The only constant thing in life is change. Yet many of us have not only willfully resisted change, but taken on hazardous behaviors that render us stagnant and ineffective as the world around us continues to evolve. The short of it, we have become self-saboteurs to our own happiness and not social equality, financial windfalls, the Age of Aquarius, or a writ of Congress will amend it. We are the saviors, the help, the aid, we are seeking.

While we live our lives decked out in the masks of the day – not the COVID-19 barriers, mind you, but the masks Paul Lawrence Dunbar so eloquently pointed out in 1896. The mask that “grins and lies, [that] hides our cheeks and shades our eyes” and keeps others from witnessing our “torn and bleeding hearts.” Those bloody masks have become such a fashion to Black women that they come as easily-coordinated accessories of the “Superwoman” capes that keep us sick, tired, and frustrated.

African American women, according to researchers studying the “superwoman schema,” often face mental and emotional messaging that present as strongholds negatively impacting their overall health and well-being. Professor Cheryl Giscombé, in the paper “Superwoman Schema: African American Women’s Views on Stress, Strength, and Health” in the journal Qualitative Health, that Black women faced: a perceived obligation to present an image of strength, a perceived obligation to suppress emotions, a perceived obligation to resist help or to resist being vulnerable to others, motivation to succeed despite limited resources; and need to prioritize the caregiving of others over themselves.

These perceptions create a reality in which Black women put everyone else before themselves – and feel guilty for taking “Me Time” to simply relax, rejuvenate, or simply, do nothing.

In full transparency, this has been an issue I struggled with until 2010, when it suddenly occurred to me that making other people happy depleted me to a point of fatigue, weight gain, anxiety, and sadness. I remember saying once, “People will bleed you dry and then curse you out for not having more to give.” Giving or lending money was not an issue, giving my ear to other people’s problems, giving my time to other people’s causes, giving my sleep time over to help with someone’s (fill in the blank”, all added up to me having little time for exercise, sleep, preparing meals, or just taking stock in my own life. Still, I persisted in putting others first.

The year I turned 40, I decided to travel to London, alone. I turned off the phone, I shut down the social media pages, and I took full advantage of being fully and utterly alone with God. I found that I liked myself. I was pretty cool to hang out with and made for good company all by myself. I made friends, took long walks, gathered my thoughts, culled my emotions, and then vowed to capture the beauty of my newfound unfettered happiness as practice.

Returning to the States, I occasionally fell back into putting others first to my detriment. Only now, I recognized when enough was enough, and found it easier ignore phone calls, place people and situations in a mental “time out,” and to simply tell people, “No.” With COVID-19 lock-in many bad habits kicked back in, but since August, I recommitted to bedtime no later than 10pm, no sugar, caffeine, or snacks, increased water intake, and a vigorous, uphill walk every morning.

Weight loss was never a particular goal, though my body absolutely feels the benefit of the improved habits. More importantly, my mental, spiritual, and physical lives have once again aligned, so I am happier and more productive than I have been in years.

This Washington Informer supplement, New Year, New You encourages you to take that superwoman (superman) cape off and burn it! I mean, bonfire that thing so that there is no possibility of even a fragment surviving the flames! Informer staff writers have spoken with naturopaths, like Dr. Andrea Sullivan and everyday people who offer sound and fun ways of improving your overall health and happiness into the new year and for the rest of your lives. We are the help we’ve sought – and it does not come with an “S” on its chest.

Cheers to a better You!

Dr. Shantella Y. Sherman

Dr. Shantella Sherman is a historian and journalist who serves as the Informer's Special Editions Editor. Dr. Sherman is the author of In Search of Purity: Eugenics & Racial Uplift Among New Negroes...

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