Book Excerpt: Black Girl In Love (with Herself)
Trey Anthony is an award-winning writer, motivational speaker, and relationship/life coach. She is the first black woman in Canada to have a television series on a prime-time network. This is an excerpt from her new book, Black Girl in Love (With Herself), published by Hay House, which you can buy now on Amazon.
My mother is one of the bravest women I know. She is my superhero. My mother spent most of my childhood in full-out survival mode. She was born in Jamaica and came to England when she was 12 years old. At age 17, she had me, and a few years later, my brother was born, and several years later in her thirties she had my sister. In her early twenties she decided she wanted more and took the bold step of packing up her shit and moving to Canada, which beckoned as the land of opportunity.
I was eight years old when my mother left me and my brother with our grand- mother and moved to Canada. We were separated from our mother for four years. But eventually she was able to send for us. She had managed somehow to find an apartment in a working-class neighborhood and took pride in the fact that she had a shiny, brand-new silver Hyundai, which we piled into when she picked us up from the air- port. My earliest memories of her consist of a tired-looking woman who was always rushing out the door, heading to her numerous jobs to provide for her family. As she left, she would rattle off a list of what needed to be done in her absence.
As the oldest, I was second-in-command, and she expected her 12-year-old daughter to step up. Laundry needed to be taken to the laundromat, the chicken needed to be taken out of the freezer. I needed to get the oven sprayed and clean the stove, give my brother dinner, help him with his homework, wash the dishes, season the chicken, and make our school lunches for the next day. My mother was the queen of multitasking and her favorite saying was “Learn to whistle and ride.”
Basically, she didn’t think it was impossible to clean the stove while having a load of laundry in the dryer and quickly make bologna sandwiches at the same time. Each minute needed to be used efficiently. There was no time for sleep, and definitely no time for rest. Shit needed to get done! We knew that if we were not busy, we needed to act busy because my mother would find us something to do. And my mother had no time for wallowing in self-pity. Productivity was key in our household, and even if you were tired, worn out, hurt, scared, or overwhelmed, you just got back up and did what needed to be done. There was a big expectation placed on me to ensure that things got done.
So it was no surprise that this large-and-in-charge 12-year-old, who was her mother’s right-hand girl, grew up to be an overachieving adult. I became the first Black woman in Canada to have a show, ’Da Kink in My Hair, on a prime-time TV network. It was a half-hour comedy based on my successful play of the same name. This little girl from the hood was now a big deal, but I felt like at any time, someone was waiting to snatch away all my success. That someone was monitoring me and waiting for me to mess up so they could take everything from me. I was suffering from a major case of impostor syndrome.
Sheryl Sandberg, in her book Lean In talks about this. She writes that every time she succeeded at something, she believed she had “fooled everyone yet again.” And that “one day soon, the jig would be up.” I think women of color, and especially Black women, face another loaded, layered version of this. Michelle Obama often talks about how women of color feel they have no right to be at the “success table”—even after they’ve achieved success. Because the higher we go up the ladder of success, the fewer and fewer faces we see that look like us. So we start to think perhaps it was a “mistake” or a fluke that we actually made it. Often, you may feel that you are indeed an impostor in your own life and that someone is going to discover you shouldn’t be here.
I was experiencing extreme impostor syndrome and the anxiety of being “found out” was keeping me up at night. I wanted to prove to the world that I was the horse that you bet on. I prided myself on being a member of “Team No Sleep,” boasting that I only needed a mere four hours of rest per night to get through the day. I worked long hours and put ridiculous demands on my schedule. I loved long to-do lists and set up daily personal challenges to complete them. I’d wake up at 3 a.m., be on set at 4 a.m., and spend 12 hours per day reading, writing scripts, then acting in the show.
After I wrapped filming, I’d invite myself into the editing suite to give my unsolicited advice on edits and cuts for the show—micromanaging and ensuring that everything was getting done the way I thought it should. Then I’d head over to the new wellness center I had just opened to give a talk or class or do some more micromanaging to make sure everything was running smoothly over there. Finally, I’d head home and deal with the medical care and needs of my terminally ill grandmother, who lived with me while she battled stage 4 cancer. After spending time with Granny and making sure she was okay, I’d go to my home office to brainstorm some more ideas for the show, watch the edits, and memorize my lines.
