*To read Part I , go here
This time last week, I experienced one of the most frightening moments I can remember. I was sitting on the couch when I began to feel a piercing pain in my stomach. I grabbed a glass of water then tried to “sleep” it off. After thirty minutes, I woke up and my arm also started to tingle with pain, I kept on telling myself that I was “okay” and all I had to do was breathe. But it seemed like I was fighting a loosing game with panic. I felt my heart beating faster and my throat seemed to be closing in. My mind was flipping through a mental rolodex of possible explanations … each one more fear inducing than the last. Was I imagining it all? Was my stomach filling up with fluid the way my mom’s did before she got sick? Did I have cancer too?
I called on God, I paced my living room, I did everything I could to calm down. I resolved to sitting on the floor as still as possible, hoping that the discomfort and anxiety would pass. Thankfully, my best friend had planned on coming by. I unlocked the door beforehand, so that I wouldn’t be expected to offer my usual hug and bright smile. I just sat on the couch until she came. When she opened the door I said flatly, “I don’t feel well”. I didn’t have enough energy or courage to say that I needed her to sit besides me and rub my back until I could breathe again. But like the wise and beautiful woman that she is, she intuitively sat besides me and rubbed my back . I burst into tears. She coached me into breathing regularly and held me until I stopped crying.
Four days before this happened, my grandmother passed away. This was the third death in my family in two years. I was her co-guardian. I fought to take care of her. At first, it didn’t hit me. The day after I went to work, my husband asked that I take off the following day to “be still” and slow down. I obliged because I know that grief has a spontaneous bite. While I was off, I handled some of her funeral arrangements and rested. Somehow, somewhere what I had been feeling under the surface, emerged. I thought that I could have worked harder to give my grandma a more comfortable life leading up to her death. I thought about how I just didn’t have it in me to work harder. I reflected on how my bandwidth has narrowed after my mother passed. I thought about the people I must have let down after I fell short on some of my responsibilities. I also began to worry about some of my own health issues that seemed to be worsening … then suddenly, a switch went off. It was almost like my mind said, “I can’t carry this stress anymore, it’s your body’s turn to handle it”.
That’s what led me on the couch in my best friend’s arms. After I calmed down, I began telling her about all of the things that were on my plate. She stopped me politely (as true friends do) and explained that I loved people to the detriment of my own care. I thought about the panic attack I just had and for the first time I agreed.
I promised myself that I would care for myself the following week. I would be about my wellness.
Now a week later, I can say that I have:
- Drank tea every morning (taking moments for myself in between each sip)
- Prayed often
- Set boundaries
- Communicated my needs/concerns and feelings freely
- Went to church
- Spent more time in the morning getting dressed
- Gave myself permission to be vulnerable
- Left work on time
- Was easy on myself when it came to the self-care steps I didn’t accomplish
And I will add to this list the following week and every week after that.
Why am I sharing all of this?
Because I can say with certainty that I know #SelflessBlackGirls who need it.I know single moms that sacrifice everything for their children without complaints. Women that are caring for sick parents, loved ones in prison or children that aren’t their own. Those who face the overwhelming presence of their family’s uncertainty each day. Women who bend to hold down multiple jobs, go to school and try to be the glue in dysfunctional families. Not to mention endure the pervasive debasement of black beauty, bodies and intelligence. Contortionists who expertly and faithfully shield their weariness.
I cringed at the thought of sounding weak. But I had to do it for my mom. For my grandma. For my aunts and sisters. I needed to show the #SelflessBlackGirls I love and admire that we can break too.
I am learning that there is freedom in admitting weakness. It’s like there is a collective exhale that snaps the tension when I surrender to my fallibility. It leaves room for me to actively care for myself, for God to work miracles and for others who truly love me a chance to care for me too. I am learning that it isn’t fair not to give them a chance. Without my vulnerability, I am missing out on my fair exchange of love (even if from myself).
And I deserve better .