If you’re going through Hell

I made a promise to myself that I would not give up. It was not about any one specific goal I was trying to obtain or any one place I was trying to make it to. It was about achieving a state of peace and being able to acknowledge God within me at all times. Internally I felt chaotic. I was a jumbled mess of tears, anxiety, depression, fear and embarrassment. I had my hands around the prison bars shaking them violently, GIVE ME MY FUCKING FREEDOM. I screamed until my throat went dry and there were no more words left to exclaim, and then I cried an ocean. God just let me disappear, I begged endlessly. Pleading and wishing for anything that would take me out of the pain of my present moment. My body trembled as the plates inside me shifted causing earthquakes. I gasped for breath and shut my eyes tight hoping that if I just lay still enough I could melt into atmosphere peacefully never to be heard from again. Is that death?

When I woke up, my head hurt. My alarm went off to remind me to take my medicine. Shivering and nauseas I got up, poured a glass of juice and swallowed my three pills which at this point felt like magic beans. I wasn’t sure why but the opening lines from the poem Invictus came to mind.

Out of the night that covers me

Black as the pit from pole to pole

I thank whatever gods may  be

for my unconquerable soul

I’d never much liked the poem, and took issue with the message that somehow we were the captains of our soul particularly because the poet was an atheist. But it didn’t matter. I could not get the words out of my head and in my own moment of desperation, these words came to me.

I was not feeling particularly unconquerable. A message from my mother reminded me that there is victory in effort. What could my effort be today? I wrapped my arms around myself and said, “I will not give up on you. I promise.” I said it over and over until I heard it and the words permeated my skin and sailed through my bloodstream. When I opened my eyes I had two thoughts:

  1. God is not changing your circumstance because God is trying to change you. Surrender ALL; let it go.
  2. If you’re going through hell, just keep going

And then I came home to words, finally I could breathe again.


The time before the last time I don’t recall the rest 

The last time that’s all there was. 

‘I’m sorry’ lullabies replaced the warmth of your arm around me. 

Nevertheless we fell into a deep slumber. 

Two nights the same but markedly different. 

Both with such peaceful rest I can recall them by date. 

It is the mark of perhaps the truest intimacy; The cradle of peace with which we sleep. 

Even on air when my every move adjusts you, we dance in slumber gracefully and without misstep. 

Every exhale exclaims I Love You, and every deep breath in is God. 

True comfort my soul is well in our joining. 

It is only with you I rest. 

Dirty, Ugly Truths 

I’ve been having panic attacks all day. I’ve slept to escape them but as soon as I wake the tightness in my chest is waiting. In many ways the feeling is so familiar it no longer startles me. No one should be so at home with terror. 

  I cried for thirty minutes and asked myself how I got here hoping in that there’d be some clue as to how to get out. Not back, but out. Disillusionment. Heartbreak. Expectations for a life that never belonged to me. Disappointment when the truth was revealed. I felt so discarded after P2AD left me with nothing but silence I went searching for my worth in other men. I wasn’t indiscriminate but I sure as hell wasn’t using my best judgment. I was doing whatever I could to avoid the pain of feeling unloved unimportant and unworthy. But I was looking in the wrong places. One big clue was that it was never enough. My loneliness seemed to be a black hole that no one could seem to fill. 

And then the rape. The needle scratch on the record. A sharp wake up call. No, I did not deserve it. No woman does. But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t come at a time where I desperately needed to evaluate my life and my choices. Perhaps that’s the lie I tell myself to cope. If it is, I’m okay with that. Pills and therapy panic and tears I fought my way through three months of absolute hell. Determined to not BE how I felt, I needed to prove to myself and to others that I wasn’t broken. I barreled my way though my dissertation proposal defense and it felt like the moment it was over, the levy broke.

