Self-Care Ain't the Same for Everyone

by Lauren Dunn The collective and individual trauma that Black women have and still continue to face, both in the U.S. and abroad, have be...

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by Lauren Dunn

The collective and individual trauma that Black women have and still continue to face, both in the U.S. and abroad, have been detrimental to our perceptions of self-worth.

Finding peace as a Black woman requires an exponential amount of tenacity. I mean think about it, you wake up each morning to a country run by people who don’t look like you, who don’t have your best interest in mind, who are actively working to kill people that look like you, all while being bombarded with messages that reiterate damaging stereotypes about you. So, someone please tell me how in the hell a Black woman is supposed to wake up feeling abundant in her self-worth with all the bullshit that’s consistently being flung her way.

I don’t remember the exact moment when I first realized that self-care/self-love will always look different for me than it does others. While I’ve always appreciated fellow WOC who take the time to discuss their personal self-care tips or the many ways in which they practice self-love as a form of decolonization, I’ve always felt a slight disconnect in the approach.
As a queer identified Black woman who suffers from both a chronic physical illness as well as anxiety and depression, the journey towards self-acceptance has been a tumultuous one filled with constant uncertainty and what feels like excessive relapsing. Often times when I read blogs and/or literature on working towards “being a better you” or “finding happiness” or even the whole idea of “mindfulness and being present”, I am more often than not induced with a heightened sense of anxiety.

It starts the second my eyes open from sleep. That heaviness in my chest. The pit in my stomach that flips and knots itself over and over. The inevitable feeling that something uncontrollable is coming my way and there is absolutely nothing I can do to prevent it.

At this point, I begin to mentally run through my list of rationales. “You are okay. You are whole. You are capable. You have responsibilities. People are counting on you. You have to at least try.” It is at this point in my mental dialogue, that I begin to will myself out of bed. Most days it feels as though my body is working magic unknown to my mind. Lifting limbs off sheets. Laying the soles of my feet unconsciously onto the carpet floor. On the really bad days, the days when my energy feels void and null, I don’t make it past the bedroom door.

There are good days. The heaviness is not always unbearable and the anxious moments are fewer, but even on those days when it feels as though I’ve been granted the largest of mercies in being able to breathe a little easier, I am faced with the very real and always present reality of being a queer woman of color. With this then comes an ambush of daily micro-aggressions. Small but wounding remarks that leave you battered.

There is no defining moment where I can pinpoint when or why or how I became this way. I kind of have to believe that I always was. As a young girl, I can remember feeling alone in a room full of people. I can still recall the unease I felt in the silence, as the noise in my head began to thunder.

Growing up, I always felt akin to the character May Boatwright from Sue Monk Kidd’s Secret Life of Bees. I so deeply connected with her sadness. The weight of feeling too much all at once and not knowing where to place all that hurt. I so vividly remember May’s “wailing wall”, a wall outside of her family’s home where she would go to be alone, write down her thoughts and stuff them in between the rocks. I think this may have been the first time that I considered writing as a way to let go of some of my own hurt.

Living with anxiety and depression means that there is an onslaught of different variables that come into play when attempting to take better care of oneself. There is a lot of self-loathing, doubt, fear and sadness to rummage through before you can even begin to get to a place where you are mentally, emotionally and physically capable of opening yourself up to the possibility of healing.

For the longest time I ran from the darkness inside of me. I thought that by ignoring my depression and anxiety I could somehow suppress all the uneasiness, sadness, and illogical thoughts. It wasn’t until I began to speak openly with friends who also suffer from mental health issues that I began to understand that the erasure of one’s mental illness is actually far more detrimental than it is useful.

In trying to act like this whole person who had it all together, I was ignoring parts of myself. Essentially I wasn’t living in my truth. I was trying to be this better version of myself instead of recognizing who I am in this very moment and learning to love all the mess in its wild uninhibited chaos.

By no means would I ever claim to have mastered this whole notion of self-love and self-care, but I have found some coping mechanisms that can sometimes lessen the weight of it all.

Feel all the things. Feel the sadness and the lonesomeness. Cry, scream, kick and cry some more. Don’t shame yourself into thinking you should be any more or different from what you are right now. You are okay and strangely beautiful just the way you are, mess and all.
Look at something outside of yourself. So many times we are told to look within. Well for a person with extreme anxiety and depression this can be the absolute most terrifying thing you can ask of them. The times when I feel the closest to being at peace is when I’m outside finding the wonder in nature. The rhythm of the leaves swaying in a tree. Studying the stillness. The grace in the uncontrolled movement of it all.

Carve out space and time for yourself. There are a lot of times when I feel compelled to surround myself with others as some token of validation that I am well and capable of functioning like everyone else. Well I’m not, and being okay with the fact that I sometimes, if not most of the time need to create space for myself away from everyone and everything to recharge and re-center myself is freeing.

Eat all the fruits. Savor their sweetness. Taste is a powerful phenomenon that invokes the senses. It feels good to appreciate something that can make you feel.

When possible, adorn yourself. If that means taking all the selfies that one day you’re feeling fly for the first time in months because you’ve been in a depressed fog, do it. If that means dancing and putting on that outfit that makes you feel beautiful and invincible, even if for one night, dance your fucking heart out. Move and shake and sway your body. Glisten and shimmer in the dim lights. Lose yourself to yourself.

Lauren Dunn aims to generate dialogue and exposure around and for the untold and often misrepresented experiences of marginalized groups of people. A graduate of Temple University's School of Media and Communication's, Dunn received her bachelor's degree in journalism in May of 2015. Exposing the multifaceted complexities of marginalized people within cultural, political, economic, artistic, environmental and academic frameworks stems from her exuberance for social advocacy. Dunn's passion lies in creating honest content-driven narratives that bring ethnic, gender and sexual minorities visibility within the public sphere.

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