Living Longer than Our Mothers: Tips for the African Diaspora (Black)Woman



I was in high school when I first began hearing my late mother complain about High Blood Pressure. Everyone in our family and anyone who knew my mother knew that she was a High Blood Pressure patient. During that same time, I can recall my stepmother also complaining about High Blood Pressure. I did not know what that meant, however, but one thing was clear: the two mothers in my life had High Blood Pressure.

I also began thinking, hey, maybe all women in their early middle ages or older were bound to have High Blood Pressure.

Maybe that didn’t have to be.

Those two beautiful women, my mother Datedor Mary Hney and my stepmother, Nmano Jabbeh died in their early sixties from complications of High Blood Pressure made complex by the Liberian civil war with its bombings and lack of medical care.

But that’s not true of many of us today. We do not have to die of the same illnesses that killed our mothers. Many of us are more educated and better off economically than our mothers were, and have every resource it takes to survive the silent killer called High Blood Pressure. But that is not the only illness that can kill us however.

The stories are numerous and sad. The reality of the stories is that High Blood Pressure as a disease is more common among us black women than women of other races. The symptoms are so subtle, you never know you have High Blood Pressure just from feeling something inside of you. You can be dying of the disease and not know it. And worst of all, everything we do every minute of the day, including eating can contribute to raising our blood Pressure.

If High Blood Pressure can easily kill people at home in Africa where the stresses of everyday living are far different than the stresses of living in a high pressure, busy, hurried, capitalistic, puppy-eat-puppy world,then of course, the story is worse here in the US than at home.

Everyone knows how busy all of us are. The things that will hold off High Blood Pressure or other related diseases are not as accessible to us immigrant women. The food many of us now eat in the US is far different from the food we used to eat at home. The children we are raising are far different from the ones we would have raised in Africa.

Here in the US, our children are more rebellious and more difficult, and are themselves faced with the popular culture of rebellion that children coming up in other parts of the world do not face. And yet these are the children that we who are prone to High Blood Pressure and its related diseases must raise. To crown it, we do not have the extended family network of grandparents, uncles and aunties, neighbors and a long line of extended relatives on all sides that Africans are used to. Of course, these extended relatives come with their own stresses upon African families, but hey, the benefits such family connections at home give us far outweigh the disadvantages. Unlike our mothers who raised us at home in Africa, the stresses we deal with in a simple immigrant family community are far higher and far more complex.

And yet we must live longer than our mothers and our grandmothers because we are far better off than our mothers and our grandmothers. I know, some of you may say, “No-no, that’s not true.” Some Diaspora women today are not better off than their parents were; however, and in fact, many from my own country came from families that were far better off economically. This makes it even more imperative that we live longer, healthier and better than our parents.

Tips to Help You Overcome High Blood Pressure:

Remember that High Blood Pressure is more common among women than men, so watch yourself as you climb up the age ladder. When you are thirty-five years old and older, this is the time to really be on a watch out for those stresses and signs of High Blood Pressure. Always ask the nurse to tell you what your pressure is when you visit the doctor, and if you are over 40 with children at home, you should begin to take control of your pressure readings. A black woman with a pressure of 125 over 90 should be concerned since one salty meal will raise your pressure without you even noticing it.

If you have other problems like Diabetes, a heart condition or high cholesterol, you are at a higher risk than someone without these added conditions. If your mother or your sisters have high High Blood Pressure, you should know that you might have or could develop High Blood Pressure.

If you have High Blood Pressure, you have the illness for life, so girl, just buckle up and begin the process of doctoring yourself along. High Blood Pressure does not go away simply because you are feeling good on a particular day. You will need to work with a family doctor to help bring your High Blood Pressure down to a level that is normal. This is what I and my doctors consider normal for a black woman. 120 over 80 or less is better than 130 over 90 or higher.

