How to be Loved When You’re Black & Broken
Content Warning: This article contains topics such as trauma and suicide
Do I deserve love from others when I can’t love myself? Can I learn to love myself when I am broken as hell?
To this day, I struggle with these questions. Being a black, queer, agender person, I’ve been through hell and back. I have experienced so many things ranging from homelessness to psychotic breaks to various forms of violence in the span of 22 years of my life. I have always struggled with self-esteem issues, starting from being bullied in kindergarten.
It doesn’t help that I’m mentally ill.
To be quite honest, I am such a flawed person.
Life and my brain was not too kind to me. I have BPD, which means I am prone to drastic mood swings, self-destructive behaviors, and a very flawed sense of self. I have PTSD through a series of traumatic events, so I suffer from anxiety around certain dates, people, places and things. I have depression with psychotic features, so there are days where I feel like an empty shell, when the passion for things I have die down. With those illnesses combined, I suffer from major trust issues, a fear of abandonment, frequent hypervigilance, and also a major inferiority complex that I am still trying to get over.
To be honest, because of issues related to these illnesses, I definitely fucked up in the past. I have fucked up previous relationships. I have been the cause for ending friendships. All the love I could give wasn’t enough because in the end, I was a toxic influence for folks. As a result, I questioned whether or not I deserved love from others. Even when I became medicated and more able to see the world with a more realistic point of view, I still struggled with this.
Aside from all this trauma, I am still a fat black person that was crazy. I still felt undesirable. Everyone kept telling me how loving myself would allow me to love other people. One of the reasons this was hard for me to do was because of the messages I was taught growing up. White supremacy taught me that black people’s feelings did not come first and the idea of having someone love you was absurd. Black people never deserved love. Not even from each other.
As someone who has all the love to give in the world, I could not imagine not loving other people before myself. I thought that other folks were capable of my love, but that I wasn’t capable of receiving the love everyone told me I deserved. Especially following a series of events in which, I realized I have messed up, I kept thinking to myself that I was too broken to be loved. I thought that being mentally ill messed up my chances to be loved. That love was a privilege that I had not attained.
But this was not true. Love was not a privilege that I needed to gain, but something I already have deserved. From so many people, myself included. I deserved love more than I told myself that I deserved pain. I deserved more than what this oppressive society thinks I do. As a black, fat, queer, femme person; I thought emotional labor without rewards were expected from me because it was just an expectation that a black person was supposed to grin and bear it. Just like mental illness. But I deserved love, especially the unconditional kind because I existed in a world that wasn’t meant for me to live in. I deserved that love because I just did and didn’t need any valid reason, except to breathe.
One of the people that helped me realized that love was something that could be unconditional is someone who I call Kittie.
Kittie is someone I admire and love. A survivor who does activism through art, isn’t afraid to fuck shit up, and despite being a bit intimidating, a major a softie and a person is very loyal and loving to you if you end up receiving the love and loyalty. A person who gives the best cuddles and kisses and wants to dismantle the capitalist society that we live in. A person that I love with all my heart. And I know they love me.
I visited Kittie for my birthday. The six days I spent with them was amazing. There was nothing but pure, radical love. I will never forget the weekend that reminded me of how much they loved me.
I am from New York City. I was born there. Kittie was born and raised there but no longer lived there for various reasons. I loved New York City until I became aware of the ableism and dirt and grime and noise that overloaded my senses. New York City no longer felt like home, but instead felt like a strange land.
It was also the land of triggers, left right and center. I couldn’t take it anymore, I wanted to move, but I was broke, so I decided to settle for something more doable.
I still remember that particular weekend. That weekend was the weekend before Halloween, which meant my PTSD symptoms would be flaring up more than usual. While not being in New York City was helpful, my mental illnesses never took a break. I had forgotten my traumaversary because I was with someone I love in a new town that did not give me negative memories. That night, after we did things like dyeing hair, I just felt emotionally overwhelmed.
I went upstairs to their room and laid in bed for a bit. I was having horrible flashbacks of the assault. It kept playing over and over, and I couldn’t stop it from being on repeat. I just wanted to escape and dissociate from everything and everyone. I remembered wanting to go back to old self-destructive habits and drink and cut my sorrows away.
I remembered when they walked into their room and saw me. They always knew when I was feeling a bit off and checked in on me.
“Are you okay baby?”
And that’s when I cried my eyes out.
It wasn’t their fault that I was a mess, not at all. I was in a place that was foreign but felt like home, with a person that I cared for deeply and whose presence I cherished. Being out of New York City allowed me to experience a type of happiness I haven’t felt in a while, but here I was crying my eyes out. Feeling guilty that I possibly ruined my own vacation away from the pain of a city that no longer felt meshed well with me and the alone time I was able to have with a partner.
Internally, I felt like I ruined everything and I imagined myself being abandoned on the spot because I have somehow ruined one of the best relationships that I’ve had in a while. That perhaps, Kittie settled for me but didn’t really want to be with me. All these thoughts kept racing through my head. I was melting down, and I seemed to be ruining everything.
But instead, I heard these words out of their mouth:
“You’re here and you’re safe.”
Kittie kept petting my hair as I laid in their lap crying. I remember that night crying for a while until I was too tired and they asked if I wanted some popcorn. They kissed me in between the head pets.
That was one of the moments that made me realize that being around them was my safe space. That I could be vulnerable and cry my eyes out and not have showered in like three days, but that it would be okay to expose myself because they would not judge me, they would not feel manipulated, they would not love me any less. These were things I had to remind myself of. That love wasn’t just sending cute little messages and amazing sex. Love wasn’t thinking your lover is perfect, because they aren’t and never will be. Love is an emotion shared among human beings and to be fair, humans are not perfect. At all.
