Self Care

The Wounds of Sisterhood: Black Women, Grief, and the Loss of Adult Friendships

 

September 26, 2018 was supposed to be a standout day for my best friend Sharmara. I imagine we would’ve sung happy birthday (the Stevie Wonder version of course), enjoyed a great meal or big bash even—mainly just spent time together marveling at how old we are now from our first meeting as high school freshmen in 1993. We would have lovingly reflected on how long our friendship has endured—through all the triumphs, heartaches, and “only you would understand” moments. What a day it would have been, honoring my best friend on her milestone 40th birthday. But we didn’t celebrate the way I envisioned. Six years ago, 17 days after her 34th birthday, Sharmara surrendered to a noble, four-year battle with pulmonary hypertension.

I spent this special birthday honoring my friend in her absence, tickled by the shenanigans we devised in our 19 years of friendship. Even at this stage of development, I miss her connection. I miss her severely and yet so tenderly. She is still the most kind-spirited and gracious person I know. She was the one who knew of my deepest aspirations. She was the one who saw my flaws as is and still look beyond them to dream so big for me—grander than I believed. Such bonds are so precious and needed throughout a woman’s lifetime.

RELATED: 3 QUESTIONS IF YOU HAVE TROUBLE CELEBRATING YOUR FRIEND

Recognizing the impact of this loss prompted me to consider the different wounds Black women sustain in sisterhood, including the demise of adult friendships. The breakdown of bonds once so fierce but ultimately divided by misunderstandings, lack of commitment, or even life transitions such as budding careers, marriage, and parenthood. As a defense, some women may offer a warning about the dangers of sisterhood: See, that’s why I have more male friends. In the face of the ironclad Black-woman-bond, why do many women relate to the aching hurt and sting of the termination of friendships, particularly those that blindside and leave you cultivating your own closure? Why do relationships conclude in this way? And when they do end, how do you heal and grow through loss? The following are gentle considerations in grieving the loss of a friend.

Mourning the Loss

Acknowledge how you feel about the loss of your friendship. Resist blocking, numbing, or diminishing your emotions. Often, the end of a relationship can be a sorrowful time and you may want to move as swiftly and far from it as possible. However, relationships take time to create and in these connections are memories that may later lend to sadness, confusion, frustration, guilt, and disappointment at the relationship’s dissolution. Know your feelings about the loss are valid and deserve to be explored. Consider a safe space to identify, vent, and process your emotions such as counseling with a professional experienced in helping individuals work through loss. You may also benefit from journaling or figuratively writing a goodbye letter to your former friend to express your emotions about the course of the relationship and its ending.

Grief and Acceptance

To accept the end of a friendship doesn’t mean that you like or prefer this outcome. Acknowledging the loss doesn’t diminish how you feel about it either. Still, accepting the relationship’s status is fundamental for healing as acceptance allows you to identify how to live with this loss now that it is a reality. As you acknowledge the end you can work to create a solution to live anew without the friendship.

RELATED: EXERCISE: THE ULTIMATE FORM OF SELF CARE

Trusting to Befriend Again

Vital to cultivating new friendships is the ability to identify the lessons you learned in loss and areas for self-improvement. With a balance of being open and wise, you can work to heal and foster connections that serve you well. Moving forward, consider what you need and desire most in friendship, as well as what you’re willing to offer and accept. And do just that. Remember, all friendships, current or former, are unique and not to be compared.

I know there will never be another Sharmara. Nevertheless, she taught me the value and power of sisterhood. She was the one who woke up hours before she passed just to see me and offer her parting words, “See you later, okay.” At the time, I heard her statement as a request but now I know it was really an explanation. A prepping almost. She had the last word and she was right. Just a little later, Sharmara. I will see you again.


Author’s Biography
Keisha is a licensed professional counselor and owner of Transformation Counseling Services in Columbus, Georgia, which focuses on grief counseling and perinatal mental health services for mothers and their families impacted by pregnancy and infant loss, and postpartum anxiety and depression. Keisha is an advocate and writer, contributing to articles in Essence Magazine, The New York Times, Bustle, and Elite Daily. Connect with and follow Keisha on Facebook and Instagram.

