Do you remember that anti-drugs PSA commercial about your brain? You must have seen at least one version of it. The original aired in the 80’s but there has been a remake with the same concept every decade thus far. They all went something like this:
Narrator: This is your brain (person holds uncooked egg in hand)
Narrator: This is drugs (person points to sizzling black iron skillet with frying oil ready)
Narrator: This is your brain on drugs (person cracks egg into hot skillet and proceeds to make breakfast)
Message received – drugs are not good for your brain. Your brain will look like a plateful at Denny’s if you use narcotics. Got it.
Now – Let’s talk about your brain on stress.
When you are stressed, cortisol is released in your brain which raises your heart rate, modulates adrenalin levels and clouds your thinking. Your brain might as well be on pint-sized hallucinogens (only a slight exaggeration.)
There is an evolutionary reason for your inability to “think straight” during high-stress, high-emotion situations. When face to face with a predator, let’s say a wild lion or wolf, your body will instinctively start to shut down systems that are not needed during immediate danger. If your body is expending metabolism on your digestive system, libido or immune system, you may not react quickly enough. You might die and then none of those things matter. Your body ceases activity in non-needed systems in order to increase response time and the likeliness of survival.
Unfortunately, one of the things that goes out the windows during those times of stress is rational, logical thinking.
Where’s the PSA commercial for that?
I recently committed to a Bookish club. Don’t laugh. It’s not quite a Book club because not everyone was sure if they could commit to reading an entire book a month. We agreed that we would meet up regardless and discuss what we had read, if we read, and life in general.
Last night was the first meeting of this Bookish club. There are four of us. One sister couldn’t make it because her 70 something year old father fell ill and was in the hospital with pneumonia. Completely understandable.
There ended up still being four of us.
Through the power of social media and a childhood friendship between the author and one of our members, Kenia Diego joined us on our discussion of her life, her story and her book Surrender: When Pain Becomes Extraordinary Blessings.
It was an amazing night. I wish I had better words, stronger words. I should, as a writer … but I think I’m still processing. Everything just vibed. Connections were formed and I come back to one word.
The bond between women is raw. It is primal. Most importantly, it is healing. In a world where we are treated as less-than everywhere, taught to apologize profusely, not take up too much space, and nurture others at the cost of ignoring self-care, sisterhood is the medicine that soothes the soul. It is liberating and comforting. It is love.
I made an important realization – one that I’m not sure I took away from the book until I met the author and interacted with her face to face. Kenia’s story is not just about love and loss … I mean it is, but not in the ways I thought it to be. Kenia’s testimony is about self-care. It is about loving yourself before loving anyone else in order not to lose yourself completely.
We sat in the back of Uncle Peter’s, an Italian restaurant on Northern Boulevard and 83rd Street in Queens, in between the dimly lit hallway to the bathroom and the buzzing kitchen. There were two of us on either side of the table. Kenia sat with her back to the front door and I watched her as she spoke these words with authenticity and sincerity, “When you don’t know where to start, take care of yourself.” Kenia survived her depression, her tragic loss by focusing on self-care and it made her the woman and inspiration she is today.
It is that simple and that difficult.
Just. Take. Care. Of. Yourself.
When you can’t breathe, when the world is collapsing all around you, when you feel like you are trapped and there is no way out – just think about how you can take care of yourself for that one day. One day at a time. There is nothing else.
And given the biological root of what is happening in your body – it makes sense. You should not be making major decisions in the midst of high stress and high emotions. It is a straight up bad idea … like balancing your laptop on the edge of the couch while you reach for a drink, something I probably do too often. I digress though.
My good friend Annysa does not believe in New Year’s Resolution. Much like myself, she set an intention for the new year instead. I came across her eloquent explanation of that intention on Facebook a week into the new year:
For 2017, I did not make any resolutions. I decided to infuse this year with an intention: Sisterhood. I’ve found throughout my life that the world makes us believe that friendships with women are too difficult, too messy, too raw, too complicated to put in the work. I have also learned that I have often run away or neglected being embraced and loved by women because of the fear of rejection, of being perceived as too vulnerable, being too “needy” (talk about internalized oppression!). I want this year to be about cultivating and building and taking risks with my sisters, embracing women that I have loved and admired from afar or have had a lot of difficulty embracing because of our differing views. I want to “embrace” and “love” and “uplift” in emotional AND practical ways whether that be having coffee and “catching up” or looking over your resume and putting in work with you to help you find a job. I am still working on what this journey will look like, but my hope is that my sisters will keep me accountable.
I couldn’t have said it better myself and I felt it last night. I feel it every time I have a heart to heart with another woman, a moment of vulnerability.
The next time I feel my brain on that stress drug, I’m going to stop. I’m going to breathe. And I’m going to call a sister friend.
Sisterhood is healing. Sisterhood is nurturing. Sisterhood is a means of self-care and in the current times, I would argue it is even a means of fighting back and resisting the powers and structures in place.
I’m joining Annysa publicly on this 2017 intention and adding sisterhood to my list of writing and breathing as a means of self-care. I will write. I will remember to breathe. And I will focus my energy and time into fostering sisterhood.
Who’s with us?