We take care of siblings; we take care of children, nieces and nephews, and even parents. We put on our Super Hero capes when we go into work each day, mastering tasks, stress, and responsibility. We schedule, reschedule, and over book; packing as much as into our day in an attempt to be our best selves. But what do we do for ourselves? I’m not talking about the bi-weekly mani/pedi, or occasional massage. This isn’t about your workout regimen or how much water you drink. Yes, physical maintenance is very important and the attention we pay to our bodies both inside and out is a vital part of our overall health, but what are we doing for ourselves? Our spiritual, emotional, and mental self-care?
For members of the LGBTQ community, there are a slew of day to day triggers we encounter that call for a mental and emotional tune-up. Add to that, if you are a person of color- moving through the world day to day adds an entire truckload of other triggers and residues of societal microaggressions that we’re left to unpack. For people of color however, this is something that is not discussed enough. Self-care and the practice of having a balance between emotional and mental well-being is a conversation that often turns into a discussion about religion and is met with questions like “When’s the last time you been to a service?” or “Do you have a relationship with God?” Now don’t get me wrong, these questions are completely valid and having a relationship with whichever spiritual denomination you choose is very important but it is not the end all to spiritual, emotional, and mental self-care. It’s time to separate the two conversations because they are indeed different issues. Praying and having a connection to a religion and making it a routine to attend service does work for many when it comes to balancing the stresses of life. As true as that may be, it is a completely different process to unpack and talk through traumatic experiences and work through mental health issues. It is common knowledge that, for many within the LGBTQ community, the mere thought of going to church brings with it a host of flashbacks to traumatic experiences. There are also those who do not find themselves connected to a specific spiritual denomination or practice so what do we tell them? Some say, meditate, meditate, and meditate! Yes, we know. We’ve all heard that it works, may have even tried it a couple times, but what if you truly are unable to shut your mind off? What if the energy used to try and shut off your thoughts just makes you more frustrated? I’m definitely one of those people. I am also not religious, so I have been in search of other things that can be done outside of the usual advice, i.e. working out, praying, meditation.
Recently, I sat down with a friend of mine named Sydney. Sydney, an academic, a voguer, a DJ and trans man who is also medically transitioning, does small daily rituals of self-care. The practice of self-care is something, which he learned from participating in a retreat through the Brown Boi Project’s in 2015. One of the self-care rituals Sydney practices is writing what he calls a “gratitude list.” This gratitude list, which he started with a friend, is a daily written reminder of all the things he is grateful for. Through focusing on gratitude, he is able to find joy in living and actively seeks it out. Another daily list Sydney does every morning is an “intentions list,” which is a written reminder of the things he intends to do with his day, including anything from physical tasks and assignments, to simple reminders that include checking in with family members or friends, or remembering to take a step back and breathe during the day. With a list of intentions he feels more in control of the day and he can celebrate the little accomplishments that come with endeavoring to take on larger tasks. Even through something as simple as making a hot cup of morning coffee, Sydney stresses the importance of “supporting your own personal ritual.” He notes that it is vital not to rush these rituals in an effort to honor them and in turn honor oneself through the process. Sydney points out that he also makes a point to sit and “take deep breaths every morning” to center himself.
It is practices such as these, small steps that we can take to spiritually and emotionally unpack. Actual practices that help to lessen our load as we move throughout the day. We must start paying more attention to our self-care and understand that there are things that we can do and control to achieve healing and growth. We can have a hand in mindfully attaining our happiness and our peace, we don’t have to leave it up to God like our parents or grandparents have told us. Times are different, as members of the LGBTQ community, our issues and needs are different, our stressors are completely different We hold the keys, it is our job to make a point to sit in the driver’s seat.