I had my first flashback in Jamaica. All of a sudden I could smell him, hear his voice and recall his touch on my skin. I reminded myself of where I was but I think in that moment it was the beginning of my realizing this was far from over. A roller coaster summer full of highs and lows lead to an September date who would try to force himself on me. I panicked. I pushed him off, refusing his kisses and insisted the date was over. Shaking. He said “what’s wrong with you, having some kind of flashback?” From there the unraveling began. 

I couldn’t focus at work. Guilt and fear that everyone saw me as this fragile broken thing. I couldn’t face my coworkers. I’d lost touch of that thing that makes me strong. So I dedicated my time to dissertation research and therapy. Weeks on end I told parts of my story and reflected on my actions my thoughts. Battling to reconstruct a new reality for myself that felt so counter from everything that I felt. For someone so governed by her heart, it felt like a betrayal and completely unnatural. Still I kept at it believing that at any point I would turn a corner and I would see the rainbow in the sky God put there just for me. 


That corner hasn’t come. Every piece of bad news feels like a hundred more pounds on my chest. My finances started to really crumble as my state disability checks stopped coming. Depending on everyone around me to take care of me I now worry I’ve become too much of a burden. The news is never good. There’s never a funny story anymore. And then Friday came. 

There was nothing especially wrong except, it was yet another day of no money, feeling anxious and overwhelmed, and having only hope. I feel like I took a shallow breath and let the balloon go. The last glimmer of faith that I would make it through this better and stronger. Something inside me broke or more aptly, something inside me was extinguished. 

I am not sure how to navigate right now. What to do with myself. I don’t know if I believe in my own magic anymore. My strong will and faith that used to carry me to impossible heights has left me to fall to my lowest low. I don’t know how to get out of this.  I don’t know who to turn to or what I would even ask of them. My dreams and purpose and all of that feels so far away and for some other being that is just not present in this body right now.

 I feel empty. 


Waking up from a dead sleep gasping for breath. Drowning. Again. This is the knowing that it’s coming. I curl up in the fetal position and the tears begin to fall. Body tense. I remind myself that despite what it feels like, I can breathe. I’ve had to cut my nails short to keep from clawing at my skin. Something about the pain is soothing. Brings me out…but I know it’s not good so I try not to do it. Cold and sweating my pillow is soaked with tears. God I just want this nightmare to end. Please let it end. Let it be over finally. No more bad, please send me something good. I beg over and over again. Sobbing. Trying to hold tight to my faith and belief that I can overcome this moment. I feel the salty nausea in my mouth. My body wants the pain out in any way possible. And all I can do is cry. 

A funny sort of courage

I’ve had a thought on my mind all week given to me by my psychiatrist, he said “You are the same you, you have the same talents and capabilities. The same competency and intellect. That pet of you hasn’t changed, but the way you think about yourself has. This isn’t reality but it is because it’s your perceived reality. But it’s a cognitive distortion.” 

And it so clearly spoke to the war that has been raging inside me. The ever-present Knowing that I am bigger than my body and possess the talent and ability to do great things and the new pervasive feeling that I was too fragile too wounded to be of good use. It may well be that those doubtful parts of me always existed but I so confidently believed in the limitless mess of my own being I push them aside. Now they hold my hand tightly and we walk through life together. 

I figure, I just need to believe in my own magic just a bit more than I trust the story of my doubts. But how? 

When I say I’m tired

…it’s because I’m spending an exorbitant amount of energy trying to be okay. Convincing myself to get dressed. To take a shower. To brush my hair and look like something. God I miss those days when finding the perfect outfit for a day or an event gave me a rush and a thrill instead of anxiety and discomfort. I try. I remember what it felt like and I try to recreate the moment for myself. I play the old familiar soundtrack to getting ready–Beyonce–and I take the requisite time for make up then hair the outfit then photos to make sure he outfit photographs as well as it wears. But the joy….it doesn’t come. 

Panic washes over me when someone asks how my day went. I recount my day of usual nothingness, maybe a few short hours spent writing or reading, and I tell them “okay”. Never bothering to mention how hard it was to sit down to write or the two pills it took to focus enough on my dissertation. The fears and irrational obsessions I have to push out of my mind for doctoral level coherent words. Nothing ever worth keeping. Nothing ever feeling up to par. 

