Dealing With Anxiety as a Black Man
Anxiety is something we all face in life, but as a black man, I felt it continuously. Here is how I overcame my anxiety to live life to the fullest.
I am black. Read that again and think about how you feel. What automatically comes to your mind? Is it oppression, racism, justice or slavery?
The word black almost always brings negativity. It makes people feel on edge and tread softly. The white man hesitates to say it, and the black man is scared to be proud of it.
My blackness has been the root of my anxiety my whole life. Whatever my fears or worries were, they tended to be rooted in the colour of my skin. Whether it was fear of being treated differently or not choosing the right profession, it all came back to my blackness.
My mother would tell me that I had to work 10x harder than my white peers to get somewhere in life. Unfortunately, the colour of my skin prohibited me the privilege to be an easy-going student. I did not have the right to be lazy in class or not hand in my homework.
When I was upset, my classmates and teachers would react differently to me. It appeared that I came across as more aggressive. As I got older, the teachers would complain that my annoyed face frightened them.
For my teachers, my expression of being upset made them feel like I wanted to kill them. And that is not an exaggeration. One of my teachers reported to my mother that she thought I wanted to kill her.
I could show no emotion because I was deemed aggressive. I could show no slackness, or else I would end up with the thugs on the streets. I could not express my opinion lest I get treated more differently than I already was.
Everything I did was with a second thought. I was never comfortable and always feared that my next step could lead to me doing something wrong. I was anxious. Not just for a few seconds before an exam, but throughout my whole life.
I had expectations to uphold as my mother wanted me to prove everyone wrong. I had to show the world that a black man from a single-parent household could make it.
From society, I had expectations to conform. To speak politely, to understand my blackness was a barrier and not to say too much. My anxiety had created a wall around my life to the point where I was no longer living.
Dealing with anxiety as a black man is not the same. We cannot say that our worries are linked to some external thing outside of us. It is what makes us who we are. It is part of our DNA. It is our skin.
So if you ever wanted to know what it feels like to be anxious as a black man, there you have it. But here is how one can overcome it.
The Power of Changing Your Perspective
Being fearful of a result that has not come appears to be a common trait in all humans. We are scared before taking an exam, and many of us are anxious about death.
It is not a coincidence we feel like this as well. From as early as a baby, we start understanding what to avoid through observing our environment. We can pick up on emotions and regulate our behaviours to avoid upsetting adults. That is why children may be hesitant to do certain things due to fear of the result. In other words, they are anxious.
When we are younger, our anxiety often stops us from getting into trouble. When we feel uneased about something, we do not do it and tend to stay safe. However, as we get older, our anxiety becomes a blocker to our progress.
Through observation, we develop behaviours that protect us. These observations then go on to shape our perception. Our perception is then the lens we use to look at reality.
Perception is not reality. And this is lesson one in putting anxiety to death. Our perception is how we view reality, and it can become our reality. However, it is not reality itself.
When we are anxious, we are not fearful of reality but our perception of it. We spend so much time observing that we forget to be partakers in life. One observation does not guarantee a result. If that were the case, a baby would stop trying to walk after falling.
We are more than observers of our own lives. Observations are essential, but wrong ones can cause us to assume the worst in life. The only way we prove our observations wrong is by actively having the courage to test them. Once we have done this, we have changed our faulty perception and freed ourselves from the fears that worried us.
We Are Greater Than What Happens to Us
But even if we fear the results of our future, it is not the be-all and end-all. You have proven to yourself time and time again that you are more than your circumstances.
None of us will have to look far into our memory to tell a story of our resilience. Humans are very adaptable creatures, and it is often the moments we feel we can not bounce back from that we do.
Our past experiences do shape our perceptions, especially when they are negative. But we are still alive to tell the story of how we got through it all. You may even have some battle scars to prove it.
As a black man, I was more than the stigmas around me. My bloodline proves that slavery, oppression and prejudice have not stopped my race. They have persevered and continued in the race of life.
The anxiety I faced was a perception, not a reality. My observations were based on the negatives and what could be, rather than the positives and what was.
I was a young black man doing well for myself. Yes, I had gone through some rough times, but my present self proved I was better. You are a living testimony that you are stronger than whatever life threw at you.
Putting Anxiety to Death
My anxiety did not come from external sources. It comes from my perceptions of how others perceived me. We try our best to play to the rules and stay in our lane to reduce the risk of bad things happening.
However, anxiety thrives in our willingness to conform. When we try to be like everyone else, we let others determine who we ought to be. We go back to merely only being observers and not partakers of life.
And it is the same with all anxiety. Whether it is our parents, society or relationships telling us what we should be, we try to conform. Our observations from a baby tell us that conformity is good and being different and unique is bad.
The black man can not change his skin colour. It is also true that we can not change the perceptions of others. If we live a life constantly in pursuit of conformity, we will fail.
I heard someone once say:
“So long as they strive for conformity, they will remain trapped in their suffering.”
My anxiety came from a fear of wanting to be accepted. I wanted to feel like the privileged white boy I sat next to and no longer seen as a threat. However, to be free is to be without the desire to conform.
Anxiety is put to death once we overcome our desire to observe and instead, seek to partake. No longer let others set the standards for you. Stand up and govern yourself.
Living to the Fullest
Once my anxiety had died, I dropped my goal of becoming an Aerospace Engineer. I no longer wanted to conform to my mother and become an engineer, lawyer or doctor.
I stopped caring how others viewed me and decided to take up my passion for writing. Finally, I dropped my perception of what I should be and became what I wanted to be.
I no longer let my perception be swayed by the colour of my skin. After all, I am way more than that. Martin Luther King, in his I have a dream speech says:
“I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
The content of my character now governs who I ought to be. Death to anxiety freed me from the chains of my observations. I took control over my life and lived it to the fullest.
The one thing I had to break free from was seeing my difference as a problem. Once I was free from that, the thoughts and feelings of others became much less important. My willingness to conform stopped and my anxiety died. Through that death, my authentic self was born.
I am a Visionary and Writer who seeks to enrich society by challenging how we do business today to lead to a world of better leaders and opportunities tomorrow.