“Get it together” is insulting. As if pouring tears of frustration at the thought of being upset about things I’ve been made to feel is any less than “together.” As if clearing problems from my plate in any vocal manner makes me less composed. As if getting angry is never justifiable and responding to pain in any emotional way makes me problematic.
“Get it together” is insulting. I’ve structured personality goals around the idea of being an easy pill to swallow. I’ve wanted to be soft and agreeable with a voice impervious to pain because it’s what was translated as desirable. I’ve morphed into variations of doormats, brooms and mops to avoid and to clean up the emotions I’ve spilled when the pressure was too intense to not burst my pipes. I’ve chastised myself for fury that others have deemed unnecessary because I wanted to suffocate any self-righteousness that would cause me to be someone others didn’t want to be around. I was fine with not connecting with certain individuals but I didn’t want it to be because I was angry, volatile, too passionate and definitely not because I was too sensitive.
The problem was, I was angry, volatile, passionate and immensely sensitive. I was all those things because life was being served on a platter much too small and I had no idea where to start with cleaning up the overflow. I was birthed from angry black women and I learned to speak angry black woman fluently before I was even old enough to find my own voice. When I did find my voice, angry black woman snuck through the cracks – in between the tears that would fall for every situation that prodded an emotional response – which was every situation because emotional sensitivity was hard-wired into my DNA and when life forgets to give you anything but lemons, a sour ass expression is sometimes all you can muster up.
“Get it together” is insulting because isn’t that already the point of life? Isn’t that all any of us are trying to do on our day-to-day journeys? So to insinuate that I need to get it together faster because somehow my falling apart is much more insufferable than anyone else’s means that there’s an intolerance for my emotions and suffering in silence is my only option as to not ruffle any feathers.
I’ve been exposed to tragic news stories of people who I couldn’t necessarily relate to in any way besides blood, flesh and bones, and it was mostly involuntary, thinking that their plight might be some karmic response from the universe righting some wrong they’ve done. That thought would sometimes be all I could think of to pacify the overwhelming empathy I’d inevitably feel whenever I’d fall privy to stories of anyone’s life that were less than ideal. I think of my own responses that attempt to quell the aching of my sympathetic heart when the victim isn’t me. I try to think that maybe the people who justify police shootings of unarmed men of color and the abduction and rape of women of color feel the same. That maybe their response to our pain isn’t a result of not caring – that maybe, like me, they care so much that they feel helpless and have to tell themselves something to calm their thoughts, just enough to sleep at night and get on with their lives.
And maybe, on a smaller scale, the people in our lives who cut and paste “angry black woman” labels on us when we express our need to be heard, felt, understood, and cared for are reacting to some sympathetic helplessness that they feel too. But “get it together” is insulting.
I have friendships that mimic the nature of therapy sessions. Sessions in which I’m the listener, the one who assesses the issue and generates words of wisdom and encouragement whenever the calls come – whether they were 1 a.m. phone calls or night calls that evolve into mornings. I’ve had days where I’d be on one of those late-night-to-early-morning calls and then I’d brush my teeth and get dressed for work straight through without my friend knowing that they kept me from getting any sleep – and that I was on my way to work also without breakfast, just so I wouldn’t interrupt their venting. I’ve had men track mud into my life with unripe interests that they weren’t prepared to see through. Men whose interest I’d latch onto enough to attempt to shoulder their uncertainty as well as my own just to see what could come of it all.
I’ve had these friends who I’ve suffered through sleepless nights and subsequent exhausted work days for, text through the therapy sessions I needed with vague responses to feign interest in my struggles. I’ve had them express distress when I’d make the effort to not choose them over myself when I was too distraught myself to play therapist. I’ve had half-grown men press me to clean up the mud they tracked into my life and pretend as if nothing happened and I’ve come to realize that although “get it together” is insulting, I don’t have to feel insulted.
It’s still my goal to speak words that feel like honey on a sore throat, to be slow to anger, quick to forgive, to be understanding and resilient. It’s my goal to embody those traits and to gift them to whoever needs me to be merciful, compassionate and graceful. The trouble, however, lies in the expectation of those gifts. There’s a difference between, “I understand that you are facing something that might have nothing to do with me and were in a position that caused you to take those feelings out on me” and “my fault but it’s not that serious so why are you mad?” As willing as I am to forgive and forget, please don’t steal my forgiveness. Don’t strip me of the option to feel negatively about the position you’ve put me in just because you’ve gotten acclimated to my mercy.
Being strong doesn’t mean that I always feel my own strength – it doesn’t mean that I’ll always be able to shoulder your burdens as well as my own. Know that if I snap, yell, curse, or tell you that I need space – though it might not be the best response, though it might not be what you want to hear — it is a real response to how I’ve been made to feel. For the days when I choose to take my cape off, wash it and rest my weary shoulders, accept my sighs, my tears, my ignored phone calls and dismissed text messages. I can't fill from an empty cup. Wonder Woman has gone fishing.