Category Archives: Self-Care

Naming our Pain

In my clinical practice, I often see a lot of black adult women. I think a part of what draws them to me is that they can look me up and see that we have at least two things in common- I am black, and I am a woman, just like them. Black womanhood is a peculiar place of residence. Black women have a unique experience that bonds us together, but also makes us different from many of the other people we interact with. An academic term for this identity is “intersectionality.” This term, coined by scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, describes the reality of black women’s double minority status in the sociocultural world. Black women deal with the racism that all black folks deal with, AND they deal with the painful demeaning realities of the power of patriarchy. This distinguishes us from the journey that we work to support black men in, and it also separates us from the reality of prejudice and misogyny experienced by white women. Because our experience is unique, we have developed some unique strategies for surviving as black women. Many of us are familiar with the term “strong black woman.” I believe that this identity is our way of coping with the singular experience of black womanhood. Here are some characteristics I often see as components of this way of being for black women:

1. Taking care of EVERYBODY. In my conversations with my clients, friends, and colleagues, I notice a pattern of black women feeling responsible for so many people in their lives- parents, partners, kids, friends, etc. Some of these people, they really are responsible for. However, there might be times when they take on things that those people can do for themselves, perhaps to the detriment of their own needs and wants. We do it because we saw our mothers and grandmothers do it. Sometimes, the people in our lives are telling us to step back and do less, but we can’t hear it. Sometimes, the people in our lives love all the work we do, because it makes their lives easier. Either way, it seems that the implicit message for black women has been, put yourself last- make sure everyone else is OK first. While this is a noble way of being and taking responsibility for our community, it’s not sustainable when we don’t take any time for ourselves.

2. Pretending we are fine. I cannot tell you how many times I have asked a black woman how she is, she replied “fine” and I didn’t believe her. A part of this “strong black woman” syndrome has been a tendency to deny or ignore when we are struggling, even with people with whom we have very close relationships. I will never forget a session I had with a client who was visibly in pain, had been feeling the effects in her daily life, but simply could not find the words to explain to me what she was going through. It occurred to me how many of us have become so good at putting on a show that we don’t even have experience describing ourselves in authentic ways. We don’t even have language to name our pain because we have never taken the opportunity to do so. We can’t keep this up. Part of being of psychologically healthy is being able to acknowledge when you are well and when your are not well, being able to share your experiences with others, and being able to get what you need.

3. Not asking for help. I was having a conversation with a good friend and was stopped in my tracks with four simple words. “You are not superwoman.” We were talking about all the things I have going on, and the friend asked if I had people around me who would be willing to help me. My response was “Yes, but….” and then I named all the reasons I “needed” to do these things myself. I was so convinced about this, but it’s just wrong. It’s no good having people around you who offer to help you if you don’t take them up on it. In supportive relationships, you should not have to feel like superwoman. The reality is, you cannot do it all. When you admit that you cannot save the whole world, you make space for people to be in authentic relationship with you and offer you help and support. Be brave- ask for help!

If you are a black woman, I imagine that at least some of this feels familiar to you. If you love a black woman, you can probably help her by offering support and reminding her she doesn’t have to do it all. Think about ways that you can pay attention to your self in addition to all the people you love and care about. This is not about being selfish or choosing yourself OVER them (though some might decide to do that). It’s simply about putting yourself on your list. Just because we have been conditioned to do these things doesn’t mean we have to continue. Make a choice to live a happier, healthier life! Be honest about your experience, relinquish some of your responsibility in the lives of others, and use that energy to care for yourself! You can do it, sis. You deserve it.

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

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An Educated “Yes”

Lots of us in the world have a problem with the word “yes.” We say it too much! Most of us like being helpful, but sometimes we find ourselves in a situation where we have offered more than we are reasonably able to give. Often, it comes from a good, but sometimes dysfunctional place. First, I want to explore some of the reasons we might have a “yes” problem, and then I’ll offer some simple strategies for pulling back.

Many of us say yes because we are afraid of what would happen if we said no. Maybe we would disappoint the person who asked, or they would be mad at us, or worse, they would end the relationship. Whether we are talking about friends, romantic relationships, family relationships, or even work colleagues, a lot of us have a hard time tolerating when people are unahppy with us. So, we try to avoid those moments where we might upset the people we care about. The desire to avoid rejection is a powerful motivator!

