Have I become indifferent? That is the question that popped into my mind last night as I was trying to fall asleep.
I must admit that I was surprised. I didn’t know where that question came from. So, I paused and meditated on it. Then the question evolved into “am I so wrapped up in my little world that I don’t feel empathy for what is happening around me?”
As I thought about it, I pinpointed the source of the question: Over the past couple of days, my Facebook page has been swamped with posts of people expressing all kinds of emotions (anger, rage, pain) about the murder of yet another unarmed black man. However, I realized that I was not feeling those extreme emotions. Don’t get me wrong! Of course, I felt sadness, but not the level that was being expressed. For example, people stating that they’ve cried for hours after watching the murder video. That is what led me to question myself, my emotions.
The answer did not come to me last night, but today. As I thought more about it, I started to realize that, my perceived lack of emotions is not a sign of indifference but a coping mechanism, one that I had to develop over the years to protect myself, more precisely my mental health, from the repeated trauma of racism.
It all started in 2012 when I became engrossed to the max in the tragedy of Trayvon Martin’s murder. I read every single article posted about his death and, even worse, I would read the comments on the articles. This has led to a dark time in my mental health. I became restless, I was not sleeping well, I became fearful for my brother my cousins, and I had so many other raw emotions. I remember like it was yesterday when that verdict came in. I’ve never felt so much despair in my life. Yes, I remember crying a LOT that night. Like everyone else, I had to pick up the pieces and “move on” but I learned two important lessons, and this is what I’d like to share.
Lesson one: Know Your Limits!
Everyone can be an advocate, and everyone should be one. However, you need to do it within your own limits. Do not get wrapped up in an issue to the point of putting your mental health at risk. Nothing good will come out of it. For you to be impactful in anything, especially advocacy, you must protect yourself first.
This is exactly what I did as part of my process of letting go of all the raw emotions that were consuming me with Trayvon’s tragedy. I decided not to get sucked into reading everything about any tragedy, whatever it might be. Some people can do that and still function, but I am not wired like that. Reading some of your comments, I have a feeling that it is not the case for many of you either. So, STOP!! Mentally distance yourself from the situation. This means staying aware and well informed, but not getting consumed by the tragedy. Not mentally distancing yourself from this tragedy (and any other tragedy for that matter) will not change the situation, it will only change you. To let that happen is handing our tormentors another win.
Lesson two: Channel Your Emotions!
With Trayvon, I realized I could not get past what happened and the lack of justice. It was consuming me, until I found a way to channel my emotions productively. This can take so many forms: protesting, advocacy, speaking out about what happened, volunteering/mentoring black youth, working with police services on their inclusion initiatives, etc. It is whatever suits your personality. The key is finding a productive way to channel your emotions. Keeping it all in will suffocate you.
Have I become indifferent? Absolutely not!
What I’ve become is someone who knows her limits, someone who has set strong boundaries to protect her mental health. The reason why I was even questioning myself is that I was starting to spiral. While the past few years I’ve done a really good job at keeping my boundaries in check and channel my emotions, the past few days I’ve let my guards down when it came to the murder of George Floyd. I was reading the FB posts, watching the news for hours, only to realize that I haven’t been sleeping well in a week and my emotions were starting to be all over the place. Recognizing that, this is me taking action not only to reset those boundaries but to channel my emotions. The way that I’m choosing to channel them right now is by writing this article, urging you brothers and sisters to protect your mental health during this heartbreaking season and to channel your emotions into something productive, whatever it may be for you.
Jephtée Elysée is a strategic leader with a proven record of generating and building collaborative relationships. She is a skilled communicator and facilitator, expert in public engagement, leader in innovation, and a champion for diversity and inclusion. In her free time, Jephtée likes to write, more as a mechanism to reflect and process her thoughts; and occasionally to share some of lessons she learned, hoping that it would be of value to others.