My best friend doesn’t feel like my best friend anymore. All we do is trader anger or frustration. I don’t find peace in our conversations so I stopped talking because I’ve run out of storage for hurt. I don’t know when that gets repaired. I can’t even think beyond the nap my body is yearning and aching to take. 

Not even six and I’m in bed and can barely keep my eyes open. And all I did today was pretend. And all I’ll do tomorrow is the same. 

I keep hoping that if I just keep my spirits up and stay faithful that the fog will lift and when something good happens I will be able to feel it. Feel anything other than tired. Tired from having to simply exist. 

And I keep crying because I know this isn’t right. That it isn’t good to feel like this at all or so often. So persistently. But I’m too tired to continue through the maze. So for right now I’m just going to sleep. Hope upon hope that there’s rest at the end. 

Black in Academia

Before I begin, let me make clear that the experience I write about is my own. It is not meant to be an exhaustive op-ed of most, some or even a few Blacks in academia. My story is my own. And, only a person of color would have to begin such an article in such a manner.


Twice as hard, Half as much

Being from Atlanta, I am not sure I ever understood, clearly, the limitations that blackness had in this country. While it is true we have our fair share of black crime, and black poverty, we also had black success and black wealth. Black did not mean any one thing to me, it did not paint a specific picture in my mind of any one person or any type of lifestyle. As a result of both my environment and upbringing, the domains of “acceptable” black behavior were lost on me. I was not taught the twice as hard, half as much proverb which rings true to the core of most upwardly mobile black people. I was somewhat unaware that some people would not even be rooting for me to fail, but that it would never even occur to them that I could or would succeed because of the color of my skin. What a gift that ignorance has been.

Raisin in Rice
My dad would say that I came into my black identity in college. Taking part in organizations like the Black Cultural Programming Committee, or NAACP on campus, or that one semester of NABJ when I still believed I would be a journalist, or wanting to pledge a historically black greek letter organization.  However, I would argue that my blackness became truly salient in conjunction with the birth of my identity as an academic; when I began working on my PhD. The stress between the two identities has lead to a reorganization of many beliefs I held about both white people and black people and the realities of racism in our nation at present.

First, my noticing came at my fear of ever being angry in class. I began to question whether my deference to passivity or apathy was due to my lack of opinion or passion around a topic or an unwillingness to share my opinion or passion because of my environment. The more I asked that question, the more I realized I was silencing myself. So afraid of being trapped in the role of the angry black woman, I was “shucking and jiving” to assuage white feelings at the expense of my own.  My internal struggle: the paradox of white feelings versus black lives would be one that would take the center stage for the nation four years later. However, as a nation, similarly to my own processing, it would be impossible to have a productive discussion about the conflict due to overwhelming feelings of guilt, shame, hurt, and fear. They would hold us captive in our positions unwilling to make any forward motion on the matter.

but you’re not really Black
I’d first heard the “compliment” in high school. Stripped of my racial identity because I did not fit the media contrived portrayal of a black girl and later a black woman. While the words never set well with me, it was not until being in a blindingly white academic setting in a pervasively white city that I would become outraged at the insinuation that because I was black I could not be whatever other (usually) positive thing I was, in fact, being. After getting into several arguments with white friends about blackness and the richness of black identity that they truly could not comprehend I realized that the conversations were going nowhere. I was trapped in anger, fury, over being forced to exist in a space where I felt largely misunderstood and the people around me inherently expressing that my blackness did not matter. They were taking the colorblind approach; I saw it as total blindness. If you cannot or will not see my blackness, then you cannot possibly see me.
tumblr_ntoo3zDyRG1tp1sv8o1_500So for the second year of my studies, I avoided conversations of race and racism with anyone other than black people. That year was important and I do not regret it. My own immersion/emersion, though it was practically impossible to avoid symbols of whiteness, I did try to soak in as much blackness as I could find. I did research for and with black students, administration and faculty. I organized programming which helped strengthen the black community on campus with that of the black alumni network. I volunteered to mentor with a BGLO’s leadership development academy. I attended community events and poetry slams, open houses, even the “ratchet” spots all in search for as much blackness as I could find because I felt like I was starving for it. It was something I almost couldn’t make sense of because I had been aware of blackness my entire life. I knew black history and where I sat in it. I knew both how fortunate I was and also how far my generation had to go, and yet here I was FEELING black for the first time. Feeling the blackness that I’d only really know theoretically or in passing, never anything sustainable. People rarely believe me but I have encountered more racism in southern California than I ever did at home in the south. Sometimes well-meaning, nevertheless, racist.

