Back to the Beginning: My Natural Hair Journey

 

Bald head scallywag/ aint got no hair in the back/ gelled up, weaved up/ your hair is messed up!”

These lyrics from “Chickenhead” by Project Pat haunted me as a teenager when I first heard them. I felt personally attacked by the imagery of a black woman with rough hair being ridiculed, because I had often looked at my own limp relaxed hair (that never seemed to grow beyond my ears )with resignation. It was so sparse that you could almost always see my scalp – I felt like I had one strand per square inch! For years I felt like relaxers weren’t working for me. Not only was the process painful, but the results left my crown looking like a mound of wet noodles. I usually ran around in box braids during the summer and for sports, but even those weren’t all they were cracked up to be. After hours sitting between a stylists’ legs, powerless as my edges were demolished, I was ready to run away from home. Nothing we did to my hair made me feel like I was me . I always felt like I was occupying a costume of what a young lady should look like.

My limp relaxed hair in middle school

So, when I heard those hateful – and admittedly hilarious – lyrics I felt like the jig was up. It was pure serendipity that India Arie came onto the scene not long after I began searching for new examples of what black hair could be. She was so vibrant and joyful in her “Video” music video that I became obsessed. I wanted to look and feel just as free as she appeared. Goapele came out with “Closer” around the same time, and her locs absolutely captured my heart as well. Those two women were joined by images of Lauren Hill, Whoopi Goldberg, and my cool aunt Gidget who had her own set of locs. Their beauty made me feel so excited about my hair’s potential that nothing could sway me from dreads.

My first set of locs after two years

My parents didn’t take much convincing when I told them I wanted to have dreadlocks, which I am so thankful for. After speaking with a hairstylist, my mom learned that I would have to grow out my relaxer to start the locs. We started transitioning my hair before we even had the terminology for it! I braved the box braids situation all through my senior year of high school until I had enough growth to cut off the relaxer and start my little locs. I remember being so enamored with the nubs when they were formed in 2005 that I couldn’t pass a mirror without gawking.

I went off to college feeling like the best version of myself and my locs truly flourished. I played with color, curled them and tried different updos in ways I never could have with my relaxed hair. The only time I encountered any push back against my hair was during a meeting with a woman in a corporate setting. This was my junior year, and I had to interview her about company policies for my class. Everything went well until the end when she suggested I needed to change my hair if I wanted to be taken seriously. I was struggling with depression at the time, so her comment – regardless of her intentions – struck me right in the gut. A few months later, while feeling worse and worse about myself, I went to a barber to have my hair shaved off. That moment was so painful that I vowed to never have locs again.

In the years following, I relaxed my hair in an attempt to look “normal”, but I felt just as uncomfortable and sad as ever. Instead, I decided to wear my hair in different ways to see what felt like me, such as a fro, a close crop, then braids, but nothing could compete with feeling ropes of my own hair floating free in the wind. So, it was only natural that I broke my vow and drifted back to the style that had made me so happy in the beginning of my journey.

My second set of locs, after being dyed

I put my second set of locs in on my own, thanks to several Youtube videos and articles on natural hair forums. Instead of worrying what others thought, I was devoted to having more fun with my hair. So, I grew my twists into locs, then dyed them a bright pink that rivaled cotton candy. I was so in love with how I looked and how free I felt. Sadly, those locs were so damaged after the bleach and dye that they had to be cut off once again. Yet, I didn’t feel the same at the time as I did with the loss of my first set. This time, I felt at peace with the decision to move forward. It was finally on my own terms, rather than being steeped in fear.

 

Before starting this current (and definitely permanent) set of locs on Christmas Eve in 2014, I came to terms with three lessons I’d been avoiding. I wanted to really commit to healthy hair, and these three realizations have helped me to push forward:

  1. Locs are all about acceptance. Not everyone is going to like them, and I had to accept that. I had to accept that my hair would do its own thing and I had to be at peace with the loss of control.
  2. I had to abandon the old habits of care. No more harsh chemicals, or waxes, no more going to bed without covering, and at least for now there is no more dye. I want to see how strong they can be with proper care.
  3. Whether I realized it or not, my hair is tied to my mental health. This isn’t true for everyone, nor do I think it’s wrong or right, but it’s the way it is for me. When I’m taking care of my hair I feel better, I feel strong, I feel nice and that’s alright. I know that hair will grow back and its just dead cells on my scalp, but I also feel the most me with my locs.
Me now, happy with what I’ve got

The tendrils on my head twist and bend in ways that are unique to every experience I’ve had with them like going on gator tours, volunteering in Haiti, and getting married. Every moment of joy, as well as bouts of sorrow, are weaved into my crown in a beautifully individualized manner. I don’t think there’s one way to look or be that everyone needs to follow. The beauty of our hair is that it’s strong enough to withstand journeys back home to who we want to be. I’m happy now that I’ve come back to myself in a big way and I hope others will find that kind of happiness, too. I can’t wait to share the process as I go.

Thank you for reading! Stay strong out there!

