The CHRYSALIS Project centers wellness practices and how we, folks of the African Diaspora, define the ritual and nature of self care.
How do you define self-care?
Taking care of yourself in the sense that you’re doing what makes you happy or doing something that makes you feel good. It’s acting and behaving in a certain way.
What does your self-care routine look like?
For me, I feel like self care is a lot of staying in, playing video games, listening to podcasts, reading, eating some of my favorite foods and other times it’s doing for others. Helping a friend out, family, assisting with things of that nature. Cheering people up, if I can and reaching out to them and just making their day better, by contributing in any way I can is also for me a form a self-care. Just not getting so wrapped up in myself and literally reaching out there so that I can put some good energy into someone else’s universe, y’know?
It’s all about where we are in life. There isn’t anything wrong with literal thinking. Taking care of oneself is pretty literal but it also gets old. I’ve been fortunately blessed in my life where taking care of myself is relatively easy – I have a decent job, good support system, things within my reach so stepping outside of literally taking care of myself by taking care of someone else is fun. It helps me take care of me. It keeps me honest and reminds me that if I need self care, we all need self care at some point but there are some who definitely need it more than others and they may not get to that point of relaxing and tranquility because of whatever is going on in their life. Even if it’s something from like moving a couch to moving an entire apartment to cleaning up or help cooking for dinner, I think self-care, it varies in a lot of ways. But I’d be lying if I said I was always like that.
When did you become conscientious of your need to perform self-care?
I would say in college, then, it was beyond self-care. I was just living for myself. In and out of people’s lives as needed, or as I needed. It just resulted in a lot of feeling of loneliness. You can only take care of yourself for so much, in my opinion, before you would appreciate doing something for someone else. But to answer your question, in college I realized I was really lonely, I was going out and having fun, making myself feel good but I noticed I was doing that alone because others really weren’t in that capacity to help or go out that much and do all those things that made them happy. So, it first started small, just volunteering to take people out, go to lunch. I like a good grilled cheese so if I could not eat alone that also helped. I noticed how that felt good on both ends. I realized I wasn’t so wrapped up in myself to where I preferred to stay alone and do things only for me and recognized how better I feel knowing that I used some of my happiness and peace and tranquility or lonely energy to communicate that to someone. You know, we all just had a better day because of it.
I think also, to be honest, weed helps. Things of that nature are fun, for recreation, but also tying back to the idea of being medicine, I don’t think it’s same as taking Tylenol but it’s a medicine for your mood or your state of being and people can go through some things especially if you start branching out and become lonely in your adult life, it gets a little weird to cope so getting high with friends also really helps take the edge off and get additional perspective from up there and yeah. Smoking alone is cool; it could be a really good form of self-care. I’d say smoking also started in college. I learned how to get it and do it myself and bonding with other people who didn’t have weed but really needed to smoke because the day was going weird or because they needed the day off or really just wanted to talk but didn’t want to do it sober and drinking causes headaches so, yeah, it’s another form of self care. What did discussions on mental health look like with your family growing up?
There weren’t any. I don’t know if I fortunate enough to not have critical or serious mental health issues or the profound ignorance on those that did have them but they weren’t really talked that much except in the sense of being nice to people. I remember growing up in first grade; we had a kid who was different from the others. I knew that at an early age and asked, “Why does he talk funny?” Why did he act a certain way? Kids being kids and how cruel they are, they said, “Oh, he’s just retarded.” And we just initially regarded it as, “Oh, he’s just retarded and that’s why he acts like that.” That’s just how he is, how he’s gonna be and that doesn’t require for him to be treated any differently when he acts out or does things that are irritating or annoying. He was a little irritating, always picking at people, invading personal space, had this drool thing going on but I remember talking about it to my mom and constantly saying, “We have this retarded kid in my class- “and she was like, “No.” She cut me off right there.
Her being a nurse, I guess she was more sensitive to the terms and approaching people with mental health conditions she said, “No, he’s mentally challenged.” I remembered thinking that was a pretty elaborate way of putting it; it was way too many words. Retarded seemed simple enough. It changes when you have a term or phrase that’s medically sound. It does change how you approach a condition when dealing with people because now you know that he literally can’t help this, that it’s not regular for people to go through and you should be a lot more sensitive to care for him or approach people with mental issues. That was first grade at Catholic school. In public school, they had entire classrooms dedicated to those with special needs. But at the same time, other classrooms were dedicated to the idea of using dated, awful language to describe them.
