July was a powerful self-care month in the lives of three of my favorite women athletes, Naomi Osaka, a 23-year old Japanese-Haitian American world tennis champion and entrepreneur; Simone Biles, a 24-year old African-American Olympic gymnast; and Simone Manuel, a 24 year-old African-American Olympic swimmer. Each of these women of color chose to make their mental health, well-being, and self-care a priority. Watching them put themselves first above their demanding careers and public scrutiny has been a master class in what it means to embrace, embody, and express the radical self-care wisdom of African-American writer, womanist, and civil rights activist Audre Lorde: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.” I think we can all learn something from these self-care sheroes!
Photo Credit: TIME Magazine
After watching Naomi step away from the French Open and withdraw from Wimbledon to prioritize her mental health, I read her essay in TIME and watched her Netflix documentary. Her courage to be vulnerable with herself and willingness to share her vulnerability on the world stage filled my heart with deep gratitude. Gratitude because here is a woman who clearly has her own personal issues (like the rest of us) and is deeply engaged in her own wellness journey, stepping out and shining a light on a topic most of society is hesitant to acknowledge, discuss, and address. In her TIME essay, she writes, “I do hope that people can relate and understand it’s OK to not be OK; and it’s OK to talk about it.”
Photo Credit: Health Magazine
Naomi’s decision to speak openly, honestly, and from her heart inspired Simone Biles (“Simone B.”) when she decided to withdraw from the final individual all-around competition at the Tokyo Olympic Games. During one of her interviews, Simone encouraged other athletes to “put mental health first, because if you don’t, then you’re not going to enjoy your sport and you’re not going to succeed as much as you want to.” She also reassured them, “it’s OK sometimes to even sit out the big competitions to focus on yourself, because it shows how strong of a competitor that you really are, rather than just battle through it.” Her mental health activism stems directly from the deep commitment she has made to herself to get help when needs it. In her most recent interview with Health Magazine, she shares how she uses the support of a psychologist, her family, and her boyfriend to navigate her life and career.
It is worth noting that after Simone B. followed her own mind and took a week to rest and focus on her mental health, she decided to return to the Tokyo Olympics and compete in the balance beam final on August 3, 2021. Once again, she has shown women and girls of color and all people how to love, honor, and nurture oneself. Her decision and actions illustrate what it means to be an IN-POWERED HUMAN BEING. A person who is able to put being before doing to honor their own mental health, well-being, and self-care. In the end, she came back on her own terms and won a Bronze medal!
Photo Credit: TYRxSIMONE Collection
Like Naomi and Simone B., Simone Manuel (“Simone M.), represents a new wave of women of color who are using their global platform to champion mental health, well-being, and self-care as they express their own vulnerability and how they are nurturing themselves. Last year, Glamour Magazine interviewed Simone M. about the importance of mental health. Check out her candid response.
“Mental health is so crucial because it contributes to how you navigate through this world and what you think of yourself. I’ve been seeing a sports psychologist since I was 15 and I use that to talk about my experiences as a Black swimmer and a Black woman in this world. I think that it genuinely has helped me be able to handle some of the hardships or the experiences that I’ve dealt with in my life. It’s such a powerful, powerful tool to be able to exercise your mind and strengthen your mind.”
Throughout the interview, she gives an inside look into her self-care which includes two of my favorite mindfulness practices, meditation and journaling. She urges us to resist numbing our feelings. She also reassures us that it’s okay to feel and talk about our emotions and listen to our bodies. I know she was following her own advice when she took a break from training after being diagnosed with overtraining syndrome earlier this year.
THE GEN Z + GEN X CONNECTION
When I look at these three 20-something women who represent my niece Jordan’s Gen Z generation and their self-care journey, I realize we share a similar path. As a 56 year-old African-American woman who sometimes self-identifies as a GenXer, I remember what it felt like to be an overachieving stressed and time-pressed lawyer and investment banker in my late 20s and early 30s. My self-worth was tied to my career. When my career didn’t produce the success I expected, my mental health and well-being were nonexistent. With the support of my parents, family, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority sisters, Howard University School of Law and Georgetown University Law Center classmates, friends, and a therapist, I finally started to recognize how important it was to ground myself in self-care. It became the foundation for how I currently live my life. It also inspired me to express my creativity as a a writer and an artist-in-residence for Smith Center for Healing and the Arts at Howard University Hospital and Walter Reed National Military Hospital. In addition, it led me to study and become a certified yoga and meditation teacher, a reiki master and sound healing practitioner, and a digital wellness educator. Today, I am blessed to use my experience and expertise in my work with people who are struggling with self-care as the Chief Mindfulness Officer of my wellness company, Ananda Leeke Consulting, and the founder of the Thriving Mindfully Community and Academy.
As I closed out July, I decided to write a thank you letter to Naomi, Simone B., and Simone M. for showing up as their REAL selves. Check out what I had to say.
Dear Naomi, Simone B., and Simone M.,
Your courage to stand up, speak your truth from your heart, say HELL NO to society’s hustle culture, and say HELL YES to your mental health, well-being, and self-care has become a powerful gift to all of us Black and Brown women, women of color, all women and girls, and folks on Mother Earth.
You are showing many of us how to declare our self-care independence unapologetically.
Your choice to honor yourself on the global stage is helping some of us see what it means to be vulnerable, loving, kind, gentle, and compassionate with ourselves. When we see you, we are able to look in the mirror and see folks who look just like us claim and practice their birthright of mental health, well-being, and self-care.
Without even knowing it, you are helping us all recommit ourselves to a healthier life mission. One where we are humans being instead of humans doing. One that carves out a public pathway to self-care beyond survival, the very thing Dr. Maya Angelou spoke about in her ancestral wisdom statement: “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive.”
One last thing! I wrote a poem, “What’s Next: A Lifeline to Stop Doing, Start Doing” that expresses what this thank you letter could not. Watch a video of me reading it below.
Check out the IG Live conversation I had with Xina Eiland, President of X+PR, co-founder of Unmute, and co-host of the Get Found Get Funded podcast on August 1, 2021, about the impact of Naomi, Simone B., and Simone M.’s decision to prioritize their mental health and self-care.
SELF-CARE SUPPORT FOR READERS
Just in case you need self-care support, I invite you to do three things.
- Go here to take my self-care survey (4 easy questions that take less than 5 minutes to answer).
- Click here to claim your complimentary membership in my Thriving Mindfully Community, a digital sacred space that inspires you to nurture, transform, and celebrate your life and career.
- If you wanna deepen your wellness commitment and expand your personal growth journey with my support, join me for the Thriving Mindfully Academy’s Master Class on August 4th at 8–9:15 PM ET or August 7th at 1–2:15 PM ET. Click on the links below.