Over the years, several people have recommended journaling as an emotional self-care strategy. For a while, I successfully adhered to a nightly routine of writing streams of conscious across journal pages. After a couple of weeks, I inevitably dropped the practice. When I looked back at my entries, I realized that most of the writing was simple summaries documenting my day-to-day to-do lists. The ritual of selecting the perfect smooth-writing pens, inspirationally adorned journals, and soul-searching daily writing prompts completely failed to support my emotional self-care journey.
This is a strange reality being that I’ve devoted so much of my time as an adult learner to exhaustively writing through four graduate-level degrees. I questioned why writing does not serve me the same way personally as it has academically, but I now see academic and personal writing are very different endeavors for me. Academic writing is a study in justification. Constantly citing sources, typically composed from the almighty “cannon” of literature, to justify my beliefs, experiences, and understandings of the world around me.
However, placing pen to paper to articulate my personal reality can be terrifying. And why should it be frightening to write about the only subject on Earth on which I am the supreme expert, ME? I don’t even have to pull out a publication manual to dictate margins and language use. Then, I am faced with how often I find myself dissecting the truth of what I experience with my own eyes, ears, brain, heart, and gut. There is a plethora of experts in my personal and professional spaces commentating the appropriateness of my feelings and reactions as a Black woman. The offense occurring so often and with such conviction that I wonder if I need to cite an expert to justify my reality.
So, how does my struggle to journal connect to race and self-care? For me, extensively. To care for myself means authentically and unapologetically honoring my experiences and instincts when the narrative coming from all directions screams for me to ignore myself and believe the commentators/experts. This gut check is critical in spaces that consistently deny the validity of my experiences.
I am implicitly and explicitly told that I should be grateful to simply be granted access to these spaces. Told that I have no right to complain or feel emotion because it is an honor just to be there. This reality means working in organizations where institutional policy designed to protect people is blatantly denied to me and the people I love. However, I am expected to accept the slights and respect the warped system. These spaces consider it acceptable for those who witness injustice to relinquish culpability by simply claiming not to recognize any wrongdoing, demanding that I explain the precise details of my trauma, or offering non-committal apologies expressing pain and hurt that I misinterpreted intent and action.
This complete denial of logic, common sense, reason, data, and decency reinforces the struggle to trust my voice in the midst of this mental and emotional stress. Healing the dissonance between my perceptions and the malevolent gaslighting experienced in these spaces requires an understanding of emotional care beyond the reach of journaling with a latte at my favorite coffee shop.
I find that connecting to an affirming community is life sustaining in the midst of feeling devalued and dismissed. In the political and social climate of the past several years, the blatant attacks on and disregard for the emotional well-being of people demanding accountability for acts of violence are on full display. The evidence is heavily documented across news and social media platforms. If it were not for the affirming counter- narratives of family, friends, and colleagues, I would be left doubting my intellect, instincts, and emotions. The level of fatigue from constantly questioning myself erodes emotional well-being.
This exhaustion is not easily combatted with typical self-care tactics that are, themselves, susceptible to further exposure to environmental stressors like racial profiling and bias treatment. Spas and gyms can force payment for reinforcing the very things self-care is meant to alleviate. Tethering to authentic affinity groups that attest to the validity and significance of experiences is priceless self-care for those of us struggling to reason with the unreasonable.
Emotional self-care is grounded in trusting myself as I navigate a daily barrage of unsupported opinions, biases, and prejudices that deny the truth of how I walk through life. Trusting my instincts is a struggle when the stories all around me become louder and more dominant that the story of my being. Immersion in the communities that affirm my experiences and understandings support me in ways that would be impossible in any other form.