The Art of Glowing Up Without Burning Out
Glowing up, without burning out.
Four years ago I failed at this. As I (reluctantly) approach what my friends are calling a major glow up, I find myself wondering if a burnout is inevitable. Social media is full of people proclaiming their glow up! I’m not saying this is a bad thing. The need for representation is real! Seeing melanated queer people of all varieties doing well makes my heart happy. My Instagram feed is full of glamour shots with those fancy O ring lights and selfies in beautiful places, with inspirational captions! I often feel pressure to add my own to this mix, but honestly, I don’t like taking selfies. I also find it hard to be inspirational when in reality, I’m full of anxiety, based on my last glow up and the very rapid burn out that followed.
To better understand my story, let’s take it back.
The Big Chop
October 2014 was an unexpectedly major time in my life. I was past just being comfortable in my skin. I was learning to celebrate who I was. With a newly discovered confidence, I decided to take some leaps. I did two things that absolutely terrified me. First, I cut all my hair off. My hair had been natural for 4 years before the big chop. But I continued to use heat to straighten it—and I didn’t do this in a healthy way. My hair was in rough shape. With the encouragement of friends and family, I knew it was time. I went into a Super Cuts (I was determined to spend the least amount of money possible!) and for $20 including tip, the big chop happened. Then panic set in! I had surely made a huge mistake exposing so much of myself to the world. I had already decided to grow my hair back out and go back to wearing it straightened. Yet to my surprise, I grew to love my hair cut! I learned to adapt. I learned to embrace it! I loved what my fade said about me (cough, I’m queer too, cough) and even more how it made me feel! To my relief, I didn’t lose any part of my identity as a very feminine woman—and this gave me even more confidence. I started to realize that I couldn't let fear hold me back from living an authentic life.
Two weeks after the haircut, I came out to my mom. An idea that wasn’t even a possibility a few months prior. Fully coming out to myself had been quite the journey. Yet in 2014, I felt that I still wasn’t where I wanted to be. I had long accepted that I may never be able to be fully out, because I could not let my mother know. My older sister and I made a joke about me having a lifelong roommate who joined our family for holidays. The shell that I allowed my queerness to exist in simply became too tight. I knew that in order to be my truest, shiniest most authentic self, I had to come out to my mom. If only so that I could tag myself in cute pictures of me with queer friends on Facebook without risking family seeing and telling her. The conversation didn’t go well (but that’s a story for another day and my mom and I are closer than ever). After the conversation and a terribly lengthy uncomfortable silence, my mom demanded that my sister and I put our shoes on and we all went to Dairy Queen. I’m so glad I can laugh at this moment. Now every DQ strawberry sundae taste like truth and freedom.
Living Out Loud
With a new level of outness and a fresh fade, I was free to be my best self! I went out with friends every night of the weekend. I bought short, tight skirts to wear for dancing, and Converse sneakers in a variety of colors to match my moods! I welcomed all tagged photos. I was able to bring a different energy into all my relationships with other queer people, especially the romantic ones. I even joined an LGBTQ organization and quickly became an important member. My face was featured in nearly every email sent out from the organization for over a year. I was deemed a person to know—and they wanted to know me. I was important! This was my time to shine. I was definitely glowing.
I’m not even sure when the glow started fading. Maybe when I realized the organization I was putting so much time, energy and emotion into wasn’t as diverse or inclusive as they claimed to be. Even worse, I started realizing they didn’t care much either. I was volunteering for a for-profit organization and I was being paid in drinks. This created another concern. I began drinking a lot. I was using alcohol to fill an unexpected hollow feeling. I had done two of the bravest things I could think of and I still wasn’t happy.
Finally one night, at a club in the middle of the dance floor, laser lights beaming in all directions, the bass from the music controlling my heart beat, I was forced to confront what was going on. Suddenly my low cut tank top was too tight, and short red skirt wasn’t covering enough of me.
I felt exposed.
I got through a couple more songs holding back tears, when my behavior became noticeable to friends I pretended I had too much to drink. A close friend pulled me aside and asked what was wrong. Through tears I told him I needed to leave. Here I was at the top of my game, and I was incredibly sad. I felt unfulfilled and unsure of my next steps. Facebook and Instagram helped me keep up the lie that everything was fine and I was still shining as brightly as before.
Recovering from that time in my life was hard. I wish I could say that one night of crying in the club was my rock bottom, but it wasn’t even close. Rock bottom came at the end of 2015, when I looked back at the year and saw a few highlights filled with moments that were about other people. These moments were just a lot of me pretending everything was fine when I was suffering from burnout and depression at harmful levels. I did recover, and things stabilized for a long time, then they took another dip. Then a sharp upturn, which leads to the present day.
A Fresh Start
My move to Chicago has been called a hard restart. I gave up a tremendous amount of comforts and safety nets to get a fresh start, and honestly it’s been paying off. I got a job offer before I made the move from Boston. Six hours after my plane landed in Chicago, I found an apartment. I could afford to live alone again! My new job proved to be the first place I worked where most of the people there were happy to have their jobs. The positive environment boggled my mind! My mom told me it was because I had returned to the mid-west. I think it’s because Chicago gave me a feeling I’ve been searching for nearly 10 years. Being home.
Just when I thought things reached a point I could focus on just settling in, I got a promotion at work! I got the opportunity to move up within the organization after just two and a half months! Despite my short tenure, the team was more than happy to welcome me and the raise that came with the promotion— well let’s just say Mama’s not gonna struggle anymore!
When I sent those excited text to friends that I had gotten the promotion I was elated. I felt valued for the work and my ideas. I felt like all my struggle was worth it to get to this point. One of my friends declared that this was my glow up and I should be proud. That’s when all the doubt came back. What if this is a repeat of October 4 years ago? What if my star was shining too brightly and suddenly dimmed? Could I even handle another fall like I did last time? I told people I was so excited about the promotion, but honestly I was only marginally excited. I was filled with anxiety and what-ifs.
This time around I am focused on my own needs. I’ve come up with ideas that you can apply to your own life to avoid a life burn out:
Set goals and dreams based around you: Your goals and aspirations should be about what keeps you fulfilled. Other people may be present but their approval and acceptance shouldn’t be the actual goal or measure of success.
Seek support: I started going to therapy again after a long hiatus. My therapist thinks I’m way too hard on myself. I told her she’s probably right, but I’m going to need her help to address this. It’s always okay to ask for help and support.
Self-care is essential: Always! I know the importance of prioritizing myself and my needs. I aim to get enough sleep, take baths, drink more tea and deep condition my ‘fro. I set intentions, I meditate, I pray. I try and make time everyday for me.
Friends not followers: Make sure you are prioritizing the right people in your life. A lot of followers may mean a lot of likes and comments on social media, but when ish gets rough who is going to show up for you? Make sure you show up for your friends too.
Just Say no: I am so much more picky about how I spend my time and energy. Before I invest time and energy, I ask if the object/person/event will serve my needs, grow me, or love me. I lovingly say no to any and all things that will not meet this expectation.
Glow ups are real, and so is burning out. I’ve learned that a glow up that doesn’t keep your inner light shining isn’t worth your time. So put your energy into what keeps you going and keeps you growing.