Listen, I know I’m going to get a lot of people disagreeing with me and that’s fine, life is about debate, discussion and dissonance. Otherwise, how would we be able to make informed decisions, birth new ideas and practices, start new political systems and create societies on which morals, mores and lives are built? Anyway, I digress. My momma, who went on to be with the Lord three years ago in August use to say something to me all the time. Let me back track and tell you that she was a Christian, with a deep and
abiding faith in the Lord, a woman with an endlessly giving heart, ambitious and intelligent, stubborn — yet inexplicably open to new ideas and ways of being even through her staunch and steadfast belief in her own (her own meaning God’s) moral code. She worked for my dad, my sisters and I endlessly. Giving her last like it was her job, working, finagling and moving pieces of her financial chessboard all for the benefit of our upward mobility. RARELY did she do anything that was just for herself. Rarely did she not share every and anything she had, often to her own deprivation. Oh, and mind you, she did all of this without the benefit of full sight. Imagine, a black woman who grew up in the Jim Crow era south, with a widowed mother of eleven children, she being the last, without clear vision, black, and a woman. But despite all this she pushed and made a life for us that was without want.
I’m sure you’re wondering where I’m going with this and exactly what my momma told me, I promise you it will all make sense. Anyway, my momma had a sensitive constitution. She had illnesses that affected her energy levels, and healing ability, a one/two punch that would ultimately lead her to a premature passing (as you can see, I still can’t say the “d” word, it’s still almost surreal to write about her in the past tense, this woman was my best friend, alpha and omega). Everyone is built differently, everyone deals with stress in different ways. Some workout, some eat like crazy, some work like crazy, some resort to other more vice driven habits, but my momma, internalized stress. She wouldn’t complain, voice her worry, or hurt, she would internalize her stress until she reached a breaking point, one huge big bang that left my dad hiding, and me sitting silently, or hugging her despite her protestations of not wanting to be touched — hugging her until she could talk again. My mom developed fatty liver disease in my 20’s. She wasn’t a drinker or drug user. After she’d had me at the tender age of 40, she couldn’t shake the baby weight probably until I reached college. Stress, the business of taking care of people besides herself, and moving and navigating through society with a disability hadn’t allowed her the time. You see that extra weight stressed her liver to the point of cirrhosis, and believe it or not, if you’re unhealthily overweight for an extended period of time, the same risk and possibility exists for you.
She grew up in the era where you don’t complain, you suck it up, you keep your emotions to yourself — your pain, and you soldier on because issues like civil rights, being treated differently because of your color, and being black in America far outweighed simple sadness.
The older I got, the stronger my mom and I became as friends, not just mother and daughter, but two women trying to live and make it, sharing secrets usually only heard between two girlfriends of the same approximate age, not ladies with a 40 year gap. She was the love of my life, and as I grew older, as she started to see the similarities in our disposition, the way I hid things that hurt me, and internalized stress just like her, and my grandmother before her, she said one thing — “Aggie, Heart, (my nicknames) your grandma told me one thing, from a James Brown song, and I’m going to tell you now. ‘You’ve got to live for yourself…’” And at the time I just took this on a surface level, “Okay mommy, you’re right.” But adulthood, living through the stress of her death and the stress of a highly stressful work life, has taught me what she tried to tell me all along, you’ve got to do things for yourself on a daily basis that are JUST for you. As women, we tend to put ourselves last in life. It’s embedded in our psyche to be the caretakers, the lovers, the problem solvers, and when we’re all done there’s usually just time to tuck ourselves in bed. Stress has done things to my body that have probably taken years off of it. As I type this, I’ve had a protein shake for the day and that’s it, too busy, but my stomach is screaming. How many times ladies have we neglected our own care to get other shit done? Our bodies, how healthy we eat, how much exercise we get, how much time we take to pray, reflect, and check in with ourselves mentally all goes towards a long life. We’re living in tough times, where the stress of society and life can unwittingly creep into all the reasons that we’re stressed out. Where most of Americans’ future livelihood is under attack, our healthcare, and ultimately, our rights. We MUST take time to take care of ourselves. Things don’t work unless you do. If you continue to run on burnt out fumes, taking care of everyone around you and the world, living off-of and thriving on their seeming dependence on you, what will happen when you just can’t anymore?
Take a longer shower, go to bed earlier, eat more greens, prayer a little longer, find something to smile at, start a new book, take a staycation, get an unscheduled babysitter and chuck the deuces to the husband and kids for a couple hours. Even just take a walk down the block and breath. I promise you, you’ll feel better. That bit of dopamine from that you-time will help you do and be better for yourself, and the people around you. I wish my mom could have followed her own advice earlier in life, I firmly believe if she did, she’d be here with me right now. In every other aspect of my life, I strive to be as good and Godly as her, but where stress management is concerned, I’ll take her advice and try to live for myself more. I hope you can too.