Your Body Reveals the Truth
One day about four years ago, I noticed a little red-ish dot on my upper left arm. It itched a little, but I didn't pay it much mind. I had been raking leaves the previous evening, so I figured it was some kind of bug bite.
The next day, that red-ish dot seemed to have darkened and it went from slightly itchy to slightly painful. Spider bite perhaps? Eh... who knows. *shoulder shrug* Keep on pushin'!
By day three, my arm was in pain. Not only that, it was progressively growing numb. By the time the numbness reached my wrist, I decided to stop what I was doing at work, shutdown my laptop and go to urgent care. I remember almost not going right then because I was afraid of running short on time. My mental end-of-day child care pick-up buzzer was close to going off, but I took the risk and went to urgent care.
After the customary height, weight, blood pressure and "what are you experiencing" routine, the nurse practitioner pulled on her gloves; however, she really didn't need them. Within half a second of glancing at my arm, she said almost immediately: "Oh, that's not a bug bite. You have Shingles." Just as nonchalantly. Took her gloves off, tossed them in the trash can and went back to the computer.
Meanwhile, I was in shocked!
Shingles? I was 30 years old. Isn't that for old people?
Registering my emotions, the nurse asked me one question that she doesn't know changed my outlook on life.
She simply asked: Are you stressed?
I felt knocked back. I was confused by the question mostly because I didn't know the answer. I truly didn't have a clue about how I was feeling. I wasn't paying attention. She explained that at my age, an onset of Shingles is almost always because of stress.
So, was I stressed? Once I reflected, the answer was clearly HELL YES! I was suffocating inside and didn't even notice.
At that very moment, not only was I a single mama doing what single mama's do -- making it -- my entire immediate family was consumed by the declining health of my elderly father. His illness was quite sudden and like most families, we were not prepared. We didn't have a sketch of a plan. Add to it family DRAMA. I'm talking that old-fashioned, stereotypical blended family, daytime soap opera kind of DRAMA that stemmed from the illness, but unearthed all of the emotions that people had been holding onto for years. It was nasty. It was all consuming. I was dealing with home stress and work stress. As a fundraiser, metrics are key and I had just started that job a few months after my father was hospitalized.
My father was the ultimate provider. He was not a perfect man by any means, but I never wanted for anything in life. He and my mother laid an amazing foundation for growth. Caring for him in his final days was the least we could do to say thank you and to show our love. My mother bore the brunt of the care-giving, and I helped when I could. In hindsight, I wish I could have helped more, but my son was in kindergarten, my son's father and I were still in the rough patch of co-parenting at the time, and I had leadership duties in a couple organizations, including my church. It was TOUGH!
I was stressed to the high heavens and I am forever grateful for the moment that I was asked to realize that I was not "fine." I was not "okay."
It hit me on a personal level: Your body reveals the truth.
Our bodies are truly temples. Caring for them, too, is the least we can do. When we don't care for actual man-made temples, they crumble and can come crashing down. Our physical well-being is no different.
Shortly after my visit to urgent care, the real effects of Shingles started to set in. Pain. Zero energy. No appetite. All while still having to care for my child, my mother, my father, my work responsibilities -- oh and then myself.
That's life, right?
It took time, but I gave myself the permission to admit that I didn't want that life. I rebuke the notion that stress is something I have to endure rather than overcome. I will work to reject that toxic societal pressure every day.
The nurse said something else that moved me toward action. While preparing my prescription, she said that by me coming in to urgent care when I did, the early interventions would enable me to avoid a lot of the pain that Shingles typically entails. Let me tell you, the little bit I did feel is something I don't ever want to go through again! So I am grateful!
Right there -- another life lesson: We have to try to get out in front of our stressors.
They will be there. They will come out of nowhere. They will have you asking God "why me?" They will seethe if they go unchecked. You might become complacent if you don't allow yourself to notice them, but your body reveals the truth. Always. And we have to be ready to stand firm and say: "Devil, not today!" as many times as necessary.
What does it look like to get out in front of stress? I don't know what it is for everyone and in this community that I envisioned (correction: that I needed), not a single soul will come to this platform claiming to be some magical expert with all of the answers. However, from that diagnosis onward, I made a point of blocking off time for my wellness. When I started declaring to myself and to others that I had the RIGHT to make time for my care, I started to feel different. I felt empowered. I want as much peace as possible. I want to be healthy for myself, my son, my family and my community. I had to make time for that in the midst of it all. Physically, mentally, emotionally, and more. We owe it to ourselves and our creator.
If you read the Mahogany Manifesto story, then you know I fell back into the "I'm so busy" status quo not too long ago. However, there's no amount of doubt or any number of missteps that can make me forget the ultimate goal. As one of my mentors used to say, always do the best you can and leave the rest alone.
I cannot close without speaking to climate in which I exist at the moment I hit post on this article.
At the end of May, another unarmed Black man was murdered. George Floyd and his body -- his pleas, his LIFE -- were treated by callous, apathetic and hateful "authority figures" as though he was not a fellow human. We must all say out loud that George Floyd matters. Breonna Taylor matters. Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Korryn Gaines, Ahmaud Arbery, Atatiana Jefferson, Philando Castile, Dominique Clayton, Bontham Jean and unfortunately the many, many others. We must all say out loud that their lives and Black lives as a whole MATTER. Why? Because there are people in this world whose actions and words evince disregard to the point that they'll take a person's life in cold blood and then be comforted by the likelihood of facing zero to little punishment. That's why!
Protest! Vote! Run for office! Donate to organizations that are on the front-lines of the continuous fight for JUSTICE and RESPECT. Whatever it is, DO SOMETHING!
My sisters at GirlTrek (I don't know the ladies who founded it or any of the individuals who work for the entity, but they're all my friends in my mind), they are calling for us to do one thing in the name of social justice: Walk. If you can't do anything else, walk. Walk to honor those who came before us and for those who are looking to us for a better future. Walk with your head held high for those who can't want anymore. Just walk.
The GirlTrek call to action resonated with me, but really, there are many ways to recharge and refocus while contributing to the greater good in the long run. Just read. Just paint. Just dance. Just do yoga. Just garden. Just talk. Just bake with your family.
I don't believe in coincidence. In this time and space so many are calling for spiritual and emotional rejuvenation. People are reclaiming their lives. People are saying "You WILL hear me" instead of asking to be heard.
At Mahogany Manifesto™, our call is for you to make time to do whatever it is you need to do for you so that you can be there for others.
So, write it down. Declare your self-care intentions. Sketch out your broader goals even as they evolve. Make it plain!
- Jera 🖤