People are people... even though that’s a reductionist way of putting it in a sense because people aren’t just people. We don’t always have to have the same prejudices, ignorance, or beliefs but there are different influences, different choices that we make that defines what we give to the idea of being a part of a people… I hope that made sense and that wasn’t too much weed.
How do you see self-care to contributing to forming community and chosen family?
At first, I thought, when acknowledging the idea of self care for me is helping other people help themselves, I thought, “Maybe I just gotta help as many people as possible, as much as possible,” and work towards that big goal. That, keeping in your mind, this mountain of an idea when you’re not even in the town adjacent to the mountain, life wise speaking, it gets a little overwhelming and enough to disregard the idea as possible, but starting small and taking steps to the place where you’re gonna hike up the mountain, it makes it all the more different in that that idea to just make the world better than when you found it. If I were to step out and get hit by a bus or bullet today, tomorrow, that big mountain of an idea wouldn’t get accomplished but touching people’s lives, leaving the energy that, probably arguably would’ve been found otherwise, but knowing I had a personal hand in making someone’s world a better place is what helps me contribute to the idea of being bigger than myself.
Since becoming more aware of your growth from practicing self-care, are you now protective of the energy you lend?
Not as much as I should be, to be honest. One of my flaws I’ve noticed in myself is my initial need to give people the benefit of the doubt. I would say I’m seeing the good in others and others would say I’m being naïve. So, in that regard, I would probably do things I shouldn’t do in the idea that maybe it’ll help or be good for me in the long run. Also, I’ve been fortunate enough to not have to be so protective of that energy. I am not a good read on people but I think to myself positive energy doesn’t attract any super negative people or people who would take advantage of that energy. I think that has something to do with the company that I keep, friends I keep. I make friends that will last for years, decades. Just having that foundation, I don’t really encounter new people that I run chance of being hurt by because if it doesn’t work out for the first few times hanging out or connecting, I can go back to my core. That’s just my experience.
I think that the goal of leaving the world a better place that you found it would help to avoid those who would leave it a worse place or simply not caring about the world… those who wanna see it burn. See, the opposite of love is indifference and if you love something, you’re gonna find people who are passionate about it as well and from there you can filter out the people who are more compatible to you and your life. I guess it’s not a matter of chance that I haven’t really had to use protective energy against people. It might be but I would like to think of it as a matter of living how you live your life.
What would you want to add to the broader discussions on mental health and how it should be made a priority?
Listen to the oppressed. That’s what’s been guiding me towards being a better self, recognizing the things that I say and do hurt people who have been hurt before and are familiar with this type of hurt so maybe you should consider listening to them before you hurt somebody some more. That idea I can apply to mental health. You can’t go around calling people retarded, not just because it’s a bad word and doesn’t sound as good as mentally challenged but people with real mental health issues don’t like that word. People who help those with mental health issues don’t like the word & don’t like the energy it creates. They have been oppressed, abused, angered, and frustrated at the very least by this word and at some point, in their life inconvenienced. That’s just one example of people with poor regards to mental health. There are other ones but the idea is that we must listen to those who have been hurt, those who are seriously hurt and act accordingly. If you listen to someone and they’re telling you that you’re hurting them by doing or acting a certain way and you choose to ignore it or see it, don’t double down on it. You can see it and decide to change it and I think that’ what we should do if we want to address the issue of mental health. We have to get people not just to know about it but also to care, to see how this affects them and the people they interact with, the energy they put out into the world and the energy they get back from it. I think the world would be a much more aware and knowledgeable place if we all had an idea of how mental health affects us.
Act on it. I think that should be the next immediate step. If you know better, do better and you can go about leaving the world a better place than you’ve found it. You can certainly correct your social circle or how you address your social circle on matters in regard to certain issues. People do it everyday; it’s not that hard.
I think I’ve said it before that the opposite of love is indifference. You don’t have to love it but damn, don’t be indifferent.
In Jordan's words: "I'm on a personal goal to leave this Earth better than how I found it. To show appreciation for those who came before me and those that come after me." You can follow him and his Jordyisms here.