Most black (African women) need two types of High Blood Pressure medications. One of them is supposed to be a water pill that helps your body get rid of salty fluids. I have friends who have complained about water pills that drain one’s body of all of the potassium; therefore, you need to work with your doctor so you get the right kind of water pill. There are water pills that get rid of the bad water while retaining your potassium in your body. Work with your doctor until you find the right medications that works only for you.

The same tablets that work for your mother or your sister may not work for you, and some medications will be bad for you because of your body make up. You need to remember that each time your blood is splashed against your heart’s interior walls, the heart needs time to relax before the next splash against the walls, and an individual with High Blood Pressure has the blood splashing at a higher speed and at a faster rate than a normal blood pressure individual. This therefore puts added weight on the heart because it is required to do what it was not made to do, and each pressure weakens the heart’s muscles. After many years of your heart doing a job harder than it was cut out to do, you are losing life time, and finally, after many years, your heart will give up, and you will die. All of this is in a lay man’s terms. I am not a medical doctor, so you need to talk to your doctor about this.

You need to remember that the foods we eat contribute to how healthy or how sick we are. Avoid foods that are high in cholesterol, high in salts, foods that are fatty, and sugary, etc. Remember that fresh vegetables, home cooked meals, sea foods like fish, white chicken, etc. will keep you living well. Avoid too much beef, pork, prepared meals, processed foods, fast foods, etc., especially, at your age.

The foods we eat as African immigrants are less troublesome, but it depends on how you cook your food. Avoid vegetable oils and use more Canola or Olive oils. Olive oil is expensive, but Canola oil is better for you. Avoid frying your chicken each time you need to eat chicken and try baking your chicken (wings and white parts of the chicken) in spices, hot peppers, and you will see that jollof rice tastes good with baked chicken too. This cuts the use of oils. Make a point of buying fish, roasting or baking your fish more and more.

Now, let’s talk about how to watch your Blood Pressure:

You need to have a High Blood Pressure machine if you are a High Blood Pressure patient. Make a point of taking your pressure with either a digital machine or a hand one if you can use one. While you are under a doctor’s care for High Blood Pressure, take your pressure every day until a time when your pressure is brought under control by your daily pills.

If your life is as stressful as mine, meaning that you are a professionally busy woman, a mother, a wife, and if everything under the sun waits for you in your world to be done, then of course, you need to take your pressure machine with you whenever you travel, and take your pressure on long trips to avoid getting sick when you are away from home. Do not ever ignore swelling feet or hands because these are signs of danger. Remember that it is better to drive yourself to the emergency room than to wait until you need to call 911.

Exercise is also key to bringing your pressure under control:

One of the mistakes immigrant African women make is to believe that they can live here in the US as if they were still at home in Africa. I know a few women who do not exercise, and when you ask them, they will pretend that exercise is a white woman’s thing. They are like me, drive to work, return home and drive right into their garages at the end of each day. They want to exercise, but cannot find the time to visit a gym where they can exercise. Unlike me however, they do not find time to work out at home. Of course, they are intimidated by the very complex machines even if they could get to the gym.

Well- you don’t need to go to a gym to exercise. Just do your work-out at home, right in your own home where you do not have to make any great effort to be physically fit. This is what I do. I simply turn on my African music or cd, a favorite one that has the kind of beat I need, a whole cd with music I like, and do my dance, my push-ups, and sit-ups, letting my music inspire me at least four times a week, working out for forty minutes each time.

Exercise keeps you younger, healthier, and physically fit enough to beat up anyone you may feel like beating up-ha-ha.

My eighteen year old son is taller, bigger, and looks stronger than me, but hey, he cannot knock me down if he tries. He likes to wrestle me when he gets bored and wants to play fight and his older brother is not around, and when he throws a pillow at me, and I try to fight back, he gets himself into a real fight if he tries to wrestle me. He’s done that since he was a kid, and now he has discovered his Mom cannot be beaten.

Well, I hope none of us ends up like my mother who died at 63 from High Blood Pressure. I can tell you that all of the above tips have helped me have the best pressure for five years now, I mean far lower than what is the normal. Do not let your blood pressure get a hold of you- okay?