silhouette of friends looking at sunset, arms raised, making hearts with hands

There’s a post that went viral on Facebook in 2019 and has since been floating around on the interwebs and was the topic of many blog posts. It was a quote from Nakita Valerio that said, “Shouting “self-care” at people who actually need “community care” is how we fail people.”

Even though I make a living working in social media and spend a lot of time thinking about both self-care and care of others, I only recently saw this quote and it resonated with me. Knowing nothing about the circumstances from which this quote arose, I placed it in my own context. One of the things I have learned this week (or maybe was reminded of this week) is that though doing things and creating habits to support my own physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental well-being, trying to do this all on my own will only get me so far. We are made to be connected and relational beings, in community with others. We are meant to share our experiences, partly so we can know that we are not alone but also so because we are made to journey together, to learn together, and to encourage each other along the way.

This week, I let people know not just that I needed help, but what that help was. I asked for time off from work, I asked for others to give more support to my mom so I could focus on my family, I found a social worker to help me create new strategies and tools to cope with my ongoing and stressful circumstances. I want to be the person that does it all, but even self-care is not a solitary endeavor. As they say, it takes a village. But the village won’t know how to help unless we tell them.

So that’s how I interpreted this quote, but in doing research, I found out that Valerio was speaking about something different. She was speaking up about the reasons that self-care is difficult, if not impossible in some cases, for women of color who are often caring for parents, children, and working. And though I too am in the sandwich of caring for kids and mother, I have many advantages that others do not. I can take time away from work and it not affect my family’s day-to-day. I can attend yoga classes, practice meditation in my quiet yoga room inside my home, I can buy the organic foods and grass-fed beef, even if they are not on sale this week. Still, at the end of the day, I need the support of my community to care for myself. Just like everyone else.

My support needs may look different than yours, but we are the same in needing one another. We are not alone. We are all in need of wholeness and wellness. We are all worthy of it. My hope is that I can be a part of or even help create a community of care. One that cares for one another and supports endeavors of self-care and wellness. What if we committed to being for one another, committed to coming together for the common goal of caring; giving care to our community and ourselves?

Last weekend, I hit a wall. The combination of the pandemic stress, my mom’s increasing needs, and my own struggle to keep connected with my children and husband in the midst of our busy and strained schedules, collided into me like a train, and I was knocked completely over. My fatigue, which is always looming, enveloped me. I was down and wanted to stay there…and sleep. The anxiety, which comes and goes with the daily uncertainties of life, parenting, and caregiving, welled up inside me until I could no longer contain it. More than just that overwhelmed feeling that I sometimes get that abates with some yoga or a good night’s sleep, this was a pervasive, full-body reaction to what I have been trying to just “get through” for the last several months. I burned out.

Days later, with a couple of good night’s sleep and some perspective, I am still burned out. I recognize that I have been allowing my circumstances, which I cannot always control, have begun to control me. I have been here before. Tossed by the changing winds of my circumstances, the mood pendulum going to extremes as I grasp for a sense of control, or really, if I am honest, stillness. I just want the crazy to stop. I want certainty. I want a plan. I want an easy button. And, I want someone to take care of me.

When you are called to care for others, parents, children, friends, students, clients, it is easy to forget that you are a person too. And, when we are so invested in the care of others, it is easy to be burned out on caring for ourselves. At the end of the day, there is nothing left. Honestly, sometimes there’s nothing left by 3pm.

But here’s the thing. When we put caring for ourselves first, we have more to give…others and the world in which we live. So, this week, I decided to place myself at the top of my list. Sure, I cannot stop caring for my kids or my mom, but there are many other things I can move off my plate. So I did. I took some time off work so that I could go see my doctors, spend more time in prayer and in journaling, and I scheduled an appointment with a counselor. Why? Because, self-care needs to happen even when I am working, even when I have a lot on my plate, I can’t control my outward circumstances. Self-care needs to happen BECAUSE of all of these things.

Another thing I am going to do is ask for the care I need from my family. I tend to shut down and pretend I can do it all, “I’m fine,” I say. But I am not fine and those around me won’t know it unless I am honest. Learning to speak up for myself is probably the hardest thing I will do this week, but I will still do it. Taking care of myself and asking for others to help me is the key to moving toward healing, wholeness, and a healthy mindset to sustain me.

In what areas of caring for yourself do you need to ask for help? Who can you ask to support and encourage you? I am here to cheer you on in your quest to take care of yourself so that you can live a full and caring life with others. You are not alone!

Recently, I was told that I am a great encourager. I immediately smiled because, for me, this is the best encouragement of all. More and more, as I journey to discover what my purpose is, my gifts are, and where those gifts are best placed, I often come back to the idea of encouraging others. In the process of lifting others up, listening to their struggles, and, when asked, offering suggestions or ideas for growth, I feel the most at home in myself. This is who I am meant to be–the champion of the lonely, unheard, and unseen. The motivator of the stuck, the uncertain, the guide for someone on beginning a journey similar to ones I have walked.

Encouragement for others can also serve as a way to encourage ourselves. When we speak into the fears and doubts and uncertainties of those around us, we begin to hear these same words toward our own doubts, fears, and uncertainties. We can learn to be encouraging to ourselves by encouraging others. We can learn to care for ourselves by caring for others. Often we see our own struggles in the lives of others before we recognize them in our own lives, but something compels us to act, to speak into, to encourage.

Cheering other people along their own journeys of health, spirituality, or recovery, reminds me that I am not alone in my own similar journeys. I am learning that you don’t have to have it all figured out to encourage, support, and share insights with others. Sometimes it’s helpful to be a little further along in the journey, but that is not a requirement either. It just takes a willingness to be honest and open about your own journey and what you are learning through the process.

I am not the perfect parent, caregiver, wife, mentor, or friend, but I can be an encouraging one. And you can too!

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