you notice this, don’t kick yourself. It doesn’t help you get closer to where you want to be. Instead, reflect on the kind of challenges faced, and be more intentional on responding oppositely. My favorite poem often reminds me that at the face of life challenges, there’s value in being kind, sincere, intentional, and of goodwill. Do it anyway. 

5.) Our path to personal liberation may go contrary to the vision that others held for us and for themselves. If you are met by a challenge from others, understand that it’s normal to care for them and want their support. Yet, even if you don’t receive it, you can’t abandon your dreams. You see, in the final analysis, it’s about you caring for your Soul, not about you and them.

6.) Surrender to the process of transition with your heart, and not your head. It will save you so much time. If you don’t understand what I mean by that now, give it some time. I’m confident you will at a later time. Now, go thrive, because you are so capable.


Carmelle Ellison is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Berkeley, CA who specializes in working with Millennials and the Gen-X  population who suffer from complex trauma; those who are high achieving but have difficulty separating their self-worth from productivity; along with helping individuals manage anxiety, depression, life transitions, and relationship challenges. You can connect with Carmelle at https://carmelleellisonpsychotherapy.com  .

Misadventures of a Black woman in Corporate America

‘Black Girl in the Corporate World’ is part of a series we’re hosting throughout the entire month of March. We’ll discuss what tolls being a Black woman in a white-patriarchal society could have on your mental health. All thoughts and testimonies are welcome using the hashtag #BlackGirlCorporateWorld.

You’re Black, you’re a woman and you work with white people. And the ways in which race and gender are so openly discussed in Corporate America nowadays, it’s becoming harder and harder to get these three things jiving. We all know of the Black girl who had to work ‘twice as hard’ to get that job at the firm where, as a consequence of racial/social inequities, has very few coworkers who look like her. She could be you. She has no real Black (or white for that matter) allies to help relieve the pressure of being the ‘only’ anything in a majority white-professional space. She finds herself in corporate settings forced to make decisions which speak on behalf of her entire race and gender at the same time. And sis, quite frankly, is exhausted.

Or, maybe you’re more familiar with her girlfriend who avoids these conversations at all costs. She doesn’t speak on behalf of all Black women, because honestly, we’re not all the same and “Becky needs to know that!” And plus, she’d rather not indulge her white coworkers with anything race/gender-related out of pure self-preservation because let’s be real, ‘ain’t nobody got time for that.’

Nevertheless, there’s a time where we all must face white curiosity — someone earnestly chomping at the bit to ask you about the latest headlines, politics and yep, your hair.

If you’ve worked in Corporate America, you’ve faced the paradox of being Black and being asked to discuss and put aspects of your Blackness on display for white people to ‘understand’ or feel better about, without feeling paranoid that you exposed too much, or without feeling like you had to sanitize your words in order to make make others feel more comfortable. So how did you do it? Bringing our full selves as professional Black women in the workplace can feel risky but it’s the direction we’re headed in a world becoming more and more racialized. How do you navigate? Here are a few notes (not tips because being a Black woman in Corporate America is still in beta) on how to handle work when white folks are getting on your nerves.

  1. Set boundaries: it’s okay to vocalize when you’ve had enough.
  2. Seek out coworkers who ‘get it:’ They’re out there. Find one or two who you feel will listen and hear where you’re coming from. Seek out coworkers who you feel already have foundational knowledge of the racial injustices of the world. Those conversations might not be perfect but they’re a start.
  3. Take breaks: It’s been a week and you feel like racism is all you have talked about. Take a breather. Just because you’re being silent doesn’t mean you can’t circle back and address these issues later.
  4. Talk to your girls: Behind every successful black woman, is a group chat support system filled with girls she can vent to and friends who will big her up.
  5. Talk to your mentor: Chances are, she had to deal with this too.

Valentine’s Day: Celebrating love in all of its forms

Here’s the truth about Valentine’s Day. People have very different relationships with the celebration in question. If you’re not in a relationship, you might not think you’re the kind of person who should be celebrating. You might feel that way if you’re IN a relationship. And, that’s not so. You can use Valentine’s Day to celebrate love in all of its forms. And as corny as it sounds, you can celebrate love any day, even if it’s not a romantic for of love.