31 Days of Affirmations

October 10 is my birthday and like all true Libras, I celebrate all month long lol! This year to celebrate, we’ve partnered with ThinkUp to bring you 31 days of affirmations. After the Mental Wellness Challenge in August, many of you shared that you wanted more opportunities to be reflective and think about the ways you can be more intentional about taking care of yourself, and I think this is a great way to do it! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

Here’s how you can join the celebration:⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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1. Download the ThinkUp app at therapyforblackgirls.com/thinkup. It’s free!⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

2. I have chosen a collection of 31 affirmations called “Living Life on Your Terms” that can be found in the ThinkUp app. Each day we’ll share one of the affirmations on social media that you can add to your ThinkUp playlist. You can record them in your own voice and even add music. Feel free to add any of the affirmations that fit for you. You can also add your own affirmations or search the app for others.
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3. Journal about what comes to mind for you as you’re reflecting on the affirmations. Try to choose a time at the beginning of your day or at the end of the day for this exercise. Do some fit for you better than others? What made you choose the ones you did? There’s no right or wrong answers, more a reflection of your process. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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4. At the end of the month, if you’d like to, make a 1 minute or less video discussing what the experience has been like for you and how you plan to continue using affirmations as a part of your mental wellness plan and email it to kamron@therapyforblackgirls.com. We’ll choose one winner randomly who will win a premium version of the Thinkup app. 

Exercise: The Ultimate Form of Self Care

Regular exercise can improve our physical health, decrease our risk for serious health conditions, and help us feel better emotionally.  For many of us, our lives are so full that don’t know how to add exercise into our already packed days. Neglecting our health at the expense of our busy schedules is dangerous for many reasons, but ultimately it can stop us from being the healthiest version of ourselves, both in mind and body.  Understanding the impact that exercise has on our lives, allows us to make intentional choices to improve our health.

 Common reasons we avoid exercise

Lack of Time.  Lack of time is a major concern when starting and maintaining an exercise routine.  You take on so many responsibilities that you rarely have time for yourself.  When you have a brief moment to slow down, another critical task quickly moves to the front of the line. Even though your to-do list never ends, there is still that voice in the back of your mind – the voice of your basic needs – telling you that you need to make your health a priority.   Listen to this voice!  Find a few minutes in your day – 10 to 15 minutes – for exercise.  A quick walk in the neighborhood, a yoga tutorial online, a quick high-intensity workout – any of these are great places to start.

Guilt.   What will my children do when I’m exercising?  Am I a bad mom for going to the gym when my son is at football practice?  Guilt starts off as a subtle whisper, but left unchecked, it can grow louder.  Sometimes we think that taking care of ourselves is equivalent to selfishness.  What if I told you that exercising, and finding a consistent health care routine, is one of the most selfless acts you can give to your family?  Studies show that consistent exercise is linked to increased productivity and mental focus.  This means that exercising regularly can help you become more focused and present with your partner, children, and with yourself.  Letting go of self-inflicted guilt is an important part of building self-care through exercise.

Lack of knowledge.  Maybe you realize that exercise is key to your long-term health, both physically and mentally.  You’re ready to move!  And you know the recipe for success….diet and exercise!  Should be easy, right?  Wrong!  It is surprisingly easy to get overwhelmed with the amount of exercise material online.  Cardio or weight training?  Aerobics or water exercises?  Run or walk? Not knowing where to start or what you enjoy can easily keep us stuck.  If you are feeling overwhelmed by the amount of information out there, consider finding a workout partner to start the journey with you.

What are the emotional benefits of exercise? 

Improve stress and overall mood.  Our bodies release stress hormones as our stress level increases, which may trigger our “fight or flight mode.” Stress also triggers increased heart rate, trouble breathing, and sweating.  Exercise can help decrease overall stress levels.  In fact, researchers found that exercise actually reorganizes the brain to increase resilience to stress.  Exercise also has been shown to improve mood by increasing endorphins.

Increases confidence.  Exercise can also increase confidence.  Setting, working on, and achieving a set of goals helps build a sense of personal accomplishment.  This is why many “couch to 5K” programs work, as they build slowly on small goals.  With each accomplishment, you can continue to work on building larger goals.  It feels great to accomplish something new.

Improve sleep.  Exercise also improves quality of sleep.  Sufficient sleep is connected to quality of life and overall health.  Because exercise reduces anxiety, depression, and stress, it can also lead to improved sleep quality.  Here’s a bonus – there is a bilateral connection between exercise and sleep.  This means that as you begin to exercise more, the quality of your sleep will improve, and the quality of your workouts will improve as well.

Reduces the risk of dementia.  A recent research study from the American Academy for Neurology found that women with high physical fitness levels were 90% less likely to develop dementia decades later than women who were less fit.  Although the study does not look at cause and effect of exercise and dementia, there is a chance that adding fitness could delay or prevent dementia.

Adding exercise and self-care into your day can help you live an efficient and healthy life!

