The year 2020 has gotten off to a rough and patchy start. Ever since Future and Drake’s “Life Is Good” track was released, ironically… life has been the opposite. Specifically zeroing on POC, we have endured harder times decades and centuries before this and at the moment, it seems as if history is once again repeating itself in the sense of trauma. From unarmed black brothers and sisters in the streets dying at the hands of cops, pandemics hitting our communities 10x harder than our white counterparts and racists blatantly making themselves known with no consequences; WE ARE SUFFERING!
Now more than ever, we are living and growing as a generation of activists who are ready and willing to stand up in our truths and bring these issues to light one way or another. But while we are showing our feelings of hurt and anger on the picket lines, figuratively and physically, our body is slowly taking the effects of our efforts. Being a young black millennial woman myself, I have experienced firsthand effects of trauma and the deterioration of my body while advocating for not only myself, but my clients for almost a decade. The effects are noticeable. Details can sometimes be gruesome. But being a social worker has allowed me the opportunity to understand what I should and need to do in efforts to live a mentally and physically healthier life in a world that just does not value black lives; my life.
Briefly, I will give the clinical definitions of trauma. I then will share some self care tips that I have learned and techniques I have used with vulnerable populations I’ve worked with. At the end of this post, I hope that you:
The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition) that is primarily used by clinicians and researchers define trauma as “the response someone has to an extremely negative event; with effects so severe that they interfere with a client's ability to live life.” Unlike stressful events, when traumatization occurs, you are unable to utilize your fight, flight, or freeze responses effectively because your state of equilibrium can not be returned to. I know as you read that definition a specific event came to mind; maybe even multiple. Breonna Taylor, Trayon Martin, Rodney King, the crack epidemic, slavery and the list goes on. But everytime something infects our community, we are affected and internalize the madness that ensues. Here are some ways I have learned to combat those feelings of distress and trauma while going through rough feels.
Find a healthy outlet
Many of us have hobbies that we enjoy and at times do not want them to become tainted or associated with just a response to dealing with trauma. So figure out something else you can be entertained with that will keep your hands and mind at work. Keeping a healthy distraction can keep you from being destructive to yourself, others or the community. When I realize I need a mental break from the outside world, I have three main activities I turn to: cooking, working out and traveling. But some additional hobbies I have picked up during trying times such as the ones we are currently living are reading, learning to build an in-home garden, music, dancing and yoga. Some of the best art, music, poetry, photography, literature is created during difficult times.
Keep a supportive circle
Friends and family can be some of the best people to talk to about how you are feeling. Sometimes, they are not an option. This is the time to identify those you know will positively support you. Once you identify those individuals, be considerate before you lay everything on the table. Ask them if they are okay mentally to speak to you about what you are experiencing and if you can have a talk. You all have heard the saying “your strongest friend can be going through the most” and “check on your strong friend”... these are facts! Make sure that you are prepared to effectively respond to this support if they too want to vent. Even just being in the same vicinity with positive energy can be all the healing you need.
If you are an advocator and you do it well without causing yourself or others harm, do that. Some people are natural born educators and live to speak up for vulnerable communities. Find a platform that fits you. Someone will see and hear your message loud and clear. Your message will hit an audience that will encourage others to stand up and take action as well. Being creatives in one of the most advanced generations gives us unlimited outlets and platforms to let our voices be heard.
Now I know some people are saying “Girl...we can’t travel during times like these!” Yes, you all actually can. Sometimes removing yourself from the exact place that triggers you is the best option. Some people have the privilege to hop on a plane and go to paradise while others take a quick 2hr road trip to Milwaukee over the weekend. Leaving the place or environment that is triggering you may be your only means of support at times and I myself am a full advocate, as long as you are not neglecting psychological or safety needs. Take that trip, clear your mind, come back refreshed! Experiencing a new community can open up your eyes and mind to new ideas and mindsets to living a healthier life.
Just as you cleanse your body of toxins when you want to go on a diet and look good for Summertime Chi, cleanse your mind of toxins. Sometimes all you need is to cleanse yourself of social media, bad vibes, and negative people. If you are self aware and know for a fact that seeing Karen's act like Karen’s raises your blood pressure, hop off of social media and engage in one of the other self care tips I previously mentioned. If your friend Marcus has REALLY been doing and saying some outlandish comments...CUT HIM OFF! Having a friend you know is toxic is like dealing with an uninvited guest at an invitation only event. Bye Felicia, you gotta go. You do not have to be present on social media knowing that without a doubt, you are going to internalize every post down your timeline and become triggered. Cleanse yourself of these things and when you feel as though you are of sound mind and heart to address it, then return.
Seek clinical or professional help
When all else fails! More and more in these times I see my black and brown counterparts seeking refuge or support in mental health clinicians although most of us grew up being told that going to church was the only way to seek help and healing. Recognizing that you need professional help is the literal first step that it takes to change. There is a reason that mental health clinicians exist and right now is a perfect example of why they should be used. And get this, they are typically covered by your insurance! Research therapist in your area that you would want to speak with and learn more about what they specialize in. Most times therapist profiles are easily accessible online, affording you the opportunity to learn about a therapist before you set your first appointment. Alternatively, telehealth spaces such as Talk Space are available where you can contact a therapist at any times of the day, depending on the subscription you have. But mind you, all therapists are not alike and some can be outright unprofessional in practice. If you find a therapist that works for you, stick with them; the longer you are with them, the more they learn about what you have experienced throughout your life and can suggest ways of working to cope. If you happen to find a therapist that is not your cup of tea, you can always find another one. You are the expert in your own life and know what you need in order to begin healing. Note: just because you are a POC, does not mean because you find a mental health clinician of color they will be a good therapist. Use your own discretion. There are too many instances where I have been treated like a part of the family rather than caseworker. Set and keep your boundaries professional!
At this point in time, taking care of yourself is your main priority. Being connected to the world is necessary but not at the cost of your health. To minimize the negative impact for future generations we are raising, we must start today. By sharing knowledge and understanding we can assist with guarding and healing our temples as POC and pass on healthy habits to the ones that come after us.
A. Pointer, MSW
Follow her on IG: @aunty.lishia