 

A Breakdown of My Daily Self-Care for 2018

Let me tell you a secret: you deserve to take care of yourself every day. That’s right. Every. Single. Day.

In this post, I’m going to breakdown a typical day in my life and all the ways I practice self-care in each little step. Everything I do for self-care is designed to boost my confidence, because sexual assault not only destroys your sense of self, but creates the belief that you have no value. I’m seeking to undo that conditioning in the way I treat myself Monday thru Sunday. Rather than doing nice things for myself once every blue moon I’m actively creating moments of peace and growth as often as possible on an average day. We’ve talked about what self-care is, how to develop a schedule for it, and now I want to share how I infuse every day with actions meant to heal and steady me for every little battle life throws my way. Let’s dive in!

 

Monday – Friday

6:45 AM : After mumbling some version of get up, bitch to myself 30 times, I roll out of bed to start the day. I retreat to my favorite room in the house – the bathroom – to get everything going. I’ve been working on not looking at my phone straight away, because my days seem to be more productive and happier without being bombarded with news from the outside world. My mind feels more centered on what I have to get done without all the distractions. After cleaning up for the day, I’ll sit on my bed and go over what I need to accomplish to feel good about myself and continue the feeling of personal growth.

Breakfast: I make sure that I have three meals a day no matter how busy I pretend I am, or how much I don’t want to eat. Continuing to have control over my eating disorder means eating well and without guilt. I’ve never been a huge fan of a big breakfast – it make me feel sluggish – so now the meal is either a fruit  smoothie, granola, or cereal. Once I’m done eating, I’ll head off to start writing!

8:00 – 11:00 AM: This might sound lame, but I love working. Thanks to my wonderfully supportive husband, I currently exist in a very privileged position as a full-time blogger. I want to make the most of this gift by writing and working as often as I can without getting burned out. Writing has become not only a potentially future means of income, but also one of the best ways I take care of myself. The page is where I work through pain, elevate joy, or share intriguing information, which has been invaluable for my growth. I jump right into working in the morning, because my energy wanes as the day drags on.

11:30 – 12:00 : My little gym** is like an oasis. Only retirees use it, the front desk staff is very kind and relaxed, and I can move around without bumping into people who might judge my slower pace. I used to look at the gym as the enemy. It was the place I ached, groaned, and scrutinized a body I wasn’t proud of. Through therapy I was able to learn how to step back and look at myself as a unique and beautiful accumulation of parts and pieces taken from the brave people who came before me. Now, I go to the gym for the endorphins. I release the tension of sitting at a desk, run out the stress of digging into my feelings, then head home for the fun parts of the day.

** This is the only step I skip on Wednesday to avoid getting burned out or injured.

Body Care: My shower time would make conservationists scream. I could sit in there for an hour if it wasn’t so frowned upon, relishing the dragon-blooded heat and acoustics. Most of my skin care takes place in the shower to avoid a major mess. I exfoliate and scrub until I feel like I’ve got a good base to work with, then apply a mask and let it sit as I dry off and moisturize the rest of my body. My skin care game has jumped to new heights thanks to my girl Jesse. I love the skin care steps, because I feel the most luxurious as I sashay around in a robe with a mask on. Also, with clear skin I feel the most confident out in the world.

Lunch: This might be due to conditioning in my school years, but I go bananas for lunch. Maybe it’s because in school lunch signified the halfway point in the day? If I crack the code I’ll let you know! All I know for certain is lunch food always tastes just a little better to me than anything else. My lunch is usually big and loud, with lots of the things I like to eat. I’m really proud of the way I eat now – this is the first time in my life I’ve been able to have a meal without feeling like absolute trash after.

meditation GIF

2:00 PM or so: I settle in for some mental rest. My thoughts usually bounce all over the place from waking up until this point, going over writing schedules, dinner prep, article ideas, etc. So, by the time I sit down on the couch I’m ready for a good book or some quiet mindfulness. I’ve created a few playlists on Youtube and in my music library that are designed to help me decompress without numbing. For me, the difference between the two is the feeling of being present in time. When I’m numbing myself I lose all track of time, where I am, what I need to do. When I decompress I am not retreating from reality, but allowing reality to slow down for me to catch back up on my own time. (I hope this makes sense!)

4:00 – 7:00 PM : My husband is usually home by 4:30 or 5, which jumps my energy back up. We make dinner together, with him doing the most as the better cook. I’ll either be taking photos for thechocolatemousse.com or Instagram to share with whoever wants to see his creations. We sit and eat together – ideally without phones – and like to watch a TV show together for a little laughter, or will just sit and talk over our meal. If the weather is nice enough we sit outside on the porch swing to eat popsicles or go for a walk around our neighborhood.

Bedtime: If you could get paid to sleep or lay in bed I would be first in line. I love bed, which is why it’s so hard for me to stay out of it throughout the day. I admit to being bad about bringing my phone to bed and obsessing over Twitter and Instagram! I’m still a work in progress, but for now, I will usually scroll until I’m really sleepy. Then, I’ll plug my phone in across the room before clonking out. In bed, my husband and I will lay together and talk over the day again, trying to arrive at peace for a more restful sleep. It’s been wonderful for my ability to get through the night without tossing and turning.

