What Self-Care Looks Like To Chronic Illness Warrior Devri Velazquez
In xoNecole's Finding Balance, we profile boss women making boss moves in the world and in their respective industries. We talk to them about their business, their life, and most of all, what they do to find balance in their busy lives.
Devri Velazquez was diagnosed with Takayasu's Arteritis in 2011.
At a time when most women come into their womanhood and blossom into adults, Devri was was struggling with the effects of a rare and invisible autoimmune disease that caused inflammation in her large blood vessels and could ultimately lead to heart failure or stroke. One thing Devri never forgot was that no person or sickness could steal what God had in store for her life. An illness that would have stopped many women in their tracks ended up being a catalyst for the now 28-year-old content creator's success.
Editor of NaturallyCurly and self-identified health advocate Devri Velazquez recently chatted with xoNecole for this installment of our Finding Balance series to share how her chronic illness allowed her to discover the power of self-care and why it's her mission to share this knowledge with women around the world.
Between pharmacy visits, a chaotic work life, and finding time to nurture personal relationships, Devri is often tasked with staying on top of a very intense schedule. Despite her obligations to the rest of the world, her illness taught her that it is impossible to fill from an empty cup. She opened up to us about what "Finding Balance" means in terms of her own lifestyle.
What's been the driving force behind all of the hats that you wear these days?
I enjoy the feeling like I have total control of my time and sustaining a career that is grounded in a divine cause.
What is a typical day in the life of Devri Velazquez?
Most of my days start with the same routine: me grabbing a latte at the neighborhood coffee shop, answering emails and sending pitches for about 2 or 3 hours. I like to go for 30-minute walks with my dog to give myself mental breaks throughout the day, making sure I am writing or creating for about two hours until my partner gets home from work in the evening. On random occasions, I like to meet up with fellow creative entrepreneurs and freelancers to bounce off some inspiration, whether that involves discussing a potential project to collaborate on, or simply venting about our current creative process woes. I also have to manage a chronic illness (which is a full-time job in and of itself), so I have lots of appointments, pharmacy visits, and much more that get sprinkled in my workweeks.
When you have a busy week, what's the most hectic part of it?
I have to allow myself time and space to breathe. I take my alone time and inner peace seriously. I don't like feeling like I'm losing control or unraveling, so it's important to me to keep everything grounded in my faith that everything will work itself out, and that there is no need to stress about every little thing. If I don't get something done on today's agenda, it moves over to tomorrow's list. I try to affirm to myself that I am doing the best I can.
You are a huge health advocate, is that rooted in your own perseverance in living with a chronic illness?
I have Takayasu's Arteritis, which is an inflammation of my large blood vessels. I got diagnosed in 2011 when I was 20, so right when I was really coming into my own as a young woman. It was the biggest blessing I could've had, because it put a lot of things in perspective for me about the essence of time and love. My illness affects me physically on so many levels: some days my pain is so unbearable that it's hard to focus. I have a lot of things that don't work in my body the way they're supposed to as a result of it, so I have to be my biggest advocate all the time, especially since the world can't see with the naked eye what's going on. I've learned how to communicate how I'm feeling no matter what type of setting I'm in or who I am around. It has helped me become more fearless and unapologetic about proclaiming exactly what I need.
Do you practice self-care? What does that look like for you?
My whole well-being is centered around self-care. I try to live by that phrase and truly honor my mind, body, and soul's needs at every moment of the day. With an unpredictable health condition like mine, it is more important than ever to stay present and hyper-aware of what my body is asking for.
How do you find balance with:
I tend to have friends that treat their time seriously as I do. Because of this, I try to find something for us to connect on that could be mutually beneficial. That way we both don't end up feeling like we just passed the time without getting anything accomplished.
It's easy when I have just one person that I've focused on for 2 years now so that I can stay focused on building up my career and keeping as healthy of a work-life balance as possible.
I walk at least 2 miles a day (I live in New York City so it's inevitable) and I also practice mindful yoga and meditation. I don't do anything strenuous due to my physical limitations, but I do miss doing cardio!
