Me First: Why I Gave Up Self-Sacrificing for Self-Care
Updated: May 12
I am strong. I do everything in my power to make sure my family is taken care of. I am resilient. I work hard. When challenges arise, I know how to keep it together. I do what needs to be done without a fuss even when my plate is full because I am aware of the expectations people have of me. I am a Strong Black Woman -- or so I thought.
According to a study published in the Journal of Black Psychology, everything I thought I was, was rooted in a perception that, often worn as a badge of honor, had sent my world crashing into a tailspin. Suddenly, the Strong Black Woman narrative that I had been trying to uphold, the one that has permeated black culture for decades, had become the underlying factor in a series of repeated meltdowns, and a clear sign that self-care needed to take precedence over self-sacrificing.
If someone were watching my life unfold in a made-for-TV movie, perhaps they could have spotted the progression of my stress levels and impending meltdowns better than I. I was so busy going and doing that I never really took much notice as to how it was all affecting me. I was too focused on being Mommy and a wife, juggling a full-time job and three kids doing a nearly year-long stint of remote learning. I was still working side hustles, doing favors for friends, and committing to projects when I was already at capacity. As a result, I was short tempered, extremely irritable and frustrated.
All while I was busy doing, I wasn't giving my children my undivided attention. If you're a parent, then you know how heavy a burden this can be. I felt like a horrible parent. Adding to that, I wasn't dating my husband. I wasn't taking charge of my mental or physical health, and I was no longer doing the things I loved. In a lot of ways, I was merely existing. I was doing the exact opposite of what I encourage readers of this blog to do: live intentionally, fully, and expectantly. I was just trying to make it to the end of the day so I could go to sleep and not have to think about all of the pressure I was under.
When it all falls down
I don't know how to describe what I felt leading up to my first meltdown, but I remember in that moment, everything in me erupted -- not in anger or rage, but in uncontrollable cries that literally brought me to my knees, and when I tried to make them stop, I couldn't. They only seemed to get worse. As I struggled to get myself together, I overheard my son telling his sisters, 'I made Mommy cry.' That was like fuel to the fire, and I found myself once again unable to hold it together. To know that my son thought what was happening was his fault only made matters worse because it wasn't his fault. What he was a witnessing was the result of months of wear and tear on my mental and emotional state.
I wish I could say that my first meltdown was my last, but it wasn't. There were several more that followed. Some I shared and some I kept to myself because, after all, I had to be strong and didn't want to give the impression that something was wrong with me or that I couldn't handle things. But after too many instances of seeing my weary and teary-eyed reflection staring back at me in the mirror, I knew I owed it to myself and my family to deal with my issues, and it was going to have to start with taking care of me.
So, here I am, taking one of many steps towards wholeness, and that it is sharing my struggles. Every day requires a conscious effort to take care of self, but every step that I take toward making my mental and emotional wellness a priority, the closer I come to being the best version of myself.