What I've Learned About Self-Care and Mental Health as a Black Political Correspondent
I'm starting to learn that I can only serve the world, my community, my family and friends better if I take care of myself first.
It all started during the 2016 election cycle between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. I thought I was losing it and I couldn't bring myself to accept that Donald Trump had won the election. I was doing political commentary up until the actual election, passionately telling everyone that there was no way he was going to win. I was so arrogant, snotty and cocky about it. I was so set on him losing that I was infuriated by the sheer thought of entertaining the possibility of Trump coming out victorious. Boy, was that a humbling and learning experience.
To watch Donald Trump violate ethics laws over the next four years was painful and excruciating. In our minds as people of color, Black people and just folks with good intentions, we knew that if Barack Obama pulled even an eighth of what Donald Trump was doing, he would be under the jail—impeached, removed, all of it. Though this reality was a hard pill to swallow, it made me more aware of what we already knew to be true. We knew that racism existed, we knew that to some Black lives don't matter, but Trump's boldness and lack of regard for our community felt like a gut punch. To me, the saddest part was there was nothing we could do for four years except strategize, organize, and prepare to flood the polls to get him out of office.
Fast forward to this election, I was in fear of hope. I carried four years of bottled anxiety—the trauma and the triggers associated with Donald Trump "making America great again"—right into a worldwide pandemic. But one thing the pandemic has done for those of us who are privileged—and I do acknowledge my privilege and want to thank all of the essential workers out there who are saving our lives—is being able to be still. It was annoying at first, but the privilege of being
Right now, though I'm anxious about people not washing their hands or wearing masks while I'm stuck in the house, I'm also breathing a sigh of relief. While I acknowledge things won't magically change overnight, this victory of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris gives me a sense of comfort in knowing that there's someone in the White House with basic morals, human decency, and who values the principles of our democracy. I especially feel relieved that Kamala is there because I know we have an advocate for our issues and a listening ear when we disagree.
I have a purpose and a mission bigger than being a political commentator and a journalist: to be a change agent by advocating, telling the truth, and working to ensure that critical issues in the Black community are solved. I don't have time to waste trying to convince someone of what I really believe is the right thing when they really believe something different.
Back in 2016, self-care wasn't even a real consideration in my mind. To me, self-care looked like spa dates, mani-pedis, and booking hair appointments—I didn't know that it could also mean taking time to take care of myself. Not to say I didn't pray or meditate, but I wasn't too conscious and cognizant of its importance. That's definitely changed. I'm still very much growing as it relates to self-care and walking into the full acceptance of deserving and needing to take care of myself, but I'm doing a lot better. I'm starting to learn that I can only serve the world, my community, my family and friends better if I take care of myself first.
It's almost weird some of the words we use when we describe people who are acting out of character or experiencing a mental health crisis. We assume that they've "lost their minds," gone "nuts," or they're "going crazy." All of those things are stigmas attached to people without an understanding of just how normal it actually is. In our community, before we adopted the terms "crazy" and "nuts," we would say, "they're just a little different," and that was a coping mechanism in the Black community—to silence any evident mental health challenge. Growing up, I had family members experience what we used to refer to as "breakdowns," which were severe challenges to the point where folks had to be hospitalized. The adults in my family would always cover it up by saying, "they're just not well," so I never really knew what was happening.
People used to think if you needed a therapist, then you must really "been out your mind," but luckily, the Black community is inching towards removing the stigma around therapy and almost embracing it with (slightly) open arms. It's definitely more socially acceptable to the point where people even talk about going to their sessions more openly. As a public figure, I even talk about the discussions I have with my therapists. Thank God for therapy to walk us through being gaslit and give us tools to work on ourselves and process our emotions. You hear it on the radio and on talk shows, but there's also a bigger discussion being had around mental health that's more than just going to see a therapist.
We all have challenges and have experienced this ferocious virus in different ways and one of the best things we could do, as recommended by my mother, is what I call 'perspective take.' What if I put myself in your shoes? How can I tap into my empathy and the emotions of your experience? How can I listen to you and hear you so I can hold space for you? Imagine a health care worker right now. Imagine a teacher. Imagine the parent at home who has another full-time job while being forced to teach their child during virtual school hours. Do you think their self-care isn't as important, or more so, than our own? We need to go back to the core of who we are because when it all comes down to it, we are all more similar than we are different.
People are struggling with wanting to take their own lives, but now there's a suicide hotline that's mentioned quite a bit these days—even in songs. Thank God! These are the things we needed because not only do we as Black folks carry our own racial trauma and experiences with us, but the struggles, challenges and crises that our ancestors faced are imprinted in our DNA.
I hope that we, as Black women, all keep our hearts open to learning, growing and giving ourselves permission to talk to therapists, friends and family members if we're not feeling good or if we're having a bad day. Whatever it is or even if you're feeling anything deeper than that. I hope that we learn to treat mental health as important as it is. Your mental, emotional and spiritual body are just as important as your physical.
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