“I should be grateful, but I’m drowning”

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Living in a country that has a longstanding history of creating endless barriers to control how, when and where Black professionals have access to good work opportunities has resulted in many people being conflicted by the need to feel “grateful” for having a job even when they are in toxic, abusive work environments.

The notion that Black professionals must “soldier on” and gracefully bear the brunt of an abusive boss, an unhealthy workplace and the resultant stress and fatigue is driving many Black professionals into depression, alcoholism, substance addiction and death by suicide.

Add to that the continued stigmatisation of mental health in homes, communities, on social media and in the workplace and we are left with millions of working Black professionals who are struggling, feeling alone and thinking that death may be better than their reality.

The amount of times I have read or heard messages that glorify not sleeping, not being kind and not being supportive often makes me wonder if this is truly what we’ve decided to be as a community. From “Successful people don’t sleep/you sleep we grind” to “You can’t sit with us” and “I’m self-made, so help yourself, too”, we have lost our ability to fight meaningful battles together. We are easily set up against each other, moved around like puppets and we actually believe that we are the ones in control. We’re not.

All you have to do is look in the mirror to know that we’re not ok. We’re not showing up for each other the way that we should because we’re so concerned about looking better or more successful than the people who look like us.

Struggling with mental health issues doesn’t make you less human or less smart or less valuable. It doesn’t make you ungrateful. It doesn’t define who you are, just as having the flu doesn’t define who you are. And just like the flu or any other physical health issue, mental health requires a medical professional to give you the support and assistance you need.

You also must know that being employed is not a favour that you owe your employer for. You have the skills and education that enable you fulfil your role. You deserve to be there. And being there doesn’t mean that you must turn a blind eye to injustices. Everybody has a right to feel safe in the workplace, physically, mentally and emotionally. And you have every right to speak about it if your employer is infringing upon that right.

It is increasingly important to be conscious about how our words and actions impact on others. We need to relearn compassion. We need to share resources with each other. We need to comfort and not ridicule each other. And we need to do all these things for ourselves as well because we truly are the ones we need.

Author avatar
Sihle Bolani

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