Light skin

About a week or so ago, actress Lupita Nyong’o openly discussed her challenges with being a dark skin woman. She talked about praying nightly for lighter skin as a child, and how being darker felt like an obstacle for her to overcome. I thought this was very brave and very honest of her. I think most women of color deal with some form of colorism. And the racism that exists in our society often effects us causing us to internalize those feelings (resulting in internalized racial inferiority) and acting them out in our own lives. For Lupita it meant wishing she was lighter and struggling with her own self worth in part, because of her color.

For some of the people I work with internalized racial inferiority plays out differently. I have worked with clients that use skin lightening creams and skin bleaches (which are loaded with toxic chemicals) to be lighter. Women who use a straightening perm in their hair until it falls out and wear weaves that rip at the roots of their scalps until they have bald patches. I don’t say this to make light of it or make fun of this issue. I mention it because its a real daily struggle for many. When a woman as beautiful and intelligent as Lupita struggles with self worth over her color, it speaks to a much larger problem in our society.

While there are the occasional models and actresses of darker skin that reach success, the majority do not. Skin color still acts as a barrier to success in many forms.

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March is Social Work Month

March is Social Work month! Many people get confused about what social workers do. I think Social Work month is the perfect time to help clarify it. I gathered some of the common questions and misconceptions about social work and answered them.

1) What do social workers do? Social workers work to help people. They don’t just help as someone would try to help a friend talk through a problem, or assist someone in filling out a food stamp application. Social work is considered a “Helping Profession” along with doctors, nurses, psychologists and teachers. There is education and training behind their professional helping. There are bachelor, masters and doctoral level programs. There are state educational and experience mandates as well as licensing exams in order to ensure that professional social workers are qualified to help. There is ongoing training and education to promote best practice.

2) Where do social workers work? A social workers help comes in many forms. Social workers work in a wide variety of fields.Some work providing talk therapy in mental health clinics, hospitals, and private practice offices. These are often the therapists you run into when you are seeking help for an issue like depression, anxiety, or PTSD. There are social work administrators that run agency’s. They work on ensuring enough money comes into programs, balance budgets, seek out new funding streams and focus on things like staff moral and overall program and agency development. They also work in substance abuse, child welfare services like foster care and adoption, the legal field and advocacy, work with people with developmental disabilities, and in community development.

3) Who do social workers work with? They work with every age group, from programs servicing infants and toddlers from 0-3 with developmental issues, to counseling programs and groups for teens, to working with the elderly in senior programs. Social workers provide services to families living in poverty and to wealthy families and everyone in between.

4) What do you like best about being a social worker? That I get to partner with people to create better circumstances and less stressful lives for themselves and their families. This can help them in the moment, and have a long-term impact for their children and family.

Gratitude

As we are well into the season of thanks, I think of all of the things I am grateful for. A family of imperfect people, and a circle of imperfect friends, I am touched by the love and support I am able to gain from them. A friend of mine recently told me I don’t need to expect the support from particular people or places, but just to take it as it comes and from whomever it comes from. This was sound advice, and it was advice that allowed me to more fully appreciate the tremendous amount of love and support I do receive. It’s important to stay connected to whats important during this season.

Many people become especially lonely and depressed around the holiday season. The expectations of the fun you should be having, the gifts you should be giving and receiving, and the family you should be loved by may be quite different from anything that you or anyone else could possibly live up to. So try to take a moment and step back, consider what it is that you want to do to celebrate and focus on that. Whether it’s an hour on the phone with a family member or friend, or taking a moment to write a thank you note, celebrate the season your way.

Happy Halloween!!!

As the only holiday where you can get dressed up and play with strangers Halloween often takes on a life of its own. Some communities are transformed into haunted towns with rows of faux cemetery plots on front lawns, ghosts and goblins perched up on battered wooden benches. NYC prepares for an annual Halloween parade today. My thoughts are focused on finding the more creepy costumes, and whether or not I need to make a last-minute candy purchase or if there is already enough candy at home to hand out to potential trick-or-treaters. While the candy and costumes are fun, scholars hold different beliefs about how and where Halloween started.