Ace da Vinci
**How do you define self-care?
An important part of self-care is eating right, eating at all. There have been times where I don’t eat sometimes. I stress or worry about things and that kind of bothers my appetite. So usually for me when I’m not eating, actually getting in my three meals a day, that’s a sign I watch out for. I know that in certain cultures, when you see fuller people, that’s a sign of prosperity and wealth and I like that.
So there’s eating right, but I don’t eat right lol I eat a lot of candy, pizza, Chinese food. I got to improve on that.
Most of my foods is comfort food and that’s what I like.
**How does it look for you?
With eating food, it’s also about learning about yourself. You can’t heal if you don’t know yourself. You ask a lot of people for advice for what you’re going through and these people speak from their experience, that’s all they can really do. Unless they have an incredible amount of empathy discernment, being able to place themselves in your shoes, they’re gonna speak from their perspective. Self-care starts with what you know is gonna work for you because that person ain’t gotta live your life.
A lot of it is gonna come from a place we know. It’s almost like we know what we supposed to do or should do. It’s about whether or not we get around to doing it.
**Do you have a self-care routine in place?
Headphones. Listening to music is cool. I haven’t really figured out what I need to do when I’m off center. I usually just go through the motions and just let it where off and then snap back into it eventually. I would like to be more proactive, like with whatever’s bothering me, finding the solution to it and then kill it in the bud within 30 minutes or an hour, y’know, as opposed to putting it off for the day, the weekend. I’m a Leo and I’m sensitive about shyt. If you know the ways to knock me off center, then you know how to knock me off center and it’ll prolly work 9 times outta 10. Till I find coping mechanisms or defense mechanism or ways to deal with it.
Putting on headphones, being able to detach from the situation for a while is cool. Addressing things head on seems to work out, that’s starting to improve cuz I used to not be able to do that. I was big on conflict avoidance because I never really saw a resolution coming from, like, the other side of being peaceful, y’know. Just being always conflicted.
My self-care is eating. It’s self-defense, self-awareness. It’s knowing when to say no, when to say yeah.
**Since becoming more aware of your growth, through practicing self –care, are you now protective of the energy you lend?
Even now I feel like I’m going through things with people I fell out with or I used to be really in tuned with and signals crossed and we’re no longer friends. I’m still at a point where I haven’t yet to figure out what I’m going to do with these people.
It’s getting easier to think about because I’m in a better position in life than when I was first talking to them or interacting with them. So it’s almost like the better I take care of myself then the better I can deal with other people cuz I also know hurt people hurt people. It’s very easy to fall into those same lines, those same lines of pettiness or distaste or anger that other people are in if you don’t have anything going for you.
You can scare away your happiness with so many things. Like I’m wearing new shorts for the first fucking time in a while. So am I gonna sit here and hang onto the fact that I’m wearing new shorts that I actually like and enjoy that or am I only going to think about it one time and allow myself to think about other things that will bring my mood down and change my perception? Like I know it might now mean a lot to other people but other people don’t know how long it’s been since I bought clothes for myself. Other people don’t know what it's like to have money and decide to be able to do that and not be like, “Oh fuck! I shouldn’t have spent that $20-30.” Cuz I hate that feeling. I hate buyer’s remorse, y’know? I hate feeling like I did the wrong thing with my money that just so happens to be something for me as opposed to the bills that I have to worry about.
I think it’s something with endorphins. Like it releases something when you do something for yourself. (deep sigh). That’s something to be excited about. Like waking up in the morning taking a shower and putting on something fresh. Just like that feeling on the first day of school.
**How do you see self-care contributing to forming community and chosen family?
It’s an opportunity to work with some people. It’s a familiar opportunity I’ve said no to once or twice before. It was with some other people but now it’s being presented with these people. I think it might actually be something that I might take a look at because I’ve been doing so much of the same thing, y’know, and I’m willing to try something different. A part of it comes from being able to play well with others. I’m a recluse so I could sit and be a hermit all day. Being able to say yes and extend myself , my culture, my passion, my thoughts, to not just a friend but even strangers as well, that’s a step for me.
It’s ok to know when to be an introvert and when to step out of it a lil bit. It’s ok to do both. It’s ok to do one more than the other. It’s ok to be ok with yourself.
