Where I Draw the Line
Every evening, I have a by myself meeting.
I was 18 when I heard Cappadonna spit that line on “Iron Maiden” from Ghostface Killah’s debut album Ironman and at the time simply thought it was an dope line; as I close in on 41, I’ve grown to recognize it as self-care, a deliberate action for my mental, emotional, and physical health. What the “by myself meeting” is exactly depends on the practitioner; it can be meditation, journaling, playing video games, reading or taking a bath, any activity designed with the intention of taking care of your mind, body or soul after a day of doing battle in (or with) the world.
The first thing I do when I get home from work is take my pants off, freeing myself, then I watch the news for the better part of an hour. For many, the news can be triggering, depressive or cause anxiety and anger, but it actually relaxes me for some reason and allows me the space to download my day, plus serves as a transition towards my evening.
Articulating the ways in which I protect, nurture or rehab my spirit or soul isn’t always simple, because self-care for men tends to look drastically different than it does for women. In fact, when we think of the term itself, we typically identify it as something women do, neglecting the fact that men need constructive ways to decompress and explore our emotions as well. For far too many of us, a drink or three and bottling up what we feel is our version of self-care. The truth is, men need to work especially hard at caring for their emotional well-being. We tend to define our manhood in relationship to our jobs, our salaries, our ability to provide, to acquire or “get” things, overlooking the parts of ourselves that truly make us who we are, and happy and whole.
I had a conversation with a few brothers some months back and as the conversation turned to self-care, it was apparent that we weren’t all on the same page when it came to the need to take time for ourselves or even how to explain to our wives why we needed to. I shared about the days when I go to the movies alone, just to have a few hours away from the world and my trips that I take alone, which among the many reasons, allows me to really recharge my batteries and stay in tune with myself.
My spirit has taken a beating over the last few years due to the challenges I’ve had health wise, so it’s extremely important for me to find the space to take care of myself. As a result, I’ve had to implement a few rules to nurture my self-care that I practice and enforce but hadn’t necessarily formalized until I started really thinking about it.
So, I began to think about some of what I do, some of what my friends do and a few things I’ve gleaned from Mrs. Farmer in not only her practices, but also her teachings about self-care and decided to share with my brothers.
Make Time for Self-Care: It only works if you’re intentional about it. Look at your calendar and determine when you can make some time for just you. Build it into your work calendar. One of my friends takes a day off a month just for himself. He doesn’t tell his wife, his kids, it’s a day for him to recover from all the pressures he faces with the many different roles her performs daily. In my house, we have “Self-Care Sunday” once a month when we disconnect, binge watch a show, read, my wife washes her hair, I drop a bath bomb in the tub then listen to Donny Hathaway for an hour, and we cook a meal that really makes us happy.
Set Boundaries: If you call me after 9:00 pm, I will not answer the phone. You have to enforce strong boundaries that allow you the space not only for yourself (and a significant other if you’re in a relationship), but to prepare for the next day. I shut my phone down at 9. If we’re engaged in a conversation, I’m probably looking for a way to end it, so I can begin my routine for ending the day.
Take Inventory: It’s okay to look at your week or day and say that you did something really well. It’s great to celebrate our wins and create a culture of good self-talk, if you’re honest about when you’re not performing at your highest level. This also allows you to recognize when there’s slippage and a need to ramp up the self-care.
Saying No to Others is Saying Yes to You: I say no whenever I feel the need. There’s always something going on, always an invite hanging out in your texts, always a friend that wants to run the streets and even more people that need a piece of you, but saying no when someone needs the time and energy you’ve reserved for yourself is crucial.
Exercise and Eat Right: I’m not in a position to work out the way I need to but getting/staying in shape can do wonders for your head space. Not only does exercising release endorphins, the happiness hormone, but also is a great way to release stress and the frustrations we carry. I’m the last person to speak about maintaining a healthy diet, but I know the benefits. Aside from overall health, eating a nutritious diet provides you with great energy. Also, pay attention to what your body says to you after you eat certain things.
Get More Sleep: I’m getting more sleep now than I have in many years and it allows me to stay alert and fresh longer throughout the day. Make sure you’re getting the proper amount of rest and operating on a full battery. I know there’s a lot of memes and the like claiming that the most successful people don’t really sleep, but ask yourself if that’s what’s best for your emotional wellness? While you're at it, throw in a nap for good measure a couple of times a month.
Go to the Doctor: As we get older, we must start paying attention to our body in ways we never needed previously. Get your prostate exam once a year after 40, monitor your blood pressure and sugar numbers, get your testosterone checked. The same way you get an oil change or tune up for your cars, your body has a few miles on it as well and needs maintenance.
Ground Yourself: Be it meditation, yoga, a massage or journaling, find the time to center yourself, give your entire system a break and connect with yourself.
Look Good: A little grooming never hurt anyone. If you look good, it can help increase your mood and overall esteem. Take care of your skin, buy new cologne, keep a fresh shave or add some new clothes to your wardrobe that show the world how good you’re feeling inside.
Travel: There’s something about getting out into the world that feeds your soul, gives you perspectives and different ideas about how you’re trafficking in your day-to-day life. Don’t limit yourself to thinking that travel is defined by some exotic locations with pink sand beaches. It can be that, but it could also mean traveling somewhere in the country that you’ve never been or a place where the city speaks to your soul. It could be somewhere within driving distance but take the time to find yourself in a place that doesn’t know your story and just allows you to be.
Read: We know I’m an advocate for reading. You don’t have to try to read a book a week but set a goal for a year. Read things that expand your mind, lift your spirit and inspire you; a biography of someone you admire, a self-help book, but invest in something that opens up new possibilities for you to explore.
Laugh. Smile. Sing. Dance: Engage in the things that make you happiest and contribute to your overall health. It’s okay to have a little fun. Once a week when I’m alone I put on “Every Little Step” and get busy!
Detox: Explore how your relationship to masculinity and male privilege impacts your emotional health and identify how toxic masculinity may impact those you encounter. Build a network of accountability that reinforces healthy attitudes and promotes anti-sexist behaviors.
Get the Drawls: I don’t mean have random, indiscriminate sex, but have sex. Not only is it good for your heart, it also causes the release of a hormone named oxytocin that researchers link to relaxation, trust and overall psychological stability. Additionally, sexual self-care within a healthy sexual relationship encourages communicating and exploration of our likes, the changes in our bodies, reinforces boundaries, self-respect, and methods of connecting more intimately. It allows you to be your authentic sexual self.
Identify Your Triggers: Give yourself permission not to read the article, watch the video or engage in a Social Media debate. The continued trauma we face and relive takes a toll on our soul and spending hours arguing with some idiot in the comment section isn’t protecting any of your peace. Part of self-care is knowing where you draw the line and being intentional about what you’re ingesting.
Do the Work: This is probably the hardest step; attending to our emotional, mental, social, spiritual and physical needs also means facing things that we’ve packed in the attics of our minds. We must learn to talk our issues out in a manner that’s healthy and promotes healing. Of course, I’m talking about seeing a therapist and I know that’s a helluva step for some of us to take, so explore support groups, the men’s fellowship at your church, the wisdom of a respected elder or mentor. Someone. Until you’re ready to make that appointment. None of us must carry this load alone, asking for help is the strongest thing you can do.
Only once we begin to identify the areas in which we’re not growing, process what gets in the way of living a whole, happy life, learn to be present, accountable and take inventory of the results and consequences of the choices we’ve made, can we truly be our full, authentic selves.