Reclaiming my time; saying ‘yes’ to me

It ain’t easy being a Black woman. Never has been. But I guess I figured we wouldn’t have to still be working this hard just to stay behind, no matter how much education and how many skills we bring to so many tables.

For every dollar that a white man makes, a Black woman earns 63 cents (even lower than white women, who earn 80 cents to the manly dollar). A Black woman must work eight months longer to earn what a white man earns in a year. In other words, a Black woman, even coming to the work game with excellence, has to bust her ass to have what comes naturally and with much more modest effort to even the most mediocre of white men.

So after you bust your ass, what next? As a Black woman, you are at a higher risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes. In fact, while the saying “Black don’t crack” is entrenched into our consciousness as a statement of fact, the reality for many of us is far more sobering. We might look good and we might look young, but the collective weight of navigating life as a Black woman creates an extreme stress that causes wear and tear on our internal organs which leads to higher rates of illness and earlier death.

As this 2010 National Institute of Health study pretty much lays it all out, there is a real cost to being a Black woman. Let’s be real: it’s stressful. From birth to death, we often beat the odds in so many ways.

But again: At what cost?

I have been asking myself these questions for the last several months. I started going to therapy and immediately it became clear that I am doing too much. There is my day job as the Executive Director of Community Change Inc. We are a small, scrappy anti-racism organization that receives little in the way of grant funding; we are 90% donor funded. I spend a lot of time convincing people to support our work. Since 2014, I have managed to financially stabilize the organization and grow our programming, this is no small feat considering the other things that have happened since 2014. My marriage ended and I moved out of the family home in fall of 2015. My son got married in 2016 and became a dad in 2017, thus making me a grandmother. I also worked to grow the readership of this blog.

Our readership now extends far beyond Maine and New England. Last month a patron made a gift from Australia. This year alone, I have had over a dozen speaking engagements across New England and my fall speaking calendar is 90% full. But I have had to hustle for all that harder and longer than have my professional peers who aren’t Black and female.

My youngest child just turned 13 and I spend 50% of my physical time with her, but in the last three years, I have spent no more than 12 consecutive days at my own home due to my travel schedule. And sometimes that means time spent with her is at the family home I left when the marriage ended, while I’m in-between travel and my real home. And as you can imagine, that can get awkward no matter how well my co-parent and I get along.

I am inundated with requests to speak/teach/show up and honestly it’s overwhelming. People are forever asking if I want to engage in social/racial justice work during my off time. I’m frequently asked to do work for free or for amounts so low they might as well be free when you factor in travel costs and time lost. Um, NO! Even when I state this clearly, people still think they are an exception and ask for XYZ. Clearly the idea that a Black woman might have boundaries is hard for people to grasp.

All this to say: I have been heading head-first into the wall of exhaustion. I spent months trying to decide if I should take the plunge and quit my day job and trust that it would work out. I started ramping up my No’s.  No is my new jam.

The thing is, my situation isn’t unique. It’s what many Black women face, we give so much of ourselves and rarely is anyone concerned with our personal well-being. Even in a Black Lives Matter climate, how often do we see the Black women in our lives and ask what can we do for them? Do we see them as individuals outside of their Blackness? Or do they remain a fixed modern day Mammy whose mission is serve us, teach us and guide us? I’ve seen so many pieces published on how Black women are saving the country in so many ways by making things happen and building awareness and getting out the vote, but why are they leaned on so heavily to do that? Where is most of everyone else?

After months of feeling stressed, I worked up the courage to ask my board of directors at the day job for a sabbatical. Long story short: I am off work until after Labor Day. No emails, texts, calls or meetings.  Last night I slept for eight hours. To wake up and not feel like I have to hit the ground running is a marvelous feeling, it’s damn near orgasmic to not have to do anything and to not have to worry if I can pay my rent since this is a paid sabbatical. The internal silence is a gift. (However, as you see right here, I still have to hustle to work on the website here and post blogs and monitor my social media and promote stuff, sabbatical or not.)