**What would you add to the broader discussions on prioritizing mental health?
When it comes to reflections, or how we deal with people we don’t like, like you said, we can get into it and have these talks, these conversations, and try to break through it and get into everything that’s going on or we can sit back and let them get through whatever it is they have to. I’m learning how to do either or because I’m such a savior. Like I’ll go in and get the ruby in a monster. I’ll swim through a crevice and dig into its back and reach into its heart and pull out the person in the monster. Then after some time, I look back and look at the size of it. I wonder how long it’s been that big. What did it do to get that big? How is it so strong? How many people have tried to stop this monster before? What am I gonna do with the person that comes out of it? Then what happens? There’s so much to look into when helping other people in their lives and I’m slowly starting to look into how to make myself feel better in that way too now. It’ll be easier for us to approach these things once we start feeling better.
Ace is a Chicago artist of many mediums, music being his center. He's devoted time and energy into the civil rights fight, and pushing for a greater vibe in the Chicago music scene. He is the creator of SmartMouf entertainment, and a lifelong empath and lightworker.. You can find his latest music on www.soundcloud.com/acedavinci
**How do you define self care?
I define self care as the action of being attentive to ones mind, body, and spirit with the goal of refreshing, replenishing, or healing.
**How does it look for you?
To me self care looks like meditation, hiking, present moment awareness.....being. Self care is of course personal and I am most at ease when my mental climate and physical environment is at ease simultaneously.
**How did discussions on mental health sound like in your home growing up? That discussion did not exist. There are for sure family members of mine (and even myself at times in life) that could have/could use a more constructive conversation about mental health improvement. Culturally (My experience with POC) we seem to treat mental health conditions in an alienated way as opposed to an inclusive healing way.
**How do you see self-care contributing to forming community and chosen family?
I personally think that the more in tune we are with our higher self (ego-less being reached through meditation) our conversation will change in a positive way. The more we can truly empathize opposed to judge or deny the better we can all build a better world. By being attentive and aware of our own "Self" we can self heal and then heal collectively.
**Since becoming aware of your growth from practicing self-care, are you now more protective of the energy you lend?
I definitely don't lend as much energy into things that I do not feel are fruitful. I limit social media inputs, personalities, and general conversations that are toxin filled. I do however still try to remain open minded to inputs and other perspectives but address them in a more quite place within myself opposed to outwardly voicing opinions in most cases.
**What would you add to the broader discussions on mental health and wellness?
Meditation Meditation Meditation. I think with more general mindfulness a great deal of wellness and general decision making will be attainable.
Jordan 'DXTR' Holmes is a engineer by day and Trap Nerd emcee and gracious AMFM co-host by night. Mentored by the luminous Nikki Giovanni, Jordan organizes accountability and empowerment sessions with men in Chicago and is a staple in the creative art scene in Chicago, hosting open mics, performing and supporting fellow emerging artists. You can listen to his debut album, Mad Science: Music for the Trap Nerdz and follow him on his many endeavors.
Felicia Holman (photos taken at the Garfield Park Conservatory)
**How do you define self-care? My definition of self-care encompasses many things but primarily, it is an internal compass of what feels healthful for my optimal performance. That means mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally, economically (which all contribute to optimal performance in life). I prefer the holistic approach.
As an artist and arts administrator, I spend a lot of time crafting communication and building relationships. I always start those communication strategies with this central core of ‘Why’--- Why I am starting this project? Why am I seeking the audience that I am?.. That drilling down to my core of ‘Why’ in my approach to audience development is transferable to my approach to self-care. Like, if I am in a space or place where I know I’m not taking care of myself I ask, “Why don’t you feel you deserve to take care of yourself? You know you can’t serve from an empty vessel.”
Being a black woman--- a strong, resilient black woman--- even when you know better, you tend to put yourself last because you prioritize other people/projects or some other external metric, y’know? But self-care is really checking in and making sure you are preserved. Being able to say yes to whatever you wanna say yes to and no to whatever you wanna say no to. It’s about prioritizing and honoring self.
**How does your self-care look like for you?
It varies. Time has a lot to do with it. Self care could look like an Epsom salt bath, ‘wake & bake’, quality time with loved ones, it could look like the artist retreat I took to Dominica and the ‘making a way out of no way’ to fund my excursion. Self care is budgeting, figuring out the real cost of things, taking inventory. It’s assessing yourself and finding time and space to think. It’s giving yourself that time to assess projects, and jobs and partnerships and relationships and to be real with yourself about what you want. It’s asking, “What does pleasure or success mean for me?”
