The Self-Care Paradox: Seeking Restoration in the System We’re Working to Dismantle

Photo by Glodi Miessi on Unsplash

I just finished dicing strawberries for my daughter as my wife grabs a bib and wipes down the high chair. This could be a typical morning, but it’s not. News of George Floyd’s murder is streaming from my iPhone atop our cherry oak wood table. Since the COVID-19 quarantine began, we’ve sat and listened to a five-minute summary of current events during meals.

Still, it’s unsettling to hear: “and the officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds.” 

We don’t stop eating. We’re used to this. Used to making decisions that help us survive, while the ache of grief coils around our chest and makes it difficult to breathe. 

I tell my wife: “Listening to his story, and the story of every single other Black person brutalized by police never feels old.” We’ve never had much time in between these omniscient and filmed killings. I’m convinced they won’t end in my lifetime. 

It’s no different when I scroll on social media. The most draining and angering content these days is seeing friends and influencers share their support for #AllLivesMatter. Not only does it miss the point of the Black Lives Matter movement, but seeing these sentiments causes distrust to bubble up within me. If they can’t take a moment to center a group of people who’ve been marginalized, enslaved and disenfranchised since they were brought to this country, how can they truly care about me? 

At some point I stop holding silent debates in my head and log off.

I never speak for all Black people, no one does, but it’s evident that many of us are tired, upset and angry. Taking care of ourselves feels like a paradox. How do we seek refuge and restoration in the very system we’re working to dismantle? How do we seek rest when there’s unrest everywhere we look? And why is it up to us to make others feel comfortable enough to fight for us? Using words like racism seems to push away the very same people we need as allies — the kind that stand with us, fight with us and use their privilege to affect change on all levels.

Let’s call it what it is: racism. It’s systemic, it’s here, and it’s taken its toll on my physical and mental health.

I’m no longer living for myself. I have a wife and child who need me to show up as healthy as I can. Alas, this is my charge. As a Black man, I’m called to discover a way to beat the statistics. To manage diabetes passed down to me from my grandmother’s grandma. To continue to utilize mental health services like therapy and psychiatry so that I can process the trauma and heartache. I refuse to quit. Not now when I recognize how much of a hole I’d leave in the lives of those who love me. 

And so, that’s my why. That’s what prompts me to remove myself from the conversation and from the activism for long enough to breathe, heal what I can and sleep. 

If you’re looking for ways to practice better self-care in a time when everything is burning down, here’s are a few tips: 

Be purposeful on social media.

This means asking yourself: “How can I be intentional with the next 20 minutes I spend online?” It’s helped me to set restraints for myself. For example, I’ve muted words like “shooting” and “murdered” on Twitter. I’ve shut off video auto-play on Facebook. And I quickly mute or block accounts that are just out to upset or be blatantly hateful. I’ll admit, I’ve taken time to report users who’ve violated community standards, but even this has been a drain on my resources. So, now when I’m online, I’m more intentional about being informed, laughing at the hilarity that is Black Twitter and connecting with friends who are standing with me. 

Designate news hours. 

We only listen to news during meals, and typically in five minute to 20 minute chunks. We have narrowed our subscription down to one media source so that we’re not induated. Taking in news as a family allows it to be a conversational tool. This way we’re not hit with something heavy and then going on with the rest of our day without processing it. 

Lean on your affinity group. 

I’m a member of a few Facebook groups for Black people (one’s for education professionals and the other is for lovers of Black film). We need time to rest, because racial battle fatigue can exhaust us. It’s easy to get caught up in constantly performing, or defending one’s Blackness. We get to put ourselves in places where we’re nurtured, where we can breathe easy and where we can be ourselves without having to constantly explain ourselves. 

Each of us has the personal responsibility of choosing to do what’s healthy, but this isn’t always the most evident or even attractive option. So if you’re drowning right now, if you don’t know which way is up, I want you to know that you’re not alone, and that asking for help doesn’t make you weak or less than. Taking care of yourself isn’t an easy thing, but it’s a necessary thing. 