For the month of February (and with Valentine’s Day as our inspiration), Therapy for Black Girls is calling out the ways you can celebrate love– love for others, love for experiences and love for yourself. We’ll be talking about the ways we can be in healthier relationships and navigate our way out of toxic ones.

To kick off this month of love, whether you’re in a relationship or not, here are a few ways you can celebrate love in all of its forms: 

You can celebrate anyone, just pick someone!  
Think about some of the most wonderful humans in this life. Now, think about the ones you have access to. Find a way to celebrate them! You can have a super fun Galentine’s day. You can celebrate your mother, father, sister or any other a close relative. Hit up an aunt and let her know you’re thinking of her. Chances are, they’ll reciprocate the love.

Be around the little ones in your life.
Remember the childlike excitement you got in third grade when you exchanged Valentine’s Day cards with classmates? That contagious joy may help you get into the spirit of love. Another idea: send Valentine’s Day books or cards to the little ones in your life.

Decorate your house.
Celebrate the love you have for your personal space. Ribbon, confetti, a scented candle is enough.

RELATED: Session 8: Getting What You Need in Relationships

Affirm yourself
When we affirm ourselves we’re amen-ing the things we love about ourselves. Try saying the following out loud:
‘I have a kind heart,’
I am confident in my body,’
‘I am beautiful,’
‘I am strong,’
‘I respect my body,’
Repeat.

Hop on the phone.
If you don’t even know how to begin with these affirmations, do it with a friend! Call up someone close to you and take turns saying things you like about the other person. Write their words down on paper. Repeat it out loud and practice internalizing their words. Here’s a prompt to get you started: What are five things that make me special?

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: Make sure you snag friends who will talk exclusively about the good things, not just your growth areas.

RELATED: Session 57: The Do’s of Dating

Compliment someone.
Practice giving love by giving complimenting others. Maybe push yourself to compliment someone you don’t talk to very often.

Practice gratitude.
Be still for a moment. Look around you and focus on the things that make you feel grateful. Did you accomplish a goal recently? If so, take the time to recognize that and thank yourself for doing what was needed to reach that goal.

Celebrate February 15th
Always remember, the best part about Valentine’s Day is February 15th when all that Vaelntine’s Day chocolate goes on sale! Treat yo self!

Real Talk: Postpartum Depression

Real Talk-Postpartum Depression

Vanessa and Brian had tried for months to conceive after a miscarriage 2 years ago. They were terribly excited about the upcoming birth of baby Erin and could not wait to hold her in their arms. Vanessa was a planner so for months the nursery had been done. Her bag was in the car. The car seat had been installed, and her mother, who only lived an hour away, was prepared to be with them for at least 6 weeks following the birth. They were all set. Little Erin came into the world on a rainy June morning but no one could pay attention to the weather when her little face brightened up the entire room. After 12 hours of labor, Vanessa was exhausted but in amazement of the miracle her body had performed. The past few years of disappointments and sadness were all a faint memory now. Erin was finally here!

The first week was pretty rough for Vanessa. She was healing from labor, getting very little sleep and having trouble getting Erin to latch. Throughout it all, her husband and mom were great. They would rock little Erin while she took a shower and her mother made sure she ate 3 meals a day. Because she was a planner, Vanessa had read all the books so she knew that in this first week her mood might be all over the place and that she might have trouble adjusting to her new role. What she was not prepared for however was for her mood changes to last for the next 3 weeks and become more severe. She continued to have trouble sleeping and had to start offering Erin formula because the pediatrician was concerned about the weight  Erin had lost. Vanessa felt defeated by this as she had planned to exclusively breastfeed for the first 6 months. Additionally, Vanessa felt weird around Erin. In her mind she knew what she should be feeling towards her beautiful baby but for some reason she just didn’t feel connected. Vanessa found herself crying everyday in the shower, was not interested in eating very much even though her mom was still there doing all the cooking, and she did not want to hold Erin and preferred that Brian or her mom be the one to try and rock her to sleep.

Vanessa was confused and upset at the feelings she was having. She and Brian had hoped and dreamed of this time with Erin and now that it was here, she didn’t feel like she was showing up.

(more…)