Zora Neale Hurston, the foremother of Black women’s literature, so eloquently penned that Black women were “de mule uh de world” and even many, many years later, we can see how this statement still rings true. Black women are seen as the pillars of strength in nearly every circle we comprise. We are the backbones of our families, the shoulder always called upon to cry on. We are supposed to readily perform strength, on demand, no matter what our emotional or mental state.
We do not belong to ourselves: our bodies, our minds, our emotions, our hearts, our spiritual state. Our emotional labor is prescribed and expected.
Self-care is a phrase often uttered as of late, especially on social media. My thought is that we, Black women, now know the importance of tending to the trauma we have been dealt for hundreds of years and dedicating ourselves wholeheartedly to healing, moment by moment, day by day. And we know that self-preservation, an uncompromising notion of clinging to ourselves and maintaining the sanctity of ourselves, is a defiant, revolutionary act of self-care. Setting boundaries — along with enforcing consequences if said boundaries are willfully ignored — is a crucial part of this, too.
Quick story: for most of my childhood and well into my adulthood, I was a doormat. I was kind and had a giving heart but lacked strong discernment and sound judgment. People sensed this and took advantage, taking and taking and taking until they couldn’t anymore. Until there was no further use for my presence in their lives. Until I was depleted and drained and filled with resentment. And then they’d be gone. Learning to choose myself after this defunct pattern yielded to learning what boundaries are, evaluating where I needed to set them in my current relationships and how I could set them as the need arose in new interpersonal bonds.
Boundaries are the space between you and another person, a space where you end and the other person begins. Setting boundaries is a method of informing those around you how to treat you, how to care for you, how to interact with you in a way that is nurturing, fulfilling and makes you feel safe. It isn’t about forming a tight fence around your inner being. It is about ensuring you feel free enough to be yourself, in totality, with those you bond with, and interactions are healthy, reciprocal and beneficial. And also that your values are acknowledged, honored and respected.
Learning to set boundaries can be tricky when it’s new, especially if those around you are used to a certain dynamic. If it’s a new concept, there’s a chance guilt may set in because it’s uncomfortable but don’t let yourself succumb to guilt. Push through the discomfort. Growth is on the other side.
Truly ready to ensure all of your bonds are healthy, safe spaces? Use these guiding principles as a compass while learning how to set healthy boundaries.
Always choose yourself. Always take care of you.
Saying no is a complete sentence and requires no further explanation. If you really don’t want to do something, say no. If you were invited to go somewhere with friends but really need to take the night to get some much needed rest, don’t be afraid to say no for fear of disappointing them. It is better to be a disappointment to friends who most likely will be forgiving and understanding than be a disappointment to yourself because you are overexerting yourself. Be selfish, not selfless. No one but you will or is truly capable of putting yourself first and having your best interests at heart. Firmly and directly assert yourself to those in your life.
Make a list of your values. Honestly determine what is important to you in your bonds with other people and keep these close to your heart. These are things that matter to you, these are things which make you feel valued and loved in your relationships. When behavior veers outside of what you deem acceptable according to your values, communicate that, immediately.
For example, if your partner has a tendency of speaking recklessly or raising their voice when they are upset with you, inform them you would appreciate if they would not raise their voice at you when angry. Make sure to use either “I feel…” or “When you…” statements to articulate your feelings. This is so you are explaining (and owning) how you feel and not casting blame on the other person to put them on the defense. By stating this, you are telling your partner there is a proper way to productively address issues and yelling is not one of them.
Be prepared to enact consequences if your boundary is not acknowledged, honored or respected.
Consequences aren’t a punishment or an angry thing as many of us have come to know. They are also not empty threats to manipulate the other person. Instead, consequences entail taking heed of a pattern of behavior, using that to inform future interactions and stating what will happen going forward. It might mean you no longer correspond with a person as frequently or not at all, and the relationship changes because their actions communicate a lack of respect.
For instance, perhaps a friend insists on calling or texting you late at night. This bothers you and you tell them, directly, to please not call or text you late and night (setting a boundary) and if they continue to do so, you will not answer when they reach out to you so late (consequence). Remember, this is about you. This is about engaging with others on your terms, what makes you feel comfortable and safe.