We also get “rewards” for saying yes. People pat us on the back and say we did a good job. They use nice words to describe us such as “dependable, hard worker” They might even tell us how much they appreciate all we do. The tricky part, however, is that people are creatures of habit. So the more you say yes, the more prone you are to say yes before thinking, and the more people assume that you will say yes. If this pattern continues, a dynamic can develop where they are always asking and you are always saying yes. When a relationship is one-sided, or you say yes in times when it costs you more than you are really willing to give, it becomes a problem.  When saying yes causes you to over-extend yourself or deny your own needs, it is probably coming from an unhealthy place. Over time, you might start to focus less on your own needs to begin with, and develop a self-sacrificing or “savior” complex in your relationships. You have the right to protect your time, your space, and your spirit. In healthy relationships, you don’t have to let those things go completely.

Not sure if you say yes too much? Ask yourself some questions:

Are there times when you want to say no, but anxiety and fear cause you to go back on that first hunch?

Are you concerned that if you stop meeting a person’s requests, they will reject you or spend less time with you?

Do you have relationships where people feel comfortable asking your for things, but when you ask for something people often say no?

Would you describe yourself as a “caretaker” who prides themselves on making the lives of others easier?

Do you put your own concerns or desires on the back burner to make sure you can follow through with requests made of you by others?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may want to consider working to make an “educated yes” rather than an “automatic yes.” Notice, that I’m not suggesting that you say “no”. There are times when that might be the best choice, but this isn’t just about saying no, because there are times when a “yes” is just right. However, this is about making active decisions rather than doing things out of habit. I am encouraging you to think carefully about when, how, and to whom you say yes. When someone makes a request of you, there are some things to consider:

  • do I want to do this/am I willing to do this?
  • how much time or energy will this cost me?
  • am I willing to expend the time and energy it will take?
  • can I do it in a time frame the works for me and the requestor?

If your answers to these questions lead you to “no,” Don’t be afraid to say it! It might feel weird. That’s OK. The requestor might be unhappy. That’s ok too! Just because someone is unhappy with a choice that you’ve made, doesn’t mean it’s the wrong choice! And if you have made a choice that is supportive of your own sanity, you will thank yourself later. If no feels like a little to much, try a delay tactic: “Let me check my schedule and I’ll get back to you.” This gives you time to really think about your answer before jumping in.

Hopefully, this helps you to give an educated yes, rather than one motivated by fear or habit. Healthy relationships allow people to set their own boundares without worry about the consequences.  Next time someone makes a request of you, think before you answer!

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

One Step at A Time

Recently I was meeting with mentor of mine, and I was telling her about the mayhem that has been the last few months of my life. As we talked, she shared that her strategy for managing when she feels overwhelmed is this: “One Step at a Time.” It doesn’t really seem like a ground breaking revelation, and I’m sure I’ve heard the phrase before. But for some reason, at that time, it really resonated with me. Think about all the times you are simultaneously trying to manage many things all at once. How often are you successful at managing all those things the way you want to? I’ll answer for myself: very infrequently.

So, I had been thinking about this simple suggestion: One Step at a Time… and then, I heard a podcast, that solidified the concept for me.  The episode is title “Deep Work” and a researcher/computer scientist named Cal Newport explores the detriments of multitasking and the benefits of engaging in “Deep Work” where we focus our attention completely on one thing. Check it out here: Deep Work.

Anyway, so the combination of these two ideas really got me thinking about how we can work smarter, not harder, when it comes to managing the daily tasks of our lives. What if, instead of tackling everything all the time, we tackle one thing for a period of time, do well, and then move onto the next thing? When I think about the times I have felt most stressed and overwhelmed, they typically revolve around me having “too many things to do” and not enough time to do them in. Typically, to get myself out of that place, I have to make some radical decisions about priorities, even if that decision is only temporary. We can find ourselves in this situation for a number of different reasons. Sometimes, we have a YES problem:

“Can you help with this event?”   Yes.

“Can you run this errand for me?”  Yes.

