You Exist, You Matter, You Are Here
By the time I was born, my Nana had retired from a long career as a licensed practical nurse. I never saw her in uniform or was able to see her leave for work. But I did hear many stories and saw pictures of this other life.
Sometimes she reminisced about the work it took to achieve her goals, not to mention the pushback in the 40’s and 50’s as a black woman in the nursing field. Not once did she regret the journey and how it was all worth it.
There were times I saw her cry but she never said why. While listening to gospel music, and praying out loud to God, I could only assume that her soul was dealing with something past or present. She would sing, drink her coffee, and somehow be in her own sacred space. It seemed wrong to interrupt, so whatever I needed from her in that moment waited.
The writer, activist, and feminist Audre Lorde developed the term self-care in 1988, when she had just been diagnosed with liver cancer after already surviving breast cancer six years earlier. As a black lesbian, Audre was coping with interlinked traumas, and she was attempting to fight these oppressions where black women’s pain is routinely invisible, even by other women.
Her intentions in talking about self-care, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare” weren’t rooted in the desire to take bubble baths and mask, rather, to center her mental well-being.
Practicing self-care has never felt more urgent that in these struggling times. Self-care is now part of everyone’s vocabulary – you’ll find more than 3 million instances of it on Instagram, although most involve skincare regimens.
The #selfcare hashtag seems far removed from what Audre Lorde meant in her book of essays, A Burst of Light. Our current culture puts pressure on women to “get it together” by treating yourself to manicures and pedicures. Caring for the self may not come easy for many of us who have experienced trauma, anxiety, and the like.
For many women, taking on a resistant attitude just doesn’t fit the paradigm of pampering yourself every day. In times of stress, our default mode may be to eat junk, binge on Netflix, and take naps. We may not know how to put a fresh face forward because we haven’t been taught to love ourselves deeply.
And it seems impossible to care for yourself if you don’t love all that you are, in good times and in bad. The time and space to heal ourselves, or reconsider what’s important, means looking at ourselves with compassion. For many of us, this is difficult.
It’s easy for women to become overwhelmed, as we take care of everything and everyone. The realization that our needs collect dust on the shelf becomes too much. As Audre’s writing teaches us, the primary importance of self-care is that is says clearly: I exist, I matter, and I am here. This is radical for Black women, but it’s beneficial for everyone.