MLK50: Justice Through Journalism hosted a virtual panel on May 31 about mental health and self-care, specifically for Black women. It was inspired by a recent article, in which prominent local artist Victoria Jones shared her personal experience of depression in the midst of professional success.
Jones is the founder and executive director of Tone, an Orange Mound-based arts organization that works to empower Black artists. She has gained national publicity for Tone’s work and her role in attempting to redevelop a Lamar Avenue tower into apartments, office space and more. Along with Jones, the discussion included MLK50 founder Wendi C. Thomas and Lauren Hudson, a licensed clinical social worker and co-founder of Anchored in Healing Counseling & Coaching.
#1: Life can be hard — and therapy needed — even while experiencing success
In the article, Jones talked about how the Lamar Avenue project’s national acclaim ramped up her anxiety despite the accolades being celebrated by family and friends.
During the panel, she spoke about how that dichotomy made it more difficult to open up about her struggles.
“It’s hard to complain when so much is going right publicly,” Jones said. “We need the positive press … in order to pull something this insane off. But, at the same time, what was really great for the project highlighted all the ways imposter syndrome shows up in my space.”
That led to shame, which made her less likely to talk about her anxiety or the subsequent return of her heavy drinking.
Hudson said it’s common, especially for Black people, to avoid therapy during hard times. However, she strongly urged therapy whenever people face “something that you’re not able to achieve by yourself.”
Jones, Hudson and Thomas encouraged Black women to specifically seek Black women therapists, because of the shared understanding they can provide.
#2: “A support system, a support system, a support system”
For a while, Jones hid her abuse of alcohol from her friends, because she hadn’t yet decided she wanted to stop.
Her family was encouraging her to stop drinking, but her friends kept inviting her to drink, unaware of how dangerous it was for her. Once she had hard conversations with her friends, though, they showed up for her.
Hudson said this part of Jones’ story was powerful.
“I think it is extremely important — a support system, a support system, a support system,” Hudson said. “Because when you’re drowning and you have other people pouring water on you and not a life raft, we just keep going down.”
#3 Work can’t be constant
To build a stronger support system for the future, Jones said she realized she would need to invest more in her friendships, instead of using work as an excuse.
“I had convinced myself that this project was enough … (that) I should be allowed to just focus on it,” she said. “But that’s not how relationships work.”
All three women spoke about the need to stop work from becoming all-consuming. Thomas said she can be tempted to pour herself into work because it feels safer than pouring herself into relationships.
“When I work hard at work, I feel like I always get a payoff,” Thomas said. “But it really does not make me a whole person, and they say when people die, they never say, ‘I wish I worked more.’”
Thomas has tried to make herself stop working by 6 p.m. each day. Jones won’t start work until she completes at least most of her morning routine, which includes exercising, drinking water and meditating.
Being a Black woman can make work-life balance even harder, Hudson said.
“We’ve been told all our lives, we have to be twice as good, twice as fast, twice as everything,” Hudson said. “When you start to internalize that, then at our baseline of being human, we’re not meeting those expectations of what ‘Black girl magic’ is supposed to look like.”
Hudson said she’s had to learn how to “take the cape off” and allow herself to rest and care for herself.
This is a key theme Jones hopes other Black women can learn from her experience — that they should stop “romanticizing martyrdom” and allow themselves to be “abundantly well.”
“I think all these ideas of perseverance and Black girl magic have narrowed our experience,” Jones said. “I want opportunities for us to be delicate and soft and angry and joyful and ecstatic. … The world becomes a better place if we are honest about how we feel.”
Jacob Steimer is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Email him at Jacob.Steimer@mlk50.com
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