Ensure the boundaries you set are firm and stand behind them fiercely.
Boundary setting is often a learning curve and is not one size fits all for every person or situation. If a person is a repeated offender of poor behavior, your boundaries may be more rigid than say, for instance, a boss who has all of a sudden become overbearing and situationally difficult to deal with.
It is important to note your boundaries are only as strong as your commitment to following through on them. Stand behind what you say. Don’t let the (temporary) discomfort and guilt that arises prevent you from doing what you need to do to protect yourself. An example of this would be telling a friend you don’t like when they consistently cut you off in conversations because it makes you feel unheard (setting a boundary). Tell them if they can’t take the time to listen, you’ll will limit the conversations you have with them (consequence) but then a couple of days later go back to letting them cut you off mid conversation. You’ve communicated the opposite of what you intended: that what you said wasn’t that big of a deal and they can continue to conduct themselves in this way without any repercussion. It’s rewarding bad behavior and putting yourself back where you started. Prevent that; stick to your guns. Follow through.
Be patient (and gentle) with yourself. This is a process.
This is a journey, a multi-step, methodical, measured, slow journey. It won’t happen overnight and it will be difficult initially. You’ll be pushing back against an old way of interacting and shifting into more positive and healthy methods of engaging. The result, however, is well worth the effort, discomfort and plethora of other emotions that may arise — reciprocal relationships with people you respect who treat you lovingly, kind and nurture you in precisely the way you need.
Self-preservation as self-care is a fine art and boundaries are one component of that masterpiece. Invest in yourself through creating space and a lovingly flow between those you care about is yet another way to ensure you are taking care of you in the best way possible.
Nneka M. Okona is a writer based in Washington, DC. Visit her blog, http://www.afrosypaella.com, her website, about.me/nnekaokona or follow her tweets, @NisforNneka.
There are bar crawls and taco crawls and even cupcake crawls, so why not cookie crawls? Why not cookie crawls around the world?
We’ve taken that sugar-drunk fantasy and made it a reality. We’ve rounded of 46 Cookies of the World that feature the kooky, classic, and addictive recipes from our staff, friends, and community members just so you can country hop, cookie-style.
Another new year, another opportunity to incorporate self-expression, creativity and mindfulness into your daily routine. You don’t have to be a professional artist to reap the many benefits of a little arts and crafts. Simple activities like coloring, doodling, and playing with clay are known to decrease anxiety and boost mood.
Below are 12 simple suggestions for restorative art projects that will start your year off with serenity and ingenuity. Whether you make 2016 the year you keep a dream journal, paint into a tissue, or revamp your old beeper into a found sculpture, it’s going to be a good year.
Dreams are weird. Often times, language isn’t the best way to convey your logic-defying, physically impossible, difficult-to-untangle night visions. Instead of writing down last night’s hallucinatory adventure, doodle your favorite moments from the trip. It’s a mindful way to start the day and, who knows, you may end up a promising surrealist artist!
Creating a work of art all at once is a daunting task, we know. So why not start the process off with a single shape, even a single line? Every day, add to your image, even with a simple touch, maybe eventually adding color, paint or sculptural elements. You can also make each new detail pertain to each day, turning the artwork into a kind of beautiful calendar.
How long do you actively think about your New Year’s resolutions? A month, a week, an hour? Try writing your goals onto little slips of paper you can dangle above you when you need the motivation. I love the look of a simple Yoko Ono “Wish Tree” style mobile, Connect the strips with thread to a single branch and try hanging it above your desk.
If you have one of those old gadget drawers, full of random extension cords, defunct beepers, desktop mice and whatever else, bring out your inner scavenger and create a found sculpture. There are few things as beautiful as a circuit board. Add a little glitter, paint, feathers, yarn — whatever floats your boat — and you’ll end up with a beautiful homage to a technology no longer with us.
Portraits traditionally depict a pretty elite crowd — noblemen, patrons, Katy Perry. I suggest taking a (very) alternative route and turn one of your most humble household items into your newest subject. You may not have spent ample time gazing at the complexities of your washing machine or toaster oven, but, rest assured, they’re every bit as visually compelling as Ms. Perry.