Some nights, I was so exhausted I fell asleep at my desk. Other times I’d get to bed just a few minutes before midnight and toss and turn for three hours before jumping out of bed to do it all over again. I was running on empty, and I ignored the telltale signs that all was not well with my body, such as my lack of sleep and occasional chest pain. And then one day, the shit hit the fan. I was in the editing suite when a sharp pain gripped my chest. I ignored it. And then it struck again. My body writhed in pain, and my left side felt numb. What did I do? Instead of telling anyone I was in pain, I asked for some tea. But then the pain became so unbearable that I actually keeled over onto the desk, alarming the editor and two producers in the suite. I finally confessed that for the last 20 minutes, I had been experiencing sharp chest pains. They tried to convince me to go to the hospital. Despite my assurances that I was fine—maybe it was the small beads of sweat on my forehead or the agony written across my face—they called an ambulance, and I was whisked away. All the while, I kept insisting that I was “fine.”
“I’m fine.” The Black woman’s code for “There’s really too much on my plate, but I’m going to try to figure it out all by myself. However, in the meantime, feel free to dump some more on my overflowing plate. And if some of the shit you dump on my plate falls on the floor, don’t worry, I’ll sweep it up. ’Cause I got this!”
We have witnessed generations of Black grandmothers, mothers, aunties, and sisters loudly declare, “I’m fine” while working two or three jobs where they are probably dealing with racism and sexism and often feel unseen and unheard, with little to no support in their homes or their workplace. They feel that they are weak for asking for help and try to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders, grinning all the while. They don’t complain; they just take a deep breath and put on their superwoman cape as they fly off, yelling, “I’m fine!”
So now I’m in the emergency room, hooked up to a heart monitor. I was still on my BlackBerry, responding to e-mail, until a stern doctor barked at me to put it down. Didn’t he know I was running an empire? I wanted to tell him, but something in his eyes told me this was serious. “Am I having a heart attack?” I asked.
“Are you concerned about your health?” the doctor asked.
This had to be a trick question. So I hesitated before slowly nodding yes.
He told me, “You are lucky that you did not have a heart attack, but you’re close. Young lady, your heart rate is dangerously elevated. There is severe stress on your heart. Are you taking care of yourself?”
This one simple question, “Are you taking care of yourself?” reduced me to a blubbering mess. Care? Me? I should be taking care of myself? I began crying—the ugly, Oprah, snot-dripping-down-my-face cry. I didn’t want to admit how tired and run-down I was. I didn’t want to talk about the sleepless nights and my unhappiness. As my grandmother used to say, “My tired was tired!” I was supposed to be at the pinnacle of my success, yet I was miserable. I hated my life.
I begged the doctor to admit me to the hospital for a few days—a week would be ideal! If I were in the hospital, I would finally have permission to take a much-needed rest without any judgment from my family, colleagues, and friends. No one would think that I was lazy or a quitter. If they said anything, I could feign outrage. “Can you believe it? Yes, I’m on bed rest! Strict orders from the doctor . . .”
The doctor looked at me in disbelief. “You want me to admit you so you can take a rest?” I nodded. He obviously didn’t understand my life. He had no idea of the tremendous pressure I was under to run a successful TV show, manage a wellness center, look after a sick family member, and try to be the “fixer” for all my friends’ lives.
It was obvious that he couldn’t comprehend the reality of a Black female superhero!
The doctor shook his head. “You need to go home and rest. Tell your family and your friends that you need their help—”
I shot him a dirty look. The doctor signed my release with strict orders to take a rest and slow down. I went back to my life, but I didn’t slow down. Instead, I added more to my plate. I was determined to be a success. And hard work equals success. I was working on the dream, working on the fairy tale called my life. The girl from the hood who made it out, who now had a life that was beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.
And now here I was again, seven years later. Rock bottom and unable to tell my family I needed help. But this time, instead of continuing the charade, I had my first full emotional breakdown in front of my mother. I fully blame her for it. She burst into my home office and glanced at the clock. She was annoyed that I was engrossed in sending out work e-mail with the baby strapped to my chest. It was 7:45 p.m., and she wondered why I had not put the baby in the bath or fed him. She firmly reminded me of how important it was to keep him on a schedule. “Trey, 7:30 p.m. is his bedtime. You need to do better.” I felt the quiet rage rise in me, and I tried to bite my lip, but this time, I had to say something. With my voice barely a whisper, I stated, “I’m not doing well, Mom . . .”
Trey Anthony's work includes the plays, 'da Kink in My Hair and How Black Mothers Say I Love You. Trey's life purpose is to empower women to live their best damn lives! Her new book, Black Girl in Love (with herself), published by Hay House in January 2021, is available for purchase on Amazon.