• Nicole of The Sis Brand

Are You Sure, Sweetheart, That You Want to Be Well?

Updated: Oct 23, 2020

Let’s begin by setting an intention for reading and reflecting on this piece. Take a moment to think about what reading it will do for you or what reflecting on the thoughts within in it might mean for you. As for me, I intentionally show up as my whole self—a Black woman who believes in wellness, but still

struggles to be well.

“Are you sure, sweetheart, that you want to be well? … Just so’s you’re sure, sweetheart, and ready to be healed, cause wholeness is no trifling matter. A lot of weight when you’re well.”
~ Toni Cade Bambara, The Salt Eaters

Let me be clear, this is for women, and women of color in particular. Women who have been asked to sacrifice their mental stability to care for others. Women who have been socialized to believe that struggle is inevitable, and taught that struggle is okay as long as we “struggle good.” This is for women who demand put their wellness before adversity. This is for women who see the importance of finally centering their own needs for emotional, mental, and spiritual wellness. This is for women who are contemplating a more intentional journey toward wellness, but might not be there yet. This is for me. This is for you.

Are you sure, sweetheart,

that you want to be well?

Are you sure, sweetheart,

that you want to be well?

Are you sure, sweetheart,

that you want to be well?

At this point in my life, I’m ready. This is true for many of the Black women I know. But, honestly, defining wellness is the issue. For many, all we really know is wellness is on the other side of struggling. I first came across the idea of being well while reading the Salt Eaters by Toni Cade Bombara, the book from which the quote derives. In the book we learn of Velma, an activist in the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights movements who, like other women in the book, endure ”long suffering” or the ability to navigate challenges without making mention of any suffering at all. Women of color, in particular Black women, have managed to endure struggle, and are often praised for their abilities to silently persevere despite mental and physical contention.There are socio-political reasons for the Strong Black Woman moniker. One being survival. However, are we really surviving if we aren’t well? If we move through our day to day lives filled with despair and pain, is this survival? Furthermore, is it enough to survive, and at what point do we begin to thrive?

The ability to survive is the norm for most of us as we have been taught to do what is needed to get by or to live. To thrive is to do what is needed to move beyond the norm of what is expected. Instead, we are progressively moving beyond expectations. I believe that we begin to thrive when we are well because thriving means making room for ourselves. But, again, what does it mean to be well?

Being well is relative. Being well is dependent on the person. My ability to be well will not look like yours. Wellness is a practice, a journey, and an ebb and flow. Wellness is new to me because it was never a topic of conversation. However, work was. School was. Sports were. The ability to be emotionally and mentally well was a non-factor in my home. I was raised by a single father, high school teacher and coach who was always on the go. The goal was to keep me in private school and to make sure the bills were paid. Emotions were a distraction. Not feeling well was a distraction.

Years later when diagnosed with an autoimmune disease while going through a divorce simultaneously, I was forced to define wellness for myself. It has been mentioned that a person’s historical and contemporary experiences are the basis from which we need to heal and also provide everything we need to be well. It is the decision to journey toward wellness that is often forgotten. We have to affirmatively accept that we want to be well and that we want to heal. This is something that we say we want, but reflecting on and wading through intergenerational, interpersonal, and societal trauma are difficult territories to navigate.

So, again, what does it mean to be well? To truly heal? Or, to be whole?

I follow bell hooks’ school of thought that shares that wellness is based upon self-definitions that take into account and acknowledges our own experiences and histories of trauma and healing practices. This requires both an unlearning of colonialist practices and the denial of our cultural and spiritual gifts. It requires a relearning of the practices, the power implicit within our voices, and the understanding that wellness is a form of agency in a world that would rather us be complicit in our trauma. As bell hooks shares, choosing wellness is a political act of resistance (hooks, 2005, p.7).

So, for me, I know that I am well when I consistently show up to therapy and I am honest during the encounters with my therapist. I am well when I am open to listening to music. When I am unwilling to turn on my playlists, I know something is wrong because music is a natural form of medicine that I take consistently. I am well when I am able to write—for me. I am well when I look in the mirror and see joy looking back. I must say this is rare, and it has been since the onset of the Pandemic. My wellness comes and goes. It requires a consistent practice. It requires reflection that sometimes hurts, and it requires my ability to visualize or verbalize a kind of ”talking back” to those who hurt me in order take back my life.

My wellness requires the recognition that my ancestors are the reason that I exist. They were survivors, but I don’t want to just survive anymore. I’m thankful for their sacrifices, but I want to thrive. Thriving means doing things for my emotional and mental wellness, consistently. Thriving means centering wellness in my life every day. Thriving well means using the resources I have such as meditation, music, writing, and reading to heal wounds that were created well before my existence.

So, I want to know what wellness looks like for you?

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