If you already keep a diary, why not treat it as the literary masterwork I’m sure it is? Create a proper book cover for your sacred memories, in the style of your favorite memoirs or novels. Whether you opt for a serious portrait of yourself pouting with a cigarette, or minimalist graphic design with the help of some construction paper, your journal will finally have the visual accompaniment it deserves.
Tim Moore was an artist assistant who, entranced by the marks they incurred, saved his employer’s blotting tissues. The fragile canvasses accrued random blots of pigment and water, made unconsciously when washing and drying brushes. The result is the happiest of accidents. Either save blotting tissues of your own or take the concept a step further, setting out to intentionally turn tissue into canvas.
A spot in your closet. A corner in your cabinet. The bottom drawer of your desk. Paint a secret space that’s reserved for you and you alone. Like skipping underwear for a day, the miniature sanctuary will be a covert corner you can think of throughout your day and smile. You stealthy minx.
There’s something so beautiful about maps, isn’t there? The way stretches of land and sea are condensed into lines, colors and codes. Try making a map of your own, whether recounting a trip you took, a place you love, or even mapping realms of memory or imagination. I recommend looking at the work of artist Val Britton, whose cut paper maps blend reality and imagination with stunning precision.
If you can’t turn down a little occultism here and there, I challenge you to create a deck of tarot cards with your own personal symbology. Who or what would be your High Priestess? Your Sun? Your Fool? The personal nature of the cards will make future readings all the more intimate. If Benjamin Mackey created a deck just for “Twin Peaks” characters, you can do it.
Food coloring. Shaving cream. School glue. That’s all you need to create a homemade paint the texture of fluffy clouds. Just combine glue and shaving cream in equal proportions and mix in the food coloring to your liking. Then get to work creating your very own puff-filled universe.
I don’t know much about composing sheet music. But I do have a soft spot for the beauty of musical staffs, treble clefs and scales of notes. Artist Ana Prvacki celebrated the erotic nature of classical music with her “Porn Scores,” adorning sheet music with surprising drawings of miniature genitalia in conversation. You don’t have to go an NSFW route, but let the boundaries and traditions of classical music guide you on an unplayable musical journey of your own.
The uncomfortable feelings that come with gender dysphoria can really throw a wrench in your day-to-day life, making even simple tasks seem impossible. This type of dysphoria is often defined as a condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress because the gender to which they were assigned at birth and their gender identity don’t match up. When your body and mind aren’t seeing eye-to-eye, it’s easy to feel pretty low.
We asked people to tell us what they do to make themselves feel good when they’re stuck in some serious dysphoria blues. Here’s what they said:
1. Escape for a bit into your favorite playlist.
“When my dysphoria gets bad, I take out my guitar and play music. Sometimes I like to play my own music, music I wrote. Mostly I just cover songs. When I play, I feel like I’m in my own world, just my mind, my hands and my guitar. I escape into a little space inside my head and fill it with music.”
2. Take a moment to point out a few positive things you love about your body.
“I am nonbinary, but I was assigned male at birth. Whenever I experience dysphoria, I usually turn on some music and just let my mind clear. I’ve also found that it helps to tell myself, out loud, that my body does not define my gender and to point out things about my body that I do like. Just because I have big hands, doesn’t mean I’m male. And I know I love my eyes. I have to remind myself that there are still positive things about my body.
Something else that works for me is talking to one of my good friends. They know that sometimes I feel awkward in my body, and they can help reassure me that I’m 100% awesome even though my body doesn’t exactly match how I feel that day.”
3. Cuddle the crap out of a furry friend.
‘I’m nonbinary. Some ways I’ve found to help cope with dysphoria [include] wearing an outfit I know I look good in (it boosts my confidence a lot) and listening to songs I can sing along to. I also like repetitive tasks, like putting CDs or books into alphabetical order or making bracelets. It gets me out of my head, helps me focus on other things. Quite often it gets overwhelming, though, in which case sometimes just having a bit of a cry and a sleep helps. Oh, and cuddle a pet. Pets don’t care what gender you are. I’ve never in my life known a transphobic dog.”
