My heart starts racing. I feel my chest tighten, skin tingling. My breathing becomes labored.
Terror grips my body as I brace myself for walking past the men, expecting the worst.
They are both staring at me now as I walk carefully to the Produce section, avoiding eye contact. One says, “Hey Boots,” to me as I pass. I look down at my brown suede knee-length boots. I feel myself wanting to bolt out of the door. However, I press on.
I try to calm myself. I breathe deeply. I ask God for help. I sense their departure. I feel myself slowly start to relax. The tears don’t come this time. I press on.
If I had known that some of my experiences in a certain foreign country would cause me to have panic and anxiety attacks every time I pass by unknown men, I would’ve never moved there for two years.
Despite the deeper understanding and appreciation of a new culture, numerous travel opportunities, and learning bits and pieces of a foreign language, the negative experiences affected me in such a way that I never imagined would happen.
I tried wearing the most unflattering outfits, just praying that I wouldn’t feel their eyes on me, hear their nasty words in Arabic; or even some propositioned me in English boldly asking, “Will you f*ck me?” Nothing ever worked.
It got to the point to where I didn’t want to go outside anymore. I became slightly depressed, eating and sleeping when I got off work, only going outside to so that my dog could relieve herself. For an adventure seeker who enjoys getting lost in foreign and unfamiliar places, this was like a slow death. During this time my spiritual relationship vanished.
I remember my first week in the country. A group of new hires all went to an Italian restaurant. Afterward, as I tried to hail a cab I noticed the parking attendant staring at me. I looked down and he was massaging himself through his pants, while staring at me. The same thing happened later in the year while in a taxi.
One time I wore a short-sleeved shirt without a cardigan. I had to cross a very busy street to go to get more credits on my phone. During this time, several cars of men stopped by to hiss and yell at me. One car stopped and a guy said, “Nigger” quite gleefully and another time a guy shouted at me, “My nigga!”
I can count on one hand the number of days I was NOT harassed in my 2 years there. A few times I caught men trying to follow me home. One time I was able to scare one off because I was walking my dog, and many people in that country are terrified of them, even mutts the size of my harmless Spaniel. I ran at him with my dog and he ran away screaming.
I wasn’t so lucky the second time.
I was rounding the corner to go back into my building when I saw him.
He hissed at me, trying to get my attention, smiling. I tried to draw attention by yelling at him and trying to chase him away but he kept following me. My around the block walk that normally took 10 minutes turned into 40 minutes that day as I tried to lose him, turning corners, not wanting him to know which building I lived in.
I didn’t realize I would have panic attacks and anxiety around men back in my home country. The first time it happened, I knew immediately it was from my experiences living in that country. Before moving abroad, I had men who would flirt or stare. However, when it happens now, I feel myself losing control and tearing up. I think, why is this okay? Why is it expected that I should act favorably towards this sort of behavior?
Several women, with minds more brilliant than mine, have written about the importance of self-care for the Black women. Through history, we have shouldered so many burdens, abuse, misuse, silenced, and ignored. As someone who was adamant about solving my own problems, I have accepted the fact that I can no longer ignore what happened to me if I want live my best life, having healthy friendships and relationships.
I am in the process of healing.
I am praying and spending more time with God.
I am contemplating seeking additional help.
I felt like my story needed to be shared to bring more awareness to Black women taking a step back and recognizing when there is a problem – instead of just pressing on. We’ve done that for far too long.
It’s time to take care of ourselves.
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