Some trace its roots to Paganism, some to Celtic Christian or Catholic celebrations, others to Idolatry. Halloween ties well with the Day of the Dead in Mexico, a three-day religious and celebratory event which starts on 10/31 and honors those who have passed. Similar celebrations occur all around the world. What may have started as a way to connect with the deceased, has become a day to celebrate and indulge in fantasy and self-expression.

Some people will dress up and go out while others will stay in. Do you ever wonder whats behind some of the costume choices we make? Some might say that your choice in a costume is pure fantasy, and a way to explore a role outside of yourself. Others believe its proof of ones inner desires and ideals. Lets look at three of the most common costumes and what meaning they may hold.  

1) Evil witch, grim reaper, and other powerful and negative characters-  a way to indulge in exploration of exercising power without having any remorse.

2) Sexy nurse, bar maid, gladiator, wrestler- a demonstration of ones sexual prowess and physical attributes.

3) Heroic characters like Superman or Wonder Woman- may be a way to express youthful and playful traits and indulge in the rescue or savior fantasies.

Whether you decide to stay indoors this year or go out and indulge in playing dress-up, it can be fun to question the meaning behind the costumes you will see.

Shining in your own skin

We all want to shine at some point, everyone wants to be noticed for what they do well, and be appreciated for it. A younger, and more ambitious, me used to wonder what I needed to do to be noticed in the professional setting.  I would attend trainings, put in above and beyond my expected work hours, and seek out mentorship in an effort to advance professionally. All of this helped, and I learned a lot in the process. These activities were the meat of my professional learning and growth. But there was an additional item that really pulled it together. One  piece of advice I received and learned to stop listening to is probably what actually facilitated access to a good amount of my professional experiences. Not that the extra work, hours and role models I had didn’t, clearly this was all substantial. But the piece that pulled it all together was freeing myself up enough to be myself in each of my roles. Not working to fit into someone else’s vision of who and what I should look like, how I should behave, how much of me I could use professionally. Whether that meant allowing myself to be quiet and slow to warm up when entering a new setting, or sharing my ideas and cracking jokes in another.

As a young woman, and a woman of color, I got plenty of critical feedback from people who were attempting to “help” me to fit in. Critique of my clothing, my vehicle, whether I did my own laundry and ironed and folded it afterwards or sent it to the cleaners, my smile, tone of voice, the way I stood, laughed, all of these things were things that bosses and mentors felt the need to discuss with me in order to help me improve myself so I could continue to grow and advance. Initially I believed some of this stuff. And things like wearing wrinkled clothing to work is never a good idea. But truth be told the only way to truly shine is to shine in your own skin. It’s your uniqueness that sets you out from the crowd. It’s your operating from the core of who you truly are that cultivates the relationships you need to create in order to flourish professionally. Your uniqueness is also the only thing you have to offer that no one else has.  If you are worried about balancing in a three-inch pair of high heals and concerned about the fit of a designer suit you would have never worn in the first place, you wont be relaxed enough to enjoy and connect in the moment. Much less feel comfortable enough to put yourself out there intellectually or in any way that you need to in order to let your jewels shine.

At this point, which is over a decade in, I seek out professional advice, feedback, and mentorship. I also make sure that I access support. I connect with others, and connecting with other women, especially women of color, who have shared a lot of the same experiences is extremely useful for me. It’s having these relationships and supports that allow me to be liberated enough to be who I am. It’s through this process that I became able to tease out what is actually useful feedback from what is someone needing to correct me for not being white and not being male.  Nowadays it’s extremely easy for me to dismiss it and realize that for many they are operating from a place of fear.

My advice to those interested in truly connecting or growing in any role, cultivate relationships with those who can support you and understand your experience, be who you truly are, and besides ensuring you follow the basic rules like the office dress code allow yourself to shine authentically- and in your own skin!

