Anyone who is involved in an aspect of advocacy and community development understands the importance of self-care. Yet, it is one of the most neglected tools in a Change maker’s toolkit. We understand that we have to be strong for the next person looking up to us, but we forget that it is sometimes important for those looking up to us to see us healthy or see our vulnerability and remember we are also human. Even the strongest iron does get rust overtime especially when not well maintained. In a similar way, even the most ardent advocate and community change maker would end up getting burnt out if care is not taken to give themselves some much needed self –care.
As someone who was inspired by her own story and challenges to speak out and #BreakTheSilence and stigma around living with sickle cell anemia, It has been a great struggle finding that balance to be strong for those who look up to me be they sickle cell warriors or not and embracing my own vulnerability. I have come to understand that to continue in this work of advocacy and empowering other warriors as long as it is humanly possible, I need to sit back now and then, recoup and rebuild my health and my stamina before pressing on yet again. Advocacy is fulfilling but it does come with its own challenges. Some of the things I have been able to do these past years to keep sane and healthy as possible are discussed below.
The popular saying that an apple a day keeps the doctor away holds true especially for people like me living with a chronic health condition. The condition makes my immune system weak and prone to infections so it is imperative that I take special care of my diet and what goes into my system. Because of the nature of my advocacy, writing, counseling, mentoring and handling a full time job means this important aspect can easily be neglected. Junk food may be fulfilling in the main time but it certainly will not fortify my immune system to supply the much needed fuel and nutrients to press on. So, I carefully plan my meals, leaning towards the healthy; more water intake, more vegetables and fruits and carefully cook them during the weekend and preserve in the freezer. That way, I am assured of a well-planned and balanced meal throughout the week… a strong bonus which helps keeps the Drs away and keeps me going in my advocacy work.
REST AND SLEEP
I am not a fan of sleep and sometimes when asked if I am not sleeping, I do reply I have a case pending with the supreme court of sleep, whenever the case is adjourned or sleeps wins, I sleep. I used to have a hard time sleeping but recently, I have been trying to ensure I get as much sleep as possible. There are some days I call my lazy days in which I just stay indoors and dedicate more time to myself doing nothing except sleep... or read, meditate or just do whatever can be seen as quality me time. This always helps me feel refreshed and rejuvenated to carry on.
UNDERSTANDING MY HEALTH AND BOBY BETTER
I live with an invisible health condition which is also very unpredictable. One minute, I can be playing, laughing, having the time of my life and the next minute, I am crying, fighting for my life; the perfect example of an oxymoron. Learning to understand my body and trigger factors has been crucial to minimize the frequencies of my crisis, thereby giving me a better chance at good health. For instance, Stress and cold are two trigger factors of my crisis. We live in a stressful world and that alone, is enough to make me fret and worry. I have learnt to not worry unnecessarily especially over things I really cannot fix or solve and just take things a day a time. Similarly, I try as much as possible to avoid holding workshops and other awareness drives during extreme cold weathers. If I must, I bundle up and make sure I dress really warm and comfortable. During these periods, online activities become my strongest assets and I make good use of them.
EMBRACE MY VULNERABILITY
I think the mistake most of us make is to maintain the superwoman or man persona all the time. Of course, people are hurting and haven worn their shoes and understand where it pinches, we yearn to soothe those pains and give them comfortable shoes. However, we must remember to get ourselves a pair of comfortable shoes first so as to be able to walk well and fast to reach others. Embracing our own vulnerability helps us remember we are first and foremost, humans and in my case, another sickle cell warrior who is still going through the same medical health challenges but just chooses to look at the challenge differently. It can be sometimes very taxing, when you have to carry the weight of others on your own weaken shoulders, trying to be strong for them while slowly dying inside. That is why sometimes, though soothing others may provide a momentarily distraction from my own worries, especially when I am sick, I sometimes have to go slow and not feel shame to let others know I am down. I think that has been a great help from me putting on the superman wings and getting burnt out or crushed by its weight.
SENSE OF HUMOUR, POSITIVITY AND FAITH
It can be daunting keeping your cool and a sense of humour, positivity and faith when you are going through a life time of pain but, I find these three very important in my self-care regiment. Maybe I am just an optimist, I just don’t see how feeling sorry for myself all the time takes away this particular challenge. It is what I call a lifelong contract because like it or not, I am stuck with it and so, best make the most of the pain free moments and be happy while empowering others. I always look for things which make me happy and smiling after all, laughter is good medicine alongside its sister sleep. A measure of positivity and faith is my assurance that life sure goes on and while rest is important when I need it, I have the faith and confidence that with God’s help, I will keep rising after each challenge to keep impacting others. These are some of the things I do to take care of myself while I continue my advocacy work with sickle cell. Ever since I discovered this important tool in my change maker toolkit, I have felt happier, energized and confident to keep doing what I do.
Grateful for Life and the chance to serve.