We’re always consumed by what we produce, produce, produce. “You’re only as good as your last project!” We have to realize that our best work happens when we’re at our best. It sounds like a cliché but it really is true. If you know your destination but you don’t know where you are on that map, what good is that tool to you?
In the last 3-4 years, having become more of an “in-demand” arts admin, I find that self care starts at with setting & respecting my own boundaries. Prioritizing the quiet, the space that I need to get clarity with what I truly want to pursue professionally and creatively.
**How did mental health discussions sound like in your home growing up?
My mom was the first self help guru I ever knew. She had books and videotapes and cassettes. She was a participant in a couple of different 12 step programs for survivors of incest & Overeaters Anonymous. On my mom’s side of the family (don’t know much about my dad’s side) there's a history of schizophrenia,PTSD, addiction and clinical depression. So she was always very open about talking with me about her family’s history of mental health and showing me strategies and tools to break the cycle. She was always forthcoming as age appropriate as she could be at times but sometimes there was information or discussions outside eyes and ears would think was too adult. As a child, I was my mom’s number one confidant. Now as an adult, I really appreciate her being as honest and forthcoming. Not just with coming forward with the family history but with child rearing and honesty and working through stuff, especially through a spiritual context.
As an adult I really appreciate her candor because it influences my empathic approach to mental health, mental wellness and mental illness. These are concepts I grew up talking about openly with my mom.
**How do you see self-care contributing to forming community and chosen family?
It’s integral! I think it is part of why we choose a family, or what I call “framily”. I think the drive or the instinct to perform self-care, self-preservation, is to help us seek out community so that we aren’t alone in this. Our community or chosen family doesn’t have to be like-minded, per say like when we talk about interest in music or food, but in terms of values of community. There’s a Muhammad Ali quote that comes to mind, which was inducted into the Guinness World Record book for shortest poem, “Me, We”. That, I feel, is such an African disaporic concept of the individual and the community being one and the same. It’s Sankofa and reverence for history, ancestry, elders. All of that informed my drive for relationships, community, creative relationships, collaborations, work.
Age and maturity have definitely played into account how I prioritize self-care. Maintaining an “attitude of gratitude”; grateful for ancestors, family elders, people who have mentored and helped shape me prioritize my own self care regimen and how important it is; very grateful to have had a mom who made that a point. With her being an incest and sexual assault survivor, she wanted to empower my sexualy agency. She would tell me straight how things would be as I grew up. We didn’t talk about queer identities and it was all heteronormative but she was always about empowering my agency. She was pro-masturbation and bluntly explained my options for handling horniness: “You don’t need anybody else to scratch your itch”. I’ve innovated on that saying, “I don’t make someone else responsible for my own nut”.
**Since becoming more aware of your growth from practicing self care, are you now more protective of the energy you lend?
Definitely---I’ve become more proficient with my Diplomatic-Yet-Unapologetic ‘No’s (on/offline).
**What else do you wanna add to the broader discussion on mental health?
Well as a movement artist/embodied storyteller and former certified fitness professional, I know the mind body connection is important when discussing mental health. There is a real physiological connection between physical activity and quality of life (which encompasses mental health). Getting moving gets hormones (melatonin, serotonin) flowing and decreases cortisol (stress hormone). Regular, moderate physical activity helps with this. Think about mental performance; You can improve circulation from just marching in place for a few minutes. Increased circulation leads to increased oxygen usage which then leads to improved mood & mental clarity. These methods can be empowering. You don’t need a gym membership to exercise. You don’t need a lot of equipment--you possess the most essential equipment to change how you feel and look. Knowing the power in that practice and how that power is diminished in marginalized communities because of unsafe places, lack of recreational access to spaces or venues, lack of personnel (trainers, coaches, mentors) in the fields of physical wellness and fitness, having more access to/usage of these resources and information can have a big impact.
My definition of self care is making sure you are alright, no matter what. It’s making sure you are in tuned to your best self. It is making sure you’re feeding your needs everyday.
**What methods do you practice to recuperate?
They vary because I always look for new and efficient ways to take care of myself. For one, I write. Like every morning I’ll write mantras to myself and stick them on my wall. I’ll go do little things, y’know, like go on long drives, stay in my room, meditate and sit in silence. I’ll sit with beats, feeding my artistry, my mind. I’ll sharpen my creativity by shifting thought processes in creative ways. Reading, meditating and sitting with beats- that’s the core of my self care practice.
