Ray BLK needed to learn to put herself first.
All her life, the songwriter had been thinking of those around her – family, friends, her team – and ways to further their lives.
At one point, though, she realised a simple truth: if she didn’t put herself first, she couldn’t guarantee that anyone else would.
Grasping this, Ray BLK began overhauling her life, and – in turn – her songwriting.
Debut album ‘Access Denied’ was released at the tail end of 2021, and it found the London artist speaking her truth, revelling in a beatific form of honesty.
Here, Ray BLK writes about the necessity of self-care, her own experiences, and how you can incorporate it into your life.
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Self-care is something that has taken me a long time to learn, but it became an extremely important part of my life during the pandemic. I’ve implemented it in my life in different ways – some bigger, and some smaller – but one key aspect is learning to implement boundaries. It’s just incredibly important to look after yourself. Even saying the word ‘no’ – it’s something that is so small, but incredibly vital. In the past, when I’ve been exhausted from work and a friend phoned me, I would be there. Immediately. With work, if there was a function or an event, I’d be there. I feel like I’m a good friend, I make the effort for people… but I’d be exhausted. Mentally drained. I’d feel guilty if I even gave myself a time-out.
In music, too, there is a culture of over-work – it’s the hustle, people even take pride in going a month without sleep… they boast about it! It’s like: if you’re not over-working, then you’re not really working. And that can be toxic, as it makes you feel your worth is in your work. I felt like that, too; but since putting boundaries in place, I’ve learned to look after myself, and not feel guilty for doing so. Sometimes you feel guilty for saying ‘no’ to an opportunity, and sometimes it’s not well received, but it’s something we all need to do more often. As a songwriter, I know that you need to have inspirational things to write about. You can’t just work all the time – at some point you need to live your life. You need those moments to actually get yourself together. Everyone is free to set their own boundaries, and to stick with them.
I recently started doing therapy, which was a real game-changer for me. I used to think therapy was something only people in LA did! But then I started doing it, and it’s really helped. Within the first few sessions I realised that I wake up too quickly – I’m immediately checking emails, texts, thinking about work in the shower. But at no point was I asking myself: do I feel OK? I was so focussed on looking right, being on time, keeping on top of my schedule. You can’t write music if you’re not in touch with your own life, if you’re not aware of your emotions.
My Nigerian heritage, too, can bring a number of outside pressures. It’s cultural accepted that you have to earn money, and begin to look after your parents, and your family. It’s not enough to simply look after yourself – you need to concentrate on those around you. You start to think: I have to be the golden egg, for everyone in my family. All that leads to anxiety, which I began suffering with in 2018. I went from being a confident performer, to someone who was very nervous. I would tremble backstage, shaking and crying. I had gone from viewing music as self-expression, to feeling the pressure of supporting my family; every time I went onstage, I’d be thinking about making them proud, and how I can make a livelihood for them.
When you confront challenges, too, it can hit harder. People would warn me, that being a Black woman in this industry is extra hard. And I’d think, oh God, I won’t be able to do this. I forced myself to hold on to every opportunity with both hands, as I was afraid it would pass me by. I began to stop enjoying it. Being in music made me anxious. But through the process of making this album, I realised that no one is going to live my life except me. Every decision I make needs to be for myself. And you can hear that in the music – I’m making something I want to listen to. I’m proud of it, because this time it really is me. Some people might not understand it, or think it’s different from my older music – but I’m exceptionally proud of this album.
I think for the generation coming up, social media is a big thing, and it brings with it an immense amount of pressure. Sometimes it feels like my highlight reel makes out that everyone bought their first house at the age of 17, and everyone’s business is booming! Everyone is a millionaire on social media, and that feeds in to this culture of over-working yourself. It leads to all these questions, and self-doubt: why am I not married? Why haven’t I bought a house? How come everyone else has got all the answers? But you need to step back from that.
During the making of this album I started therapy, and started meditating. I do breathing exercises when I feel overwhelmed. One thing that works for me is hit circuits – it’s like a way of physically letting off steam. When I feel overwhelmed, it helps me get outside of myself. And I like going for walks – I feel like when I’m out in nature, I’m able to think more. But my biggest love is bubble baths! When I’ve had a long day, I’ll have the biggest bubble bath and just lay there for an hour.
For anyone reading this who wants to start practising self-care, I’ll say this: it’s easier than you think. It’s not healthy to wake up every day and hate your life! So start making positive changes, even if it’s small at first. Everyone thinks that money is the answer, but it isn’t. Just put yourself first. Self-care is about not allowing anything or anyone to disrupt your peace. It’s about retaining your sense of self, your confidence, your joy, your sweat. It’s about empowering yourself, and learning to prioritise your own peace.
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‘Access Denied’ is out now.
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