Most of my leadership and relational capabilities were molded in the church. If there is one thing that every leader in the church knew, is that the greatest leadership quality is that of servanthood. The first will be last and the last will be first and, remember, at the end, it is not about you but about God's people. You have to put others before yourself. Living with this creed throughout my life screwed with me because any moment I thought of myself, binges of guilt would ravage me, leaving me feeling like I had failed God's people. Along with all of that, I watched my Gololo parents sacrifice so much, even their careers, to serve "the church", much to my dad's health deterioration at a later stage. This is not exclusive to church experience but for the sake of my reality, I use the church as an illustration.
So as it was, this nugget was drilled into me until it became second nature - "life does not belong to you, you are placed on earth to serve others". This is the place from where I made most of my decisions. This runs deep in my veins and no matter what consciousness does to you, when something runs in your veins, it will haunt you, reminding you that it will take a while to filter out of your stream - if ever.
I am truly appreciative of the life I have been afforded to live, but if there is one thing I could change, that would be to take better care of myself. I sit here, having had a beautiful 2015 but an awful December which served as a painful reminder of how much, over the years, I have neglected my one true weapon, which is me. When you start with such talk, Bible markers and self appointed spokespeople will remind you of how self indulgent you are becoming. What use is it to gain the whole world but in the process, lose your soul? (proverbs). This is exactly what self neglect does to you. It seeps all of you until your soul is drained and lost. You end up being resentful at the outcomes, because as humans would have it, the "give and it shall be given unto you" epistle lacks a great deal in our compass. I have always pondered on the "love your neighbor as you would love yourself" scripture. In essence, you do a disservice to those you are serving when you neglect yourself. For how do you love the next if you haven't even started trying to love yourself. Do not get me wrong, I am not talking about the looting kind of self care at the expense of others. I am talking about self preservation which makes you effective in the welfare of yourself and others.
Naturally this trait pours into the rest of everything that I do. As a thinker, writer, activist, educator, and someone who is passionate about black lives and reclaiming the economy of Africa. One can be so engrossed in the matters of black pain, putting our causes before our well being. Because systems and structures are not built to take care of the black body, we are constantly having to put others way before ourselves in this struggle for any form of integrity. Almost reminding us that we are unworthy in the world of various -isms.
As a black woman, society has placed a heavy burden on what I should be. Society expects you to put others first while juggling all these different aspects of your life - they make you feel better by saying you are good at multitasking. Lest we not forget how you are a "strong black woman" and how you are all things to all mankind. A conversation between a black man and myself during my December slump suggested that I was not allowed to cave in under pressure because I am a black woman and black women got this. For a moment, I nearly played along. Until I remembered Audre Lorde's words.
Audre Lorde in her "a burst of light" opined that:
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
That the struggle for being alive is one of survival and political warfare especially as a marginalised body. As a black woman, I face so many struggles in the name of patriarchy, structural violence and racism. Coupled with the struggle for relevance, it can result as a direct attack on one's body. A good friend of mine during the #FeesMustFall protest made a comment that at the rate we were going, we would need to turn to various substances to help us cope. Obviously, when we share this with fellow comrades, some called us weak, reminding us of comrades who fought bravely and tirelessly against the struggle of slavery and apartheid. That as a black body, you do not deserve self care - you need to run yourself down in order to legitimise your commitment to the struggle. One thing we seem not to get in all of this is how the body responds to stress caused by oppression. This struggle, results in our bodies turning against us, making us ineffective in the long run, this is when we will lose the war. It is not a big surprise why in the midst of the festivities and joyful cheers that comes with the ever so consumer-hungry December, many suffer from "unknown" anxiety and depression.
I am sitting here, 20 kilos heavier and it's because of how I respond to stress (overeating coupled with lack of exercise). In addition to the 20 kilos I packed, I have to at some point come to terms with the "learning disability" I live with as it contributes to the pain and neglect I reap continuously throughout my life. Being in an environment where my mind is my biggest asset, I have to come to terms with the fact that a mental illness cripples me and my year in and year out denialism is slowly causing the dearth of my longevity. I have survived on "managing" my mental illness, but I have also lived through some hard negative talk on myself because of how the illness inhibits my full potential. Self acceptance does not mean that you somehow magically become a new person and overcome your darkness, but it means that you are "ok" with who you are and the chemical breakdown that exists within you that leads to your demise. When you are at a place of self acceptance, it is easier to seek help in that regard.