Charlotte Gomez/BuzzFeed News
4. Pamper yourself with comfy clothes, your favorite makeup, and lots of chocolate.
“I’ve had gender dysphoria long before I knew I was nonbinary but i just didn’t know how to describe it. Some days I can control it; other times it’s impossible to control. it makes me hate myself, but it’s not very strong most the time. To make myself feel better I wear comfy clothes, do my makeup and make myself feel like the person I am inside. Also chocolate is a great quick fix ;)”
5. Find someone you look up to — if not out in the world, then on YouTube!
“My best way to cope with dysphoria is quiet indie music or watching YouTubers like Uppercasechase, a trans guy who is pretty far in his transition. Seeing trans people who are far into their transition gives me hope that everything will be okay. Watching YouTubers who are transgender and talking about it helps to know I’m not alone and gets rid of the feeling that I’m the only one feeling like this. It really is a great feeling knowing you’re not the only one.”
6. Take a peek into the past so you can appreciate how far you’ve come.
“As a trans guy at about 8 months on T, it really helps me to look back at older photos from when I wasn’t so far along on my journey and look at how far I’ve come. Old photos are super cringy to look at but they definitely make me feel better about where I’m at now.”
Charlotte Gomez/BuzzFeed News
7. Slow. Everything. Down.
“About a year ago, I would probably not have known what dysphoria even was. Well, now I do, and I’ve come to experience it from time to time. It can lead to self harm and anxiety, so it’s not really fun. Usually I get through my bad days by trying to talk slower and quieter, as that usually makes my voice sound a little deeper. I usually let my mind drift off to my favorite playlist,s or maybe try to talk to friends of mine who might have the same problem.”
8. Surround yourself with people who understand or may be going through the same thing.
“The struggle is absolute hell, especially in mine and many other cases of being in high school, a tough series of years on its own — figuring out your true gender or how to embrace your choice in gender can be really hard. Most of all, avoiding bullying [can be hard]. But what I like to do is surround myself with friends who are typically dealing with similar struggles with sexuality or their gender as well. If things continue to get worse, I highly recommend a warm blanket, a desk to hide under, some sweet movies, books, or rad tunes. Also candy and shizzle come in handy.”
9. Focus on the amazing things your body can do, rather than what it looks like.
“I’m a trans woman but I didn’t have major issues with body dysphoria either before or after transition. I think a big part of the reason for that is because I trained for a long time in modern dance, which focuses so much on what your body can do rather than what it looks like. So I knew that I wanted to be a woman, but I didn’t carry with me a lot of the body image baggage that goes with. I enjoy being a powerful, athletic woman whose body doesn’t conform to idealized beauty standards. Anyway, I know that very few people’s bodies do.”
— Meredith Talusan
10. Take a time-out.
“I’m a trans guy, pre everything, and my name is Emmett. I’m generally very dysphoric, but some days are worse than others. On my bad days, which is usually when I’ve been misgendered a lot or when I’m menstruating, I tell my best friend and she calls me “lad” or “sir” and makes comments about how masculine I am. I also bind every day, and sometimes I pack with a sock pinned to my boxers. I tend to make tea, talk in a deeper voice, and wear all men’s clothes when I’m feeling dysphoric too. One of the best things I do for myself is take breaks and make sure I keep myself safe.”
Charlotte Gomez/BuzzFeed News
11. Pour your feelings into a notebook or blog.
“I write. I have to stop the hollering in my head so I put it all down on paper. Then it isn’t as real, they stop being consuming emotions and they’re just words.” — Kaleb
12. Find out what clothing makes you feel good and own your outfits.
“As a gender-nonconforming person, my body image fluctuates on a regular basis. Sometimes I feel femme and sometimes I feel butch. There are times when I feel a little trapped, like on social occasions when I’m expected to be femme when I don’t feel like it, like for weddings or formal interviews. On those occasions, I usually try to wear at least one item of clothing that I feel like doesn’t conform to standard binary gender norms, like a necklace I identify with masculinity, or boxers under my dress. It makes me feel like I’m still genderqueer even if there are times when I don’t feel comfortable being seen that way.”
