Are you sure, sweetheart, that you want to be well? This question has always haunted my spirit. It’s from Toni Cade Bambara’s novel, The Salteaters. It is also apt for today. That and what does being well mean for the public’s health, from a social justice lens, radical wellness too and not from experts alone, or those who have credentials, but from you the general public and with your fiction or nonfiction?
Who are your go to references for being radically well and how do you even begin to define wellness for yourself? Of course it led me down a rabbit hole, one where I am now obsessed with how people, those in fiction and non fiction, those with expertise and none, define what they mean by wellness.
I have been struck by the myriad of ways people define wellness, especially those focused on people of color. It matters to me these days that for the public, we define what wellness means, not just from what the dominant literature may tell us, but from everyday people who continue to struggle with answering the question: ‘Are you sure, sweetheart, you want to be well.’ So, from what I gathered from the Bettina Love’s profound book ‘We want to do more than survive’ wellness is:
A type of freedom that comes when you let go of your fears and move your anger into a space of healing.
Wisdom and being well is hard work.
Part of social justice work.
An inner life that refuses to be treated less than human.
Finding the roots of your own Black Joy, Black love, and humanity.
Choosing to see ourselves beyond illness or disease.
Having an inner self that can be quiet and enjoy life.
Recognizing the pain of our ancestors knowing the beauty and resilience of that pain lives on in us.
Knowing who you are regardless of what is thrown at you.
Different for different people.
Healing that is unrecognizable to White people and different from them.
Being your best self while fighting injustice.
Fighting racism with life, grace, compassion.
Having mental space and freedom to dream, give hell, and retreat to one’s community of love for support, fulfillment, and nourishment.
Bringing your full self.
Joining others in the fight for humanity and antiracism in love and solidarity.
Confronting internalized White supremacy, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, Isamophobia, fat phobia, classism, ableism, and the rage that comes as a result of these hateful ideas.
Keep doing more than surviving with these radical wellness definitions in mind.
My mental health is my priority always. I learnt that the hard way when others and their state of mind almost subsumed mine. I chose me. I am pleased and applaud Simone Biles for choosing herself too. I think there is no other black young woman that personifies visually what audacity truly entails. She tells a visual story of being young, gifted, and black with grace and triumph at time when the wisdom, the strength, even the perseverance of black and brown people, our young girls in particular are under assault. Simone Biles rises above them all and will forever be one of the great players that ever graced us with her human capacity to fly. And she is brilliantly flying, soaring above us all even these moments when becoming, fulfilling, living, is her bull’s eye. She is on target.
I remember watching one of her daring moves in the air recently. She was as flawless as a glistening moon on an equally flawless evening. Every land, every turn, every single move was divine. Every split in the air equally sublime. To think she is only 24 keeps me in awe of her audacity to defy and surprise every single inch of her design with every incline. She is audacity personified. Something we mere mortals will never truly understand, how she dares to align herself with things as distal as the sky and its lines. She gives flights to our hopes, our timeless desires to remain hopeful in a state where being full of hope is a quest long denied to children born out of hope. Her staying power will remain long after she steps out of the limelight. She will still delight, still defy, still be as distal as skylines. She is more than a gymnast, more like a national treasure who glory will forever last.
I learned about auto ethnography the other day. Partly because I have been searching for meaning, including understanding for what I have being doing with writing as I do, every single day on this blog. Auto-ethnography I learnt, is a methodology that seeks to connect personal experience to cultural process and understanding, particularly from the view of researcher and participant or me and myself. When you engage in this method, you are essentially highlighting as close as you can, a process or a journey that creates potential for greater depth and understanding about yourself. I learnt it also has great relevance for mental health. Privacy, even stigma, may mean that many of the thoughts or hurdles, or even successes that shape us, are often not shared with the world, often kept tightly tucked away in that little corner of ourselves that we call our mind. For some, these issues however they manifest in our lives, can move from tiny, to small, to big, and huge, all in a matter of seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, or even months. For others, it may take years, or pandemics, for you to realize what truly matters for your mental health. I learnt that in engaging in auto ethnographic writing, I gave my mind the freedom to just be.
No need keeping it all neatly and tightly tucked away in that corner I labeled private. No need, forgetting some experiences that were actually teachable, learning moments. No need silencing the many adaptable voices that speak to my existence as a mother, a wife, and an academic researcher. No need wondering what the plan through life is after all, or who are the people that help me thrive, or why do they matter and what should I do to continuously nurture their presence in my life. In fact, no need keeping things that matter to me private. In reflecting about my life experiences the past 8 months, I have gained a deeper understanding of my own unique journey through life. I choose to make the personal overt, critically help myself and those trying to make sense of their own journey.
When I started this journey, two egg crayons, one yellow, one green, where my guide. My son on the spectrum was my muse, and watching him roll his eggs, was my path. We have been rolling since and I would not change this experience for anything else. In fact, it has saved me. All I knew when the journey started was that I was desperate. Tired and desperate. There was a pandemic. I was a new mom. Three kids were homeschooling and yes, I was teaching a course to graduate students. In the middle of all that chaos, family members and colleagues died, and I was wondering, what then is life after all. There seemed to be nowhere to go, but to that neat, tucked away corner I call my mind. I was either going to stay there, and suffer in silence, or open up so the pain and fears, or even the chaos, all of them, become my story, my experience. I choose to open up and since then, I have been writing. Autoethnography saved me.
My overt inclusion of myself, into this investigation of what it means to be a parent in academia has been profound to me. Every thing I wrote in one form or the other helped shape my understanding of my place in the wider world. Rather than hiding from these matters or assuming they don’t exist, I delved deeply with a back and forth gaze to scrutinize and publicized myself ultimately for me. Every outward focus on the social, environmental or cultural aspects of my personal experience with an inward exposure of my vulnerable self, helped to tell my story, helped to showcase the healing potential of writing for the mind.
In the end, but from the beginning, it has always been about intentionally making an effort to roll through life, to roll with the punches, to roll with the triumphs, to roll with the tears, to roll with the sighs, to roll even when nothing makes sense. Writing as I do, is now the very medicine I never knew I needed to make sense of my life, my plans for life, the people that matter, all the lessons life has to teach so I learn, the changes or adaptions that I constantly have to make, but ultimately the things worth keep, worth fighting for no matter what. Auto ethnographic writing as I do, and continue to do, helped me heal. Even when looking back was difficult, or looking forward was uncertain, this form of writing helped me find my place, helped do the work necessary to keep what matters. As I sit here, reflecting on the past 8 months, what I know for sure is that I know my story. I know my purpose. I know what I am called to do, even on days when nothing makes sense. I finally know my plan. For me, this blog is and will always remain a place of healing, a space that allowed me to remain well, a gift that keeps on giving. By placing myself at the heart of the intersection between parenting and academic productivity, autoethnography, allowed me to heal. My positionally in this world is clear. Keep auto-ethnography in mind, especially for it’s healing power.