This post is a bit more personal than my usual these days but I wanted to be honest about where I am at this moment in my life. While I am not on a sabbatical from BGIM Media, I am taking it easy especially because I have enlisted the assistance of a podcast producer and we record our first episode next week. The podcast will launch right after Labor Day. Weekly postings will continue though we are looking at six posts this month rather than the usual eight.

For all of you who are there for Black women—I mean, really there—thank you. For those of you who haven’t been, please start stepping up because we can’t do so much alone and we damn sure can’t do it without some emotional, social and financial support for our efforts.

f this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

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Photo by Jared Rice from Unsplash

Healing my heart: A quest for love

Allowing the heart to open up and let in the love that is offered from the world and the people who occupy it is a constant practice. I am a person with a fortress of walls. I have dragons and moats and oubliettes. People often get eaten by the dragons, drown in the moats and tumble into the oubliettes. A precious few make it through to the caverns of my heart.

I crave love so, I run from it—there is a part of me, (some days large, some days small) which believes I am not lovable. This comes from being given up for adoption as a child, growing up in a family that did not reflect me, having white friends who did not value me, and a society which tells me I am wrong simply for existing. I am also pretty weird and empathetic, so finding a place where I fit in has always been difficult. I have always felt like an outcast in every social situation I found myself in.

Over the past few months I have had the honor of finding people who do not make me feel othered. They are Black and brown and queer and straight, and spiritual and nerdy and weird and rad and fierce and I love them dearly. The only problem is, I am now in a space where I want to delve deeper into relationships, but I find myself lacking some of the necessary tools to forge the bonds I am after. Fortunately, I don’t give up easily, I am slowly wading into the waters of connection.

Receiving love from others begins with receiving love from myself. There four basic things that I do every day to help me to love myself and teach myself that I am worthy and capable of incredible love and compassion.

  1. I stretch. Every day…well, almost. I released a lot of tension and trauma during the four days I spent at the Shambhala POC meditation retreat at Sky Lake in Rosendale, N.Y. Every day we did yoga and not only did it stretch my body, but it helped to clear away the stress, settle me back into my body, become reacquainted with my breath. So, in the morning I wake up, stretch and breathe.
  2. I drink a jar of water. Making sure I stay hydrated allows me to feel energized and kicks my system into gear. It makes my skin and hair smooth and moves toxins out of my body so that I don’t feel bogged down. That and I want this melanin to stay poppin’ long into the future.
  3. I interrupt negative thinking. I tell myself that I am doing “such a good job” and that “I am so proud of myself” because if I don’t clap for me, who else will? I am incredibly hard on myself. My inner voice is foolishly abusive and so interrupting the sessions of abuse is helpful in creating a new narrative. If I am able, I try to identify the voice who is speaking: Is it my mother, boss, a mean teacher, the racist down the street? Who is speaking to me in such a cruel way? I will also correct the narrative moving forward. Often when I am stressed, I say “Fuck” loudly and with gusto. When this happens, I like to check in and see if “fuck” is really my mood, or if maybe something else going on. Usually I swear in response to something which triggers my anxiety, at which point I like to talk to myself about it. “Fuckkkkkkkk!” “No, LaLa, you’re fine. You’re not running late. You’re making yourself food which is important because you need to eat and nourish yourself. You are doing such a good job. You are fine.” This may sound silly, but it is important to be kind to ourselves, to love on ourselves. I try to speak to myself as a stern but loving parent to a child, because in those moments, that is what I am. I am raising myself.
  4. The fourth thing I do is listen to music. Simple, easy way to raise my frequency, work out my emotions and belt out a few tunes in the process (sorry neighbors!) It is no secret that music is therapy. Combine the right notes with the right chords and some killer harmonies and take me away. I have playlists which work me through a range of emotions, starting out sad or angry and ending contemplative or joyful. Music has been in my life since I was a child learning to play to violin, and it has stuck with me as my go to for healing myself and my heart.

The surest way to letting others love me is for me to love myself. It’s taken me 28 years to believe that I am worthy of love, and that my body is worthy of being cared for. I have just begun to look in the mirror and appreciate that I am getting older. Honor that I am on this planet to stay. There is something scary about that, committing to being present. Since I am going to be here, I’m going to be here for love. I have a difficult time connecting, but I am changing that narrative, one day at a time. Using these for tools as a base, I am adding more and growing each day.

