Acclaimed journalist and author Sophia A. Nelson was in the battle of her life — literally — when she realized something important: She needed to start putting herself first. At a time when people around the world are struggling with physical, mental and emotional health crises because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, her latest book, “Be the One You Need: 21 Life Lessons I Learned While Taking Care of Everyone but Me,” is essentially a guide to self-care. 

Nelson, who left the GOP after making her career as a Republican, recalls that in February 2020, while she was traveling to a speaking engagement, she became “deathly ill” with what was later diagnosed as COVID-19. Isolated in her Indiana hotel room, Nelson says she began to think about her life, asking, “Is this it? Is this how this is gonna’ wrap up?” and questioning the state of America and its toxic politics. She says she wanted to “grab people” and get them to focus on themselves. IIt’s something Black women historically and particularly have a difficult time dealing with in America. 

“I wanted to speak to the part of us that we ignore, which is us, the self, the part that we push down to take care of everybody else,” says Nelson, who uses deeply personal lessons and reflections in the style of memoir to give the book its sense of urgency. “I want to bring people back to their own humanity.”

That lack of humanity, Nelson argues, is partly due to our absence of joy and healing, as “we have just devolved into this angry, ugly, exhausted, immature, aggrieved culture” that cancels people instead of calling them in, and is “cannibalizing each other” as a result of rancor over politics around race, gender and sexuality.

Nelson, author of the 2011 book, “Black Woman Redefined: Dispelling Myths and Discovering Fulfillment in the Age of Michelle Obama,” says her hope is that if we can discover our own humanity, needs, wants and desires, and really deal with them, we will  then be better positioned to see other people and hear other people. 

“For me this book is a calling; this book is me telling people that if you’re struggling right now, if you’re feeling this anxiety, this stress, this pressure that we’re all under, it’s because we’re not dealing with our own stuff, we’re not tending to our own needs, we’re not looking out for self,” she says. “It’s not going to work out if we don’t do something about this soon.”