Dr. Jacque Strait, Ph.D. is a licensed Counseling Psychologist and co-owner of Winding Way Therapy, and creator of Fit For a Queen Wellness Consulting.  Dr. Strait specializes in counseling for professional women suffering from life burnout.  She also provides wellness consulting to Women of Color who want to build better self-care through fitness.  To reach Dr. Strait, contact her at strait@windingwaytherapy.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 things you didn’t know about suicide

September is National Suicide Awareness Month and the goal for this campaign is to share resources and information so that we are more aware of the signs that someone might be suicidal and how we might be able to help. I’ve found that there tends to be a lot of misinformation about suicide so wanted to take this opportunity to dispel some common myths that continue to pervade our culture.

Black people do die by suicide. Though Black people and Black women specifically have the lowest rates of dying by suicide, it is definitely on the rise and something we need to pay attention to. Suicide is now the 3rd leading cause of death for young Black people between the ages of 15-24. You may have seen recent articles discussing how suicide rates doubled between 1993-2013 for Black youth between the ages of 5-11, and how teen girls are dying by suicide at higher rates.

RELATED: LET’S BE CAREFUL WHEN DISCUSSING SUICIDE

Suicide is not act of selfishness. Many of us have not had significant depressive symptoms or felt the incredible despair that typically accompanies the decision to end one’s life. So, it seems unfathomable that someone would want to end their life. But it’s important to remember that at the point when someone is considering suicide, they often feel like they are a burden on their loved ones and feel like everyone would be better off if they were gone. They often do not see a way through or out of the pain they are experiencing.

Asking if someone is suicidal will not make them suicidal. I can assure you that someone who has not felt suicidal in the past will not become suicidal simply because you ask. Often times, not asking indicates that you can’t handle your friend sharing that level of pain with you. It makes it secretive and like something that should not be shared, which is not what we want to happen with someone who is feeling suicidal. We want them to be open and honest so that we can help them get connected to the help they need.

RELATED: REAL TALK: POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION

People don’t attempt suicide for attention. All attempts at hurting one’s self should be taken seriously. Even if someone does not seriously intend to kill them self, an attempt is typically a signal that something larger is at play and that professional help is necessary.

People who are suicidal don’t always look depressed. Sometimes a person who has decided to end their life will actually have a bit of an improved mood in the days before their suicide because they are at peace with their decision. We saw this recently when Chester Bennington‘s widow, Talinda, released a video of him laughing and joking with his family days before he died by suicide. She wanted to help shed light on the fact that depression and suicidality don’t only look one way.

Helpful Resources

  • You can talk with someone at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at  1-800-273-TALK
  • In the US, you can text with a crisis counselor 24/7 by texting the word TRIBE to 741-741
  • If you’re looking for a therapist in your area, make sure to check out our therapist directory at therapyforblackgirls.com/directory

 

Taking Care of Yourself As A Stepmom

A stepparent is anyone dating or married to a partner with children from a previous relationship. When most people hear the word “stepmom”; many preconceived notions come to mind.  Many people think of stepmothers through the lens of old outdated fairy tales and myths. The reality is that the average stepmother is often, isolated and very much misunderstood by society.

Research shows that stepmothers have a much more difficult experience parenting and step coupling than stepfathers. Many stepmothers are expected to be maternal and nurturing toward their stepchildren, even if their stepchildren are rejecting. Biased gender roles, gender stereotypes, and unrealistic expectations contribute to the difficulty that many stepmothers experience.

RELATED: THERE IS NO MOVING ON AFTER A BREAKUP

The average stepmother is expected to hold the same role that a biological mother fulfills such as working outside of the home, and performing the majority of the domestic tasks like cooking, cleaning, planning family events and schedules as well as child rearing. According to attachment theory Bonding refers to a very particular type of attachment that occurs when a child is born and developing in utero. It’s natural for a biological mother and father to see themselves reflected in their children. Biological parents can see their child through loving eyes, even in the midst of their child’s challenging behaviors and children have a natural biological bond with their parents.

Stepparents, on the other hand, are newcomers to an already established family dynamic and are outsiders from the onset. Stepfamilies are born out of the loss of a previous relationship. Stepmothers are often expected to parent and nurture children who are grieving their original family and who do not yet have a bond with their stepparent. Stepmothers come into their role, with a partner who may have unrealistic expectations of what a stepmother “should” be.

