No Days Off

It’s been more than two years since Washington, D.C.-based rapper, Wale, used social media to coin the popular idiom “no days off.” The three words infiltrated Twitter, appearing as a hashtag at the end of tweets about working double-shifts and balancing parenthood with college duties. The three-word phrase signifies the endless grind MCs subscribe to in order to achieve their Tony Montana dreams. It transcended hip-hop culture and infiltrated the lives of women of color, who sacrifice sleep, regular spa dates and lunch to demolish to-do lists.

An impeccable work ethic is admirable for hip-hop artists, students, professionals, mothers and other grinders. Most goals aren’t reached by complacent dreamers resting on their laurels. However, embodying the “no days off” mantra provides little flexibility for the self-care we need to maintain our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.

I developed a “no days off” maxim as an undergraduate student. Professors told me to strive toward perfection because writers of color are afforded few mistakes. I was encouraged to intern, freelance and participate in as many extracurricular activities as possible so I would have a resume that could compete with journalism students at predominantly white institutions (PWIs). I often tweeted #NoDaysOff as I joined the tribe of women of color working to exhaustion. There were times I slept less than five hours in a week, sneaking in 30-minute naps between classes and other responsibilities.

I would sleep 12-to-16 hours when the semester was over, recuperating in the bed for more than a week. The grind never ceased and I had little regard for the impact this continual weariness was having on me physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. The sacrifices seemed necessary at the time. I needed to be more-skilled than the competition.

It paid off in the short-run, but the long-term effects are sure to have an impact. It is detrimental to engage in the “no days off” understanding of the world. Working without resting or practicing continuous health maintenance is not worth the consequences. Some see self-care as slothful, indulgent and selfish, but it is imperative for women of color to engage in the practice.

Counselor Cheryl Richardson writes in her book, The Art of Extreme Self-Care: Transform Your Life One Month at a Time: “From years of personal experience, as well as from the work I’ve done coaching many caring and hardworking men and women, I’ve learned that when we care for ourselves deeply and deliberately, we naturally begin to care for others – our families, our friends, and the world – in a healthier and more effective way.”

She explains that through self-care, “We become conscious and conscientious people. We tell the truth. We make choices from a place of love and compassion instead of guilt and obligation.”

There are inexplicable health risks accompanied with neglecting the needs of our bodies.

Crunk Feminist Collective’s Dr. Robin Boylorn recounts how high blood pressure has impacted her and other relatives. She writes:

“High blood pressure runs in my family.  I have been taking medication to regulate it for six years and I recently started getting intense headaches and migraines that I realized were related to hypertension.  Deadline-driven days have become so commonplace in my life that I didn’t recognize or respond to the “stress” anymore.  It became normalized.  A way of life.  The way my life is.  This is a problem.  And sometimes I won’t sit down (read: take a break from work) until/unless I am hurting. That is also a problem.”

It is a problem that some women of color refuse to solve. Many of us believe grinding is an inherent trait. We think of our black women foremothers who had children and returned to the cotton fields without complaint. We think of Harriet Tubman. We think of Madame CJ Walker. We think of bell hooks. We think of Michelle Obama. We think of Beyoncé. We must think first and foremost about ourselves, our health and our preservation.

Dr. Boylorn is practicing self-care to honor black feminist icons that died much too soon. She writes:

“I worry that our foremothers were worked to death.  I worry that they didn’t see death coming because they were too busy taking care of other things.  I worry that they had too much to do and ran out of time.  I worry that they didn’t get to see themselves as celebrated and loved and worthy of celebration and love.  I worry that they worked too much, too hard, and for too little pay.  I worry that people saw them as strongblackwomen and forgot to see them as human.  I worry that our jobs, our families, our friends, and sometimes our supporters expect too much and we expect too little.”

Famed black feminist Audre Lorde said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” There’s nothing selfish about recuperating and engaging in self-care.

A routine manicure and pedicure appointment is self-care. Meditating an hour in the morning and the evening is self-care. Taking a 15-minute walk and being married to nature is self-care. Telling someone no is self-care. Going to bed a routine hour is self-care. Spending 30-minutes of the treadmill is self-care. Leaving work at work is self-care.

“No days off” is a lifestyle that leads to earlier graves. Practice self-care instead. You deserve it.

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