If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense.

Photo by William Farlow on Unsplash

Busy, the road to bad health

Busy, busy and more busy. That seems to be a constant theme in modern day life. Have you recently tried to plan a get together that involves more than two people? Forget about it. By the time everyone pulls out their calendars to look for a day when everyone is available, chances are you are at least a month out maybe two. Call someone up at the last minute to see if they want to grab a cup of coffee or a beer? Forget about it. Busy.

Lately I have found myself pondering the price we pay for being busy and based off a strange experiment I found myself in the middle of; I would say that this national anthem of busy is making for an unwell nation.

I no longer think it is just coincidence for many of us that the busier we get, the worse we feel. My own experience is that busy creates a slew of bad behaviors that because we are too busy to notice creates an absence of good health. Then we get caught up on the hamster wheel of poor health except again we don’t realize we are in poor health because we are too busy to actually know our bodies.

In the past year as I have moved my yogic lifestyle off the mat and into all areas of my life, I can no longer deny the correlations to how I feel and the choices that I make. Prior to choosing to be mindful of seemingly simple things like my diet and sleeping habits, I felt like shit most of the time. It turns out that when I go to bed by 11pm, and get a solid 7-8 hours of sleep, I don’t need the steady IV drip of coffee that was a staple for most of my adult life. Now, coffee past early afternoon is no longer tasty. You have to understand that I have been essentially freebasing coffee since I was a teenager. Up until a few years ago, putting away a pot or two of coffee plus a daily latte (or two or three) was my norm. The times when my coffee consumption was unintentionally cut were absolute disasters barring pregnancy when my body clearly was trying to send me a signal.

For more years than I care to share when it came to my diet, my only concerns were the numbers on the scale. I would alter my eating habits just enough to make the numbers on the scale went down along with the number on my clothing tags. If the number on the tags said 4 or 6, I was ecstatic and if it said 12 or 14, I was ready to stuff myself into a large Hefty bag and stay hidden until the numbers went down. Weight Watchers which isn’t a bad program helped me keep the numbers acceptable as long as I ate in a manner that was my incompatible to who I really am but as I have lamented before in this space, I often felt I needed something more.

Turns out when I stop being busy long enough that I can be mindful and present I recognize why I am eating and I am naturally mindful of the choices that I make. I don’t snack much if at all anymore and when I do, it generally stems from the fact that I am bored, anxious or suffering from PMS. If I choose to snack, I want to know why but when I am too busy, I can’t ask those questions and as result when I am busy, I often mindlessly overeat which creates a whole other set of issues. Sluggish and stuffed for starters.

Even being mindful of what media I consume seems to have an impact on my health. When I am too busy to settle down with a good book and instead choose to feast on the non-stop media buffet of bad news and social media, I now notice that it is harder to quiet my mind and that what I am consuming in those moments affects me deeply. News is good (a complete lack of awareness about the world around us isn’t the answer either) but a non-stop diet of upsetting and at times gut wrenching news and shallow surface connections in lieu of moments spent in the presence of loved ones is just bad for me.

I am a broken record these days and I know it; but allowing my mind to actually be quiet enough that I am alone with my true self feels like the miracle drug to me. Does it solve every problem, of course not? It does however allow me to see what is really an issue and what is just more of the mindless hum in the background creating unnecessary stress and strain.

I didn’t know how good mindful living was until the past couple of weeks when I consciously and intentionally chose to slide back in to my old safety blanket of bad habits. After the bombs started dropping in my professional and personal life, it felt like too much work to be mindful. It started out innocently enough, but it quickly snowballed and the end result is I feel bad. Real bad and yeah, I am busy.

My choice is clear; I cannot allow myself to get so busy that I stop being aware.  No matter how rough things are allowing myself to stop caring enough to take care of myself is simply not an option. In order to live fully and completely even in the midst of life’s storms, I need to be in good health and for me good health demands that I stop being too busy to make time for myself. Universe, I have received the message loud and clear, now let me go back a cup of ginger tea.