In America, American means white. Everyone else has to hyphenate
In my skepticism of white culture I began to see racism woven into the fabric of everything–to be fair, that and patriarchy. The idea of professionalism; who decided that? Why is the hair that grows out of my head, as it grows out of my head, subject for discussion or debate? In handbook outlines, rarely are traditional cultural garments named as acceptable traditional attire. Bold and bright colors, prints and fabrics represented not who we were but where we had traveled. Been spectators, voyeurs to a culture that was fine…there…but not here. Though no one would outwardly express it. I remember a colleague talking to me about job interviews for a student worker position in which she described a black male candidate a bit too loud and aggressive. I cringed. I couldn’t help but wonder if his skin color amplified his being or if he really was a loud and aggressive person. I began to feel hopeless. Black people don’t stick together enough to successful have a thriving subculture, yet we are being exterminated and oppressed within the larger culture. The single greatest victory of slavery was the idea that white was superior. There was a wave of time in the sixties when we challenged that, but I think there’s such a loss…there is no “home” to go back to, no mother tongue, no one place we know to turn to feel connected to who we are. So whiteness it is…we will call it American; the American dream, never questioning whose america because we know exactly whose it is.

If the youth are not initiated into the village, they will burn it down just to feel its warmth
Trayvon Marton. Michael Brown. Ferguson. Eric Garner. Oakland. Baltimore. Sandra Bland. The list goes on and on and all while I go to class and learn about the importance of effective leadership and the dynamics of systems. Part of me resentful because no one dare talk about the current leadership or dynamics of a system black people are dying in. Part of me desperate to take in as much as I can so that I can understand what they think is true. Given an assignment to write about ethics and leadership I took the opportunity to write about being black in white spaces. I knew it wasn’t my approved topic. I knew we hadn’t spent one day discussing race in america in class. Still I wrote:

In isolation, it appears as if the combination of the events of Ferguson, the existence of multiple parts of my self, including those identities of Black, Scholar and higher education professional, and a pending meeting with a university AVP would be an easily solvable “ethical dilemma.” However, this is a decision that will replicate itself over and over again given my chosen career trajectory.  I will always have to discern and decide just how Black to be in my spaces, especially White spaces. When the global context holds racial tension, I will always have to decide if it is appropriate to respond with my “Black self”, especially in White spaces.  When I hold a position of authority, as I often do when I teach, I will have to ask myself continually and infinitely essentially how “Black” can I be right now, in this White space?

I was angry. I am still angry. I find solace in the words of James Baldwin,“To be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage.” I am enraged. I feel like Bruce Banner and at any given moment I can give in to the anger and become the Hulk. I am not sure that I will ever not be angry because I don’t know if my lifetime will include the shift of consciousness needed to heal this nation and come to terms with racism (institutional racism feels redundant), oppression and injustice. tumblr_ntyrrmTaeY1ucerf6o1_500

I am the hope and the dream of the slave. I rise. I rise. I rise.
Despite my anger, I have begun to speak. Largely because of my education I have been able to make strides in my own understanding and conceptualization of race and racism. I’ve become less angry at white people and more frustrated with whiteNESS. This way of being that “we” see as normative and therefore right, specifically, more right than any other way of being without question. I’ve become less skeptical of individuals and increasingly more infuriated with oppressive systems choosing to believe that if people understood the hurt and pain that was caused by their own individual actions, they would certainly choose another course. I am not so naive to think that is true for all.

