I made myself physically sick this week. I’m no scientist, so I don’t have logical justification, but I believe that sickness can be a physical manifestation of a deeper emotional issue. Tuesday morning, I received soul-crushing news at the start of my first period class. I screamed when I read the email, and my students immediately asked what was wrong. I froze and went to a deep internal place where I bury devastating emotions. I tried to collect myself and proceed as normal. That didn’t work.
I wanted to cry, yell, and throw things across the room, but I had to be a teacher. When I couldn’t contain my emotion, my students inquired again and realizing that I would not be okay, I opened up a little, “We just got an email that one of our students was--.” They already knew. The news had apparently circulated all night, and I was the last one to find out. One of our 2018 graduates, a student I taught, was murdered Monday evening.
I’ve never been one to show hurt publicly. As a child I often received messaging about the “weakness” of crying. Phrases like, “Big girls don’t cry,” or “Stop crying before I give you a reason,” ring heavily in my memory. I recall friends taking pride in NEVER crying in front of people, if at all. This was seen as strength, and who doesn’t want to be a strong Black woman? Problem is, when we shame crying and glorify the “strong Black woman” we are basically saying that one’s strength exists in her ability to suppress her emotion.
Because of school, meetings, and other obligations, I never paused to mourn a death that weighed on my heart and soul. I was distraught and infuriated, but I wouldn’t let myself dive into my emotions. I didn't feel I had the space, and I was scared I wouldn’t be able to “pull myself together.” As a result, I drowned myself in work, until there was no other choice. My student’s memorial service was Friday, and all the emotion I was avoiding erupted.
Emotional suppression is unhealthy- PERIOD. Humans feel, and when we are not free to do so, we become calloused, isolated, disconnected, or a plethora of other negative things. This week, my emotional suppression (coupled with non-stop activity) made me physically sick. Friday afternoon my throat felt like it was on needles, and by Sunday I had four other symptoms. (I’m actually typing this from bed because I still don’t feel well.) I told myself there was no time to mourn, and as a result, I overworked myself into a weakened physical state.
Finding the space to be vulnerable can be a balancing act, but creating that space and allowing ourselves to feel is something we can control. If I wanted to, I could have prioritized my emotional health, but for an abundance of reasons, I didn’t. Mourning requires a level of stillness, and it’s easier to do the opposite.
Fortunately, I have people in my life who prioritize mental and emotional health along with self-care. These individuals nearly forced me to take the time I needed. While I didn’t completely follow directions, by Friday, I was able to remove myself from commitments without backlash.
I have work to do around emotional processing and being vulnerable. I'm still working to change the narrative I’ve been taught around crying and showing emotion. Crying doesn’t make you weak. Acknowledging our emotions is necessary. And, as the guest pastor reminded me in yesterday’s sermon, even Jesus wept.