Guest blog by Charisse M. Williams
Charisse is a leadership coach, speaker and author who helps clients improve well-being by increasing joy and reducing stress. She also serves as an instructor in JRNI’s life coach training program.
In her client work, Charisse focuses on mindset and mindfulness as keys to gaining clarity and maintaining calm through life's ups and downs. Charisse is also a certified yoga teacher and graduate of JRNI Life Coaching. She earned her JD from Northwestern University School of Law and BA in Africana Studies from Cornell University.
To explore Charisse's work, visit her website at www.charissemwilliams.com, or follow her on Instagram: @charisse_m_williams. The Joy of Thriving While Black is her first book, now available on Amazon.com.
The Joy of Thriving While Black
“In America, I was free only in battle, never free to rest—and he who finds no way to rest cannot long survive the battle.” –James Baldwin
Having survived and even thrived in the tumult of 2020, I slid into 2021 like a baseball player running for her life toward home plate. “Safe!”
Then I got COVID-19.
I was about to face, for the umpteenth time, the battle between staying “productive” in pursuit of my goals and giving my body the critical rest it needed.
I received my diagnosis a week and a half after I got sick and was already on the mend. Completely losing my sense of taste and smell prompted me to get tested. I received the email about my results at 11 p.m. on January 20, 2021—US Presidential inauguration day. I was convinced that an email meant I was negative because that is how I had received my results in the past. Surely if I was positive, someone would be calling. Right?
I opened the email and scanned past a lot of information to get to my result. The word “POSITIVE” was shouting at me from the screen.
For a few minutes, my brain stopped working; it was just too much to comprehend. Suddenly, the abstract, existential threat that had previously existed “out there” had landed like a flaming bag of poop in the middle of my bedroom.
My first instinct was to call someone, but it was late. I also didn’t want to experience what sometimes happens when I reach out at a time like that, which is the “piling on” effect. That happens when the person on the other end of the line projects all their fears and worries on you. You end the call feeling worse than you did in the beginning.
So instead of calling, I did the most unproductive thing you can do at 11 p.m. I started Googling.
Suddenly all the information about the potential long-term effects of COVID-19 read differently. Permanent loss of taste and smell. Lingering fatigue. Heart problems. Decreased cognitive function. It only took a few minutes for me to get really worked up.
After about thirty minutes, I paused and started talking to myself as I often do.
Charisse, you need to stop. You don’t need all this information right now. What you need is to calm down so you can sleep. Focus on what you can control in this moment. Rest is the most accessible thing right now to help you heal, so rest.
I put lavender oil on my pillow, as I do every night, and then put on my sleep mask. I started my recording of a yoga nidra meditation, and within minutes, I drifted into a peaceful sleep.
I had felt cold symptoms two weeks before I found out I had COVID-19 and was already feeling better, working, and getting back into my exercise routine. Learning about the potential long-term effects of the virus gave me pause.
I decided to rest more than it felt like I “needed” to because my body needed healing in ways I could not see or feel. It took me a few days to come to terms with this. After all, I had a one-year-old business to run and a book to complete.
My predicament reminded me of one of the most resonant passages in Octavia Raheem’s book, Gather:
“Do you ever feel guilty when you rest? When you pause? Where does that guilt come from? For me, the guilt is textured, layered and sometimes chain-like. It’s from deep conditioning at an honest, ancestral level. How much can you take? And with how little sustenance can you work? My ancestors lived inside the systemic shackles of these questions and often died under their oppressive weight.” - Octavia Raheem, Gather (Octavia F. Raheem, 2020), 85
Why is it so hard to take a break? As soon as I asked the question, I knew the answer came from all these ideas embedded in our culture:
Sleep when you’re dead.
Burn the midnight oil.
Get rich or die trying.
Rise and grind.
Then layer on top of that the mantras drilled into Black folks:
You have to be twice as good.
You have to work twice as hard.
The list of expressions that glorify working ourselves to the bone goes on and on. We live in a culture that ties self-worth to productivity and rewards busyness. This approach to living undermines our ability to devote time and attention to our well-being.
Keeping all of this in mind, I cleared my calendar of everything but current client engagements and working on my book. The list of things I was putting on hold so I could rest was long, but I knew I was making the right choice.
An amazing thing happened. I felt more at ease in my work. It became easier to prioritize. I reached out and chatted with friends more because I needed the connection to not feel alone on top of needing to be physically isolated.
Even with COVID-19, my overall sense of well-being improved.
About The Joy of Thriving While Black
The phrase “while Black” was coined to signal the dangers that Black people sometimes face doing everyday things like driving, jogging and holding a cell phone. The Joy of Thriving While Black turns that idea on its head.
Part memoir, part invitation for self-reflection, The Joy of Thriving While Black is about the intersection between Blackness and well-being. Author Charisse M. Williams examines thriving while Black as both an individual pursuit and a collective experience. Driven by her personal narratives and those of the friends she profiles, the book explores ten contributors to thriving including community, pride, self-care and resilience.
In addition to offering inspiring stories, in The Joy of Thriving While Black, Williams shares her wisdom on:
- How to coach yourself towards growth and change.
- Reframing limiting beliefs that keep you stuck and interfere with you living your best life.
- Questions for reflection to help you find more joy and thrive.
If you want to join the celebration of Black lives and learn more about thriving, you can pick up your copy of The Joy of Thriving While Black here.
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