I write, write, write. I have been writing every day of my life since I was a little girl and I never stopped. This has always helped me stay connected with my inner self, whether it is to admire and affirm her growth or release her from past traumas and painful memories. Journaling is like drinking water to me.
When do you feel most beautiful? And what are some traits about yourself that you immediately think of with love?
I feel most beautiful when I have awesome second-day hair. Of course, that's a rare occasion but when it happens, I cherish it -- any natural knows what's up! I've always appreciated my facial features, how they display both of the races I come from so uniquely, Black and Mexican. I love what God has done and continues to do for me, and when I stop to think about it, I feel beautiful and blessed.
I'm such a fan of your freedom in the way you move through life, what does freedom mean to you?
Freedom means letting go of toxicity and understanding that no matter how disappointing or painful a relationship, place, memory, ailment or anything can be, it will pass. Freedom also means that I choose to not be afflicted or oppressed by my circumstances but empowered by them.
Do you ever detox?
I do a social media detox for maybe 5 days at a time every month. It feels so good when I come back, it's so necessary for my mental health. I kind of touched on this earlier, but I also do a makeup detox at least a few days a week to let my skin breathe.
When you are going through a bout of uncertainty or feeling stuck, how do you handle it?
I take frequent "self-care" breaks throughout the day by going outside, getting some fresh air, and praying or meditating to calm myself down and re-focus. It works every time but it's always work to actually get to that good place. I just keep going until I get there. Or if I'm really going through a mental breakdown, I call my mom and she usually gives me a virtual slap to let me know it's all going to be OK.
What does success mean to you?
Success is feeling so accomplished that if something happens and I'm gone tomorrow, I will have a smile on my face in the afterlife because I know that I went out working on the legacy. I literally can't go to sleep at night without knowing that I did something, no matter how small it was, to fulfill the vision I have for my future children and their children. The ambition makes me feel successful already -- but I have a long way to go!
What is something you think others forget when it comes to finding balance?
I know for me in the past, it was neglecting my relationships and being so selfish that I was cutting people off without realizing it. We all need those people who are going to tell us if we're looking a hot mess, or if we could've done this instead of that -- but do it from a place of love, of course. Not everyone is going to have the best intentions for someone, so I've learned to maintain the balance by nourishing my relationships and staying rooted in love.
Taylor "Pretty" Honore is a spiritually centered and equally provocative rapper from Baton Rouge, Louisiana with a love for people and storytelling. You can probably find me planting herbs in your local community garden, blasting "Back That Thang Up" from my mini speaker. Let's get to know each other: @prettyhonore.
Exclusive: Gabrielle Union On Radical Transparency, Being Diagnosed With Perimenopause And Embracing What’s Next
Whenever Gabrielle Union graces the movie screen, she immediately commands attention. From her unforgettable scenes in films like Bring It On and Two Can Play That Game to her most recent film, in which she stars and produces Netflix’s The Perfect Find, there’s no denying that she is that girl.
Off-screen, she uses that power for good by sharing her trials and tribulations with other women in hopes of helping those who may be going through the same things or preventing them from experiencing them altogether. Recently, the Flawless by Gabrielle Union founder partnered with Clearblue to speak at the launch of their Menopause Stage Indicator, where she also shared her experience with being perimenopausal.
In a xoNecoleexclusive, the iconic actress opens up about embracing this season of her life, new projects, and overall being a “bad motherfucker.” Gabrielle reveals that she was 37 years old when she was diagnosed with perimenopause and is still going through it at 51 years old. Mayo Clinic says perimenopause “refers to the time during which your body makes the natural transition to menopause, marking the end of the reproductive years.”
“I haven't crossed over the next phase just yet, but I think part of it is when you hear any form of menopause, you automatically think of your mother or grandmother. It feels like an old-person thing, but for me, I was 37 and like not understanding what that really meant for me. And I don't think we focus so much on the word menopause without understanding that perimenopause is just the time before menopause,” she tells us.
