Dear Black Women: Self-Care is Not the Enemy

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by Lyndsey Ellis

I was invited to a weekend-long retreat at the end of last month. I went, expecting the solitude to welcome me with time to write, uninterrupted. But, besides words, I received something I considered even more valuable: good old-fashioned rest and peace of mind.

While it might not seem like much of a gain to some people, those 48 hours of self-care and introspection was one of the richest experiences I’ve had in a long time. Existing in a world where mainstream culture’s vision of black women is a stoic female with her fist raised defiantly in the air against adversity and her foot on the neck of all her burdens, it felt good to decompress and let life’s daily pressures fall off of me. To commune freely with others who shared my sentiments. And, most importantly, to reflect on where I am in the present and not be so concerned with where I, or others, think I should be.

Part of the blame for society’s definition of a strong, black woman falls on us as black women. We’ve become our own worst enemy by adopting the idea that self-care is the enemy when, in fact, it’s our closest friend. We’ve taken on this overly sacrificial, ‘I’m-Unbreakable’ mentality to appease the discomfort it causes others when they dare to think of us as equally human and deserving of affection as they are.

The late feminist writer, Audre Lorde, once said it best:

Related: 5 Books by Audre Lorde Everyone Should Read

“I have come to believe that caring for myself is not self-indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival.”

This is the message that should be tattooed on our hearts and sewn into our psyches. The false smiles we present, the big, red ‘S’ we claim to wear on our chests, and the invisible capes that swing over our backs is just that: invisible. A figment of our imaginations.

In reality, our biggest strength lies in the admission of our weaknesses and frailties. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to have some alone time. It’s okay to not have it all together. And, it’s okay to not feel like being at the beck and call of others whenever they choose. We become more healthy and whole and capable of being supportive to others when we first take care of our own temples. Refusal to yield to our own humanness puts us in a danger that no one’s willing to rescue us from.

Put frankly, we’re killing ourselves. We die a little more every time we deny ourselves the right to our own tenderness. While most of us of don’t go so far as taking our own lives, we’re still committing a psychological suicide when we tell ourselves that our personal needs don’t matter out of fear that we’ll be misjudged as bitchy, whiny, lazy, or incompetent. What we’re really saying is that we don’t think much of our well-being and we’re not worthy of self-preservation.

Related: What Self-Care Means to Me: I Can Do Bad All by Myself, but No Good Can Come From it

Women of color deserve to the right to be kind to ourselves the same as anyone else. What good are we to others if we’re not first good to ourselves? How can we expect to thrive when we have no gas left in our mental or physical tanks? Whose lie are we living and why?

It took a while to get to a place where I don’t always feel like I have to have the answers or put on a happy face when I’m emotionally burned out. I no longer allow myself, or anyone else, to make me feel guilty for calling a time-out when I know I don’t have it in me to take on the world.

I’ve learned that when I embrace a false sense of self, the joke is on me. And, since no one’s laughing, I choose to accept my limitations. I choose what’s real. I choose life.

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