Self-Care: How a Queer, Black, Masculine-Centered Functional Depressant Makes It Through the Day

I do not mean to be sentimental about suffering — but people who cannot suffer can never grow up, can never discover who they are.” -James Baldwin

The first time I heard the term self-care was in the midst of the uprising in Ferguson. People from across the world would check-in on social media and ask questions about what I was doing to take care of myself; I would be invited to speak on panels, one of the frequently asked questions were “how do you practice self-care?” My answer would always be the same: sex, eat, play the Sims, and sleep. I started to wonder why these things I considered to be self-care where just a temporary band-aid to the real issues I was facing. Finally, looking at the bigger picture I questioned when my attempts at self-care would stop being temporary fixes without lasting impact.

As a woman who moves through the world masculine presenting, I was quickly forced to learn how to implement self-care in my life, as a black queer nigga. Honestly, it started with doing the work to unlearn patriarchy, which is rooted in obtaining, or maintaining, some form of power. While the world continues to view my partner’s existence as one for the consumption of men, I realized I was viewing her existence solely for my consumption and my benefit within our relationship. I allowed myself to get caught up in the privilege afforded to me by society to exert perceived power into my relationship. Essentially, I was oppressing my partner while calling it love…that shit ain’t love, bruh. Period. My partner compliments my existence, and she makes the choice to do so. There is a sense of relief in knowing that my partner chooses to love my dirty drawls, with complete autonomy (thank you, baby).

“The desire to be powerful is rooted in the intensity of fear. Power gives us the illusion of having triumphed over fear, over our need to love.” -bell hooks

Also, my surmise was that my masculinity had to be performed in a way that one-upped the other examples of masculinity around me. In other words, I was trying to out-perform other masculine niggas (which is where the “you want to be a man” rhetoric started to make so much sense, it pissed me off). It was one of the most debilitating experiences because at the end of all that performing, I was doing just that: entertaining an audience according to a ritual prescribed through societal norms. Fuck societal norms. On top of that, I was under the impression that a perfected masculinity was everything that my late father embodied. Long story short: I was dead ass wrong. Stepping outside of myself and becoming observant of my own behaviors illustrated that I was exhausting myself by attempting to be someone I wasn’t, solely to meet the terms and conditions of what it means to embody masculinity in this society (AKA on some bullshit). To habituate a “perfect masculinity,” I simply had to learn to be my muthafucking self (which was also the start of me loving myself).

“When we can see ourselves as we truly are and accept ourselves, we build the necessary foundation for self-love.” -bell hooks

The other piece of being queer is, of course, experiencing homophobia. How do I deal with homophobia? I let a homophobe know that my sexaulity enables their aunts & uncles toes to curl so hard to the point of cramping, I let them know my strap hits more spots than they know exist, and the hips from my womanhood allow me such a special ability.

I also deal with homophobia by giving an individual the choice to either leave me alone or catch these hands. “Why retort to violence?” Because if you consciously make the choice to inflict your violence into my depressed ass life, you can catch these depressed ass hands. It is a boundary that has kept my interactions with homophobia extremely limited. *my advice isn’t for one to physically fight every homophobe they come into contact with, this is what works for me.

Aside from being queer, I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder this year. Depression has been in my life since a very young age. From being made fun of for being a tomboy, being sexually assaulted multiple times by family members and never telling anyone, to losing my great-grandmother when I was 13, it is not far off to conclude that my light was so dim to the extent I assumed it did not exist. There were so many ways I self-harmed myself throughout the years, all while dreaming of no longer having to wake up & endure the world’s pleasures & ills any longer.

After a major car accident where everyone except me was killed (my father, an ex-partner, and an uncle-figure), plus the trauma inflicted from my involvement in the Ferguson uprising, my partner pushed for me to enter therapy. Nothing has ever saved my life more gracefully than the person who sits in front of me with their notepad and talks through my pain with me. Aside from talking out my problems, just finding out what was wrong with me aided in relief, in itself. Having some answers for my behaviors and attitudes when talking to my partner, my (step)daughter, and my family is a privilege that I am more than grateful to possess. Therapy has helped me look inward, with the flashlight app, to find my way to the switch that controls my glow and to put in the work to turn it back on.

