Handle With Care: 'Dear Young Black Men'

Jemiah Battle, Contributing Survivor Columnist

Editor's Note: We will periodically run columns written by those who are on the front lines of surviving and thriving with diagnosed mental illness or acknowledged mental health challenges. This particular column is also part of the provocative site series, Handle With Care: The Secret Inner Lives of Black Men and Boys.

My name is Jemiah Battle. I am a 34 year old black male who has dealt with mental and emotional health issues my entire life. The beautiful thing about it is that I’m not afraid to talk about it openly- and neither should you be. As a father of a young black male, an uncle to five, and a mentor to numerous black males, this matters to me more than you know. Our future, our legacy will be determined by how we decide to handle the moments that are the most adverse. 

You see, I am you. I may be in a somewhat better place now, but that hasn’t always been the case. Being raised by a single mother in poverty had its toll on me. I felt and experienced at a far too early age what depression and despair feels like. I know what it feels like to be in a room full of people and yet feel isolated and alone. My mom, suffering from manic depression herself, did the best she could but still could not alone teach me and prepare me for being a black man in America. Since she could not validate me as a man, I (like most men) sought validation in multiple women that, by nature, were not designed to give me the validation I needed. I grew up angry, confused, and often times full of anxiety in a world that seemingly was against me. I thought that being an overachiever and gaining status or financial success would ease my pain, but it only amplified it as I tried so desperately to internalize my feelings. I was taught culturally and in my house that real men don’t cry, they just deal with it. I was often told and reminded to check my emotions at the door but how could I leave something that was a part of me? I was at a constant conflict within and always felt like I was going to implode at any given time. I couldn’t drink enough to ease the conflict. I couldn’t have sex enough to comfort myself. I couldn’t party enough or build a big enough name for myself to validate my ego and feelings of inadequacy. I was a mental roller coaster going one-hundred miles per hour. 

Then it finally happened. My world, as I knew it, crashed. I lost everything and everybody that I had built this false idea of manhood around. I nearly lost it mentally and fell into deep depression. I had been depressed throughout my life but for some reason this time it was different. Something, Someone, within me was telling me that I was more. So instead of doing what I normally did and try to fix everything outside of me, I decided to take the internal journey and help the inside of me. I had to learn that it was ok to be honest about how I felt. I had to learn that I could not defeat what I would not confront. I had to learn that it was ok to have healthy relationships with other men and that they were in fact a vital part of my growth and development as a man. I have to learn that real men do cry and that expressing my feelings in a healthy way was normal. You see, being meek and expressing your emotions does not make you weak. Learning to be aware and express your feelings puts you in control. The very definition of meekness at its core is “strength under control.” I had to learn that it was ok to express my emotions and I had to learn that it was ok to deal with them.

I said all of that to say this: I see you. Not only do I see you, I see your potential while at the same time feeling your pain in an unjust society that a lot of times predisposes you to disparities, prejudices, and social-economic hardships that your Caucasian counterparts have never had to face. I know that these injustices can put a strain on your psyche and leave you in a confused search for your identity in a seemingly dark space. I know what it feels like as a black man to feel like you cannot provide for your family, to feel helpless, to feel powerless. But there is hope. Everything you need has already been divinely placed in you. The light that you seek has always been within. You are equipped to make a difference and impact in not only your life, but in your community and the world at large. Love starts with self and it radiates itself outward and draws. You are significant. You are a light, meant to be placed on a hill, for the world to see how great you are. Never forget that.

 You are not a victim you are a victor! It’s ok to say I’m stressed. It’s ok to say I’m depressed. It’s ok to say that you get overwhelmed and anxious at times. It is not ok to stay there!

Men die because they don’t talk.  Stop running from your personal stuff; be open to thinking about your mental and emotional health in a different way.  

Find your voice, uncover your purpose...it is within you. I understand you because I am you and I have your back. Your power is in your voice and your ultimate power is in your decisions that you make to better yourself and those attached to you. Get help. Talk and connect with other men and commit to making a difference in yourself, your community, and the world. You matter. You are worth it...