Photo by Brian Thomas
"But you can experience a lot of the same things during that period that people talk about, that they experienced during menopause. So you could get a hot flash, you could get the weight gain, the hair loss, depression, anxiety, like all of it, mental health challenges, all of that can come, you know, at any stage of the menopausal journey and like for me, I've been in perimenopause like 13, 14 years. When you know, most doctors are like, ‘Oh, but it's usually about ten years, and I'm like, ‘Uhh, I’m still going (laughs).’”
Conversations about perimenopause, fibroids, and all the things that are associated with women’s bodies have often been considered taboo and thus not discussed publicly. However, times are changing, and thanks to the Gabrielle’s and the Tia Mowry’s, more women are having an authentic discourse about women’s health. These open discussions lead to the creation of more safe spaces and support for one another.
“I want to be in community with folks. I don't ever want to feel like I'm on an island about anything. So, if I can help create community where we are lacking, I want to be a part of that,” she says. “So, it's like there's no harm in talking about it. You know what I mean? Like, I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change. I'm just getting better and stronger and more intelligent, more wise, more patient, more compassionate, more empathetic. All of that is very, very welcomed, and none of it should be scary.”
The Being Mary Jane star hasn’t been shy about her stance on therapy. If you don’t know, here’s a hint: she’s all for it, and she encourages others to try it as well. She likens therapy to dating by suggesting that you keep looking for the right therapist to match your needs. Two other essential keys to her growth are radical transparency and radical acceptance (though she admits she is still working on the latter).
"I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change."
Gabrielle Union and Kaavia Union-Wade
Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images
“I hope that a.) you recognize that you're not alone. Seek out help and know that it's okay to be honest about what the hell is happening in your life. That's the only way that you know you can get help, and that's also the only other way that people know that you are in need if there's something going on,” she says, “because we have all these big, very wild, high expectations of people, but if they don't know what they're actually dealing with, they're always going to be failing, and you will always be disappointed. So how about just tell the truth, be transparent, and let people know where you are. So they can be of service, they can be compassionate.”
Gabrielle’s transparency is what makes her so relatable, and has so many people root for her. Whether through her TV and film projects, her memoirs, or her social media, the actress has a knack for making you feel like she’s your homegirl. Scrolling through her Instagram, you see the special moments with her family, exciting new business ventures, and jaw-dropping fashion moments. Throughout her life and career, we’ve seen her evolve in a multitude of ways. From producing films to starting a haircare line to marriage and motherhood, her journey is a story of courage and triumph. And right now, in this season, she’s asking, “What’s next?”
“This is a season of discovery and change. In a billion ways,” says the NAACP Image Award winner. “The notion of like, ‘Oh, so and so changed. They got brand new.’ I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
"I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
She continues, “So I'm just trying to figure out what's next. You know what I mean? I'm jumping into what's next. I'm excited going into what's next and new. I'm just sort of embracing all of what life has to offer.”
Look out for Gabrielle in the upcoming indie film Riff Raff, which is a crime comedy starring her and Jennifer Coolidge, and she will also produce The Idea of You, which stars Anne Hathaway.
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Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith went to social media to share their Thanksgiving holiday with followers. The pair were surrounded by family and friends Thursday, and both posted how grateful they were to be with the ones they loved. Yet this comes on the heels of Pinkett Smith’s whirlwind of negative opinions and critics forecasting her book would be a flop.
Despite the negative feedback she received, Worthy, Pinkett Smith’s memoir, still debuted at #3 on the New York Times’ Best Seller list on October 25. The greatest backlash she received was centered around her relationship with Smith and the fact that the two had been living separate lives since 2016.
The commentary about their marriage overshadowed the reality that this book is ultimately about her journey to self-worth and the path she’s had to take in order to get there.
Social media comments about her book tour ranged from, “Me counting all the times Jada woke up and chose to embarrass Will Smith,” to podcasts like The Joe Budden Podcast saying, “Take me out the group chat,” which was a sentiment shared by many celebrities and fans alike. Yet, a point made by comedian KevOnStage proved that even though people say they don’t want to know about the Smiths, they’re secretly interested and want to know more.
Since the Smiths were wed in 1997, people have been fascinated with their marriage, and rumors about their marital arrangement have always been a topic of conversation. People continue to speculate that the pair is gay and swingers, and even new allegations have come out that Smith and Duane Martin shared an intimate relationship at one point.
