Black Women and the Burnout Epidemic: The cost of caring (Part 1)
Black. Busted. Burdened. Broken. Four words that African, Caribbean, or Black (ACB) women have become well acquainted with at some point in their lives. Why? Because I know from all my years living as a Black woman that to be a Black female is unlike any other experience. It’s the constant battle of having to balance all the social labels of being nurturing, strong, caring and invincible with no support or rest, pushed to the point of extreme exhaustion. Often, it quite literally feels like the weight and the well-being of the world rest on our shoulders, at the cost of our own well-being.
Within the uncertainty and stress of going through a global pandemic, this is something that we can all relate to: the feelings of being physically, emotionally and mentally drained, and giving all that we have, only to receive (what seems to be) little in return. The constant changes, the need to be adaptable, consistently being on the go, and the shift in what we know as “normal” has without doubt taken a toll on all of us. There’s a word for this feeling—it’s called burnout.
This “new” phenomenon of an intense sense of energy depletion across all dimensions of our health has become commonplace. A feeling that we all know well, where there seems to be no boundary between work life and personal life, especially for frontline workers.
But is it really all that new? For some, maybe. For ACB women, definitely not.
So what is burnout, anyways?
According to an article written by the organization Calmer, burnout is “the state of mind that comes with long-term, unresolved stress that can negatively affect your work and your life.” The Mayo Clinic also states that some potential causes of burnout include lack of control, unclear job expectations, dysfunctional workplace dynamics, lack of social support, and work-life imbalance.
Burnout leaves you feeling unproductive, hopeless, helpless, resentful, and cynical. Essentially, it is when you reach the point where you feel that you have nothing more to give. There are five commonly noted stages that lead to burnout: the honeymoon phase, the onset of stress, the chronic stress stage, the onset of burnout, and habitual burnout.
Listening to the experiences of ACB Women with
burnout: The Because She Cares study
Over the last couple of months, I was introduced to a study and to a group of ACB women having these very same conversations. They spoke about their employment in the HIV/AIDS sector and similar topics of burnout, stress, lack of organizational support, employment precarity, unfair pay, anti-black racism and their associated mental and physical ‘wear and tear’ on the body. These larger discussions were a part of a study and arts-based knowledge translation/mobilization project called Because She Cares (BSC).
The many hats of caregiving can be tough to balance. The Narrators spoke about the difficulties of caring for themselves and for others. Too frequently, they put other people’s care needs—family, community—before their own.
Founded by Lori A. Chambers, BSC started out as a qualitative research project for her Ph.D in Social Work. Straying from “traditional” data collection methods, Lori used oral and performance-based methods grounded in Africentric worldviews to share the stories of African women living with HIV (aka the “Narrators”) employed in Canadian AIDS Service Organizations (ASOs).
BSC highlighted that burnout was seemingly something that “comes with the territory” of working in caring fields as an ACB woman. The constant caring paired with the lack of support from their organizations and others puts these women in a deficit of being able to care for themselves. Essentially, self-care was minimal or even non-existent for a lot of the Narrators of BSC because there just wasn’t any time.
In the next part of this blog series, I’ll share my personal experiences with burnout as an ACB woman, but for now I’ll close with this quote from Rachel Ricketts, “We are exhausted, not only from navigating these current events, but the constant, daily anti-Blackness and misogyny inflicted on us by all non-Black folx and all men and masculine folx. From the expectation that we will and should work ourselves to the bone, if not the grave, in order to save the country, and the world, from itself. Without credit or support.”
I see myself and my experiences mirrored in this quote, and in my opinion it sums up the experiences of ACB women quite well. Burnout, COVID-19, anti-Blackness and misogyny (among other things) are daily battles we fight and it's not easy. As we work towards healing and a better understanding of our needs as ACB women, I encourage us all to reflect on how this quote fits into our own lives and stories.
Want to learn more?
You can learn more about how BSC is addressing these issues in an episode of pozcast with the Founder of the Collaborative, Lori Chambers. The Collaborative is currently sharing the results of its study and has some exciting performances coming up, so stay in the loop by following BSC on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
And, stay tuned to The Positive Effect for the next post in this series.
This blog post was contributed by Teresa Bennett, a REACH Nexus Research Student. Teresa holds an Honours Bachelor of Science (Health Sciences) degree from Wilfrid Laurier University.