This month (July 2019), is Minority Mental Health Month, and as a Black woman, I began thinking about my own mental health and self-care journey pre-travel and as I continue to move around the world.
2016, or “my year of reckoning” as I refer to it, is when my self-care journey began. It was a challenging year emotionally, and this was the starting point of a life-long journey.
As an empath, I’ve learned through lots of trial and error to protect my time, energy, and space at all times, and there is no difference while traveling and living abroad. I find that it’s even more important as I travel because, in New York, everything is familiar.
Most of the time, I know which restaurants and bars to go to or avoid. I know what spaces are safe spaces because there will be other melanated people around.
That’s not usually the case when traveling within the Asian countries I’ve been to.
While staying in some hostels in different countries, I’ve experienced microaggressions. Some of them were subtle while others were blatant from white travelers in the form of invisibility or dismissal in which my presence was completely ignored.
During my first solo trip, I sat through and overheard a lot of racist and insensitive “jokes” to save face. Being careful not to come off as “the angry black woman,” I would silently sit, waiting for a moment to escape the setting.
I sacrificed my own comfortability and mental safety to protect the feelings of those around me.
My anxiety would rear its head in social settings like the common area of a hostel or during a day trip. Because I was the only Black person most of the time, I began to anticipate racist or inappropriate comments, not from a pessimistic standpoint, but a place of expectation based on my experiences.
There was an unspoken barrier to entry as a Black woman in some of the hostels I visited, and as I look back at that time, there was a sense of betrayal I carried against myself for not speaking up and demanding space.
However, by my second trip, equipped with more confidence, knowledge, and purpose, I was quick to speak up about offensive language regardless of who it came from. I became comfortable excusing myself from a conversation or setting to show that my boundaries had been crossed.
I exist at the intersections of black and a woman, and my identity is attached to many harmful stereotypes, including the “strong black woman.” Black women are expected to speak up against oppression, yet it’s the oppression that we are so eager to dismantle that arms us with this strength that seems otherworldly.
That trope is harmful because it puts so much unnecessary and unfair pressure on Black women, which magnifies poor mental and physical health.
Practicing self-care while traveling is different every day, but as a Black woman, it’s the top priority.
The irony of full-time travel is that based on beautiful Instagram feeds you’d believe travel is an endless pool of glory days filled with laughter.
That the backdrop of every day is turquoise blue water and drinks.
But what social media feeds don’t show are the tears of sadness or anger behind the scenes because of a negative racial encounter with a local or traveler. Also, not seen are the beautiful sunny days that were used to stay in bed and watch Netflix as a way to recharge.
Audre Lorde said:
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
Lorde was the advocate for self-love and speaking truth to power.
Not only is running, getting monthly massages, journaling, crying, creating boundaries, and demanding space all parts of my self-care, so is speaking up and advocating for myself, those around me and the issues within society that lovingly burden my heart.