“Can you sacrifice your own happiness to make my life easier?” Yes.

Don’t get me wrong; sometimes,  it’s great to say yes. Many of us want to be helpful and we all like to feel like we are giving something to others in our community. However, when we say yes without thinking, we can end up in situations that leave us taking on more than we can reasonably handle. So, before you say yes, ask yourself: “Given all my responsibilities right now, can I commit to this the way I would like to?” If the answer is no, govern yourself accordingly. A bigger issue (for another post coming soon!) is the internal explanations we give for saying yes all the time, often because we are afraid of what would happen if we said no.

Sometimes, we feel overwhelmed because we don’t manage our time well.  How often do you sit down and plan out your day before you start it? How often do you find yourself flipping through social media and before you know it, an hour has gone by? How often do you give yourself an estimate of how long a task will take before you start it? If these questions have you stumped, do a little experiment. Write down your schedule for the WHOLE WEEK- all 7 days.  What do you notice you’re spending your time on? Are you ok with your answer?

Other times, we are overwhelmed because emotionally, spiritually, or mentally, we are just not equipped to manage all the tasks in front of us. Here’s where the “One Step At a Time” piece comes in. It’s ok to prioritize. Don’t try to take on the world if you don’t have to. Write a list of all the things on your plate right now, and categorize each of them in two ways: important/not important and urgent/not urgent. This system will help your prioritize. Once the tasks are categorized, you can prioritize them in this order:

  1. Important AND Urgent
  2. Urgent and Not Important – Do you need to do this at all?
  3. Important and Not Urgent
  4. Not Urgent and Not Important- Do you need to do this a all?

So, when you settle down to tackle the first thing that is both urgent and important, mentally commit yourself to that thing. If it’s a project at work (and it’s feasible for you), take a break from checking email, looking at your phone, or chatting with coworkers for a set period of time.  If it’s a life project, (weight loss, managing your finances, etc), tackle that thing, and get to a benchmark point before you take on anthing else. In other words, it may not the best idea to start your plans to lose 50 pounds, raise your credit score 200 points, and double your devotional time ALL at once. Focused attention helps us to commit more fully, be more successful, and feel happier overall. When we try to do too much at one time, it’s easy to feel swept away by the winds of life, holding onto anything you can. This isn’t sustainable for a fulfilling life in the long term. Try deep work to build some deep roots!

So, let’s start simple.  What is the most important goal you have for yourself right now? Think about the things you are doing to currently work on it– are they working? Consider a shift in strategy- focus your attention and energy on this goal, and give yourseelf a specific target to reach. Think about ways you can commit yourself more fully to this goal. When you’ve reached that target, you can move on to the next thing!

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

Stop, Drop, and Roll

Have you ever had one of those days? One of those days? When it seems like before you can even get yourself together for the day, everything is crumbling around you? I have too. They are a part of life, but that doesn’t make them enjoyable, and often, they don’t feel manageable when we are right in the thick of it. Not too long ago, I had one of those days. By 9am, I was ready to crawl back into bed, and wait for the day to be over. But, that wasn’t an option- I had things to do that day, so I had to get myself together. In the midst of my almost melt-down, three words came to me- Stop, Drop, and Roll.

Does that phrase sound familiar? When I was in elementary school, that was the fire safety motto- Stop Drop, and Roll. The idea was if you were to ever catch fire, these three actions were the quickest and safest way to minimize damage to yourself, and protect the safety of others. So, let’s see if we can make this work for a day that feels like it’s about to explode:

First, Stop and Center. Most of us have emotional, cognitive, and physical signs that we are feeling overwhelmed, but we often ignore those signs and try to press through. Instead, when you start to notice those signs ramping up, stop and center yourself. “Centering” can look different for all of us. Sometimes it’s a quiet prayer, a few deep breaths, a phone call to a friend, or maybe taking a walk to get a quick break. Whatever will help you to stop and calm down, do that.

Second, Drop What is Unnecessary.  When you are feeling on edge, you simply are not capable of doing everything. Often, if you try, you find that you make mistakes, don’t fully complete tasks, or aren’t invested the way you would want to. So, rather than try to do more than you are able, go into problem solving mode. What can wait until tomorrow, or maybe even next week? Rate the tasks you need to complete in terms of urgency and importance. Those things which are both urgent and important probably need to be done today. In most cases, everything else can wait until another day and you are in a better space.