Intentionally, I’ve been doing this for about a year now. Before I couldn’t say, “oh yeah, this is what makes me feel good.” It wasn’t like, “Oh! So this is self care.” Ok? I’ll just be like, “I’m furious right now. Lemme go listen to beats.” When I need to, I’ll take a day for myself to unplug from everything-- no phone for the day, just kind of mellow out and take care of myself.
**Since becoming more aware of your growth from practicing self care routines, are you now more protective of the energy you lend?
I am more conscious of lending my energy. I definitely am selfish with my energy now. The people that I used to hang around all the time when I couldn’t take care of myself, I don’t see them anymore. I was at a point where I made a choice. When I began taking notice of how I wanted to grow, take better care of myself and saw they weren’t there, I felt like they were draining me. Like, I wanted to be there for them but I can’t be if I’m depleted. But even in that, I was taking care of myself for them and I had to check myself with that too. You have to take care of yourself for you; you don’t have any obligations to anyone else but you. I had to draw some lines.
**How do you see self care contributing to forming community and chosen family?
When you know better you do better and for me I pass information, self care, meditation and advice along to folks I know in my community. I want see my folks flourish and If I can share something that has helped me be better for you to become better and vice versa then we become better.
** What did discussions on mental health sound like in your home growing up?
My grandfather told me of this scenario when I was a kid because I was always a self less person and I would always give and give and give and give. He was a Vietnam veteran and was like, “ So you’re in the desert with someone and you’re the only one who knows your way out of the desert. There’s only enough water for one of you guys. What do you do?” As a kid I was like, “Well, I would split it so that way we both get some.” He said, “Then you both die.” Straight face and everything. I said, “I’ll give it to him then,” and he said, “He doesn’t know the way so you both die.” The moral of the story is if you know the way, you drink the water. If that boy wanna fend for himself, he’ll fend for himself. And vice versa. Even if there aren’t enough resources, there’s plenty of ways to sustain you. Never forget that.
I still didn’t learn my lesson, I mean I was just 12. But it is definitely a story I still think about til this day. Grandpa was tryna make sure I was straight. Now I totally prioritize investing in self-care because I know how damaging lack in that can be.
**What would you add to the broader discussions on mental health?
Finding a space that is your own is just as important as the practice of resetting. Moving around, I always make sure that my space is somewhere that I can take care of myself. I have to feel comfortable in the space. You gotta make sure you’re okay in your space. There were a few places I lived in where I walked in, took a shower and walked right back out. I just didn’t want to be there. Making it intentional that my space is my own, to sit in complete silence and darkness of my space, listening to the house settle, makes healing that much more possible and real.
I would add that you come first ALWAYS. Be unapologetic in choosing you. You’re solely responsible for you and if you’re off then you got to get right NO MATTER WHAT. Your mental health is priority! Your overall wellness is priority! No matter how heavy you feel, or how off things are, you matter! Seek your balance.
In the space of self-love – embracing (and not limited to) self-worth, self-respect, self-forgiveness, self-esteem, self-confrontation, and self-acceptance – where these moments of reflection landed me was that self-care is the practice of centering yourself to nourish, maintain and recharge your mind, body and spirit, daily. It’s the choice that we make to care for ourselves, often in lieu of “doing more” or “attempting to be more,” and it can be as simple as turning off the television, turning off the phone, playing some gentle music and reading or just listening with the intent to be showered. For me personally, and this is different for everyone, self-care is the distinction between a familiar statement like: “Once I finish this I’ll be able to relax/ do something nice/ take a breather” vs. “I’m always worthy of the same care that I extend to others.” I think, ultimately self-care is the practice of living a life not led by fear of stillness.
**How does it look for you?
Self-care looks like, first giving myself permission. To create sacred solitude/ space for myself in my life and to center my mind and heart so I can meet myself where I’m at. Then It’s about paying attention to my energy. And asking: what would I be able to do better if I felt grounded, nurtured, free and full of energy? Why do I feel overwhelmed? What’s keeping me from taking care of myself, what do I need to feed myself so I’m full enough to see the whole table, and what one thing can I do to shift this immediately?
