I do various things when I’m riding the train including sleeping, snacking and listening to Formation three times in a row. When I’m able to really concentrate, I’ll read a magazine or a book. The Black Love issue of Ebony was my book du jour and I expected the usual heteronormative negro propaganda around Black love. I wasn’t looking for anything substantial and didn’t see anything until I got to the six-part essay series towards the end of the publication. Each essay described a different type of love and I was only able to get through three of them before I stopped. My concentration lapsed again and the lumped that formed in my chest was slowly making its way to my throat. The first essay was the culprit. Writer Michaela Angela Davis describes the conflict she felt when her daughter, after a Sunday school lesson, asked about self-love, a love Davis says she didn’t know.
“In that moment, I thought back to every piece of generic advice I’d ever received. Countless times, I’d been told, ‘Girl, you just have to love yourself.’ Yet for the life of me, I couldn’t recall anyone teaching me how. So for years, I dressed up the negative self-talk in funky gear and fancy friends. Now, here I was exposed before my own perceptive precious little Black girl, who needed me to teach her about a love I didn’t quite understand.”
Y’all, that did me in. I put the magazine back in my bag and pulled out my notebook. I had to get this out and now here we are. While my mom was adamant about teaching my sisters and I how to love ourselves in all our glory, I’ve struggled with loving myself. Depression, the perpetual monkey on my back, makes every emotion needless complicated, especially love. I have the ability to love. At least, I can love other people. But myself? Depends on the day.
When my brain is trying to convince me that my life doesn’t matter and isn’t worth living, loving myself seems virtually impossible. It also tries to convince me that other people aren’t capable of loving me either. My family, it argues, only loves me out of obligation and everyone else? Tuh. It’s a battle I fight daily and I don’t like to lose arguments.
Point is, self-care and love has been a trend in society’s narrative as of late and mental illness isn’t included in this discussion. To my knowledge, Davis is neurotypical and self-love appears to be difficult for her so what about me and other people who go to war with their minds. What do we do? What does self-love look like for us? What does self-cafe look like when I can’t get out of bed or remember to bathe? How does self-love manifest itself when I’m in the midst of a panic attack or when a friend hears voices?
I don’t know but I’m willing to find out.