I have accepted the responsibility of what it means to be both black and [formally] educated. Whether or not I asked for it, I do come as 1 and 10,000. I am the result of my grandmother’s prayers, and her grandmother’s prayers. I owe it to them to be better. I owe it to them to hold stead through my frustrations and have the difficult conversations to help shed light on a dark topic of black pain. I owe it to myself not to have to hold it in all the time. I was given this gift of writing and I do a disservice if I do not write about it. If I worry so much about who might read it, what job(s) it might disqualify me for, or what colleagues may be upset by my words. Being born black in america, I was given enough to hold I don’t have any space in my pack for your guilt or discomfort.

tumblr_nrgyp15Gkk1stueg7o1_400Finally, I have come to terms with being extremely proud of myself; who I am literally and figuratively. I am months away from having PhD behind my name and joining a very exclusive sector of society. And when I do become Dr. Williams, I will do so as my black self. My Harriet Tubman self. My Paul Lawrence Dunbar self. My Booker T. Washington self. My Mary McCleud Bathoon self. My Toni Morrison self. My Barack and Michelle Obama self. My James Baldwin self. My Della Wilcox and Ollie Fambrough self. I am rooted in the black american community. No matter how much success I acquire, or accolades I receive, one’s roots are immobile. For that I am proud. It is not at all a burden, I am happy to carry my people with me.

Authors note: Upon finishing this piece I was struck with the realization that I had not given any due credit to the conscious, supportive white people who have been present on my journey, and I decided that you know what? that’s okay. This piece was not about them. I gritted my teeth even at the decision to include this post script once again paying special attention to white feelings, preemptively. It’s so ingrained…

True True

I’d been trying to make something pretty from something ugly all day. In the middle of the night a window fan fell out of the window and straight into my face. Startling me awake and leaving me writhing in pain wondering what had just happened and going immediately into triage mode. I googled “how to tell if you have a concussion” with the first symptom being fatigue and disorientation. Well I was tired and confused but perhaps that was due to the trauma itself and the hour of day, it was roughly 4am. I anxiously stayed awake for an hour then decided it was safe to go to sleep, when I woke up again and walked into my bathroom I was greeted by a version of me who looked physically like I’d felt for some months now: battered. 

I am careful about that particular word as I do not mean to make like of domestic violence. Only it is the best word to describe how I’ve been feeling. I jokingly said to a friend, “2015 has broken me down. Am I being punished for something?” We laughed but there was a lot a truth in my rhetoric. Am I? 

Rotating ice on and off my face while binge watching Gilmore Girls, I got up to notice the bruising was spreading like a rash across my face. Tender to the touch I knew I would not be concealing or blending anything for a few days. Until I healed everyone would just know that I was hurt. 

Later on facing myself again I was trying to snap a picture to send to a friend of mine. I hated them all. Each photo that showed the bruise well was unflattering and when I tried to “look effortlessly pretty” all bare faced and hair up, you couldn’t see the bruising as well. But I saw it. Each time k looked in the mirror it’s the first thing that called my eyes attention. This purple and black badge of bad timing and ill-fated circumstance was a lighthouse on my face. And in that moment I said to myself 

You have a choice. You can capture the pretty or you can capture the truth, but you can’t have both. 

I almost immediately started to cry. I tried to shut my eyes to stop the tears from falling but that only hurt my face more, so I had no choice but to simply cry and to BE as battered, as ugly as I felt. And even though I snapped a picture of the truth I still hate it. I wanted to edit it or remove a blemish, fix the lighting, see if it looked better with my hair up versus down and on and on and on. I was doing it again. 

