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July 3, 2015

An Open Letter to Black Women About Mental Health

I was raised to be a strong, black woman who could handle her own emotions -- not ask someone to help me sort them out. How dare I need treatment for feeling worthless and for being bullied when I come from a lineage of ancestors who used strength and endurance as a way to survive?

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BV: What was the reaction from some of your close family and friends when you told them you were making that step to reconcile with Oprah?
IV:
Everyone was grateful because it was something that I had prayed about and really wanted to clear. I care a lot about Oprah, and she's my sister in the spirit. She's been very supportive of me and my work. She taught America how to say my name. There was a breakdown between us, so everybody was happy that we had the opportunity to clear that up.

BV: When you made the decision to do the show, did you think it would be such a major media event? You had two episodes...
IV:
The first and only person in her farewell season. But, no, I didn't think about that. I didn't go on Oprah's show to go on Oprah's show. I went on Oprah's show to heal a breakdown in a relationship. It just so happens that she was courageous enough to do that in front of the public. So, I wasn't thinking about it in those terms at all. It just unfolded that way.

BV: Did you have any reservations about how the fallout would be revealed and that it might be slanted toward her side?
IV:
When you talk about healing, you can't talk about what it's going to look like (laughs). You just have to be open to however it shows up, and I think that people are more caught up in "Oh, that's Oprah Winfrey. That's Oprah Winfrey," and miss the point that we are two women that needed to be reconciled. That, to me, is where we need to be looking and not at the fact that it was done on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." Did people miss that?

BV: I think so. But you were so vulnerable and open?
IV:
No. She was so vulnerable and open because she didn't know what I was going to say at all. If I had never spoken to her, I would have been okay because I have peace within myself. I'm glad that I had the opportunity to understand what she was thinking and feeling. We both had a very different experience of what happened and that happens all the time. I heard her one way and she heard me one way, and neither one of us got the full meaning of what the other person was saying. She thought I was giving her an ultimatum. I thought she was kicking me to the curb. She had a special regard for me, and I thought she just wanted me on the show because I was a good guest. There were things we just didn't meet on, and I can only take responsibility for my role in it. I can't take responsibility for her role in it, so I'm glad we got to clear it up.

BV: Watching the episodes after they aired, did you feel exploited in any way? They had you looking real crazy in some of those clips.
IV
: I know television. I know what brought all those eyeballs to that screen that day was the fact that they thought it was going to be a juicy catfight (laughs). Had we said, "Watch this show and learn how to heal broken relationships in your life," how many people do you think would have come? It was a difficult conversation. I don't think it was a pretty conversation, but I think it was an authentic conversation. You got to remember we talked for 90 minutes, you saw 48.

BV: Why did you let them put you in that hat and that coat walking through the woods?
IV:
Let me just say, that is a handmade Italian coat. It is a beautiful coat. Now, the hat just didn't go with the coat, but it was five degrees outside. I really didn't care what I looked like. My goal was to be warm. I had on a sweatshirt and two sweaters and I had to feed my birds. My birds were hungry.

BV: The good news is that your appearance likely helped with landing 'Peace From Broken Pieces' on the New York Times Best-Sellers List. How do you feel about that?
IV:
I'm grateful I have always enjoyed tremendous support from the public. I think what being on the show did was let people know that the book was out there because you reach more millions of people being on that show one time than you do with all of the ads and the interviews you could do over the world. So, I'm just grateful that people still want to work and they recognize the value in my work.

BV: Would you do another television show similar to your previous talk show, 'Iyanla'?
IV:
Well, no, I'm a different person and that is what the book is about. It's about, "How did I get to be different" and "What did I learn in that process?" so I would never do what I did before. Would I do television again? Absolutely. But, since I am a very different person, my goals would be different [and] my requirements would be different. What would be the most fulfilling for me would be to have an opportunity to share with the world, particularly our community of people, the knowledge that I have gained in 28 years of doing this work. People of color are dying of everything, and we don't have to die, we don't have to suffer. Whether it's on network or cable, it has to be about leading our community. My heart is with the African-American community to a place of healing. Foolishment, as Mama Odie says in 'The Princess and the Frog.'

BV: Have you run into Barbara Walters recently?
IV:
Not at all.

