If you’re a Destiny’s Child fan, you know Michelle. If you’re a church girl, you know Michelle. Navigating her deep religious roots and rising international super stardom, she seemed to always experience the ridicule of being the odd girl out. I didn’t know anything about Chad Johnson. I was just happy she found a cute light skinned brother to love her. She’d been through a lot when it came to love. I was happy she was getting the win she really wanted.
I don’t know if that was the first time Michelle had been hospitalized during a depressive episode but, when I heard about it, my heart felt for her. Always vocal about her mental health journey, I know the way she’s ridiculed and picked apart doesn’t make wellness easy. While all of our journeys are different and hospitalization can save your life, it is still a traumatic turn of events nonetheless. That’s why it was a bit confusing that production of the reality show, “Chad Loves Michelle”, continued just days after her release. Again, while all our of experiences are different, I couldn’t help but think that part of the continued production was to prove that depression didn’t win. The underlying thread of the show is their evangelical Christianity and much of that faith trajectory is about speaking victory over things that seek to destroy us. By continuing to film the show, working and pushing toward the wedding without a break, they “put the devil on notice” that what didn’t kill Michelle only made her stronger. Watching the show and the breakup unfold, we learn the cost.
From the title to the editing of scenes, so much of “Chad Loves Michelle” is framed around Chad’s decision to love Michelle despite her wellness challenges and Michelle’s inability to accept that love. The challenges Michelle and Chad faced all seemed to be rooted in Michelle’s tenuous relationship with her mental health. If she could just eat more, drink water and exercise, Chad wouldn’t have to worry about her instability, would set a wedding date and they could live happily ever after.
Common sense would say that someone who just got out of the hospital isn’t equipped to carry weight of doing their own wellness work and building a foundation sturdy enough to sustain relationship. That’s unfair to ask of anyone. But, if you watched the show, it was becoming crystal clear that Michelle wasn’t the only one who had work to do. Chad’s unresolved childhood trauma -and his unwillingness to confront it- were at the root of his responses to Michelle’s wellness journey. Initially resistant to working through his own stuff, he actually said that it was a much more useful task to focus on their issues as a couple (Michelle’s stuff) and not his individual work. And I’m still trying to make sense of his dismissal of the impact of race in his relationship with a Black woman…although he founded an entire organization to assist “urban youth” when he grew up rural, poor…and White. Watching him use her mental health against her in an argument and telling her that she was a “trigger” for him…and when he told her they were getting married at the end of the year only to change his mind when he got in the car, I wanted her to run. But she didn’t. She kept pushing, trying to make it work.
…until it couldn’t.
Until she apologized for not being what he needed and for letting people down.
Until she reminded us of how great he is and how far she has to go to heal and measure up.
Meanwhile, Black folks are just happy it’s over. On a very real level, it’s possible that many see what Michelle cannot right now: she is no longer connected to someone who didn’t seem like safe space. That can be true but it doesn’t make her desire for a different outcome any less true. Because she wanted that relationship to work and it didn’t. And it’s all her fault. So while many are just happy she left a MAGA adjacent White boy, they haven’t even stopped to notice she’s shrouded herself in shame.
And she should be ashamed, right?! Because, after all, Chad is a good, godly man. Truth be told- being White and racially tone deaf are the least of Chad’s issues. Add to all of that his identity as a pastor and Michelle would have found the same unresolved issues in churched Black men because good, godly men don’t have to do their own work. It’s how Michelle could be consistently asked if she was ready to be a pastor’s wife but nobody asked Chad if he was even fit to be a pastor. And it doesn’t help that she’s released two Instagram Live press releases blaming herself and he hasn’t said a word. They actually don’t have to speak. We step into the narratives that have been created to crucify us and absolve them.
The words we say are real.
The tears we cry are real.
We wanted it to work.
We wanted a win.
We wanted to silence the critics that tell us we are too broken, too damaged, too undone to deserve anything whole.
We wanted to prove the doubters wrong.
Even when we ourselves are the biggest doubters and critics.
And when it all falls apart, we blame ourselves. We don’t recognize that blame as the fruit of living in a world that does not require emotional maturity from men. Instead, we see singleness as the reality of women who have not mastered the burden of doing the work that is not theirs to begin or complete.
Sitting in the weight of Michelle’s words this weekend, I know her. At the beginning of this year, I found myself in a very similar situation. It was easy to see my issues as the obvious and only barriers to our success as a couple. And, truth be told, it was easy for him to help with that framing. It took some time to give myself the grace to admit that hospitalization, diagnosis and prescription aside, I wasn’t the only person who needed to do work to be well. Daily, I worked to affirm within myself that it was my right to know a love that didn’t make me feel like my decision to seek help is a barrier to good things in my life.
We carry so much shame being church girls with wellness challenges who are unlucky in love. While we have such progressive language to articulate our experiences from a health standpoint, that progressivism often doesn’t translate into our personal theology and faith declarations. And while we hear our pastors say things like “mental health/depression is real…seek help”, they also often preach sermons that reinforce the same relationship tropes and ideologies that threaten our wellness.
Our paths will probably never cross but, ever since Friday, all I’ve wanted to do is hug my sister and tell her I get it. I really do. And I want her to know that the shame isn’t hers and she doesn’t have to apologize for any of it. And, most importantly, she is as whole as she prays she can become. Even in the depths of her brokenness, she is already whole. And she is deserving of whole, good things. We all are.