13. Escape into a long and luxurious shower.
“I’m genderqueer and experience a lot of dysphoria around my monthly cycle […] but I like to get as cold as I impossibly can (open a window, take off all my clothes) and get into a really hot shower or bath and wash away the cold.
I also live in my hoodie when I’m feeling nasty and it feels good to be toasty and wrapped up. ”
“Whenever I’m feeling dysphoric, it can be hard to do simple things like shower… so what I do is, before taking any clothes off, I turn on the water really hot so that all the mirrors in the bathroom and fogged up and I can shower and get dressed without seeing my reflection.”
15. Remember to be easy on yourself and on your personal image of yourself.
“On days when I’m feeling particularly dysphoric I tend to look at pictures that show the diversity of cis peoples’ bodies so I can recognize that although to me some parts of my body feel out of place, to a bystander I wouldn’t stick out at all. I think anyone that experiences dysphoria needs to realize that our perception of ourselves is quite often very skewed.”
— Evander Ribton-Turner
16. Write these steps down and repeat as often as needed.
“If you are dealing with dysphoria right now..
1. Take a deep breath. Relax, allow yourself to think straight.
2. Have hope. One day this will be all over. We feel depression because we see no future, but I promise there is one.
3. Express how you feel. If you need to draw, write, play sports: Do it! Find something that you like, and express your full emotions while doing so.
4. Talk Talk about how you feel, whether it’s to a friend or even to yourself! ( No, you’re not crazy. ) Talk: You need to say how you feel, and what you feel, and make goals for yourself.
5. Understand what you’re feeling. Listen to yourself and understand exactly what you’re feeling. We all as humans have goals and have places in our lives we would like to be. Don’t feel alone.
6. Remember you are important. Your trials and struggles in life are here to make you stronger. You’ve made it to this point. You’ve done it be proud of yourself. Love yourself. You are bold, you are beautiful, and you are important.”
17. Make a goddamn kingdom of blankets and rule the land of cozy!
‘When I get bogged down with gender dysphoria I tend to hide in my room under blankets and hope it goes away. Or, I will wear baggy jeans and sweatshirts to hide my shape — which admittedly isn’t the smartest idea when one lives in California. But in all reality you need to be kind to yourself during this time. You are still you, you are valid. Just because your body doesn’t look like what you or society expects it to, it is still beautiful, and it is still yours.”
Charlotte Gomez/BuzzFeed News
18. Sweat it all out at the gym.
“I’ve been overweight most of my life, but especially after puberty. It’s been hard, because society is not kind to people who don’t fit into their beauty standards. I often struggle with feeling good enough, attractive enough, and just… enough, on top of this dysphoria. This year, I started taking care of myself. Investing in me is investing in my work! I’ve found that good nutrition and exercise has helped tremendously. My mood is better, I feel healthier, and it’s something I never really believed I could do, but now I know I can.”
19. Avoid spaces or people that will bring you down.
“If you’ve been feeling really dysphoric for a while, spend a day dressed as your stereotypical biological sex. You’ll feel awful for the day, but the day after when you dress as your actual gender will be awesome. Avoid transphobic places and people as much as possible (certain friends, YouTube comments in general) and go to places that understand and affirm how you feel (Tumblr, safe spaces). If there’s a certain activity that makes you feel less dysphoric (shaving, using hair gel), do it!”
20. Remember that you are allowed to feel this pain, but don’t let it get the best of you.
“I have experienced gender dysphoria for years, and it is far from fun. But there are many ways I make myself feel better! Sometimes, I put on that one outfit that I know looks flawless. I write down a list of all of the things that I love about myself. Maybe I watch that new episode I have been meaning to see! I always do something that I love doing: This small distraction can take away from the pain of gender dysphoria. The most important thing? Know that you are allowed to feel this pain, and that you are beautiful and amazing.”
Understanding your own mental illness doesn’t happen overnight – It’s a process. So, using the medication she was prescribed, one woman opened up about her long, and sometimes impossibly difficult, experience coping with her own mental illness.
You could be dehydrated! Your body needs water. Not juice, soda, or alcohol – get a tall glass of water and make yourself drink all of it.
