Women’s Health Week Challenge

Did you know that May 10th – May 16th is National Women’s Health week? We all either know them or are them; women who take so much time and energy caring for others, whether its a spouse, child, or parent who needs the help, often its a sister, daughter or wife who provides it.Coinciding well with Mother’s Day, May 10th is the beginning of National Women’s Health week. I challenge all women to do something to take care of themselves, and I challenge all men, and others who don’t identify their gender traditionally, to support them.

So here is the challenge for the week, select at least one of the following to do:

1) Take time to prepare a healthy and balanced meal for yourself, don’t rush through it, enjoy it, and hold onto each moment that you are taking care of yourself by doing this, then do the same as you enjoy the meal.

2) Schedule that appointment you have been skipping out on, whether its a medical appt for your doctor or gynecologist, dental appt, or an appt to see a therapist or counselor.

3) Schedule that other appt you have missed out on for either a pedicure, a manicure, or to get your hair washed and done.

4) Buy yourself flowers and place them where you will be able to enjoy the site and scent, mine are by my bed so I can fall asleep and wake up to fresh flowers.

5) Get some exercise, if you have a regular workout schedule stick with it, if not, go for a long walk or a hike where you can enjoy nature.

6) Buy some seeds and plant them, tend to your seeds and watch them bloom and grow over the next several weeks.

Whatever you decide to do, get started by or before the week of May 10th. Good emotional and physical health depends on taking time to truly care for your emotional, physical, spiritual and social needs. Take stock and take the challenge!

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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.

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!

Think fresh

Spring is here and its been about a week since this period of renewal has started. So far the only new thing that has occurred is a national effort and plan to end groundhog Punxsutawney Phil’s life for giving us false notions about an early spring, which hasn’t happened. Luckily there are ways, besides warm weather, to become freshly renewed. One of them is renewing your thinking. Balance out your negative thoughts and ideas with positive ones. When you’re feeling afraid, worried, or thinking negative thoughts, take a moment to balance each of those things with logic. You can keep the realistic responses in your head or you can write it down. And each time your mind goes into negative thinking, use what you know to be logical and true to get you out of it. Most of the time, our fears create a much more frightening and difficult picture in our mind than whats realistically happening. You can be logical and positive to balance yourself and your thoughts out. Fortunately the more you practice it, the easier it will become.

The Art of Forgiveness

Everyone has experienced a time in their life when they have been hurt or betrayed. Sometimes these wounds can be so deep that you believe they couldn’t possibly heal. I am always impressed by those that suffer great losses, like the loss of a loved one at the hands of another and the immediate forgiveness that can follow. No one wants to be tested on it, but many consider – could I ever forgive that way? Would I ever be able to? Then there are those that experience even the smallest slight and it can take them years of contemplation and soul-searching before they can even consider forgiving, if that ever becomes an option. No matter what your stance is about forgiving, there have been many studies and some proven research about forgiving.

Besides the self-gratification of taking the higher road and forgiving another, there are emotional and health benefits tied to forgiveness. Forgiving can improve depression, and anxiety, decrease stress, lessen the risk of alcoholism and substance abuse. In terms of your own personal growth and relationships, forgiveness improves relationships and can improve ones overall sense of well-being. Forgiveness can give you the space you need to be able to move on and be open to new relationships and the fulfillment that can come from them.

For more information check out the following links:

http://stress.about.com/od/relationships/a/forgiveness.htm 

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/forgiveness/MH00131/

 

 

 

 

Fighting fair

Many couples come in seeking therapy with a laundry list of the others faults and mistakes. Issues small and large alike come up, everything from adultery to who mails the bills out after the checks are written. But there is one thing that makes a big difference in the likelihood and ability for a couple to last. And that’s fair fighting. No matter what the issue is its important to fight fair.

To be sure you’re on track:

1) Stick to the issue at hand, discuss it. Don’t use the argument as an opportunity to get rid of excess stress or stick it to your life partner. Remember that this person is the one that you decided you wanted to spend your life with. If you want to maintain partnership everyone’s dignity and self-respect has to stay in tact. If this idea isn’t easy to digest ask yourself if you would want to spend the rest of your life with someone who attacks you below the belt every time frustration builds up.

2) Stay focused on exactly what you are discussing and don’t bring up things from the past.Be present in the discussion and stay on current topics. If another matter is coming up for you discuss it outside of this argument.

3) Use “I” statements instead of starting off with “You” statements of blame or ridicule. Starting off with “You” will almost always feel like a personal attack to your mate.

4) Have your discussions and arguments privately. Not in the presence of friends or family. This helps each of you be able to walk away with more of your self-respect in tact and keeps others opinions out of the matter.

5) Remain authentic in all of your communication. True intimacy and lasting relationships that feel good are built on honesty and intimacy. It’s also the only way to truly solve a conflict.

Generation Protest

This past Friday, my 11-year-old son, Elias, asked me to have a seat on the couch so we could talk. Gladly, and slightly amused, I sat down to hear what he had to say. He told me that he and the rest of the fifth graders at his school had been involved in a protest at school. The school is located in Brooklyn, NYC. At first I was thinking, I am so glad he goes to such a progressive school, where the staff must be teaching these kids to protest and fight for their rights. But the more he discussed it, the more I realized that it was not a lesson or anything arranged by or with faculty, but that these kids decided they were facing an injustice at school and they wanted to make a change for themselves. The issue at hand – the students wanted to read the book “the hunger games” on school grounds and during school time, but had been told they could not borrow it from the library because of their age. They also want to read it, if they can access it, during reading time which also was not allowed.

Their solution was take to the hallways, create posters to hang, and chant “NO HUNGER  GAMES – NO PEACE” together at different times over several days in the school. I had to be extremely careful of my reaction, knowing he was watching for it, but this was a hard one for me. On one hand I want my child to stand up for his rights, on the other hand I want him to be able to have good relationships with those in authority over him and be able to take no for an answer at times. I also think that if more people stood up together and immediately did so when they saw an injustice the ever so slow changes in this world in regards to racism, and every other -ism would not be happening so slowly. After his explanation of the events that occurred, he then told me about the administration’s response at school and the students collective interpretation of the school admins response.

Honestly, I could not have been prouder than I was at that moment. These kids are so smart, and learning to fight for their rights and this is what I hope and believe will make more change for his and future generations. Regardless of what their injustice is at this moment more importantly they are organizing and practicing their fight pretty early. That’s the bigger lesson. I told him how I really felt about it.