The Mortal vs The Martyr: Black Women and Self-Care

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
― Audre Lorde

Every now and then, I fall off the face of the earth. I’m difficult to find, I’m hard to contact, and impossible to comprehend when I do resurface.

“Did something happen to you?”
No, I’m fine.
“Where have you been?”
“Did I do something to hurt you?”
Get over yourself; it wasn’t about you. Well, not completely.

See, sometimes I get tired of being the daughter, the sister, the aunt, the friend, Google, the counselor, the babysitter, the maid, the rock, the sword, and whatever else everyone around me needs me to be for them. Sometimes I just want to be me.

Figuring out who I am is definitely no easy task, but it is a necessary task for self-preservation. How am I supposed to take care of you when I’m not taking care of myself, and how am I supposed to take care of myself if I don’t even know who I am? Pretty simple equation:

Me + Care = A better me.

A better me = A better daughter, sister, aunt, friend, Google, counselor, babysitter, maid, rock, sword, etc.

The first time I attempted to “discover myself” was a complete flop, but it became one of the most influential flops in my life. I was so tired of people depending on me that I hooked on to the furthest thing from my comfort zone and became dependent on that. First it was a series of abusive relationships. Then it became school. When I became single around the time I graduated from college, I panicked. I had long shed my identity of the teenage girl living at home caring for her parents. I wasn’t the Black Sheep amongst my siblings anymore- hell, I didn’t even speak to them. I wasn’t an unhappy girlfriend. I wasn’t an overachieving student. I was nobody at that point but me.

And I was miserable.

I still had friends and a social life. But when I went home to an empty apartment where I lived alone, I would either go crazy or go to sleep. After doing this for a while, I started trying new things. Going out to eat alone. Learning to cook new things. Cleaning and reorganizing my apartment. Changing hair styles. Experimenting with makeup application. Practicing celibacy. In this time, I learned the difference between self-care and survival. Survival is doing the bare minimum to meet your immediate needs. Self-care is that extra attention to ensure long-term functionality. The skills I learned and experiences I had through self-care at age 23 will be relevant when I’m 33, when I’m single or married, when I’m back home or 2000 miles away.

Martyrs just need to survive until the sacrifice.
Mortals need self-care to keep living.

In a time where we, as black women, are the least cared for and least protected segment of America, it makes self-care all the more important. We are constantly the martyrs of our community, where mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives not only act as the backbone, but too often as the front line. We are battered by society, disrespected in our homes, and for many black women, vice versa.

“The most disrespected person in America is the black woman.
The most unprotected person in America is the black woman.
The most neglected person in America is the black woman.”
-Malcolm X

I have been that disrespected, unprotected, and neglected woman in America and in my own damn home more times than I care to count.

At a certain point, every mess you clean up after makes you feel dirty. Every meal you cook makes you cognizant of a deeper gnawing hunger. Every person you uplift makes you feel ashamed of yourself. Every promotion you get passed over for puts you further back in your career. Every bond in your family that you represent means nothing because at the end of the day, you feel broken and weary. And the worst part is, you’ve become such a martyr that people around you forget that you’re a mortal. You are a woman with needs, fears, doubts, and vulnerabilities.

You need more than survival, you need self-care.

For those black women with a positive support system that respects, protects, and cares for them, I am inspired by you, and don’t you ever allow that circle to become indifferent to your needs. Also, don’t underestimate the fact that you still need self-care; no woman can be cared for enough. For those women, like me, that struggle with being simultaneously overexposed and invisible, I have faith and encouragement.
Faith that one day you will get that support that you need, and encouragement to get acquainted with and take care of yourself. There are many people in the world preying on and profiting from the broken black woman, but not truly providing for them. The more you love and care for yourself, the less likely you are to settle for less than you deserve. When you find real joy and love within, you learn to expect it from everybody else who comes into your life.

“Know your worth-
Then add tax.”


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