“Strong Am I”- artwork by Wak
If you’re reading this, you’re probably a woman who has been defined by your strength. Keyword: defined. This has been your scarlet letter, stamped on your chest from the first time you showed an ounce of resiliency. It has become your defining characteristic and therefore, the expectation placed on you to weather any storm.
If you’re a black woman, I’d almost guarantee this expectation has been engraved in your crown from birth. In both the media and your personal life, you’ve been told or expected to be strong in any situation, no matter what., the need to always be strong makes sense; look at the amazing examples of strength not just for black women but for mankind. From Harriet Tubman to Michelle Obama, “strong” and “black women” are often synonymous. After all, you’re a queen too, right? Well guess what darling? You’re human too! And just because you’re strong, doesn’t mean you can’t have moments of weakness.
When my father passed, I was repeatedly told things like, “You’re the strongest person I know. You’ll get through this.” Or “you have to be strong baby girl”. That concept always worked itself into a space where strength was the last thing on my mind, but the driving force of my existence.
They were right. I should be strong. I should persevere through this no matter what. But I also had to allow those moments of sadness to exist, let my guard down and be “weak” for a moment. Without those moments, I’d surely go as crazy as Cersei—wildfire and all.
Reminder: You are human.
If you try to be strong all the time without taking care of yourself, you will collapse. Every person must refuel no matter who they are, and you and your Michelle Obama arms are no exception. We are most often caregivers for so many others that we deprive our own self-care. It’s imperative to take that armor off from time to time and take care of YOU. Follow these tips:
- Stop, drop and roll. Hit the pause button from time to time and recognize you can’t be strong all the time. Sit in your sadness, your grief, your whatever, as needed. It’s okay to take the world off your shoulders and lounge on the couch if that’s what gives you reprieve.
- Have a strong support system around you. Thugs cry too and you’ll need amazing people around you to lift you up when you’re down. Surround yourself with positive, patient and understanding individuals who can allow you to be vulnerable and “weak” without judgment. Also make sure you return the favor when needed! Don’t just call people when you need them…that’s tacky.
- Seek professional help if needed. Hell, I have a therapist. Yup a therapist in therapy. You need to know your limitations and know when you’ve hit them. African Americans tend to suffer from mental health issues 20% more than rest of the population (https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/Diverse-Communities/African-Americans ). Sometimes that support system, no matter how amazing they are, cannot give you everything you need to heal emotional needs. Sites like www.psychologytoday.com and www.networktherapy.com can help you find a therapist in your area. If you have insurance through your work, ask your human resources department about your employee assistance program (EAP) coverage as you’ll often have three to five sessions free. Getting help isn’t a sign of weakness, it exhibits strength. It takes a strong person to admit when they need help.
- Work it out! I’m one of the laziest, skinny people in the world so I avoid the gym like a dentist appointment. However, I’ve found that the best way to deal with the emotions and pressure that comes along with being strong is to work out. Sites like www.groupon.com and www.livingsocial.com have deals for local fitness places in your area. Feeling angry? Try a kickboxing class. Need to chill out? Try a mediation or yoga class. Branch outside your comfort zone and find the best fitness outlet to expel those emotions and keep yourself healthy, sane AND looking like a snack!
- Find a creative outlet that helps you escape. Quick neuroscience fact: Your left side of the brain tends to be more analytical, logical and detail-oriented. The right side of the brain is the side that handles more of your creative, non-rational self. Our left side of the brain is often overused and the right side more neglected, so it’s important to tap into that right side. If you love music, find a time to enjoy ten minutes a day listening to your favorite artist. Dance it out if possible. As always, I encourage branching out of your comfort zone. Try a pottery or cooking class. Or grab some paint and a canvas to get your Basquiat on. Do something that taps into the creative side to nurture both your brain and yourself.
My fellow queen, nurture and love yourself so you can be the best. Not only for those who need and are inspired by your strength, but to be the best queen that you can. Ask for help when you need it. Take care of your mental, physical and spiritual self. And understand that the “strong” label may indeed be both a gift and a curse, but it allows the beautiful gift of inspiring others to be strong in hard times.