Spa Day

Earlier this month I had a very rich experience. I led an experiential  workshop focused on meditation and relaxation with The Tommy Foundation NYC Chapter, for their second annual Free Spa Day. The event was extremely well organized by Katiana Harrison, President of The Tommy Foundation NYC chapter ( http://www.tommyland.org/nyc ). I was able to work with a group of women, all mothers, all parenting at least one child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder or special need, some parenting multiple children with special needs. I walked away really feeling moved by this group of women who work incredibly hard to meet their children’s needs, and take care of their selves and their families in other ways as well. Some managing their own careers and their educations in addition to parenting.  All working to ensure their children’s educational needs and social needs are met. All focused and incredibly real and passionate about being good mothers. All loving mothers who enjoy their children.

This event was focused on providing mothers with a day just for themselves, they had their hair, make-up, and nails done, received massage and facials, were part of group therapy exercises, focused relaxation exercises, and chef prepared dishes all at no cost to participants.

It was a reminder for me of the importance of self-care for everyone. Not only taking care of yourself mentally, physically, spiritually, but being sure to take time to connect with others. If you’re feeling like you have started to slack off in self care consider giving yourself a personal spa day. Set a day aside that you will focus on your own needs. But overall, be sure that you’re taking care of yourself in general. See the self-care tips below.

-Get enough sleep, speak to your doctor or a therapist if you’re regularly not getting enough sleep. In general about 8 hours per night, but people may need more or less because of individual needs. How do you feel after 6, 8, or 10 hours of rest? How you feel can be a good indication of how much sleep you individually need. Your body and mind require sleep to function well. Over time, not getting enough sleep on a regular basis can contribute to health and mental health problems worsening or developing.

-Eat at least 3 meals a day, focus on changing what the meals consist of if you have health or weight concerns. A general way to keep cholesterol and calories down is to make each serving of food balanced and serve your plate so that the largest portion on your plate is a serving of fruit or vegetables, next lean protein and the smallest serving is carbohydrates. If you snack, choose healthy snacks.

-Take time each day for you, even if it’s just half an hour you set aside and wake up before the rest of the household wakes up, take that time to pray, or meditate, or sit with quiet thought.Or have your time be at the end of the day during a warm bath or quiet time alone.

-Make time to be social. Even if you have a lot of responsibility or very busy days. Find a friend in your area that you can see, speak with and connect with. If you don’t make any time to be social at all at this point, try to start with once a month and maintain that as a minimum, increasing when you are able to. If you have grown away from existing friendships, try local community centers, houses of worship, or websites like http://www.meetup.com/find/ to find local groups and people who you can connect with.

– Make sure you are getting regular dental and medical care. Make sure you are keeping your body clean, and taking care of your nails and hair when you need to.

Finding the right therapist

So you’re looking for a therapist. What do you need to know? Below are some questions designed for you to ask your potential therapist, and some designed for you to ask yourself to help you to find a good match for yourself. You can ask these upfront, but it’s best if you ask yourself the questions designed for you after you meet with them initially.

1) What is your professional license and in which state are you licensed? What education, professional experience and examinations did you need to complete in order to acquire your professional license?

2) Where is your office located? What public transportation is accessible near by? Is there parking available?

3) What days and times do you see clients during the week?

4) Can you describe the way you engage clients? How long do you generally work with clients for?

5) What experience have you had working with people who have the same concerns that I have? What was the outcome of your work with them?

6) Are you available for same day or phone appointments if I have an emergency? How could I reach you in an emergency?

7) Do you see clients with their loved ones if there is a need to? Does this cost more or less than my regular sessions?

8) Do you take my insurance? Do you have sliding scale fees? What is your fee?

The initial meeting should serve as a test drive for your work with this therapist. Now ask yourself these questions:

1) Does this person seem like they understood the concerns I have? Do I have the sense that they will “get” me?

2) Will therapy with this therapist fit in my finances, either because I can afford sessions with them, or they accept my insurance carrier?

3) Can I access this person in an emergency even if its just an urgent scheduling change?

4) Can I get to the location without too much difficulty? Is the office space comfortable?

5) Do people they have worked with who have had the same concerns I do- do they have results that I might want to have?

Finding a therapist that you can work with is very important in meeting your goals. The person and how they mesh with you, are equally as important as their professional training. Think it through. Good Luck!