However, despite their consistent united front throughout their marriage in recent years, Pinkett Smith has borne the brunt of backlash in the couple’s relationship, from her entanglement with August Alsina to Smith slapping Chris Rock at the 2022 Academy Awards to the recent truths she’s shared about the couple’s marriage in her memoir.
Individuals are consistently running to the internet to support Smith and villainize Pinkett Smith, from podcast guests saying things such as “She doesn’t like Will, she likes the lifestyle” to deeming her “mean” or "manipulative" because of her facial expressions and demeanor.
Likewise, when you have hosts of daytime talk shows such as Ana Navarro saying, “I think she’s having a relationship with her bank account,” insinuating Pinkett Smith only shared stories about Smith to increase her book sales, it begs the question of where was this same energy when Smith released his memoir?
In Will, Smith discusses both of his marriages and how, in relationships, because of his upbringing, he needed constant validation and praise from his partners to feel secure. He also shared the reality that Pinkett Smith never wanted to be married, just as she never wanted the huge estate they share in California, but he wanted to give it to her despite her feelings about it.
Smith admitted to creating this family empire that only further boosted his ego and what he wanted his legacy to be instead of actually asking his family what they wanted or needed. People praised him for his vulnerability and said his book was an inspiration.
So how is it that one book about a person’s family, upbringing, and journey to self is praised, and another is villainized? The glaring thought that comes to me is, does likability often trump accountability?
People love Smith and his “good guy” persona; he’s always been an attractive, charismatic man that people can relate to, so even when he speaks about the way he mismanaged his marriage and family, it’s seen as growth. On the contrary, because Pinkett Smith doesn’t constantly fawn over him and shares how miserable she was in their marriage, she’s the villain.
People still blame her for not stopping Smith from smacking Rock at the Oscars and share their sentiments about how she embarrassed Smith with her entanglement with Alsina. Though this is a celebrity couple we’ve all followed for years, the question must be asked, how much accountability must Black women be subjected to in relationship to their partners' actions?
Why is it that the media is more interested in the marriage between Smith and Pinkett Smith than her childhood, or the fact her memoir consists of writing prompts, meditations, and methods for other women to find their sense of worth?
Could it be that the larger society doesn’t value Black women having the tools to find their own sense of worth? Or is it that Black women are expected to accept whatever is given to them regardless of how they feel or what they want?
The exclusive interview with Eboni K. Williams (@ebonikwilliams) and Dr. Iyanla Vanzant about if she would date a bus driver seems to have a lot of people talking. You can watch her response tonight on #theGrio. Catch the full interview, here: https://t.co/ctxE0zKFWj pic.twitter.com/BhIO52T2fg— theGrio.com (@theGrio) May 2, 2023
When Eboni K. Williams shared that she wasn’t interested in dating a bus driver, the internet blew up with individuals saying that Black women need to be less selective with their dating prospects. The commentary around this conversation shed much light on the reality that this demographic is expected and invited to settle in love if they actually want a life partner.
Black women aren’t often given the space to find their joy, fulfillment, or even self-worth because of the responsibility they’re forced to acquire in order to support their families and communities. Yet, “high value” Black men speak vehemently about Black women’s masculinity and inability to submit. We’re often inundated with podcast guests sharing that they’re not impressed by our success and are uninterested in our aspirations.
Black women, from a young age, are taught to place their community first and cater to the men around them regardless of what they do or how they behave.
We see this when young girls are told to put on pants when male relatives come around, we experience it when domestic violence survivors are encouraged not to press charges against their perpetrators, and we even see it when Black women face backlash for dating outside of their race.
The way Pinkett Smith has been treated since sharing the truth about her life and journey of discovering her self-worth is another example of how the world isn’t receptive to Black women being their most authentic selves.
It’s another example we can hold up to illustrate how Black women are expected to be magical but not human.
Even with this article, I’m sure there will be many who want to argue why Pinkett Smith was wrong in her narrative, but at the end of the day, it was her story to tell, and no one has more authority to share her lived experience than her.
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