BV: If you ran into her, what would you say?
IV:
Hi. How are you? What do you mean what would I say? I don't have a significant relationship with Barbara Walters. I had a significant relationship with Oprah Winfrey.

BV: Why did you write the book?
IV:
I wrote the book because Tavis Smiley told me I had to write it. I was resistant to writing it. He told me that he was going to make me a deal that I could not refuse, and he did make me a deal that I could refuse. He offered me an opportunity to share my story in a very large way. He offered me an opportunity to earn an income at a time when I wasn't working, and he reminded me of my commitment and responsibility to healing the community and he fed me. He gave me food. He took me to a very nice restaurant. I love food.

BV: You were at the top of your game with a television show, New York Times Best Sellers; people definitely want to know, how did you go broke?
IV:
I had a daughter who suffered for 15 months of colon cancer in a country that does not think health care is a major issue. I didn't spend my money on jewels and furs. I spent my money taking care of my daughter for 15 months. She wasn't working. She had a daughter. She had a mortgage. She had a car. She went through a series of alternative health-care processes, which are not covered by health insurance. So, I used my money saving my daughter's life.

BV: In terms of you getting to a peaceful place with your daughter's death, did you have one moment when you realized you have to come out of the dark and get your life back together?
IV:
I don't know if it was one moment. Grief is a very powerful emotion, and as part of the natural grief process, you get to a point where you realize she's not coming back and what am I going to do? I had friends and people who refused to let me stay in a place where I couldn't continue in my life's purpose. That, I think, is what did it. This portrayal that I was rich and went broke. No, I spent three quarters of a million dollars trying to save my daughter's life.

BV: Have you been in any situation recently where you come into contact with some crazy mess and you handle it with such grace that you shock yourself with where you are in your life?
IV:
Yes. Last week, when I went through the airport and they decided they wanted to feel me up because I could have been hiding a bomb in my bra (laughs). And I resisted the urge to curse somebody out. I think that was a demonstration of how I've changed.

BV: You've always told it like it is, but that must come from your past, with being abused, losing your mother at 9; how often are you approached by people who share with you their personal stories and how you have helped them get through something?
IV:
I don't count, but there are stories. I'm just grateful that people trust me enough to share their stories. Every e-mail, every call, every letter, every gift. I honor it, and I value it. There are people who would love to experience the level of regard and respect that I have in the public, and I don't take it lightly at all.

BV: At one point, you were overweight and you spoke about how black people are dying from all types of illnesses they don't have to die from. How do you physically stay in shape and proactive with your health?
IV:
I don't know that I was ever overweight. I guess I was more substantial than most women, but as a black woman, you know we don't run a traditional size. I am a conscious eater. I don't eat red meat. Weight is a state of mind. It just shows up on your body. I think the more we heal the burdens of our pathology, the easier it is to stay in shape. I don't carry burdens. I don't carry shame. I don't carry fear. So my body just responds to that. Most of us are not overweight because of what we eat. We are overweight because of how we think.

BV: You are a fan of some of the reality television shows, like 'Project Runway,' 'Celebrity Apprentice' and 'Top Chef,' do you watch 'The Real Housewives of Atlanta'?
IV:
I don't watch anything that denigrates women and, particularly, black women. I have seen some episodes, and I just felt that it was very disparaging to us. So, I don't watch that.

BV: Are there any shows on television right now about black people that you love or some that you want to see on television?
IV:
We're kind of having a black-out. We don't see a lot of good positive stuff. There is some stuff on OWN that I watch and I appreciate, but it's kind of hard right now. I think that OWN is still developing. I think they are finding out their footing and they had to open up with something. I think the presence of celebrities is what they are using to bring viewers to the network, but I think eventually they are going to do fine. I really do.

BV: You've accomplished so much already. Just being back in the public light, what are you looking forward to doing the most that you haven't done yet in your career?
IV:
What I haven't done is retire, and I'm looking forward to it. I'm going to be more present for my grandchildren. Hopefully be in a loving, nurturing relationship. I'm going to do my scrap booking and make my soap. I'm having real fun doing that and whatever else shows up.

Iyanla Vanzant's 'Peace From Broken Pieces' is in bookstores nationwide now.

Tagged as: Iyanla Vanzant, IyanlaVanzant, oprah winfrey, OprahWinfrey, The Oprah Winfrey Show, TheOprahWinfreyShow
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