Third, Roll with the punches. There is a term in psychotherapy training called “rolling with resistance.” It basically means that as clinicians, we don’t try to force people to do or talk about things when they aren’t ready to. This has become a strategy that I try to hold on to in my “real life” too. Sometimes, you can’t fix everything and you just have to roll with it. Sometimes, the project you’re working on won’t be perfect. Sometimes, you can’t make that friend not be upset at you. Sometimes, you just have to acknowledge that you are not at your best, but you will do what you can. Develop an idea of what “good enough” is, and let that be ok every once in a while. Allow yourself to have an off day. Remember that this day is only one day in the grand scheme of things. Even when things go wrong, you still have something to be thankful for!

So, next time you’re having one of those days, remember these three simple steps. Stop, Drop, and Roll! Trouble and frustration may knock you down, but they don’t have to take you out. Thanks for reading, and make well choices!

 

Do You!

Last month, I wrote about maintaining your focus as we approach a new year, and one of the points in the post was that you really need to understand your purpose. To a certain extent, this is a quest that many of us are constantly on. Some people seem to know immediately what they are “supposed” to do, while others seem to search and search and have a hard time nailing down what it is they want to do. Why is this so important to us? Part of this desire is that we as humans have been oriented for centuries to have a “place” in our world. Think about it- one of the first things people ask when they meet someone for the first time is “what do you do”? People’s jobs (at least in our minds) help us to categorize them, understand their interests and skills, and potentially relate to them.

However, I have a news flash. Your job and your purpose may not be the same thing! For some of us, we have found our purpose in our job. For some of us, a job is just a paycheck, and that’s ok. That doesn’t mean you don’t have a purpose. There is something in this world, for you do to, that you are especially equipped to do, that can make a positive impact on others, on your community, and maybe even the world. In fact, you are THE BEST person for whatever that job is, because you are you! If you don’t believe me, listen to our childhood friend, Dr. Seuss:

Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.

You buying into this idea requires that you believe that you have gifts to offer the world. This is crucial. So, take a minute, and jot down three gifts you have. You might find yourself venturing into some self-criticism about the things you *don’t* have. But, try to stay on track. What are you good at?  Now, ask yourself- how can I use my gifts for good in the world?

If you are a Christian, this question takes on an even deeper, more powerful meaning. It becomes “How can I use my gifts for good in the Body of Christ?” If you think you don’t have a gift, you’re simply wrong! Here’s how I know. 1 Corinthians 12 talks about us all being members of one body. It then goes on to say:

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit gives them.  There are different ways of serving, but the same Lord is served.  There are different abilities to perform service, but the same God gives ability to all for their particular service.  The Spirit’s presence is shown in some way in each person for the good of all.

1 Corinthian 12: 4-7

I won’t copy the whole chapter here, but you really should go read it! It is a reminder that because of your connection with Christ, you are AUTOMATICALLY GIFTED! That gift, is to be used for the good of the church and the world. We don’t all have the same gift, so there’s no use comparing gifts. Hands are only good at being hands, if they tried to be eyes, they would to a terrible job. How many of us think we are people who lack passion, direction, or giftedness, when really, we are just trying to do the wrong job? You don’t always have control over what you do for a living, but you DO have control over what you do for the kingdom. If you’re not sure what your gift is, don’t worry. This is a question that has an answer. Here are some tips:

-Take a spiritual gifts inventory. Here’s a great free one to check out

– Try some things out. See what feels right.

-Seek wise counsel.

-Pray about it.

