The Seriousness of Stress

Today, I was in a meeting, and an 88 year old man was talking about the stressors in his life and how he has managed to handle them. In the process of sharing he said something like, “Stress will get you pain; stress will get you cancer; and stress will get you dead.” On a day like today, when I was feeling a considerable amount of stress about some of the changes that are in the very near future, I was reminded of the seriousness of stress. Being a black woman, who is threatened everyday with harmful expressions (particularly of maleness and whiteness), I know that notwithstanding those threats, stress can be just as deadly, if not more.

Of course, I have carried my share of of stress in my lifetime. However, I have suffered the worst when I have taken on the stress of others, specifically when I took on other peoples’ pain. On the one hand, it is good to have compassion for others, and it is good to be there in times of need. On the other hand, I also know people who are going through stress because of self-destructive thinking and behaviors. Indeed, my upbringing has taught me to be there for others and to show empathy. But, when I show more care and compassion for those who are not willing or able to take care of themselves (and with a little honesty and effort on their part they could or should be able to take care of themselves), then I suffer from their stress, while  meanwhile they seem to go along as if nothing is wrong. It is hard to see others’ struggle, but it is even harder to watch someone who is under considerable stress and in denial.

I was grateful to be reminded today that “stress will get you dead” by someone who has lived through more than eight decades of stress. I appreciated his honesty and his vulnerability, and his ability to tell those of us who are younger that it shouldn’t take eighty plus years to learn how to handle stress. Stress is an everyday part of life, and I am willing to take on my stress, the stress that belongs to me. But, what I have to remember is that I do not have to take on any body else’s stress, and especially not when they are not able or conscious enough to admit that they are in trouble and suffering with their own stressors. Taking on their stress when for one reason or another they are inept or unable to even name their stress is, in fact, something that will get me dead; and it is a stress that I simply cannot afford.

© 2017 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

 

 

 

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The Womanist Way of Loving the Self

Womanist as defined by Alice Walker:

In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose, 1983: Harcourt, Brace & Howe.

Womanist

1. From womanish. (Opp. Of “girlish,” i.e., frivolous, irresponsible, not serious.) A black feminist or feminist of color.  From the black folk expression of mothers to female children, “You acting womanish,” i.e., like a woman.  Usually referring to outrageous, audacious, courageous or willful behavior.  Wanting to know more and in greater depth than is considered “good” for one.  Interested in grown-up doings.  Acting grown up.  Being grown up.  Interchangeable with another black folk expression: “You trying to be grown.”  Responsible.  In charge.  Serious.

2. Also: A woman who loves other women, sexually and/or non sexually. Appreciates and prefers women’s culture, women’s emotional flexibility (values tears as natural counterbalance of laughter), and women’s strength. Sometimes loves individual men, sexually and/or non sexually.  Committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female.  Not a separatist, except periodically, for health.  Traditionally, universalist, as in: “Mama, why are we brown, pink, and yellow, and our cousins are white, beige, and black?”  :”Well, you know colored race is just like a flower garden, with every color flower represented.”  Traditionally capable, as in: “Mama, I’m walking to Canada and I’m taking you and a bunch of other slaves with me.”  Reply: “It wouldn’t be the first time.

3. Loves music. Loves dance. Loves the moon.  Loves the Spirit.  Loves love and food and roundness.  Loves struggle.  Loves the Folk.  Loves herself.  Regardless.

4. Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.

Several years ago, I resigned from a tenure-track job at my alma mater, Clark Atlanta University. It was a very difficult but important decision and I wasn’t sure how I would make it, especially financially. Needless to say, I survived, and in hindsight I truly believe that I made the right decision, for me.

Being true to yourself is never an easy task. Today, I am very grateful for the ones who were there for me and who cheered me on when I made the hard decisions. Their open mindedness, positivity, and sometimes their overwhelming support brightened my days and gave me hope. On the other hand, it was my critics and even my “haters” who lit a fire under me; and thus, they were the ones who have enabled me to know what it is to live my life, my way.

The truth is: I could not have made it to where I am today, be the woman I am today, without both groups of people in my life. Those who loved me and supported me taught me how to have compassion and patience with myself; and, those who questioned, criticized, and some who eventually left or abandoned me (including one wanna-be pimp) taught me how to love myself regardless of what others might think, say or do. Because of them, all of them, I am learning what it means to love myself the womanist way: regardless.

© 2017 annalise fonza, Ph.D.