That’s the thing with love, being able to acknowledge that your partner isn’t perfect. Their flaws are 10 fold when they are mentally ill. Dating someone who has suffered from trauma that will never truly go away and triggers that you forget from time to time is a situation you might end up facing. You might say something and realize, only after you notice the signs of dissociation they’re going through, that you might’ve said something that was a trigger.
But the thing is that you have to be able to talk through things and also remember that despite their mental illnesses and trauma, they are more than that. They are the art of black bodies they draw in their activism. They are the good morning kisses you get before they head off to work. They are the hand you hold when you fall asleep at night in bed. They are the Skype conversations you have at night before you two fall asleep.
Me and Kittie are both mentally ill. Kittie and I definitely express our emotions in different ways. Kittie is a bit less emotive than I am, while I emote a bit too much. However, how we express our emotions and go through our traumas and mental illnesses does not take away from the fact that we have so much love to give one another. At the end of the day, the flaws we have do not mean we aren’t capable to love on another. In a way, this allows us to connect with other that non-black neurodivergent people might not be able to.
Dating me has meant Kittie has had to call me and talk me out of suicide attempts, help ground me during dissociative episodes, and deal with weekly and sometimes daily breakdowns because I suffer Imposter’s Syndrome from time to time. Dating Kittie has meant remembering that little innocuous things can be triggers and that even sending a random sticker might set them off, something I try to remember.
Dating each other has meant using the limited sign language we know to communicate when one of us became mute. Dating each other has meant nights of dysphoria and nights of comforting each other and affirming one another that even though we are seen as women, we are definitely not. We are more than what this cis-heteronormative society thinks we are. Dating each other has meant past mistakes are in the past and trying to help one another grow is important right now. Dating each other meant learning more about each other’s quirks, history, hopes, and dreams every day.
Dating Kittie after dealing with various forms of trauma, has allowed me to realize and remember that romantic love between two radical black people who has suffered and continue to suffer is one of the most revolutionary things that can happen. Dating Kittie has allowed me to learn to love myself and to grow in ways I didn’t know was possible. They call me out problematic behaviors I exhibit and they motivate me to keep doing my activist work online. I encourage them in their art and remind them how much I value and appreciate black bodies not being seen in negative forms. They remind me of how much they love me. I remind them of how much I love them.
We don’t need to do this through words because there are so many times one can say “I love you” in a day. Love is when after I start getting back and knee pain in the cold weather, Kittie asks for a wheelchair in the museum that so I could be comfortable on our date. Love is giving back rubs to Kittie when I have the spoons because they work a job where they stand up all day and suffer from school–related stress as well. Love is checking in on each other when we both know that one of us or both of us are not feeling physically or emotionally well. Love is asking each other for triggers because you both have dealt with traumatic or just sadness inducing events. Love is so many things that I cannot possible describe, it is essentially accepting the not—so–perfect parts of the person or people you’re dating and being okay with them.
When I told them I loved them, I was scared. I was scared of loving. I was scared of falling in love. I was scared of being loved. I was used to love just being used and then thrown out when I messed up in horrible ways. I have probably messed up in our relationship a few times, but the love we have for one another is one of the things that has helped me to love myself. It has helped me to remember that while I am broken, I am not undeserving of love, affection or safety.
Being with Kittie is a safe space I cherish. I know that I am not disposable to them, that I don’t have to feel guilty for not being okay. They know how I’ve messed up in previous relationships and remind me that I am not my past. Remind me how much of a great partner I am being to them, despite being frequently concerned if me talking about my emotions makes them a shitty partner.
Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.
You are not automatically a shitty partner because you are not always happy around your partner. If someone loves you, they will understand this. They will be there to validate your emotions but also remind you of the good things you are able and capable of doing. Mental illness and trauma doesn’t discriminate among black folks, we are always at risk of suffering because of the oppressive systems we are forced to interact with on a daily basis.
By allowing myself to love and be loved by another radical queer black fat trans person, I learned to love myself and to love the person that I am. I am able to love my passionate nature for reproductive justice. I am able to love the rolls of fat I have and the dark skin that was inherited from my parents. I am able to begin to love the reflection I see in the mirror, without wanting to cry because I don’t look “ideal” for even black queer folks in the community.
By loving Kittie, I am being revolutionary as hell. Every time we check in on each other. Every time I give them back rubs. Every time I ask them what’s wrong. We care for each other in ways that a white supremacist based society says that we shouldn’t. Because we’re black. Because we’re mentally ill. Because we’re black AND mentally ill. However, love doesn’t decrease because of this and instead makes us want to aggressively love each other one another to piss off white supremacy.
I don’t look to the future much. It is sometimes triggering for someone who decided to leave college for mental health reasons and reminders that I won’t get far unless I have a bachelor’s degree for menial tasks. However, I would be happy to know that it included one of the most important people in my life. Kittie has taught me so many things and has believed in me when I could not believe in myself. They have made me cry tears of joy and allowed for me to have space to cry tears of sadness in situations they had no control over. They have understood me in ways a lot of folks still don’t.
And it with this space, I am learning to love all of the flaws. As someone who is mentally ill and a trauma survivor who is also black, fat, queer, and trans, I am constantly getting messages that I can’t or don’t deserve to someone romantically love me. But every day, this society is proved wrong. Every day, I am resilient against white supremacy. Every day, my love just grows and grows and grows.
Featured Image: Laurin Rinder/Adobe Stock