The bottom line, is that there is something wonderful for you to do in this world, and we need you do it. We need you to DO YOU so that the world is a better place, and God is glorified. When we are comfortable in our own skin, we can stop the constant frustration of comparing ourselves to others, and just be happy in our own skin. Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

FOCUS

A couple of weeks ago my pastor preached a sermon entitled “Focus”. By now, the specific points he made are fuzzy for me. But I have not been able to let go of the idea that our ability to focus is crucially important to our physical, emotional, and spiritual well being. So much of what i see in my clinical work comes back to this idea. Difficulty managing priorities, not being able to distinguish irrational thoughts and feelings, becoming clouded by the dangers of social comparison, and the list goes on. So, FOCUS is going to be my word for 2017. I have some continuations of goals I’ve been working on, and some new things I hope to accomplish. I really don’t want to be distracted from these goals, because they’re important to me, and I feel God is calling me to them! Here are some tips for maintaining your FOCUS as we enter a new year.

Filter out the opinions of others. Many of us are completely and utterly consumed with the opinions of others. Are we meeting the approval of our parents? Are our friends/significant others pleased with us? Does my boss like me? Social media doesn’t help, because we often end up comparing the totality of our lives (good and bad) with the best moments of those we follow. While family and friends certainly matter, at the end of the day you are accountable to you and God for the life you live. Even the best intentioned friend or family member can lead you astray because they always come from a biased point of view. Push yourself to make your own decisions and stand by them. Only you are responsible for you.

Open yourself to new ways of doing and being. I had a supervisor say once that rigidity is the definition of mental illness. Another way to say this is the the key to mental and emotional wellness is flexibility. As humans, its easy for us to get into a monotonous routine and become so invested in it that we can’t see when its not working anymore. Sometimes, we need to change things up and try something new so that we can achieve a different outcome. Don’t be afraid to try!

Count your blessings. It’s really easy to focus on all the things that are going wrong in your life. They often take the forefront in our mental and emotional space. Challenge yourself to shift your perspective and focus on what’s going right. This change doesn’t make the bad things go away, but it helps us to have a more level headed and even keeled response. Attending to the good things can help balance out the pain associated to the bad ones.

Understand your purpose. You always have lots of choices in life. Big choices and little choices. Just like on a multiple choice test, some of these options are “distractors”. They’re not really good for you, but you can only figure out that out if you have studied and prepared yourself. Study and explore your purpose, so that when the time comes to make choices, you won’t be strayed by distractors. Everyone has something they are especially equipped to do, that they can give to the world! When you know what you’re called to do, it’s easier to identify and follow the path that will lead you to it. (More in this next month).

Simplify your life. While we are on the topic of distractors, how about getting rid of some! Is your house/office so cluttered that you can never find what you’re looking for? Are you involved in so many activities that you can’t tell whether you’re coming or going? Do you have some “friends” that annoy you so much you are constantly screening their calls? Perhaps it’s time to clean house. Why waste your time, energy, or resources on things that don’t fit with the life you’re trying to live? It’s ok to say no. It’s ok to let things go. It’s ok to move on.

While these may sound like quick tips, they are really big habits that if you aren’t doing already, will take time and commitment to accomplish. Try to pick one that feels most compelling to you, and focus your energy on making a decision every day to work toward that goal. Whether it’s January 1 or any other day of the year, you CAN reach your goals! Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

Got Boundaries?

Last week, I shared 3 tips for working toward healthy relationships. Another one of the ways we can have healthy relationships with colleagues, friends, and family is (drumroll please) BOUNDARIES!   You may be wondering:

“Why boundaries would be so important? Aren’t relationships about connecting to people?”

Yes, relationships are about healthy connection. I can be fully connected to you when I am safe and whole. I am safe and whole when I have good boundaries. Boundaries help us to discern which relationships are helpful and fulfilling to us, and which would be hurtful and draining. They help us to love others and ourselves at the same time. So what do boundaries look like? Here are a couple of examples:
– you can witness a conflict between two friends, family members or coworkers without being swept into the drama
– you can love family member with an addiction or other issue without enabling and pepetuating their issues
-you can be supportive to a friend going through a difficult time without becoming overwhelmed by their pain
-you are aware of both your strengths and your limitations
-you can admit when you are deeply bothered by the actions of a friend or loved one and ask for a different response
-you can say no without apologizing for it

For those of us who are natural caretakers, some of the above feel like really difficult things to do. Some of us worry that if we say no, people will realize they don’t need us and move on. Some of us worry about facing the anger or disappointment of others.  Some of us worry that if we’re not involved in everything, we’ll miss something important.  Some of us wouldn’t know what to do if we spent some quiet time alone and we use frenzy to avoid ourselves.  Even Jesus set boundaries! Here are just a few:

