The Frailty of Life — Please See Your Doctor…

The Frailty of Life — Please See Your Doctor…

I’m struggling with my emotions this morning. Late Sunday night, I discovered that a friend, George Cholakis, suddenly passed away while at a Miami Dolphins football game. I’m completely saddened and stunned. Not more than 2 weeks before, we laid another friend to rest, J.C. Dugue. He passed away from a massive heart attack just before Hurricane Irma hit.

These gentlemen were attorneys that were a few years ahead of me in my legal career. J.C., who was a defense attorney, knew me pretty much my entire career as a prosecutor. His sense of humor always added levity to tense moments as we stood across from each other on opposite sides of the courtroom. Just looking at him sometimes would have me in stitches. He was just that way.

George was helpful to me as a young prosecutor, as I was floundering (as we all did) to stay afloat with the heavy caseload. He’d often have words of encouragement, or the right answer when the judge was grilling me. He was senior to me, having tried intense homicide cases. He was kind, always pleasant, down to earth, and a fun guy. A few years ago, a really tragic incident occurred that pretty much cost him everything. George took responsibility, and started from scratch to rebuild. He began his own legal practice, and brought the same personality that he always had to his new line of work. I had such respect for George in doing so. Sometimes when folks fall down, they never get back up. He did, which showed the strength of his character.

What bewilders me is that they were not old. I know, the definition of “old” tends to shift as one ages upward, but I’m talking maybe 10 years older than me. I get it — when you hit your 70’s and 80’s, you expect to lose friends. Not in your 40’s.

Earlier this year, we lost two more members of our legal community to suicide. We all were devastated, and started work among our voluntary bar organizations to address depression. We lost J.C. and George to natural causes. Now, it’s time for us to talk about self care of not just the mind, but the body as well.

It takes wild horses for me to drag the men in my life to the doctor. I joke that for my husband and my dad, if an arm fell off, they’d pick it up and keep going, still refusing to go to the doctor. We have to be more forceful about getting the ones we love to the doctor, and heeding whatever warnings are given.

And, we ourselves need to take responsibility for our own health. Taking on too much, unmanaged stress, and ignoring what our bodies tell us is the formula for a fatal disaster.

We have to take care of each other. The pain of those left behind is immeasurable.

RIP J.C. and George.

Self Care for the Social Justice Warrior (and anyone under stress)

Self Care for the Social Justice Warrior (and anyone under stress)

createherstock-a-summer-day-neosha-gardner
Photo credit: CreateHerStock

A version of my piece appears in Blavity, check it out!

In a time where a day seemingly cannot go by without some sort of political calamity, how can one get through this?

Those who see and feel injustice are having a tough time.

I’ll put it out there – I’m exhausted.  Having seen the good, bad and the ugly in the criminal justice system, I have now elevated my work on social justice issues to a wider scope.  I feel it is incumbent upon me as an African American female attorney to lend my voice, as well as my knowledge, for the betterment of all people everywhere. In doing so, you take on the pain of the struggle.  If you do not internalize it in some way, then you may need to check your pulse to see if you are still alive.

To make sure that you continue to have the ability to fight the good fight, self-care is critical. Some may think “is that some silly reason folks use to blow off work and go to yoga

Maybe for some folks, yes; for social warriors, no.

In order to center yourself, you have to take a break.  Why? Because your effectiveness diminishes as fatigue sets in.  Stress literally kills.

Here are some ideas:

  • Eat right 

Skipping meals, or eating fast food regularly is not a good idea.  I like McDonald’s fries as much as the next person, but as we saw in SuperSize Me,  a regular diet of this is not sustainable.  Additionally, it will wreak havoc on your energy levels and your mood.  The topics we are dealing with regularly are painful as it is – the wrong nutrition will make an already short fuse even shorter.  Make a conscious effort to eat regularly, and eat real food.

  • Exercise

I’m the first person to say I don’t get a runner’s high.   I mostly get the runner’s ouch.  But put me in a spin class with a solid playlist (shout out to Allison, Johanna and Reed at SoulCycle), and for 45 minutes I am in another world.  I leave sweaty, less stressed, and ready to take on the day.  Find what works for you – if you’re in Florida like me, a long walk on the beach is a straight up spiritual experience.  If not, basic calisthenics at home, an internet based workout (there’s tons of videos on YouTube, as well as more specialized options), or hitting your local gym will go a long way in allowing you to de-stress, clear your head, and release some of the anger that accumulates. Don’t let budget be a hindrance – close your door, and dance like mad to 3 of your favorite songs in a row. That short break may be enough to release some toxicity.

  • Find your village

You need to have positive people around you in your personal life. Each of us needs to have that crew who you can laugh with, be totally silly, and just let your locs down.  These are folks who lift you up, infusing you with renewed energy.  If those folks aren’t around you, you may need to take a serious look at your circle and make some changes for your sanity.

  • Detox

Take a day at the very least each week , or the entire weekend if you can, and totally detox.  My friend is a strong proponent of #UnpluggedSundays, where she signs off social media Saturday night, and does not get back on until Monday.  Look, whatever craziness that is coming from the White House will be there tomorrow. Just take a day, and focus on friends and family.  Focus on you. Binge watch Real Housewives – anything that does not require deep thought.

  • Leave the Bottle Alone

It may be tempting to self medicate by having that extra drink, or turning to legal (or illegal) drugs to escape.  At the end of the day, the world’s problems will still be there when you wake up.  And now, you’re awake, mad, and have a hangover.  Enough said. Also, dependency/addiction has a tendency to creep up on you. Recreational use can turn to habitual use in the blink of an eye.  I’m not trying to pull a Nancy Reagan (more of a Grandmaster Flash), but please don’t start down a path that will only cause pain.

nancy reagan
Nancy Reagan in her 1986 “Just Say No” campaign. For historical purposes only….
  • Find what brings you peace (and don’t underestimate the power of the playlist)

Since Charlottesville, I’ve changed my screensaver at work to alpacas.  Why? Because looking them calms me down.  I can minimize my screen, look at the cuteness, and then re-engage.  Music is a huge help too.  Lately I’ve been rocking Damien Marley.  His social commentary, coupled with great reggae beats and a sharp lyrical style keeps me focused when the day is long. Public Enemy, while accurate, makes me angry.  As my friend Ken reminded me today, James Brown is a good bet.  You get inspired, proud, and motivated.

alpacas
How could you stay stressed after seeing these sweet little faces? 
  • In Summary…

Many have heard the James Baldwin quote

To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”

But the next line is even more important:

“…So that the first problem is how to control that rage so that it won’t destroy you.”

Being part of the resistance is tough, but don’t let it destroy you. Make a conscious effort to release your stress — you are needed!

What works for you? Please share in the comments.