Part 4 of a 6-part series. Radical, Militant, Uncompromising Self-Care: A Black Woman’s Manifesto.
I was recently certified in EQ-i 2.0, EQ 360, and TESI. During my pre-training coaching session, the coach who had reviewed the results of my assessment, which showed almost no optimism but very high reality testing asked, “Are you an optimist or a pessimist?” I said, “I’m a realist.”
It almost sounds like a joke, but he said that was generally what people like me said.
I have considered that I might be pessimistic, but I’m not. I just see things as they are and for black folks things are bad. Yes, they are better than for my parents and grandparents and great-grandparents, but they are still bad. Just about every piece of social data confirms it.
I went to see Rise, Collage Dance Collective’s winter performance on Sunday, February 4th. It was glorious! There were 2 pieces after the intermission that sent me reeling. In the first, Collage’s youngest student dancers wore solid color t-shirts and looked like they had survived a natural disaster–all were covered in dirt. In the refrain of the song, I heard, “Yes children God feels your pain.” Aside from the fact that there is really no way to know that, I wasn’t feeling the hope and encouragement the performance was supposed to elicit. I was deeply mournful, and I cried.
In the next piece, the older students were dressed in choir robe-like costumes, they were older than the prior group. The thought in my head for the majority of the dance was, “We are losing. The city–the country–wants to stamp out all of your beauty and hope and talent and promise, and we are losing the war for your future.” I apologized to them, and I cried.
Being as rational as I am doesn’t leave a lot of room for hope. But I need more hope in my life, or I will fall apart.
I’ve had a therapist since I was 14 years old. I had a couple of gaps in care which both resulted in some pretty significant challenges. At this point, it’s more about maintenance than anything, but I keep a therapist. My best therapists all tried to help me establish some sort of practice to be hopeful. It wasn’t until my EQ-i training that it clicked for me.
My peer coach Raj Chawla, who was being trained with me, talked me through why my reality testing might be so high and how I might increase my optimism. I explained to him that I had no choice but to be keenly aware of the reality of my situation. One doesn’t get to where I am in life from whence I came without understanding how to navigate. Like a riverboat captain, I have to know the river bed and its banks as if I were the river. There isn’t any room for hoping I won’t gouge a hole in the bottom of my boat or run aground in the night. I have know for sure where I am and how I should move.
Being optimistic and being Pollyanna have been synonymous in mind. As I’ve gotten older, I’m more tolerant of optimistic people, but I always look at black optimists as if they’re aliens.
Raj asked if I were able to look back on my life and see positive things that happened. Of course I can! What kind of question of was that? And then it hit me. I have spent a lifetime trying not to gouge a hole in my boat so I could reach my destination, but never trusted my navigation skills enough to appreciate the beauty of the river. Raj suggested I keep a gratitude journal.
He was not the first to make that suggestion. I’ve heard someone saying something about gratitude journals every year for over a decade. I’ve even started one before, but this is the first time it makes sense to me.
If I am going to be well, if I am going to take care of myself, I need to have some emotional wellness. There are plenty of issues for me to work on with my therapist, but hope is something I can do for myself.
I commit a few minutes every night between 9 and 10 to journaling, and I begin with gratitude. It is fundamental to my self-care plan. Being able to see that good things happen to black folks every day, helps me to breathe a little easier. It helps me see potential allies in addition to declared enemies. Being more grateful doesn’t make me less of a realist. It makes realism less of a bitch.
The final piece of the Collage show was the professional company and perhaps a few advanced students. When I heard the horns, I knew what was coming. A second line! I hadn’t read the program or I would have been waiting for it. I’m glad I hadn’t read it. That music snatched me out of my spiral of despair. It reminded me that there is something inside me that wants to hope. I have embers of joy that respond to brass and drums. I’m related to people who dance in the face of death.
I am grateful.