-He didn’t allow other people to define who he was (John 1)
-He made it known that he wasn’t happy with inappropriate use of God’s temple (Matthew 12)
– He went alone to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray (Luke 22)

Boundaries don’t make us bad people,  or bad friends, or bad family members. They are important for healthy, sustainable relationships.  When we don’t set boundaries, relationships can become overwhelming and destructive, even if they are loving. If this is brand new to you, take some baby steps. Is there something you’ve been bothered about, but have been keeping it in for fear of causing a fuss?  What about an activity or task you really don’t have time or energy for, but you feel obligated to do it. This may be difficult at first, but over time it can make for relationships that fulfill you rather than sucking the life out of you!

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!
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Right Relationships- You Choose.

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I’ve had a lot of conversations recently about relationships (my own and those of others) and I’ve been thinking about some ways we can make choices that support the health of our relationships instead of causing us to feel unfulfilled. This was really sparked when I was having a conversation with some folks about self care and people kept saying that others in their lives won’t “let” them take time for themselves. Let them? That is too much power for someone else to have over your life! We have to take responsibility for our part in any relationship. Most things aren’t actually one-sided, although they may feel that way. So, here are some choices you can make that support healthy relationships:

1. Ask for what you need. Remember that time you got frustrated because your friend or significant other didn’t do that thing you really wanted them to do? Think back: did you ask? Or did you just assume that they should know because you were dropping hints? People aren’t mind readers (even though we sometimes want them to be). When we actually express what we need, then we can hold people accountable for meeting our expectations. Now, this doesn’t mean you will always get what you need. People are imperfect, and sometimes, they are not willing to give you what you ask. But, if you ask, at least you know that you have made your request known rather than carrying secret resentment because your secret needs aren’t met. It’s just unfair! Let’s say you are meeting some friends after work and you’ve had a long day. During the meal, you sit quietly, pouting, while the others carry on a conversation cheerfully. You leave feeling resentful because you believe they should noticed that you were upset and asked you what’s wrong. Maybe. But you also could have just said “Hey- I’m having a bad day. I need to vent.” In one scenario your leave feeling frustrated, and in the other you potentially leave feeling better. You choose.

2. Have reasonable expectations.  Before you make those expectations known, do a little reflection. Is what you are asking reasonable based on the relationship you have with the person? Is what you are asking reasonable of a human being? How would you react if someone asked this of you? Here’s where compromise comes in. We can’t get 100% of what we want all the time, but we can recognize and be grateful for a loved one’s attempts to give you what you need. Imagine how you would feel if you tried to give someone something they needed and they responded in a way that made you feel it was not enough. Relationships are dynamic, whether they are familial, platonic, or romantic. Most situations are best resolved when people can find a way to meet in the middle. All or nothing thinking when it comes to negotiating needs in a relationship can cause resentment on both parts! You can choose to focus on the small percentage that doesn’t meet your expectation, or the large percentage that does. Relationships are a negotiation between imperfect people- we don’t always get it right. If you feel your expectations are appropriate, and it seems the person can’t or won’t work toward meeting you halfway, then there’s a conversation there too.

3. Take care of yourself. If you are an adult, you are responsible for making sure you are ok. Always. This doesn’t mean we don’t want or need others in our lives, because we do. It does mean that we shouldn’t place our physical, emotional, or spiritual wellness in the hands of anyone but ourselves. Sometimes, we depend on other people too much to make us happy, to the extent that we don’t have any resources when we are alone. Then, we get mad when that person wasn’t there for us in our time of need. We can’t expect one person to be there for us at any time day or night- that’s not the way human relationships work. Not to mention, this kind of dynamic can begin to have a parasitic feel, where one person drains the other. Not only does the person getting drained become more and more exhausted form the relationship, but the one doing the draining becomes more dependent and less self-sufficient. We can make our relationships healthier by attending to our own needs by setting boundaries as needed, understanding and preparing for the things that most stress and overwhelm us, and learning how to be content with ourselves when we are alone. This is something I have learned in my brief years being married. If I have a horrible day at work, I am responsible for taking some time to get myself together before I get home. I might go to the gym first, take a longer way home, or stop by a store to get myself in check a little bit. This doesn’t mean I don’t seek out support from my husband when I get home- I will if I need to. But it ensures that I don’t come home every day in a funk- that would impact our ability to connect after a long day. Sometimes this means saying the dreaded “n” word- NO! People will ask us to do things (especially those of use who are naturally caretakers) but it doesn’t mean you have to say yes! (imagine you are the recipient in point 2). “No” doesn’t mean you don’t care about your loved ones or that you don’t want the best for them. It means you are human and you can’t do everything all the time. It’s a way for you to take care of yourself and a way for those you are in relationship to understand that you have human limitations.

