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I Learned The Importance Of Self-Care After Being Diagnosed With Bell's Palsy

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Since I was a teenager, I've been conditioned to be independent and ambitious. Against some family members and friends' advice, I applied to a more selective university and was accepted. Upon graduation, I relocated to urban Northern Virginia instead of returning to rural hometown Virginia. And when it came to building a finance career, I was focused on promotions and paychecks. But being a go-getter came with a whole other set of responsibilities that I had to fulfill that weren't even my own.

Much like a scene from an episode of Being Mary Jane, “Purging and Cleansing", when Kara pretty much tells MJ that she can't be the head of everyone's household. If you follow the show, you know MJ not only takes care of her own home, but she also maintains order in her parents' home, including supplementing her family's financial downfalls and acting as the family spokesperson to deliver the news everyone else needs to say but no one wants to deliver.

Last season, her brother Patrick, who is a recovering drug addict, takes a prescription drug to get him through the day. So MJ stages an intervention at her parents' home on their behalf, but ends up being the one taking her niece, Patrick's daughter D'Asia, to and from school. Kara tells MJ that she's taken on her parents' fight in addition to starting a new chapter in her career, not to mention still dealing with the aftermath of a breakup, her best friend Lisa's death, and her extortionist CeCe's never-ending demands.

“And then everybody's gonna turn around and wonder why you drowned," Kara says.

Or sometimes they don't.

When I lived long-distance, I, too, filled financial gaps by making periodic deposits in accounts, but I also received family's mail to interpret the fine print on documents, completed forms and made calls on their behalf to resolve issues, and found myself in the middle of disputes. At times I grew resentful. I asked myself why nearly every phone call ended with a problem. And I often wondered why none of the other adults could make decisions, until of course they messed something up, and I had to be the one to research it and fix it. But things were at least manageable from a distance. It wasn't until I returned to my home to launch a writing career that I became overwhelmed.

There were family members in my house, one with the most cute, bubbly, inquisitive child, and since I freelance from home, I inadvertently fell into the "live-in nanny" trap. I turned into the person to get the child dressed and on the bus and the person to get her off. And eventually the default person to babysit period because the assumption was I had no real job, which to most is defined as one inside a brick and mortar establishment with a time clock. In the meantime, I was grinding to get more published bylines and my own deposits. I was up beyond midnight and up again by 7 a.m. for bus duty. With everything I already had going on, I was barely staying afloat.

One weekend, I helped a cousin make last minute preparations for her wedding. I recall having a dull ache behind my right ear during the rehearsal dinner, and for the next two days I kept biting the inside right of my lip. Throughout the reception, I enjoyed my freedom for the first time in weeks, but I noticed the puzzled looks and unusual concern for my well-being.

“Are you OK?" most asked.

“Yes! If one mo' person asks me that question…!" I retorted.

The next morning, the mother of the new bride cooked a huge brunch. I remember taking my first plate outside and glancing at my image in a car window while laughing. It looked “funny" but I thought, Aren't all reflections distorted? My second plate was an awesome loaded omelet to order. This time I sat in the family room trying to relish the combination of spinach, fresh tomatoes, and pungent onions, but when I tried to lick my lips, my tongue couldn't reach the right side of my mouth!

I rushed to the bathroom to look in the mirror. I looked normal.

Smile.

Then I realized my mouth only moved on the left. In fact, not only did my mouth not stretch to the right, I couldn't blink my right eye independent of my left one!

My cousin and I quietly exited the house of 50 guests – thinking I was having a stroke – and rushed to the emergency room where the doctor ultimately diagnosed me with Bell's Palsy, a temporary paralysis or weakness on one side of the face.

“I don't know what type of stress you're under," she says, “but I suggest you eliminate it."

She prescribed an antibiotic in case it was caused by some sort of infection and a 10-day steroid regimen. I later learned the pain behind my ear was the first symptom.

I returned home with the intent of resting for a few weeks.

“Can you get her off the bus?" my relative asked a day or two later.

I looked at her, incredulously. Did she not see my damn face? I'm not healed! “Are you going somewhere or something?"

“No," she responded.

It was that moment I realized I had to change my environment if I wanted to get better.

It took a pirate patch and three more weeks before I could blink my eye, and a few more months for my vision to not blur when staring at the computer and for me to drink without drooling or have a normal smile again.

It was a scary moment, but the experience taught me the meaning of self-care and that it's more than hair appointments and spa treatments. I also learned that although I may feel guilty, I can't give away all of me even if I think I have a little bit to spare.