RELATED: THE BLACK GIRL’S GUIDE TO SELF-CARE

In stepfamilies with single fathers, the responsibilities of child rearing are often transferred from the biological father onto to the stepmother. During this transfer; Stepchildren can become resentful of their stepmother’s new role in the family. Stepmothers often experience the responsibilities of parenting but usually have very little authority related to their stepchildren and their behaviors. It is common after a breakup or divorce for Biological parents to elevate their children as peers and become permissive parents; which leads to more stepparent stepchild conflict and resentment.

Stepmothers can experience high levels of depression; due to the lack of support they may receive from their partners, within their household, and from their community of biological moms. Many biological mothers can vent and express feelings of frustration and overwhelm related to their children, but stepmothers often have the experience of being shamed or silenced when expressing a similar sentiment of their stepchildren.

Tips toward a healthier, realistic Stepfamily dynamic

Establish Healthy Boundaries with your partner:

If your partner is leaving you alone with their children during visitations; and you feel uncomfortable with this; it might be time for a heart to heart. At the beginning of your relationship, it’s best practice for your partner to continue parenting as they did before the two of you became a couple. It takes the average stepfamily  4 to 7 years to function as a traditional family. It’s crucial for you to define your role as a stepmother and to determine which activities you are comfortable participating in and which activities you would like to delegate to your partner. Learning to say no and delegating to your partner regarding their children can be hard because society has a particular perception of how women “should” interact with all children.  

Utilize Self-Compassion:

It’s easy to listen to that inner critic or to allow others to project their ideas onto you regarding your role as a woman and stepmother. You may worry that you are not “doing enough” as a stepmom if you set boundaries, but keep in mind your partner is ultimately responsible for their children. Try not to beat yourself up for needing a break. Try to tap into those passions you once had before this relationship. As women, we tend to put everything into our intimate relationships, but it’s essential to maintain your interests and friends outside of your stepfamily.

If you are a stepparent and are experiencing signs of depression such as sadness, guilt/shame, irritability, low energy and feelings of isolation, please seek help from a licensed professional You are not alone.

 

Shelly Ware is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California specializing in Stepfamily dynamics and Women’s Issues. http://www.mycounselingclinic.com

The Black Girl’s Guide to Self-Care

The Black Girl's Guide to Self-Care

This week, this month, this year has been a lot! I echo the feelings of many when I say I’m exhausted. The murders this week of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile have added to the long and constantly growing list of Black people killed at the hands of law enforcement and has served to once again heighten the collective anxiety of the Black community. I’ve found myself glued to my Twitter timeline searching for updates and information about these cases. I’m noticing that I’m clenching my jaws and tensing my shoulders unconsciously. My patience is a little thinner and I’ve been munching on ridiculous amounts of Frosted Flakes and Oreos. All of these are signals to me that I am stressed and probably need to take a step back. I talk about self-care often, preach it to friends, family, and clients, and truly believe in it. But as with many things, fall short in following it for myself. The concept of self care can also at times feel elusive, so I wanted to compile a list of specific things you can do to allow yourself some joy! I hope this serves as a reminder to myself and a nudge for you too 🙂

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Self Care in the Face of Racial Injustice

Self Care in the Face of Racial-5
Photo by Parker Williams, Akiba Photography

More than most years, it feels like Blackness has been especially under attack this year. The collective feeling of trauma feels palpable in my office, on my campus, and throughout my social networks. It feels like every time there is another major verdict to be delivered, a new viral video dropped, and with each breaking news headline, there is a collective holding of our breaths. While Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), is a diagnosis used to describe a collection of symptoms in an individual, it sure does feel like as a community we are suffering from this right now. A shared sense of paranoia, anxiety, angst, and hopelessness are all completely valid and understandable right now. During a time when there is so much pain and suffering in our face, and when so many of us are dedicated to fighting injustices, it is especially important to pay attention to taking care of and sharpening our tool, which is our selves. We cannot continue to shut down the highways and transit stations or march against these evils if we do not remember to engage in restorative self care. Here are some things to consider: (more…)

Celebrating My Fabulousness! It’s My Birthday!

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Today I am rocking my Black Girls Are Magic tshirt (get yours here) with my favorite wide leg trousers and blasting Beyonce as loud as my speakers will allow because IT’S MY BIRTHDAY! I can honestly say that this has been a wild ride of a year. I had my first child, bought my first home with my husband, got a new job, and have started on the incredible journey of this blog so I would say a celebration is in order! That’s right, I’m throwing my own party because sometimes you just have to forget about all the stuff that’s going wrong and focus on what’s going right. Sometimes you have to ignore how the world would like to identify you and pay attention to the fabulousness that is YOU! (more…)