Self-Care as Strategy
“Self-care is one of the active ways that I love myself. When you can and as you can, in ways that feel loving, make time and space for yourself” – Tracee Ellis Ross
“If you prioritize yourself, you are going to save yourself.” – Gabrielle Union
“Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another.” – Toni Morrison
I was already collecting recommendations for TV shows, podcasts, movies and books that could serve as reasonable distractions—moving me to laughter and imagination instead of the tears sudden sadness demanded. I wanted to picture something other than the details of how the bodies of brown children had been decimated beyond recognition by a semi-automatic rifle in the deadliest shooting in the country this year, a mere 10 days after Black people in Buffalo were gunned down at a grocery store on a Saturday morning. These vicious attacks, only a few in an endless and growing list of loss, was intended to terrorize people of color—and if the occupation of my thoughts were any indication—it was succeeding.
I had already disconnected from social media and the news, avoiding local networks with perpetual Netflix shows serving as background noise because I could not bear to listen to conservative political campaign commercials promising to reverse reproductive rights and criminalize transgender youth. I mostly ignored the Netflix queue of options, full of true crime documentaries and historical series that seemed too true, too present, too damn real to digest in real time and instead initiated comedic sitcoms, mostly reruns of Schitt’s Creek and Grace and Frankie, that could lure me to distraction, no matter how many times I had seen them.
I was already intentionally slow with email correspondence and friend requests, unregretfully unavailable for anything within proximity to public because the only thing more draining than crowds of strangers for an introverted empath is crowds of strangers either pretending to be or actually being oblivious to the fact that the world is on fire.
I was already tired.
I am always already tired.
And that was before subjecting myself to the traumatic telling of the January 6 hearings that I decided to watch as much out of obligation as curiosity. Much like the confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, that were gut-wrenchingly difficult to watch at times, I believe it is important to witness the vitriol and violence Black women are so often subjected to in our efforts to save ourselves and others. I owed my witness to Shaye Moss and her mother Lady Ruby Freeman, the Georgia poll workers targeted by the 45’s lies. Shaye testified, “I don’t want anyone knowing my name,” and that desire for invisibility, which can sometimes equate safety, made me sympathetic to her exposure. Black feminism has often highlighted the conundrum of Black women being simultaneously hypervisible and invisible—and I wished for her the same anonymity I often desire for myself, though for different reasons.
I remember watching the insurrection attempt as it was happening seated in my stylist’s chair in the hair salon. My every-other-month self-care ritual of getting my hair done was initially uninterrupted. The television was on CNN, but the volume was down, muting commentators and any warnings or explanations about what we were seeing— We were not paying much attention, at the time, to the white people angrily gathering outside the Capitol, but at some point between good gossip and my hair being wrapped in corn rows someone pointed to the television screen and we suddenly saw the crowd, having doubled in size, breach the boundaries of the building. It was almost like it was happening in slow motion as we watched, mouth agape, at what I could only imagine mimicked the mob crowd and mentality of lynchings in the South. I cowered at the reality that the flood of faces could have easily included someone I encountered in a classroom or coffee shop. Context is everything.
So, I was already numb and preparing for a presentation when the news of the SCOTUS decision broke on Friday. I had turned off news notifications on my phone so it was a group text that let me know something substantial had just happened.
I texted in response to being told Roe had been overturned.
“Damn.” I said audibly as I opened the glass door and walked through the empty building to the fourth floor. The fact that the decision was expected and unsurprising did not make it any less devastating. Reproductive rights are so fundamentally tethered to other basic human rights and humanity that it will inevitably lead to other attempts of dehumanization and bondage.
There have been calls to action—including donations to political campaigns and Planned Parenthood, which I support, because this is definitely not a time to become desensitized to terror or to give up the good fight—but as we gear up to fight for our literal lives and freedoms—again—we have to figure out how to do it without breaking ourselves. We have to find some spaces of joy—of distraction—of self-care, ritual, or awareness so that we have the stamina for the necessary efforts that are inevitably ahead.
Take care of yourself, whatever that looks like in this moment. And adapt, as needed, because tomorrow, it may look different.
Here are a few things I am practicing:
1. Pacing myself. I am taking my time this summer. That means I am not over-scheduling, over-compensating or normalizing being tired. I am taking day naps, days off and letting weekends be weekends again.
2. Saying no. This is a regular commandment of mine. I am always stingy with yeses--even more so right now.
3. (Eating and) Drinking water. Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate!
4. Spending Time Outside. I started a COVID flower bed last year. If Alabama heat will let me be great, I want to plant some colorful flowers before the end of the season.
5. Relaxing. I recently had my first massage in many months. There was so much tension in my back that my massage therapist said… “girl…” I went ahead and scheduled my next appointment.
6. Ritualizing Therapy. As often as needed, but for me at least two times a month. (Extra points if she’s a black woman.)
7. Playing Dress Up. I am femme, but my presentation is often muted and limited to foundation, form fitting silhouettes and stilettos. I have been playing around with my feminine presentation in ways reminiscent to the early 1990s when I was first figuring out what it meant to be feminine. Even though I am keeping it close to home this summer, your girl is playing with press-on nails, lashes and lipstick (just in case).
8. Taking in Views. I enjoy sitting on my porch and taking in the scenery and sounds— I have also found that sunset watching is remarkably soothing.
9. Planning Catch Up Conversations. I have had some soul-lifting conversations with people I love lately. The grind of life often makes those conversations fewer and far between but initiate them and make them count.
10. Reading, Looking and Listening. I have two stacks of books by/about black women I will be reading this summer. I am also listening to music, podcasts and sermons—and watching movies, comedy shows, sitcoms and series I had fallen behind on (Ozark…whew!). Get your breaks where and how you can.
How are you taking care of yourself?