The idea of a strong Black woman is a proven fact; the one of I-can-do-everything-because-I-am-Superwoman is a dangerous myth.

As I continued to watch the conversation between Kara and MJ play out, I caught myself nodding in agreement. “You need to be a little selfish right now," she says. “You need to see who else is capable of showing up."

But more importantly, I need to stop saving folks who don't care if I sink or swim. It's really okay for me to just say, “No."

Featured image by Shutterstock

Before she was Amira Unplugged, rapper, singer, and a Becoming a Popstar contestant on MTV, she was Amira Daughtery, a twenty-five year-old Georgian, with aspirations of becoming a lawyer. “I thought my career path was going to lead me to law because that’s the way I thought I would help people,” Amira tells xoNecole. “[But] I always came back to music.”

A music lover since childhood, Amira grew up in an artistic household where passion for music was emphasized. “My dad has always been my huge inspiration for music because he’s a musician himself and is so passionate about the history of music.” Amira’s also dealt with deafness in one ear since she was a toddler, a condition which she says only makes her more “intentional” about the music she makes, to ensure that what she hears inside her head can translate the way she wants it to for audiences.

“The loss of hearing means a person can’t experience music in the conventional way,” she says. “I’ve always responded to bigger, bolder anthemic songs because I can feel them [the vibrations] in my body, and I want to be sure my music does this for deaf/HOH people and everyone.”

A Black woman wearing a black hijab and black and gold dress stands in between two men who are both wearing black pants and colorful jackets and necklaces

Amira Unplugged and other contestants on Becoming a Popstar

Amira Unplugged / MTV

In order to lift people’s spirits at the beginning of the pandemic, Amira began posting videos on TikTok of herself singing and using sign language so her music could reach her deaf fans as well. She was surprised by how quickly she was able to amass a large audience. It was through her videos that she caught the attention of a talent scout for MTV’s new music competition show for rising TikTok singers, Becoming a Popstar. After a three-month process, Amira was one of those picked to be a contestant on the show.

Becoming a Popstar, as Amira describes, is different from other music competition shows we’ve all come to know over the years. “Well, first of all, it’s all original music. There’s not a single cover,” she says. “We have to write these songs in like a day or two and then meet with our producers, meet with our directors. Every week, we are producing a full project for people to vote on and decide if they’d listen to it on the radio.”

To make sure her deaf/HOH audiences can feel her songs, she makes sure to “add more bass, guitar, and violin in unique patterns.” She also incorporates “higher pitch sounds with like chimes, bells, and piccolo,” because, she says, they’re easier to feel. “But it’s less about the kind of instrument and more about how I arrange the pattern of the song. Everything I do is to create an atmosphere, a sensation, to make my music a multi-sensory experience.”

She says that working alongside the judges–pop stars Joe Jonas and Becky G, and choreographer Sean Bankhead – has helped expand her artistry. “Joe was really more about the vocal quality and the timber and Becky was really about the passion of [the song] and being convinced this was something you believed in,” she says. “And what was really great about [our choreographer] Sean is that obviously he’s a choreographer to the stars – Lil Nas X, Normani – but he didn’t only focus on choreo, he focused on stage presence, he focused on the overall message of the song. And I think all those critiques week to week helped us hone in on what we wanted to be saying with our next song.”

As her star rises, it’s been both her Muslim faith and her friends, whom she calls “The Glasses Gang” (“because none of us can see!”), that continue to ground her. “The Muslim and the Muslima community have really gone hard [supporting me] and all these people have come together and I truly appreciate them,” Amira says. “I have just been flooded with DMs and emails and texts from [young muslim kids] people who have just been so inspired,” she says. “People who have said they have never seen anything like this, that I embody a lot of the style that they wanted to see and that the message hit them, which is really the most important thing to me.”

A Black woman wears a long, salmon pink hijab, black outfit and pink boots, smiling down at the camera with her arm outstretched to it.

Amira Unplugged

Amira Unplugged / MTV

Throughout the show’s production, she was able to continue to uphold her faith practices with the help of the crew, such as making sure her food was halal, having time to pray, dressing modestly, and working with female choreographers. “If people can accept this, can learn, and can grow, and bring more people into the fold of this industry, then I’m making a real difference,” she says.

Though she didn’t win the competition, this is only the beginning for Amira. Whether it’s on Becoming a Popstar or her videos online, Amira has made it clear she has no plans on going anywhere but up. “I’m so excited that I’ve gotten this opportunity because this is really, truly what I think I’m meant to do.”

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