Each week the Reckon Women newsletter includes a column from women in the South, in collaboration with See Jane Write. Click here to join the Reckon Women Facebook group.

By Toya Poplar

The word “self-care” is thrown around a lot these days. But what exactly is self-care? Self-care is care created by you for you because no one knows what you need like you. What did you need during the disintegration and civil unrest of 2020? Self-care. What did you need after the Capitol insurrection of 2021? The same.

You can know precisely what you need to do to recover from trauma and chaos and still struggle with actually doing what needs to be done. When life knocks the wind out of you, when the news report feels surreal, when a coworker says something insensitive, or a loved one doesn’t love you well — it’s okay to give yourself what you need to be okay.

I began my self-care journey in 2013. I called it “my quest to rest.” Our family size grew from five to eight people practically overnight. Our biological children were ages eight, ten, and twelve, and we chose to adopt a sibling group ages one, two, and three. Naturally, anytime I had a conversation with anyone it was about how the kids were doing. Thankfully, they were doing well, however, it seemed that the more emotionally regulated they became the more dysregulated I grew. After several sleepless months, rapid weight gain, and stress that I still don’t have the words to describe, six words from my doctor changed my life forever, “You are a walking heart attack.” Self-neglect was no longer an option. I had to do something. I had to do some self-care.

Self-care may be simple but sometimes simple can be incredibly hard. I have since grown to wear the practice of self-care as a crown that restores my power and dignity. The first step to adorning yourself with this crown is to silence your inner critic that says, “You’re being selfish.” Self-care is not selfish. It is an essential way to remain stable in a world filled with instability. It’s easy to be so prone to placing the needs of others first that we grapple with prioritizing our own.

Self-care doesn’t look the same for everyone. You need to create your own self-care routine. But try thinking of self-care as a way of bringing a little bit of vacation into everyday life. We are adults doing adult things, but underneath we are still kids at heart. A self-care regimen is like giving your brain and body permission to play on a daily basis. Remember recess from elementary school? Try to think of rest as recess.

Only you know what helps you. Where one individual might find refreshment in a morning ritual, another might get rejuvenated from a nightly routine. Self-care might mean turning off your phone, ignoring email, reading a book, drinking more water, taking a nap, heading on vacation, or simply going for a walk. If all this feels like it’s just too much, keep in mind that after extended periods of hyperextension and self-neglect, self-care feels uncanny. The road to sanity often looks like insanity. If it feels like you’re doing something wrong, then you’re probably doing it right. Others may say to you, “You seem different” or “Something has changed about you.” Take those as compliments and mile markers that you are on the road to recalibration.

Whenever I start practicing self-care, I hear the invisible board of directors in my head trying to tell me that my life will fall apart if I carve out time for myself. The reality is your life will eventually fall apart if you’re not intentional about doing the little things that help you put yourself back together. You are not unworthy of self-care because of the hardships you have faced. Your past trauma and present pain make you the perfect candidate for peace. Today, I’ll wear my crown. And I invite you to do the same.

Toya Poplar is an author and relational coach who encourages women to take care of the caretaker. You can connect with Toya by joining her self-care group Wifey Presents: Black Pearls Facebook Group. You can also find her on Instagram at BlackPearlsBook or online at ToyaPoplar.com