2. Make your bed.
When you have a lot to do and it feels overwhelming, making your bed can be the first step in getting your life on track. It will also (hopefully) discourage you from getting back into it.
3. Take a shower.
Maritsa Patrinos / BuzzFeed
Life feels different when you’re clean! And it can give you a burst of energy if you’re feeling lethargic. Wash your hair and give yourself a head massage.
4. Have a snack – not junk food!
Did you eat enough today? It’s super tempting to eat junk food when you feel like crap. If you don’t feel like making a whole meal, maybe just a piece of fruit. Something you can burn throughout the day and not in a burst of five minutes.
5. Take a walk.
Maritsa Patrinos / BuzzFeed
You might need some fresh air and not even know it. Give your body some natural light, breathe some different air, move your legs a little, even if it’s for just five minutes. Allow yourself to think some different thoughts.
6. Change your clothes.
Even if you aren’t going to leave the house today, put on real clothes. Or, if you’ve been wearing the same uncomfortable clothes all day and feel restless, change into your sleepy clothes and slippers and relax.
7. Change your environment.
Maritsa Patrinos / BuzzFeed
Staring at the same four walls day after day can be drudging. Can you work from a cafe, a library, or a friend’s house? If you can add going somewhere to the list of things you did today, you may feel more accomplished.
8. Talk to someone, not on the internet – it can be about anything.
If you don’t feel like talking through your troubles, that’s okay. Visit a friend, talk to them about a movie you saw. Call your mom and see how she’s doing.
9. Dance to an upbeat guilty pleasure song.
Maritsa Patrinos / BuzzFeed
NOT ELLIOT SMITH! Pick something high energy and bump it. Dance like a rock star for one song to get your blood pumping again.
10. Get some exercise.
Do some cardio, work up a sweat. If you don’t have the time for a whole workout, look up a sun salutation on Youtube and stretch for as long as you have time for. Do some push-ups or sit-ups at your desk.
11. Accomplish something – even if it’s something tiny.
Maritsa Patrinos / BuzzFeed
Do you need to grab some groceries? Schedule a doctor’s appointment? Reply to an email? If you can’t get to the big stuff on your list, focus on the small stuff, and don’t forget to congratulate yourself for getting something done.
12. Hug an animal.
If you don’t have a pet, can you visit a friend’s? Or can you go to an animal shelter?
13. Make a “done” list instead of a “to-do” list.
Maritsa Patrinos / BuzzFeed
Instead of overwhelming yourself right now, start feeling better about what you did get done. You can add “brushed teeth,” “washed dishes,” or “picked out an outfit” to your list. It doesn’t matter how small the task, prove to yourself that you’re effectual.
14. Watch a Youtube video that always makes you laugh.
I personally recommend this one.
15. Give yourself permission to feel shitty.
Maritsa Patrinos / BuzzFeed
You’re allowed to have a shitty day, and you don’t have to fix it all right now. If you try to fix it and it doesn’t work, that doesn’t mean it’s hopeless. Give yourself the time and space you need to feel what you’re feeling.
Here are some awesome, healthier alternatives to the foods your inner child is craving hard. They’re prepared with mostly whole foods, fewer processed ingredients, and less added sugar. And since they’re all homemade, you can actually control what you’re putting into there.
This simple recipe is a great alternative to the fried options you see in restaurants and freezer meals, and it calls for just cornflakes, sliced boneless chicken breasts or thighs, and a quarter-cup of honey mustard. Get the recipe here.
Nothing is more comforting than a steaming bowl of mac ‘n’ cheese. This homemade version uses less butter and salt, includes veggies, and you can always mix in lower-fat cheese along with the regular kind if you want an even lighter version. Get the recipe here.
Pizza pockets are EVERYTHING. And this copycat recipe is made with whole wheat flour and a from-scratch pizza sauce that’s prepared with fresh tomatoes, basil, and a little bit of salt and pepper. Get the recipe here.
This grown-up version calls for homemade pecan butter (or any nut butter of your choice) and blueberry jam from scratch. That way you skip all the processed ingredients and get straight to the good stuff. Get the recipe here.