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What Self-Care Looks Like To Chronic Illness Warrior Devri Velazquez

Finding Balance

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?

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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:

Friends?

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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.

Love/Relationships?

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.

Exercise?

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!

Self?

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.

For more Devri, follow her on Instagram or check out her blog. Take a look back at past Finding Balance features here.

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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