Dr. Jess Wants You To Claim Your Peace
Why Black women should prioritize self-care
If you’re following psychiatrist Jessica Clemons on social media, you’ve already encountered her beautiful brand of love and truth with mantras like this: “Self-care is a daily practice of honoring your needs, meeting your needs and taking care of yourself/your needs no matter what.” Known as Dr. Jess, she found her calling through her residency training at a New York City program after completing medical school at Cornell in 2015.
#BeWell, her monthly in-person discussions, have featured powerful guests like CFDA/ Vogue Fashion Fund award winner Kerby Jean-Raymond of Pyer Moss and have helped push her mission to make mental health resources accessible to our communities to the main stage. Dr. Jess shares her journey and why mental health should be at the top of our self-care process.
Sisters: You lead with the affirmation, "You are not your pain; you are love." How did this become your signature?
Dr. Jess: It came from my own journey in drifting from love, which I use to describe an inner peace, a comfort with yourself and your choices. During residency, I found I shifted from this person who viewed life from such a positive perspective to being bogged down by the pain I accumulated from feeling misunderstood during my medical training. Through my own soul searching in therapy, I realized that I am not an accumulation of the pain I’ve felt but, in fact, can access that peace or confidence in myself. It became something I tell everyone to remind them of the peace and power that lies within.
S: Through #BeWell, you've had talks about the mental health experiences and practices of impactful figures in the entertainment industry. Why was it important to make this discussion public?
DJ: Listen, people of color really struggle with acknowledging emotional pain. We have been conditioned to believe that mental suffering is a sign of weakness. But yet, it affects us all. Race, gender, sexuality and age do not exclude us from this fact. For #BeWell, it was important for me to talk with guests who people look at as models for success, who in many ways we hold up as having better lives, experiences, access than our own as though that justifies their success. What has been the most interesting to share is that they are dealing with the same challenges as the next person. What they have chosen to do was to not let life’s challenges define them but to use them as opportunities to make a way.
I’ve found that their being in touch with what they have overcome also gives space to acknowledge the importance of caring for their mental health, so it makes for this incredible uplifting and inspiring conversation. It truly has been a safe and loving space.
S: We hear a lot about self-care, but why is it important for us, especially as Black women, to make our mental health a priority?
DJ: In the news, there are lots of discussions about the alarming maternal death rates for Black women, and evidence is suggesting — while complicated and multifactorial — chronic stress, though secondary to systemic racism, is contributing to this disparity. When you correct for variables like income, education level or access to care, the outcomes are still similar. What’s missing if these rates are tied to chronic stress? The lack of a healthy outlet. And I think it’s a case for therapy! It is so important for Black women as the caregivers and symptom carriers to understand and process our emotions, as well as acknowledge illness like depression or anxiety, because it’s taking a huge toll on us.
S: We're heading into the holiday season which can be difficult for some. What are things we can do to help ourselves and those who may be having a tough time?
DJ: Connect with people you love. It is so important to spend valuable time with friends and families during the holiday season. Give back by volunteering. The holidays can bring up mixed feelings for many, that’s OK. Use the time to connect, because that’s what it is all about.