As a very goal-driven person; it’s about acknowledging when I’ve maximized a moment, closing the computer lid and reconnecting myself. Off Duty Saturdays. Taking a train ride, or a long unintentional drive, sitting in the house in silence. These are all reconnecting practices for me. Doing less Lovingly saying no, or: “I need me right now, so I’m not available this time round (but thank you so much, I’m honored to be asked.) It’s taken me years to be ok with knowing that I need breaks from people, even those who are close to me. It took much wandering to be able to rest in self-romance-to view myself as the prime number amongst the many things/people I carry.
On a physical level, it means waking at 4, in bed by 10:00. Drinking plenty of water for a clear head. Feeding my mind with good music, good film, good lectures. Listening to my body, and asking: what are you hungry for, More greens? Less deep-fried south? A grounding meal? A sleep in? Treating food as nourishment, not as an answer to an emotional craving. I have, in the past, had a very reactive relationship with food. I confused self-care with self-comfort often and the latter always added to my stress and reduced my peace.
**What did discussions on mental health sound like in your home when you were growing up?
The American Psychiatric Association reports that as many as 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. will suffer from some kind of mental disorder each year. That's why the myth that black people shouldn't worry about seeking care for mental health— evidenced through statements such as "if black people could get through slavery, they can get through anything" and even the "strong black woman" trope, are so damaging. Poverty disproportionately affects the black community, due in part to the legacy of slavery, segregation and racial discrimination in America. Poverty also affects mental health. African-Americans are 20% more likely to report having serious psychological distress than non-Hispanic whites, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. And within the black community, those who live below poverty level are three times more likely to experience psychological distress than those who are comfortably above the poverty line.
How was mental health discussed in my home? It wasn’t. It was met with phrases like, “aint’ nothing wrong with that child! They just looking for attention.” Or “Put em’ on the alter and give him to Jesus.” The most common way to handle mental health in my version of America has been through the holy ghost saving power of prayer. We swept the ‘crying cousin’ under the rug, hid the “crazy” uncle in the basement. We didn’t talk about it. We did this because we just didn’t know enough. We didn’t know how to confront it. It wasn’t until I saw how mental health traced my mother’s face and then how it’s traced mine in the form of depression`, that I looked deeper and found some sense of glory in the confronting and healing process.
**How do you see self-care contributing to forming community and chosen family?
I believe that to make the change we seek to be realized, we need to model it so that the community can experience it for themselves. I believe, in a world of accessorizing; being able to rest in your peace allows us to cherish others on a deeper level. We tend to throw away anything/anyone that doesn’t come easy and ready-made. Creating a safe space in which everyone’s rights are recognized and respected gives back to your already cultivated freedom to live without fear of persecution or abuse. Existing in self-care prior also allows you to positively contribute to growth and health of the community. I think it is self-care, at the forefront of any successful community. We are obliged to lift-up, honor, and hold space for our self-determination, to fight for our lives, and to remind each other of our worth and that none of us are disposable. It is our goddamned right to love each other fiercely. We must support each other’s wellness. We must love enough to say…I know you want to help the community, but go and love on you first. If not, I fear that the gorgeous movement of creating safe spaces will fall prey to the unhealthy habits of so many other progressive movements before.
**Since becoming more aware of your growth from practicing self-care routines, are you now more protective of the energy you lend?
I don’t know if I would say that I’m protective as much as I’d say that I’m certainly more aware of the power of saying yes to myself first. Whether you’re religious, non-religious, or anything in between, I believe that a sacred space ought to help you pause, unplug, and reflect on the only work that really matters: loving yourself, loving the world, practicing gratitude, and being kind to your journey. I think it helps me discern what directions I should pour myself. I delight in my solitude. It’s how I refill the tank for the long drive.
**What would you want to add to the broader discussions on mental health and how it should be made a priority?
I think I’d want to add more universal gentleness to the conversation. I’ve been a part of many wonderful experiences that, had I known myself a bit better, I would’ve declined. Not because the people involved were these energy-sucking humans; because we tend to get aggressive when we talk about sacred space and self-care. I don’t believe self-care is about being against anything else., the people and the experiences just weren’t fitting for my energy. Perhaps I had the heart and desire. I just didn’t have the emotional and mental time, but pursued it anyway. We do that a lot, don’t we? We dive in excitement-first and then find ourselves deeply dissatisfied when the work makes us heavier instead of lighter.