Saturday and Sunday

My routine for the weekend is identical, except I do it all outside! I walk for exercise, write on the porch or near an open window, meditate in the grass, and spend as much time annoying my husband as possible without creating a divorce situation. We usually try to do things together like the Farmer’s Market, or a trip to the museums in our area. My routine is much more reliant on need during the weekend. If I need a break from blogging, I take it. Need a break from exercise, no guilt. Everything is much more free-flowing.

treat yourself parks and recreation GIF

There you have it! My typical day isn’t as rigid as a person with a regular 9-5 job would be, so take my life as what it is – my unique situation. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t find a way to infuse some care into your daily schedule. Whether it’s leaving your desk for a 10 minute walk, treating yourself with food you love for lunch to recharge yourself, or setting aside time at night for skincare or mindfulness, you deserve to be boosted up every day. Thanks for reading and stay strong out there!

The 5 Habits I’m Ditching For a Happier Life

There’s something about getting older that makes a person take stock of all the habits, shortcomings and skills in their repertoire, then decide what to keep and what to kick out. I call it the “garage sale years” – your “house” (mind) is cluttered with all the stuff you’ve accumulated over the years, sometimes stacked so high you can barely get any light in. You side step this, hop over that, or maybe you find yourself buried.

This is where I find myself – setting up piles of all the stuff that no longer suits me. In my case, it’s a list of habits that once made sense as I was struggling to regain control of my life and depression, but now I’m in a place that’s safe enough for me to abandon them. Being habits, they will be hard to let go of, which is why I have to work on clearing them out as they pop up. Here they are!

Apologizing for things I can’t change

Guilt and I are *very* well acquainted. I don’t like to inconvenience people and what feels more intrusive than depression and anxiety? I’ve convinced myself that if my mental health can be exhausting for me, it’s got to be a hassle for everyone else. But here’s the thing: people who love you want to help. They can’t be my therapists, but they can be my support. My husband has forbidden me from saying ‘sorry’ after every panic attack, or day I can’t get out of bed. I couldn’t me more thankful for him, because he’s gotten me to re-evaluate what’s my fault, and the answer is none of it is my fault. You can’t control what makes you unwell, or I would wager you wouldn’t be unwell. Ya dig?

Checking up on people who’ve hurt me

Literally why do we do this? I know this behavior isn’t something only I struggle with. It’s the pull that makes us slow down to gawk at car accidents or watch reality TV. Watching other people struggle is a validation of our own pain. I will admit that I used to go to the Facebook pages of people who belittled or abandoned me hoping to see they’d lost an eye or had been heartbroken, too. It’s ugly stuff, to say the least, which certainly does nothing for the health of my own heart. I stopped doing this a while ago (yesterday) and I already feel loads better about who I am.

Hiding my shine (self sabotage)

I used to think it was a sign of humility when I would hide my skills until someone stumbled upon them. Now, I realize I was scared to death people would laugh at me if I failed at something I said outright I could do. In my younger years, I couldn’t wait to show what I could do – singing loud, playing hard, and stepping up to lead because it felt so good – but somewhere along the way I was taught that boys don’t like girls who are too sure of themselves. Feel free to roll your eyes! Then, that seed grew into an ugly tree of self-doubt and fear of failure. Today, I’m ready to rediscover and share all the ways I kick ass.

Expecting perfection from others

Have you ever wanted more than a person could give? Maybe you wanted your grandfather who always criticized you to cheer when you got straight A’s, or you have a sister you can’t reason with about politics. I used to get so bent out of shape when people didn’t meet my standard – a standard I set for myself that was too lofty for someone without wings to meet. The truth is, we’re all limited. Limited by our education, experiences, opportunities, and willingness to be changed. Maya Angelou said we should believe people when they show us who they are – good or bad. To me that means I can’t expect someone who can barely add to suddenly do calculus.

 

Being afraid to knuck when others buck

I was a little it of a rabble-rouser during my early 20’s. When I wasn’t partying like a total fool, I was protesting, confronting and calling-out bigotry and injustice. I butted heads with a girl on my floor freshman year who was an Ann Coulter drone. I argued with and gave up on friends who wanted black folks to “get over” slavery. You didn’t get to say wild stuff and remain my friend for long. That’s who I was for most of my life, thanks to my parents. They always taught my brother and I to say something when we saw something, which I took to heart. After my breakdown, I was so afraid of losing the few people I had left in my life, that I started letting stuff slide. I stopped being the person who would tell the truth, because I was afraid I would be alone. But who wants a life of silence? What good is company that you can’t grow with? More importantly: how can I look at myself with a sense of dignity if I don’t honor a good quality? This habit is one that’s been around longer than it should have, and I am happy to let it go.

 

There you have it, folks! As you’ve probably gathered from this post, all of these habits are about comfort. I settled into a state of ease by giving up what made me LaKase, and made excuses to stay where I was instead of growing.

What habits are you ditching for a happier life?