Writer, womanist and civil rights activist Audre Lorde said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

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I Wouldn’t Be Surprised If I Was Shot When This Happened

John Boyega at a London protest.
Shuttershock

“I’m speaking to you from my heart,” Boyega told the crowd. “Look, I don’t know if I’m going to have a career after this, but f— that. This is a moment where we are now a physical representation of our mentality, of our shared idea that Black lives matter.” Words by John Boyega, Variety

Racism.

It’s not just the burning crosses, the hoods, the blackface, the lynchings, the killings, the inadequate healthcare, the traffic stops, the “Oh wow, you attended an ivy league?”, the being followed around the store, the park while birding, the final breaths while jogging, the “But, I don’t see color”, the “I worked hard to get to where I am. They should too”, the countless times they mistake you for the janitor or the sales associate no matter how you’re dressed, the countless times they ask you about when the doctor’s coming in even though you graduated medical school years ago and are highly applauded in your field, the look they give when you walk in a room because they pictured someone else from the phone interview. 

It’s not just the slurs slung ’round in your house as a kid, the clutch of a purse, the suburb you live in where the inhabitants are as homogeneous as the lawns. 

It’s all of this. It’s the stories. The ones that are untold. The ones your friends, coworkers, parishioners, patients, clients, and significant others silently and painfully hold. 

Here are a few of my own. 

I. 

Our university dining hall was basically the United Nations. At any given table you’d see someone from Nepal, Bulgaria, Trinidad, or Brooklyn, sitting and eating together. But diversity doesn’t equal inclusion.

Once, I asked several people from different countries: “Would your parents be okay if you married someone Black?”

Each person said no, quickly, without hesitation.

Some said their family might go so far as to disown them.

II. 

We sat in a parked car at a lake in Gresham, Oregon. Weeks before I moved there, my grandfather said I’d be a “speck of pepper in a bowl of milk.”

I sat in the passenger seat and my girlfriend was behind the wheel. The sun had just set, and there were no restrictions posted. It was okay for us to be there.

A cop pulled up after about 15 minutes. Moments later he was outside my window shining a bright flashlight in my face and asking for my ID. Not for my white girlfriend’s ID, mine. I handed it to him. I was shaking. My girlfriend said nothing. A few days prior, she told me she didn’t see color, we were all equal.

The officer never addressed her, he just returned my ID and told us we had to head home.

Years later, a cop pulled me over because I didn’t have a license plate on my front bumper. Pennsylvania, where I purchased my car, had different rules than Maryland. He did a warrant check on me, he asked me a few questions to see if the car was actually mine. It was a 30 minute interaction. My wife was on speakerphone the entire time. My knuckles lightening from gripping the steering wheel so tightly. She kept telling me I was okay and reminding me to breathe. I pulled off with a warning. It shouldn’t have been like this, I shouldn’t have had to fear for my life for a damn traffic stop. Still, if things would have escalated for some imaginary reason, I wouldn’t be surprised if I ended up dead.

III.

Someone stoked the fire as we shared stories from childhood. I was on break from college and wanted to catch up with guys I hadn’t seen since we were all nervous about middle school dances. Earlier that day, one guy treated me to an overpriced buffet. He said I didn’t owe him anything, he was just happy to see me.

It was getting late, but I didn’t want the fun to end. It felt like old times. Then they began talking about this race war that hit the neighborhood a few years back.

One said, “Those n*****s stole our bikes, messed with us, and were always looking for a fight. I’m glad one of them got locked up!” More laughter. But I sat with my head down.

It got silent.

All eyes on me.

I said, “I don’t have a problem with you using the word. I mean your people invented it!” I was incensed but my smile suggested they were all forgiven. We laughed and I excused myself. 

I haven’t spoken to them in over 10 years.

Resist.

There’s much you can do as the world collectively centers Black people.

You can support those in the Black LGBTQ+ community. You can support Black owned businesses in your city. You can support the families of Breonna TaylorGeorge Floyd, and others whose lives have been devastated by racism and murder. 

Be wary of the litany of distractions that accompany any uprising, any call to wake up. Fannie Lou Hamer said, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

This is your burden too, no matter how far you believe you are from the problem.

If you would like to support my work as a Black writer, speaker, and educator, you can do so via: 

Cash App: $SinclairCeasar
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Your contribution is much appreciated.

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