Poet Cleo Wade talks Mardi Gras, mental health and why writing is her ultimate stress relief

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Cleo Wade shares her self-care practices. (Photo: Courtesy of Cleo Wade; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Cleo Wade shares her self-care practices. (Photo: Courtesy of Cleo Wade; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

It may be Fat Tuesday, but the Mardi Gras celebrations are more muted this year given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. But parade cancellations aren't stopping New Orleans native and bestselling poet Cleo Wade from keeping spirits up and filling bellies as part of a partnership with Zatarain’s, "a brand I have been eating literally my entire life."

In addition to sharing advice on how to transform a front porch into a festive float rivaling any parade, Wade and Zatarain's are teaming up to donate $25,000 to help local nonprofit CultureAid NOLA establish weekly food distribution events to New Orleans residents in need.

"When they approached me with a project that could highlight my hometown and benefit the local community, it was an immediate hell yes," Wade tells Yahoo Life.

It's just one of the ways the Heart Talk: Poetic Wisdom for a Better Life author is finding purpose amid these difficult times. As many turn to the acclaimed artist and activist's works and Instagram feed for wisdom and affirmations of self-love, she opens up to The Unwind about her own personal comforts and mental health priorities.

Mental health is such a huge topic right now, but many have pointed out that it’s a luxury unavailable to those without financial resources or structural support. Is that something you’ve observed during your activism?

Absolutely. It is critical that we create more free mental health resources for the public. I am on the board of the Lower East Side Girls Club as well as the Women's Prison Association and we have seen incredible emotional strides made by young women and girls from under-resourced communities through offering mental and emotional support to deal with trauma. I am grateful mental health is something that is regularly brought up in conversation now when it comes to problem-solving major issues in our society. It was not always that way, but we still have a long way to go.

What are some of the things you do for yourself in terms of combating stress?

Writing is a critical part of combating stress for me. When we take all of the tough and complicated things we are feeling and move them out of our body and onto a page in front of us, we can really see what's there. Creating space for that kind of clarity is a huge part of my personal healing process.

Do you have any small self-care rituals that help you manage stress or brighten your day?

I try to wake up before the rest of my house and have tea alone in the kitchen. I used to get up very early to write, but that practice was thrown off after I had my daughter because I was so much more tired in the mornings. Now I just take 15 to 20 minutes alone with a matcha latte before I go into my daughter's room to get her day started.

You wear so many hats — poet, activist, mom and so on. How do you find balance?

I don't. I'm not sure balance exists. I just try to do as much as I can each day without running myself down. I am very conscious of my own energy. When I am depleted, I can't be fully present for my family, my work and the other things I really care about. Because of this, I always try to prioritize rest and being gentle with myself no matter how much is going on.

Your new book spreads the message of kindness. Why is that so important right now?

I am truly in love with my new kids' book [What the Road Said]. Every time I read it, I just feel like no matter what I am going through, everything is going to be OK. I honestly don't think there is ever a time that we should not be trying to spread the message of kindness. It is that important.

Do you have a mantra that helps you feel more confident, or persevere during tough times?

If you are grateful for where you are, you have to respect the road that got you there.

What brings you joy right now?

My kids’ book is bringing me so much joy because I started it before I was pregnant, so I had no idea that by the time I finished it and it was out in the world, it would be something I was going to be reading to my own daughter. That really makes me smile.

Many people credit your work with bringing them inspiration and permission to celebrate themselves a bit more. Are there authors or experts you yourself turn to for inspiration?

Oh of course. Toni Morrison, bell hooks, Toni Cade Bambara, Alice Walker, James Baldwin, Gwendolyn Brooks, Maya Angelou, Audre Lorde.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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