In Part 1, I laid out the conditions of “the overwhelm” at work. It didn’t account for the stress, mistreatment, harm, and violence people of color experience outside of work. It didn’t account for the Covid-19 pandemic, the war between Ukraine and Russia, the mass shootings, and all the ways our daily lives have been more stressful, fearful, anxious, and depressed because of them. The reasoning for focusing on the workplace, is a large majority of people are shocked by traumatic racist incidents that occur across the country and are highlighted by news and media. They begin to feel very opinionated about what government, institutions, and systems need to do. Racial justice in these places is absolutely needed AND what can you do within your own sphere of influence with the place and people you interact with daily at work. If you’re a person of color, what can you do for YOURSELF and your own self-care and wellness?
I think Dr. Joy Degruy says it well in her book Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, “We must heal now because our failure to do so will impact the generations to come on multiple levels. First, if we continue to allow ourselves to be victimized by the systems and institutions that have afflicted us in the past, we will demonstrate and model futility and acceptance of despair. And if we fail to recognize the impact that negative patterns of thinking and behavior have on us at the genetic level, we will be the authors of our demise. We must heal now and give the gift of wholeness to our progeny.”
So how do we heal now? Especially when we continue to experience harm.
I truly don’t have all the answers or even the “right” answers, but as I always say, I have the power of my own story.
This year, February and March were incredibly difficult. I won’t get into the details -- but I had definitely breached my head over water threshold and was drowning in being overwhelmed. It was so much so, that I couldn’t keep emotions from escaping me at very inconvenient times. A series of events led to my healing and stopping of “the overwhelm”.
First, I released it as a secret. I shared the “real real” way I was struggling into the open arms of my mother. It was not pretty with full-on snot and tears. I’m not sure about you but admitting I’m struggling often feels burdensome. I escaped many close interactions with friends and family in which my inner voice shouted to share what was really going on, but I suffocated that voice and kept on conversing with a smile on my face.
Second, I allowed my parents to care for me. They embraced me, listened to me, refrained from judgment, allowed me a space to just be, fed me, and removed additional stressors like grocery shopping and watching the baby.
Third, I spent hours talking to myself and supportive friends. I shared my worries, fears, anxiety, depression, desires, and ultimately what I wanted for my life. Never did anyone tell me what I needed to do, but they actually held up mirrors to me. They allowed me to continue to look at myself and face the good and bad.
Fourth, I had a getaway weekend with my besties and did NOTHING A LOT. We started with a spa evening. We then took off to a hot spring resort in Canada surrounded by mountains, trees, and a lake. We of course soaked in the hot spring pools, ate, talked, and laughed a lot.
All of these steps were critical to my healing, but let me emphasize where I believe the magic happened. I’m revealing something I haven’t shared with anyone, but I think will open up a new way of thinking about healing and self-work. There were two magical moments and both of them were due to being very mindful and present with my body and thoughts. The first occurred when I was getting my body scrub and face mask. I was completely wrapped up in hot towels, my eyes and face covered in cucumber pieces and honey, and only my two little nostrils exposed to breathe. I was noticing I was having a serious challenge relaxing and was actually breathing more rapidly. “Why the fuck am I anxious?” Seriously, I had to tell myself all the relaxing steps I just went through with a very experienced provider who really cared for me lovingly. “Why can’t I relax?” “Why am I holding my body so tightly, and what am I holding?” After what probably could be defined as a panic attack I forced myself into deep breathing. I gave myself grace and stopped getting frustrated with myself and tried to answer these questions. I can’t take you through all the ways I got to this message and this probably will not make sense to most of you, but I learned that I suffer from such mistrust of people that it prevents me from giving wholeheartedly. My body is always bound up waiting for disappointment and so I feel the need to reserve showing appreciation through giving freely with no expectation in return. DAMN. This was not a pretty reflection of myself. In fact, I felt quite ugly on the inside from this revelation. What I continued to ruminate on during our 3-hour drive was all the ways knowing this and acting differently will actually bring me more joy, love, and connection. It has done just that. I have made more time to give to those I love through actions, gifts, and money (which was a hard one), and have experienced so much joy, love, and connection.
The second magical moment happened on a walk around the lake. I was in awe of the grandness of the lake and mountains, allowed myself to feel the wind blow my hair, noticed the insects crawling on the ground, touched the moss growing on the gigantic trees, and just imagined the ways in which this land and water have given to generations of people before me. I was in tune with nature and realized they were each doing their part by just being. This is important. They were doing their part by just being. I don’t think the tree spends hours worrying if they are going to reach their peak height next year. I don’t think the ducks on the lake are saddened their feathers aren’t as fancy as their friend’s feathers. I was standing still, breathing, and felt very much connected to something greater than myself and a deep sense of purpose. It had nothing to do with my finances, career, physical appearance, or accomplishments. I was paused from thinking about how I’m going to do more and do better. In fact, I walked away thinking -- I do not need to hustle. Who am I hustling for? No one. I got the message, I can just be and that is enough. This was a huge release of expectations, worries, and control.
On Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations, Atlas of the Heart, Brene Brown shares the power of doing nothing when overwhelmed. She shares that researchers have found that nothingness is the only way to come back from overwhelm. When I heard this, that explained what it was that I had experienced and why it was so healing and did stop “the overwhelm”. In that state of doing nothing, I was able to feel my body, interrogate my mind, and listen to my heart. I identified ways I was continuing “the overwhelm” and learn what I needed to stop it.
There are many ways I believe we confuse self-care with self-love and emphasize more the physical actions of self-care, such as spa treatments. The spa treatment was a part of the process that allowed me to get a beat with myself to notice major fears and love myself enough to ask how I will do differently. However, I have had spa treatments before in which I just continued to think about my to-do list and the ways I was disappointed in my life. I was engaging in both self-care and self-love in both of these magical moments that allowed me to receive very important healing messages through mindfulness.
Now, this very well can relate to all people, whether you are White or a person of color. What I want to draw attention to is for people of color to consider how race may have something to do with this. When the world for generations has taught us that we are not worthy, valuable, capable, or human, it is a huge mind-shift to believe we are worthy of taking the time to be still, care for our needs, and stop the hustle and grind to prove our place. It can be the reason we continue to express suffering and merely surviving when we check in with one another. What are we afraid of losing if we were to actually make our well-being the #1 priority in life? Isn’t this the most significant act of resistance we can participate in? We talk a lot about decentering whiteness but often are afraid to center ourselves. What if ourSELF, as we are now, were the North on the compass? Perfectionism, competition, envy, and capitalism wouldn’t drive us. That sounds like liberation to me. What do you think?
I hope this story motivates you to find ways to stop “the overwhelm” and take a step towards healing. I hope it clarifies that being an anti-racist means prioritizing the wellness of people of color which includes making space for them to do NOTHING.