Take these steps to ensure your emotional well-being in a world apathetic to your needs.
I shuffle into the kitchen as my mother stirs a pot bubbling with nkatenkwan—groundnut soup—my favorite.
“What do you do for self care?,” I ask.
She turns around, scrunches her face at my question.
“Self care?,” she repeats.
I realize this term may be unfamiliar to her—”self care” and “treat yoself” are such millennial ideologies.
My mother is a working class woman from Ghana: she finds certain American luxuries frivolous. Meanwhile, I find any excuse to buy a bubble tea, savor the pride I feel after an intense yoga session or feel little guilt if I have to spend a day doing nothing. Our generational and cultural differences floated in the air.
I adjust my question.
“What do you do to make yourself feel special? To take care of yourself?”
Her cheekbones rise, eyes flutter in recognition. She giggles. “Well…I like to, you know, try on clothes and jewelry in my closet. Check myself out,” she smiles.
I imagine my plump, pretty mother spinning around in her pastel pink walk-in closet, gazing at her butt and hips in her full length mirror. I wasn’t expecting her answer, but the image made me adore her even more.
I thought she’d talk about the small indulgences I’ve seen her take: enjoying a cup of tea with a cookie from a nice bakery or a piece of chocolate; cuddling around an African movie on YouTube; treating herself to a salmon meal from her favorite spot in Herald Square. Instead, her methods of self care involved privacy, adorning herself and…
“I like to reminisce on old friends I miss,” she continues. “I send a silent prayer out, wishing them well.”
It amazed, but didn’t surprise me, that one of her self care methods included selflessness. As black women, we often think of everyone but ourselves, and black mothers and caregivers are especially known to put the needs of their families over themselves. That is why self care is so important to me: it’s a chance for me to prioritize myself and give into my wants and needs, without feeling guilty about taking time away from friends, resting in bed and organizing my life.
“I imagine my plump, pretty mother spinning around in her pastel pink walk-in closet, gazing at her butt and hips in her full length mirror. I wasn’t expecting her answer, but the image made me adore her even more.”
My mom directs the question back at me. I realize that self care doesn’t have one face—it can be applied to several areas of our lives and it comes in many forms. At one point, self care meant watching Cardi B videos before bed. After the election, it meant staying off social media and wrapping myself under covers. All the time, it means pushing the anxious, doubtful thoughts out of my mind and believing I can do anything.
Reading a stimulating book, sitting in nature with a friend or alone and cooking myself a healthy meal were among the basic answers I give my mom. I think of listing masturbation, but that is too candid for my Ghanaian mom. I told her I meditate, but even that is something I could do more often; the idea of meditation inspires me, but lately I’ve found it is such a build up to reach that state. Self care isn’t always easy.
The last answer I give, however, is one I hesitate on. “Travel,” I mumble.
I still feel ashamed about my wanderlust, about this urge I have to leave, to retrieve the pieces of myself that are scattered around the earth. My mother doesn’t understand why travel is so important to me, and many other young people. It goes back to her being a working woman and an immigrant: why spend money on leaving when she’s spent her whole adult life trying to build a home here?
For black women, practicing self care is an act of resistance and preservation—an idea articulated perfectly by Audre Lorde.
“Self care resists the idea that we should put our families, partner and others first, and it preserves our well being in a nation where we are taught to dislike ourselves. It is an act of survival.”
Afterwards, as I sat down to write, I thought of the constructive ways I’ve been practicing self care to elevate emotionally and sustain richer relationships. Self care is such a vast arena: our bodies are filled with several systems that require our attention in order to function—but for right now, I want to focus on the specific ways I cater to my emotional well being.