By Tiffany Peterson @TiffanyAndLupus | Photo by Jessica Rodriguez
The concept of self-care was so foreign to me before I was diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune condition in which the immune system cannot distinguish between sick and healthy tissues thus damaging any and every part of the body. The act of seeking one’s happiness and ensuring you were okay before another has always been attributed to selfishness in my upbringing. So, in a way, you could say lupus taught me how to love myself.
My entire existence has always been for that of mi familia. I had always left myself for last. Perhaps it is something inherited by each generation. Contrary to Machismo, the role of the woman in an [Afro]Latinx household is one of passive nurturing, Marianismo. She is to always be selfless. She gives every ounce of her being to her family, and when they are finally content she is then allowed to take comfort for herself. I still struggle to break the chains of this dangerous narrative that has been instilled in my blood through countless hermanas before me.
Two thousand, four hundred and forty-four. That’s precisely how many days I have been knowingly living with a chronic condition called lupus. Though to be fair, lupus has probably always been a part of my life. Every stabbing ache I felt as I lugged a shit-ton of textbooks on my brittle ass spine at the age of seventeen suddenly made sense. It would be another seven years before I discovered something was indeed definitely wrong with my body, and that the pretentious physician who sneered at me in disgust whilst labeling me a ‘pill-popping attention seeker’ was wrong.
One of the most important things that lupus has taught me (Also, a prevalent commandment originally coined by my fairy godmother, RuPaul) is, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else!?” Can I get an Amen?!
Self-care is an act of self-love. It’s taking steps to assure your physical, mental, and emotional health is consistently a top priority, best taken daily and in hefty doses as needed throughout the day. The only side-effects are unadulterated joy, sun dazzling smiles, toe-curling tingly warmth, and a rambunctious cackle or three for good measure.
In our current age, so many of us forget to practice self-care due to the mind warping culture of “I don’t get tired/I can sleep when I’m dead!” because we’re so focused on our hustle. If we were to forget to bathe or brush our teeth regularly how quickly would our own funk stop us dead in our musty ass tracks? So why then are we so frequently left looking like boo-boo the fool when it comes to our physical, mental, and emotional health? Throw a chronic illness into the mix and watch as we tumble into a nonstop endless spiral of despair. We must do better beloveds.
Taking care of oneself doesn’t necessarily require colossal feats of effort or finances. It’s more so determined according to your time management, or ones lack thereof. So, how should we practice self-care daily? (Use these steps as often as needed. There is no such thing as “too much” when it comes to taking care of yourself. Wash, step repeat!)
- Personal hygiene. For me this usually means SKINCARE. When you are clean you are happy. Get a manicure or a pedicure. Take a spa day. A more price friendly option is to stock up on skincare sheet masks. They usually range from $1.50 to $3+, my favorite masks contain honey, snail mucin, and ginseng, it’s essentially a facial you can enjoy from the comforts of home!
- Mental Health. Yes, this is important. No, it’s not a “bad” thing. Too often mental health is spoken about in hushed tones but there is nothing to be embarrassed about. We can’t allow the negative stigma often attached to mental health prevent us from seeking help if or when we are in need. Having a therapist is a great tool and ensures an unbiased listening ear whenever you need to get some thoughts off your chest. There are several online tools like ZocDoc to help you find health providers in your area that accept your insurance. A happy mind means a happy life.
- Sleep. Rest is not just for the weary! Your body needs time to replenish its energy. Take naps as often as they are needed. If sleeping isn’t your forte then try meditation. It is a great technique for restoring balance in your life and relieving unnecessary stress.
- Eat. Food is meant to be enjoyed! Try cooking that new recipe you found online. For those of us that have limitations due to mobility, order in. These days grocery shopping can be done online from the comfort of home and if overwhelming fatigue strikes take the opportunity to try a new restaurant in your area. And never skip dessert!
- Fresh air. Sometimes a change of environment is what we require to release accumulated stress from the humdrum of living life. Whether it’s a mini-vacation, or a more affordable “staycation” a change of pace often refreshes your perspective Take a walk outside. Make sure to take long deep breaths both inhaling and exhaling. Visualize stress leaving with every exhale which can help bring the focus back to your immediate needs.
- Community. Talk to your tribe. Reach out to the select few individuals who always encourage, uplift, and inspire you to greatness. Reinforcing positive energy in your presence naturally boosts your mood
- Hobbies. Reading, arts & crafting, exercising, dancing, traveling, writing, painting, knitting, etc. Spend time doing things that make you happy. Chronic illness doesn’t mean you can no longer enjoy your favorite pastimes. It simply means you might have to customize your hobby so that it can fit your needs better. Don’t be afraid to try something new. There are so many creative ways to enjoy life during one's free time, keep trying until you find the one you enjoy most.
- Music. I believe music is magical. It has the power to take you from ‘don’t touch me I’m emo’ to ‘knuck if you buck boy’! Choose any music platform and make several custom playlists that vibe to your specific mood or needs. Pandora has a ‘meditation’ station that can soothe your soul to sleep. Spotify has an entire playlist of guided meditations as well as one for stress relief. Allow music to be a spiritual guide as you narrate the theme song for each moment in life.
Stress will have your entire life in shambles resulting in a downward spiral leaving your health in utter ruin. By embracing simple acts of self-care I’ve learned healthy ways to manage my own stress and by doing so I’ve taught my sisters and even mi madre to take time for self. It’s crucial that we continue to break the toxic mold that often stereotypes our culture and/or gender roles. We are not our mothers or fathers, nor those who came before us. We are the sole versions of ourselves and we are worthy of love. So give yourself permission and love thyself.
Tiffany Marie Peterson is a writer, consultant, and public speaker from the resilient soul of New York City. She is adamantly committed to healthcare advocacy with a prominent focus in participatory medicine, chronic illness, disability, and mental health. Peterson is the founder of LupusChat, an online community centered on educating, encouraging, and empowering the lives of all those living with lupus worldwide. She is a creative whose work spans a myriad of distinctive fields. To connect with her further, follow her on Twitter (@Tiffanyandlupus).