Cirrus or Cumulus? — Mental Health for Yourself and Community

Dé Bryant, Ph.D. — Professor and Director, Social Action Project, Indiana University South Bend. Member of Black Lives Matter-South Bend (

“I’m too busy to look up!! Have you even been paying attention to what’s happening to us out there?!” My sister in the struggle asked this in response to my wondering what type of clouds she preferred. The look on her face warned that unless I explained myself this conversation would be short because what point is there to speak with the delusional.

We had been discussing the compound, sustained traumas facing Black people in this historical moment. Deeply rooted, structural racism puts Black and Brown bodies on the line every hour of any given day. Supremacists are loose in the land, their sense of superiority exemplified by extrajudicial killings, their atrocities emboldened by leadership referring to the era of Jim Crow and segregation as “a time when America was great.” This is not news to any person growing up Black in America; however, in these times narratives that conflate social issues and criminalize Black people while absolving white supremacists have been weaponized. All aspects of our personhood — physical, psychological, and spiritual — are under a blatant attack.

This is the reality of the world in which I live even if it is not the just world for which my sister and I have been working. But I was not proposing magical thinking, ignoring the daily violence to stare myopically into the sky until the danger goes away or death takes us. My point was that we must be intentional about healing ourselves and our communities in the midst of resistance. Like the violence, the idea of self-care is not new. In Ready from Within, Septima Clark said: “I never felt getting angry would do you any good other than hurt your own digestion — keep you from eating, which I liked to do.” James Baldwin wrote in I Am Not Your Negro, “In America, I was free only in battle, never free to rest — and he who finds no way to rest cannot long survive the battle.”

These icons of the resistance articulated an essential fact about stress and burnout: the mind and body are linked. We have the science that proves it: cortisol, serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine are all directly related to emotions. When stress, physiology, meets emotional state, the psychology, under prolonged and extreme conditions the resulting crash is called burnout. The corollary in communities and neighborhoods is stress, the physiology, manifested in glaring inequities forced into the limelight by the pandemic and when white officers kill Black citizens with apparent impunity. Rising rates of anxiety, depression, rage, and hopelessness are the psychology. If we are not intentional about healing, the crash is next.

This brings me back to the flabbergasted look my sister gave me at the mention of cirrus clouds. “How do we live and not die if we waste time looking up?” that look demanded. First, we must take care of ourselves. No one knows our personal needs better than we do, and “self-care” is about our individuality. Equally important is to acknowledge that we are bound to others in the struggle. Witness, how quickly events captured on Facebook Live! or TikTok become organized responses by activists on opposite sides of the country. That connectedness is an essential dimension of solidarity and also of the healing.

Challenge yourself to keep heading forward, but not at the expense of your health, sanity, or well-being. Routinely do a body scan to identify where you hold stress. Is it perpetually hunched shoulders, or an acidic stomach, or that endlessly bouncing knee? Allow yourself to feel those sensations so you learn to detect their presence, then pause to look up at the clouds. Create a moment of respite and release. Take time to feel whatever you are experiencing. It’s not therapy, it’s strategy.

When you’ve found your moment of peace, reach out to collaborators, friends, loved ones, families of victims. Lean into those crisis spaces where structural trauma dwells and grab hold of someone. Send a text, post a status, make a phone call. Celebrate the lives of those stolen with their families left behind. Tell their stories, say their names: Sandra Bland, Ahmaud Arbery, Eric Logan. Find solace together in spiritual or religious practices of the faith tradition precious to you. Recognize that there is no disrespect in sharing a moment of joy together. That carrying on is not the same as forgetting. And then host a virtual dance party; log into the shared space Verzuz, holla for your artist of choice; create, play, rejuvenate.

To rest is not a break in your forward momentum. It’s just plain good health.

About Black Lives Matter Global Network
#BlackLivesMatter was founded in 2013 in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer. Black Lives Matter Foundation, Inc is a global organization in the US, UK, and Canada, whose mission is to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes. We support all Black lives including the Black queer and transgender communities, the disabled, the undocumented, those with records, women, and those all along the gender spectrum. By combating and countering acts of violence, creating space for Black imagination and innovation, and centering Black joy, we are winning immediate improvements in our lives.



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Black Lives Matter Global Network

Our writers amplify the issues, perspectives, and solutions that will transform our communities and the world