How Are You, Really? is an interview series highlighting individuals—CEOs, activists, creators and essential workers—from the BIPOC community. They reflect on the past year (because 2020 was…a year) in regards to COVID-19, racial injustice, mental health and everything in between.
How Are You, Really?: Parenting Expert Natasha Nelson Speaks Out on Autism, Going Viral and Starting a Small Business During a Pandemic
The last 365 days have held ups and downs for Natasha Nelson. At the start of the pandemic, she moved from Kansas to Georgia and as a Black autistic woman with two autistic daughters, was longing to find more and better connections. In June 2020, she made that wish a reality by founding Supernova Momma—an online community dedicated to helping Black and neurodiverse parents. While continuing to focus on her mental health, raising her daughters and building a new business, she used the Internet as a way to be vulnerable and educate others. I spoke to Nelson about all things parenting, mental health and what it meant to go viral online.
So Natasha, how are you, really?
My first question is, how are you?
I am strained. We haven’t been to museums, the library, the zoo, the botanical gardens, the pool… in over a year now. I have two autistic toddlers. I try to make every day a learning experience. However, I can’t help but think of the consequences of them missing social interaction now, of me missing social interaction now. I miss being part of a community and helping the people around me.
How are you, Really? As individuals (specifically BIPOC) we tend to say we’re Fineeven when we’re not.
Shortly before the pandemic began, we moved from Fort Riley, Kansas to Stone Mountain, Georgia. I have always searched out my community of BIPOC women in every new place I have lived. I haven’t had the opportunity to do that here and it can be extremely lonely. I try to fill that void with my work and community online, but it isn’t the same.
Has the past year taken a toll on your mental health?
Absolutely. I found that helping and entertaining people was the glue that kept my autism symptoms in check. I kept myself so busy that I didn’t realize my needs. When I was alone, I saw myself in my daughters. I realized how strong my anxiety, sensory and overstimulation [impulses] can get.
Do you find it difficult talking about how you feel to others?
This is a tricky question as an autistic Black person. I don’t have a problem talking about how I feel on Twitter and to my platform of strangers and e-friends. I do have a problem talking about how I feel to my real friends and family. The difference is I disassociate my feelings a lot and look at them from outside myself. It’s very effective when sharing with strangers. [But] it can come off as unauthentic and unfeeling in person.
Why Do You Think It’s Tough For Bipoc To Talk About Their Mental Health?
History shows us you don’t have time to heal when you are just trying to continue to survive. BIPOC have been struggling to survive for most of our history. There isn’t time to teach emotional intelligence. You fix your face and suppress it to make do. We have to unlearn and re-train ourselves to first feel, then talk about those feelings.
What are the ways you focus on your mental health? Are there self-care rituals, tools, books, etc. you lean on?
I take virtual therapy once every two weeks. I also run, do yoga, perform daily breathing exercises, have a calming corner and I twerk (dance).
With so much that has happened in the past year, what has made you smile/laugh lately?
My daughters make me smile and laugh every day. Their progress as they learn verbal language and explore their world is absolutely fascinating to me. Learning how they think, how to support them and then putting it into action is the biggest privilege in the world to me.