Sis, how is your heart?
May 19, 2019
In 2016, just 22 days before my 36th birthday, I was hospitalized and diagnosed with hypertension.
Leading up to my hospitalization, the signs that my body was in trouble were there. I just ignored them.
For months I was having serious headaches and it was not uncommon for me to cope by taking twelve Tylenol (200mg) a day. My neck was in constant pain and it did not matter how many times I adjusted my ergonomic chair. There was just no relief.
I was drinking coffee every morning to wake up and drinking a glass of wine every night to wind down. I could not sleep, and often times I chose not to sleep because I was afraid to not wake up. I thought I was going to have an aneurysm. I only shared my fear one time with my husband, and then quickly brushed it off as nothing.
The morning I was hospitalized I got up to do my home yoga routine. I had recently started yoga as a way to alleviate some of my stress. That morning I experienced extreme shortness of breath and my thinking was incredibly foggy. I remember feeling frustrated because I could not do the really simple move of balancing on one foot.
When I finally looked in the mirror, I realized that a blood vessel had popped in my eye, and a bright red spot the size of my pupil rested above it. I freaked out, but I was in no pain and my vision was not impaired. Outside of a long-ago knee injury, I was a healthy woman and typically made decent decisions about diet and exercise. Heart disease was the last thing I expected. Maybe I poked my eye in my sleep, I thought. I had a busy day at work and frankly, my eye would have to wait.
At the time I was working in a district level position that actually should have been four different positions, and I worked easily from 7:30 AM – 7:30 PM just trying to keep my head above water. It was common to continue working until 11 PM from home answering emails or preparing PDs. I was a wife and mom too.
Thankfully, my (Audre) Lorde and savior, several loving co-workers, a Black woman ophthalmologist still in her residency, a call to my mother who also has hypertension, and my failing mind and body got me to the hospital that day and saved my life.
Yikes, I just reread my symptoms and the long list of people who needed to intervene for me to seek help. Apparently, I needed a lot of convincing. It should not have required that.
This story has a happy ending. Since being diagnosed I have become acutely aware of my own heart needs. I am doing well because of supportive friends and family, a small dosage of medicine, physical activity, veggies, water, and sleep.
I am also more sensitive to the heart needs of others. Teaching is very much heart work, and we need whole healthy hearts for the job at hand.
In a recent conversation about how fabulous we look – shout out to the cab driver who just thought I was 27 – Sister-Educator Heidi O’Gilvie reminded me that Black women “wear our issues in our tissues.”
When my Sister-Educators talk to me about their stress at work, I feel fiercely protective. One of the first questions I ask them is, “Have you checked your blood pressure?” No one ever asked me, and probably didn’t see the need.
I no longer assume that even though my Sister-Educators slay on the daily, the stressors of the teaching profession and the additional stress of fighting racist and oppressive systems isn’t doing long-term internal damage.
Racism impacts three domains of Black life: individual, cultural and institutional. Individual racism occurs at the interpersonal level and can include dealing with bias and bigoted beliefs from the oppressive group. Cultural racism can refer to the portrayal of marginalized groups from a deficit mindset. Finally, institutional racism occurs when policies and practices restrict or place at a disadvantage the marginalized group (Lee, Corneille, Hall, Yancu, & Myers, 2016).
For Black educators all three levels show up at school or work Every. Damn. Day. Combine that with the general stress of teaching, and frankly y’all are lucky we even bother to show up.
However, we continue to fully show up, many of us with broken and breaking hearts.
In their study, Lee, et al. (2016) found that experiences with racism were significantly associated with elevated blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. In order to reduce the health inequities, they argue individual level prevention strategies, and institutional and macro level changes need to take place.
As y’all may be aware, educators of color have fought this individual, cultural, and institutional racism since 1619, and there is only so much one can do in a (shortened) lifespan. That’s why I no longer hesitate to let my Sister-Educators know it is completely ok to leave a bad position and find a role, school, organization or leader who won’t contribute to their untimely death. My Sister-Educators make the world a better place, and I need them around for more than just fixing the racist and oppressive schools they didn’t create.
I have learned that one of the best things I can do for my blood pressure is dance, which is why dancing regularly is a genuine focus for me in 2019. Alice Walker, one of my favorite poets, must have known this when she penned her short poem “Mind Shine” in Hard Times Require Furious Dancing.
Sis, light up the dark places with your dancing. Dance in your classrooms. Dance in the hallways. Dance in and out of meetings. And when they ask you why you are dancing, tell them that you are protecting your heart.
This blog post is part of the #31DaysIBPOC Blog Challenge, a month-long movement to feature the voices of indigenous and teachers of color as writers and scholars. Please click here to read yesterday’s blog post by Ebony Thomas (and be sure to check out the link at the end of each post to catch up on the rest of the blog circle).
Lee, A. K., Corneille, M. A., Hall, N. M., Yancu, C. N., Myers, M. (2016). The stressors of being young and Black: Cardiovascular health and Black young adults. Psychology and Health, 31(5), 578-591.
Walker, A. (2010). Hard times require furious dancing. Novato, CA: New World Library.
#ClearTheAir Goes to The Antiracist Book Festival
April 28, 2019
On Saturday, April 27, several regular #ClearTheAir participants had the opportunity to attend the inaugural Antiracist Book Festival in Washington, DC. Read about our experience.
I Decided to Reach Out to My Ex
April 7, 2019
I got married young, and in May 2003, I went through a messy divorce.
I was a reader and writer for as long as I could remember. The first thing I can recall writing was an alternative version of Green Eggs and Ham, in which the protagonist started from a place of yes. “Why, yes, I will try it on a train. Thanks for asking!”
I let journalism put a ring on it sophomore year in high school, but by 22, we were done. I left for many reasons, but one of the main reasons was that I covered the police beat. All day every day I read police reports, listened to the scanner, and chronicled the tales of the local police department. On my fun-o-meter scale, it ranked pretty low.
So as soon as I made it a year on the job – a time framed deemed appropriate by my parents – I literally packed everything away and left town. I spent the next year pretending to get a graduate degree in interior design, and honing my skills selling thongs at Victoria’s Secret. But I didn’t write unless I was forced. I lost the drive. I lost my voice.
I tweet now, and it’s quite enjoyable. I love expressing myself with the clarity of 240 characters and gifs. However, it is my writing educator friends who blog weekly or monthly who are serving as an inspiration for me reaching out to my ex. Plus, I am tired of feeling painfully out of practice when people ask me to write.
So I am sorta-kinda asking my first love if they want to go get a cup of coffee once a week. I am not asking for or making any long-term commitments. I just want to get to know them again.