We can find the love our hearts long for, but not until we let go of grief about the love we lost long ago…” -bell hooks
“no matter what happened in our past, when we open our hearts to love we can live as if born again, not forgetting the past but seeing it in a new way, letting it live inside us in a new way. We go forward with the fresh insight that the past can no longer hurt us.” -bell hooks

After spending some time in therapy, I began to journal. I don’t write my everyday practices, I write what matters to me: I make lists, establish boundaries, develop affirmations, hold myself accountable, etc. Because of procrastination aided by depression (at least that’s what I believe), it took me awhile to finally follow through and remain consistent with my journal. Also, the pushback I gave myself internally about reading past things that I wrote I had to work through, as well. Whenever I would turn back the pages, my body seemed overwhelmed and my anxiety would be on ten. I dug deep, identified the root of this anxiety and realized that I had to look at those past pages as the growth and development, in ink, that helped me get to where I am now. No matter how negative, or positive, I am better from page to page in my journal. For me, this affirms that I am better than I was yesterday. Working to be a better human that exudes better human qualities, naturally, is a form of self-care.

“Mindful remembering lets us put the broken bits & pieces of our hearts together again. This is the way healing beings.” -bell hooks

“Love in action is always about service, what we do to enhance spiritual growth. A focus on individual reflection, contemplation and theraputic dialogue is vital to healing.” -bell hooks

The little things mean the world to me, and there a few little things that get me out of the bed & through the day:

  1. a fresh lining: the aurora of the barbershop, the actual act of being lined up and looking in the hand mirror after my barber does her thing allows for my day to have some pep in it. There’s not much you can tell me after a haircut or lining, it’s full zaddy mode for the god. (shoutout my barber)
  2. cooking a great meal: it used to be that all I needed was to eat in order to replenish my good vibes, what I’ve come to learn about myself is the pride & love that I put into making meals for the people that I love. Knowing that I’m about to make something amazing, while satisfying the fundamental needs of myself & my family is a pleasure and uplifts my day.
  3. doing the dishes: i couldn’t stand doing the dishes. The whole process seemed long, boring and draining. Quite the contrary when I learned how to look at it a different way. Somehow, I found healing in it. I learned that the trick to doing the dishes is to be aware that you are washing the dishes. This concept has taught me the importance of being present in everything that I do, even something simple as washing the dishes. Washing the dishes solely to wash the dishes is a moment in time where I am able to be fully present with myself, allowing to be conscious of my presence, thoughts and actions. I learned through this process that always being focused on “what’s next” stopped me from being alive in simple moments, like washing the dishes. Imagine what that must mean when applied to a larger concept? (shoutout that world history class i took in college)
  4. listening to music: music has always reminded me that i am not alone in regards to where i’m at in life, where i’m going or how i may be feeling. For some reason, it’s a relief to hear the things you couldn’t put into words flow into your ears. (shoutout my favorite rappers)
  5. getting things done: when i am able to reflect on my day, and realize I did something other than get out the bed and go to work I am proud of myself. No matter what that something is, if I didn’t do anything on that day, I fucking survived.
Understanding that death is always with us can serve as the faithful reminder that the time do what we feel called to do is always now now and not in some distant and unimagined future.” -bell hooks

So, how do I practice self care? By holding myself accountable for my fuck shit and making the commitment to constructive struggle and change. By embodying a definition of love that reminds me that love is in the actions I take on behalf of my own, or another’s spiritual growth. By overcoming low self-esteem and overstanding my worth, regardless of flaws. By truth-telling, and living in that truth no matter where I am or who I am talking to. By living without fear, and embracing the reality of the unexpected, and experiences that I cannot control. By realizing that my space of lack is also the space of possibility. By letting people and experiences go, without erasing their impact on my growth is key to healing. By practicing forgiveness, which allows me to be relieved of shame. By living simply, and within my means — emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and financially. I practice self-care by gracefully pushing myself to be better.

[special shoutout to bell hooks for gifting the world with all about love. That’s where the quotes are from].