“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.” – Audre Lorde
Every year, I set up resolutions that are intended to better myself: loose 25 pounds, find a better job, improve my writing career, pay my student loans off. For as long as I’ve been writing resolutions, I realize that in always working to improve myself, I’ve been constantly working. I’ve never given myself time to recover at all. This lack of “recovery time,” along with the pandemic, made me reframe my resolutions, and my top priority this year is devoting more time to self-care.
I didn’t realize that I wore myself out past burnout until last year in July. I was wearing myself down to the point where I was depressed, and it took a physical toll on me. I wasn’t sleeping well. My body was constantly in fight-or-flight mode, and I was always physically sick. I worked so hard that I neglected myself, and I don’t want to do that again.
While I learned a little about self-care halfway through the year, I still didn’t know what self-care truly was. I thought it was as simple as a bubble bath or some spa treatment. It still didn’t change how burnt out I felt. I still came home to take care of my husband, I was the sole confidant for many of my friends and family, and I did not say a word about how I felt.
Professor Stephanie Y. Evans expresses that Black women – especially activists or caretakers – are socialized to be “strong” to a fault. Amani M. Allen expands on this concept with her explanation of the “superwoman schema,” giving traits to this schema that are both helpful and harmful to Black women. She categorizes the superwoman schema with five elements: an obligation to present an image of strength, a commitment to suppressing emotions, resistance to being vulnerable, a drive to succeed despite limited resources, and a responsibility to help others.
Let’s be honest: self-care is a full-time job for Black women. Writer and coach Kelechi Ubozoh furthers this notion by pointing out that Black women experience collective trauma and generational trauma and that self-care is crucial to a Black woman’s health. As a Black woman, I feel that I owe myself that self-care given everything that happens to our community every day. From misogynoir to grieving another murder trial, to this pandemic…I deserve it. And those are words of strength coming from me right now.
Like Ubozoh, I agree that self-care is pivotal to my existence, and it’s not as simple as a bubble bath. Somehow, self-care has become equivalent to “treat yourself,” and I feel like it’s so much more than that. As a part of my “radical” self-care for the new year, I better understand myself. I broke down my self-care goal into four pieces: the physical, the mental, the emotional, and the neurodivergent. Another one of my intersections (besides being Black and a woman) is that I am autistic, which frames how I see the world. If I neglect that intersection, I’m not taking care of myself as I should.
Author Morgan Harper Nichols explains the importance of this intersection, that research is now starting to expand for and about Black autistic women. Catrina Burkett expands on this, stating that adult Black women with autism need programs and services to address our needs. I’m grateful for the new inclusive research for Black autistic women, and it inspires me to take my self-care more seriously than before. At the same time, like Nichols and Burkett, I am navigating almost uncharted territory on self-care for women like us. We’re told the typical idea of taking care of ourselves while ignoring our bodies and needs through masking. An essential part of self-care for me is having spaces where I don’t have to mask myself.
How am I attempting to do this? I attend therapy a few times a month to better delve deeper and understand myself. I try to do as much physical activity as possible to feel a better connection between my mind and body. Even when I don’t do the “self-indulgent” version of self-care (most days), I do it in digestible ways. It can be as simple as taking a multivitamin or telling someone “no” when I feel like someone crosses my boundaries or if I simply don’t want to do something. It can be as simple as asking for a hug from my husband when I don’t feel so charged.
I take each bit of self-care seriously, from the grand events to the small ones, to get me through the days. And while I’m still figuring self-care out, I know that self-care is a radical act for me.
Catrina Burkett, LMSW. 'Autistic while black': How autism amplifies stereotypes.
Kara Manke, Ph.D. How the “Strong Black Woman” Identity Both Helps and Hurts.
Rebecca Joy Stanborough, MFA. Understanding Autism Masking and Its Consequences.
Noelle Toumey Reetz. Self-Care as an Act of Resistance: Interview with Stephanie Y. Evans.
Kelechi Uzoboh, LMSW. Reimagining Self-Care for Black Folks.