Fact of the matter is, pretty isn’t always the truth and the truth isn’t always pretty. But there is something radiant about capturing a thing as authentically as you can. Pretty or any synonym thereof is not the only thing of value, I had to remind myself. Let go of what you think it looks like and just tell the truth. 

The real truth. 

I spoke with a friend of mine from high school recently and we discussed the guise of social media and how happy everyone seems to be. We revealed to one another our own ugly truths and found comfort in knowing we were not alone. Truth is not always convienent or kind or crafted and tactful. Truth is not always clean and orderly, socially just and insightful. Truth is. It just is and anything else is our stuff that we add to it. It is ugly or beautiful at our whim. A blessing or a curse with just a declaration, truth is like oxygen. We can’t live without it even though we can’t put our arms around it or kiss it goodnight. Nevertheless it’s there or we would not be. 

So I stopped trying to make myself be something I wasn’t in the moment. Now wasn’t the time for pretty. Now was the time for real. And I asked myself to consider that real had its own beauty and its own value much different from pretty. And I obliged myself.  Smiling at my decision I winced again from the pain. Oh yes, I remembered now, I was hurting. And here I had forgotten, in the midst of the True True…


Truth Art and Suicide

I’m laying in bed with a pain in my right side, sharp and intense and tears flowing a bit too liberally down my cheeks. I just watched Mara Akil’s BET show Being Mary Jane and witnessed both a suicide of a supporting character and how each other character was then affected by it. 

In some ways I feel exposed. As though the deepest darkest secret I’ve ever housed was just displayed for all the world to see. In other ways I feel so sad that anyone should ever feel so unheard unloved and insignificant to end their own life. When Mary Jane admitted that she would ask her friend how she was doing without a real want to hear her truth, I broke down. Because I’ve been both Lisa and MJ. 

  I’ve felt unloved unheard and insignificant. “She died because of the silent treatment…” I winced. It was as if everyone in that room could see how the sum of their interactions added up to all the pain housed in this now lifeless body. Selfishly I wondered if those who chose to answer me with silence would ever consider the pain they caused? 

I’ve also felt so consumed in my own life my own experiences my own emotions that I did not check in with those around me. I have been the silent one. And I have been the one to skimp on giving significant attention to friends’ troubles without diverting attention back to myself. I have been self-centered and involved only in my own orbit never minding the other paths I affect. 

I can feel the anxiety spreading throughout my body and even my hands feel tight as I type. The desire to be relieved of pain is so destructive. We drink because of it. We smoke because of it. We get high, have sex, risk our lives in various ways just to “feel alive” because our stasis is in a vice grip of suffering. I can’t name all the ways I’ve tried to escape it before falling deep into the pit of depression where it holds you captive and makes you feel all the things you’ve been avoiding all at once at amplified. That’s why it hurts all over your body. 

I know the havoc I’ve caused in my life escaping pain. While I never had a plan, I also know I fantasized and romantacized the freedom I perceived in death. I didn’t actively want to die. But I also didn’t actively want to live. I cried just this morning wondering if there’ll be a morning soon when I wake up at peace. When I wake up not thinking immediately of my first reprieve. 

Yet…somehow we aren’t supposed to talk about it. Let’s distract ourselves with a pumpkin spiced-Pinterest-perfect life only to discover that joy cannot be found in the perfect Christmas card or mini quiche. And who do we think we are fooling with these lies?! I appreciated most MJ’s call to get real. And the promise to love even the ugly truths of our loved ones. Even at my worst…find the love you have for me and cling to that. 

Above all, even my own emotions and experience with suicide, depression and pain I love how healing it is to see it depicted through artistry. To know that someone else knows this pain so intimately that they can tell their story, my story, with enough depth and detail to bring me to weep. The courage and authenticity in that artistry…there is so much power in it. And God I promise, I am going to use my own art to the same end. To tell ugly truths and bring healing to festering hurt. Even as I recover…especially as I recover.