So, if you’re feeling unfulfilled, try making some adjustments and see what happens! More next week on negotiating boundaries.

What are some other reasons you think we can be left unfulfilled in relationships?

Black Women’s Fight for their Lives

I came across a HuffPost article that described the discrepancy between rates of depression in black women and their access of mental health treatment. A CDC study quoted in the article leads to the conclusion that while black women are more likely than both their male and white counterparts to suffer from depression, they are less likely to see mental health services and remain in treatment. The article notes several factors that might contribute to this phenomenon: lack of or not enough insurance, shame, lack of knowledge about what depression is, stigma, and the idealized “strong black woman.

The article includes this poignant quote from Melissa Harris- Perry:

Through the ideal of the strong black woman, African-American women are subject not only to historically rooted racist and sexist characterizations of black women as a group but also a matrix of unrealistic interracial expectations that construct black women as unshakeable, unassailable and naturally strong.

I have to tell you, those words hit me like a ton of bricks. Even though I have spent my whole adult life thinking and learning about mental health, this sounded like me. I have struggled with what it would mean to seek help for myself, even as I spent my days providing that help to others. How many of us have felt the pressure to be “unshakeable, unassailable, and naturally strong”? How many of us have been screaming on the inside and smiling on the outside? We pride ourselves on being superwomen, and get pats on the back when we never have to ask anyone for help. I know it isn’t all of us, but I also know it’s far too many. It might not be you, but it might be that girlfriend that you see every once in a while, and you keep thinking, something just isn’t right. It might be your sister, who always looks run down and tired, but always says she’s “ok.”  This post isn’t just about mental health. This is about us taking care of ourselves, and each other. If you know something isn’t right, ask about it. If you see that a friend looks down, don’t look the other way. You might be the help she needs. Maybe it is depression and maybe she needs a therapist. Maybe she needs a sista-friend that she can’t be honest with when everything isn’t peachy. Maybe she needs a sounding board where she can say “This is hard sometimes!”

What I know, is that as long as we try to be 24/7 superwomen, we are in the fight of our lives. Despite our greatest efforts, we are human beings. Human beings get worn out when they don’t care for themselves. Human beings get depressed when they spend all their energy caring for others ,and have none left to care for themselves. A while ago I taught a class on self-care for ministers, and I used these two images to show the difference between pouring out endlessly into others (left), and the health of caring for yourself while you care for others (right). In the left picture, you can see that eventually, the pitcher will be empty. In the right picture, you can see that because they flow into each other, none of the vessels will run dry. Which one of these is you?

pouringoverflow

This issue is not just for black women, it’s for all of us! For me, this is a daily battle. I feel the pressure of needing to be a professional woman, take care of my household, be active in my church, and all the other things that I do. I love to do these things, and if I do those things that I love without caring for myself, eventually I will end up empty and do nothing well. So for me, this means I owe it to myself and the people I care about to take intentional time to look inward and take care of me. It makes me a better wife, daughter, therapist, friend, teacher, and community member. What I do for me depends on what I need- sometimes it’s just a girls’ night, or making myself go to the gym because I know afterward I’ll feel like I new woman. Sometimes it’s letting myself be cared for without guilt, and sometimes it’s going to see a therapist.  Let’s stop wearing fatigue like a medal of honor. Let’s stop cursing our humanness as weakness. Let’s strive for wholeness, wellness, and peace!

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices.