The world as we know it revolves around this idea of women being socialized as the number one caregiver... but who takes care of us?The world as we know it revolves around this idea of women being socialized as the number one caregiver: we are the nurturers, the caretakers, and the emotional support--but what happens when the role we are forced to encompass overshadows our own needs? Who takes care of us? In our lives, we tend to be the support that is constantly demanded of or required to give.
But who knows our personal needs better than us? As women, we are socialized and expected to take care of those around us, and this can naturally throw us into a frenzy of neglect and under appreciation from those who we assist the most. Throw the idea of ‘blackness' in the mix and the playing field becomes tilted at a 180-degree angle.
We should know to take care of ourselves since we are able to take care of everyone else, right? Wrong.
Let's admit it--many of us hardly know where to start when it comes to focusing on the importance of self-care. Back in grad school I found myself struggling with a bout of depression and anxiety that I could not seem to get out of. I slept a lot to avoid a majority of my problems and yet, I still felt exhausted. I found myself struggling to get up to do simple tasks. Not only did I suffer alone, I suffered in silence.
I felt that speaking my problems aloud would only burden those around me. Nonetheless, I stayed in spaces I felt most uncomfortable and tended to the needs of others while ignoring my own. Things finally came to a head during a break from school when I broke down about the overbearing emotional burden I was carrying. I could not find relief anywhere--not in my favorite things, my work, my loved ones, and definitely not myself.
Following the recommendation of a friend, I went back to school and sought the help I needed to sort out my overburdened mind.
My mind had become cluttered with all my problems, past, present, and future, and I could no longer seem to find a place to put all of it. That, along with the mounting anxiety I felt regarding my place in life, pushed me into a corner I could no longer hide in. I spoke to a therapist on campus and the unbiased recognition of what I was carrying somehow lifted the emotional cinderblock sitting on my chest for the last year.
For the first time in years, I felt like I could finally stop hiding.
Opening up set the tone for what the rest of my journey and advocacy would look like. She helped me set up steps to take a break out of the week and care for myself, telling me all the things I felt were very much real (I had not properly given myself a break from life). I honestly did not know that was even possible, but she reassured me that there were ways to do it.
We started small: she advised me to go to the gym 3 days a week. From there, later on I chose a day to do whatever I wanted by myself. It was a strange feeling at first since I had always been heavily reliant on the company of others to enjoy things, but I decided to give it a try anyway. As I worked self-care into my routine, I slowly began to reap the benefits of it.
I got into better shape, built a stronger connection to God, and even became more in tune with myself.
Before I started self-care I would look to others to give me what I needed or gave to the world. I selfishly figured that if I could do these things for people then people should be able to do and be there for me. However, what I failed to realize was that I had the capacity to care and support myself better than anyone else did. There is already an expectation of me to take care of a hundred people, so why couldn't I do the work to take care of the most important person to me and make sure she was okay?
what I failed to realize was that I had the capacity to care and support myself better than anyone else did.
I took the necessary steps to ensure that what I provided others with, I foremost provided for myself.
As black women with so many expectations placed around us, it is easy to put ourselves on the back burner constantly without even realizing it. I have watched my mother, my friends, even my friends’ mothers do it. I wondered why we felt so obligated to forget about ourselves in the midst of pain and struggle? I mean, historically, the facts are there--but we have the capacity to change that narrative for the sake of our own mental health and well-being. It does not have to be this big ‘I am taking care of myself and y’all better let me’ party! It starts with us simply making the conscious decision to do what is best for us when life situations become too stressful.
I gained the most valuable asset in making the decision to care for myself.
I had a heightened level of self-awareness and a doubling in myself worth, because I knew intimately that the work I was putting in to take care of myself and become a better me.
I watched my mom pick up the habit of going to the gym every other day for a year and I beamed with pride when she hit her one year mark. She had suddenly felt a great sense of accomplishment that was separate from her role as mother, wife, employee, and friend because it stood as recognition of self that she gave. Realizing that we are people outside of our daily roles is essential to maintaining our well-being and importance. As a black woman, we are already carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders, from unsolicited opinions to negative comments to police brutality, and all this coupled with the exhausting expectation of having to care for everyone while still being criticized. We owe it to ourselves to give ourselves the same effort we put out into the world. The best relationship we can have is the one we build with yourself. Self-care has taught me that no matter what people say and no matter what they do even, in the face of adversity and devaluation, I am valuable and I matter. This is not because of anyone else, but because I said so.
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