When the world feels as challenging and uncomfortable as it has in 2020, self-care can simultaneously feel like the most necessary thing in the world and like something to feel a little bit guilty about. What’s the point of a hair mask when our streets and social feeds are filled with protests and our hospitals are filled with COVID-19 patients?

“The weight of the world is on our collective shoulders, and it’s easy to feel like you’re being pressed down into the ground when you watch the news and engage with what’s really going on in our society,” says Patrice Grell Yursik, founder of Afrobella and the “godmother of brown beauty blogging.” For her, self-care is about finding ways to lift herself back up. “There’s that famous Audre Lorde quote that everybody loves: ‘Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it’s self-preservation.’ I have had to try to absorb that more fully,” Grell Yursik says. “Right now self-care is like a life raft keeping me afloat. I turn on the news and look at the numbers and I can feel despair just come over me like a shroud. The question is, how can I shake off the shroud of despair enough to function? To use that classic airline instruction, you have to put on your oxygen mask first before you can help others. My self-care practices are my way of putting on that oxygen mask so I can keep going.”

We spoke to Grell Yursik about comfort food, the beauty routine that’s part of her self-preservation, and the importance of putting on your own oxygen mask when fighting for a new normal.

Right now it’s all about skin care, twisting my hair, and cooking of all kinds. I’m baking more than ever before. I'm going back to old hobbies, like painting. I’m journaling more and looking online for helpful prompts. My husband and I play Uno a lot, and it’s silly and fun. Also there’s movement—I can’t overstate how much that is connected to finding joy and pulling it out of myself. I don’t love exercise, but I put on some really good music and I try to be intentional about it. It’s something I can do to try to take power of the situation.

I’ve been finding joy in cooking and also letting it take me home. I live in downtown Chicago but I’m from Trinidad—cooking the food from my homeland brings the smells and flavors into my life. It’s a way of me comforting myself and also connecting with my heritage.

Something that’s so much a part of our culture that I love is curry. So I make a lot of curry and I make a lot of Trinidad stew chicken. Also in the Caribbean we tend to eat vegetables in a unique way. We tend to do what I think of as a hot salad, which is like a coleslaw. If you go to any Jamaican restaurant and get jerk, they serve the meal with cabbage and carrot slaw. So I make that all the time. It’s just like onions, carrots, and cabbage, and you can spice it up as much as you want or you can make it more like a sweet and buttery kind of slaw. It’s just my favorite these days. Those are recipes that I lean on in days that I need comfort.

I have more time now to figure out what me time looks like without doing a beauty ritual with results that are intended to be seen in public. I’m not thinking about my gray roots because I don’t care about hiding that truth—I have nowhere to go and nobody to try to fool. Let them grow in—let’s see what my grays want to do!

Right now I’m spending more time on deep conditioning and gentle detangling. I’ve been twisting my hair a lot and I preference Black-owned brands when I do any of my hair care but especially if I’m doing something like twists. I’ve been using Oyin Handmade. They have a great product called Boing! that I really like, and they also have something called Hair Dew that I really like. When I twist out, my hair’s so silky, fluffy, and happy. There’s a brand called Alikay Naturals; they have this lemongrass leave-in spritz that I really like as well.

boing! all-in-one coil styler

Hair Dew

Lemongrass Leave-In Conditioner

These days my skin-care routine is lengthy and luxurious when I have the mojo to do it. I’ve been using a lot of independent brands. Some of them are Black-owned, some of them are woman-owned but certainly allies. I’ve started using this skin-care brand called B3 Balm—the whole collection is based with crystals. They have this new rose-quartz oil cleanser that I’ve been using, and I keep that on my bedside table.

Once a week I set a timer for 10 minutes and I just oil-cleanse my face. And it makes my face feel so smooth and so soft afterwards—it’s just this self-care ritual that’s just been really enjoyable lately. There’s also a brand called Honey Baby Naturals—their Honey Nectar Body Jelly is incredible.

Rose Quartz Oil Cleanser

Honey Nectar Body Jelly

Honestly, all of it. Just this collective experience is stressful. I’m watching the news constantly and that’s definitely not helping. Which is why I understand when people are like, “I don’t really want to watch the news right now”—it’s just never-ending relentless despair. It’s very easy for me to feel that weighing me down. There are times I do have to very intentionally unplug.

I realized one of my main sources of anxiety very inadvertently recently when I dropped my phone in water. My phone is a tether to my anxiety—it’s literally the first thing I look at when I get up in the morning, and I have it in my hand when I go to bed at night. It’s constantly with me, and so is the news. Being forced to take a break from my phone for a couple of days made a world of difference to my mind. And that’s something I’m trying to be more conscious of and recognize my triggers so that I can just take a better holistic approach to self-care.

I think there’s levels to that. If it’s pandemic fatigue that we’re talking about, then there needs to be readjustment and understanding of what “normal” is going to be. People are not taking it seriously. I see it outside my own window all the time. People are just mask-less and acting like it’s 2019. We still need to be taking precautions, even though we wish that was not the case.

In terms of the protest movement, in terms of speaking up and declaring that Black lives matter, in terms of celebrating our history, our legacy, our power, in terms of the memory of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, I really see so many changes that have come from the sustained protest movement. I hope that those changes really take root in society—and I hope that we can carry this momentum through to November when we really need it.

I read somebody on Twitter who was saying their son was saying we are living in a chapter of a social studies textbook. That’s really how it feels. We are seeing so much. The name George Floyd is never going to be forgotten—he is going to change the world. It is through heartbreak and through tragedy, but I hope that his death was not in vain and that the changes that resonate not just in America but around the world. The fact that there are protests around the world tells you that we are ready to stand up.

The main thing I’ve learned through all of this is that we can’t control life, right? Life is just going to continue life-ing and we have to just roll with the punches, whatever they may be—and 2020 has come with a barrage of punches. We have to just do the best that we can to be well.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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