The Candidate

This has been the most difficult semester of my life. And even that is an understatement. Never have I felt so imbalanced, so absent from or unsure of myself. Never have I relied so heavily on professional help or really any sort of help. But I had to, and it turned out to be the very best thing for me. 

Tuesday I had my dissertation proposal defense. For those of you unfamiliar with the process, it is where you defend the “what, why and how” of your dissertation research. In my experience the proposal defense is often more taxing than the final defense for the purpose of truly interrogating rationale around your study before you do all the heavy lifting. So it’s really meant to be helpful, but it is nerve wrecking. 

My proposal defense was a beast. My topic is complex and my methods are emergent and non-linear. My committee was tough on me. I warned everyone before I started that I was overwhelmed and a little scared and might cry. I did cry, twice. My chair assured me that was okay. After the defense part was over and I got the news that I passed with no revisions, which is as it sounds…I can put the proposal to rest…I sat with my committee. They shared with me their thoughts on my presentation and my work and I expressed my gratitude for them. The entire day was overwhelming in the best way. 

In recognizing my survival of my defense and just this semester in general, I can definitely say I am a strong and tenacious woman. I was so grateful my committee supports me in the way that they do, and even though they were tough on me I really do understand that they knew I could and would rise to the occasion. 

Yesterday was Work Wife’s (WW) defense. She did brilliantly and I was so incredibly proud of her, as always. We had a joint celebration and at one point it hit her that we had gotten through it. This semester, twenty weeks of reading writing and editing all for about thirty pages and a twenty (or thirty-two) minute presentation. The feeling of relief is indescribable. Even though there is so much work yet to be done, we got this far and it’s the first real deep breath we can take. 

I’ve decided, along with both my doctors and my committee, that I am taking a six week break where I will not write a single thing related to my dissertation. That time is meant to focus on my mental health and healing. The closer I moved to my proposal defense, the more anxious I became until I was taking my “in case of emergency” anxiety pill everyday. Sometimes twice a day. I promised my psychiatrist it would only be until the defense. He urged me to take a break from everything about two weeks ago. This was our compromise. 

This weekend, I’m off to Jamaica for a while and I just want to be present. I want to work on me and get better and heal and maybe the best way to begin that is simply by being in a beautiful place. I’m giving myself that and it’s funny, I do so before I truly knew how much I would need it. God is truly not so mysterious when you think about it. 

I just feel better today than I’ve felt in months. While I’m not at total peace and the anxiety is still there, it has dulled to a manageable purr. 

I made it. 

I didn’t know if I would. It took taking it one day at a time sometimes one hour at a time. There were days I cried all day. There were days I didn’t want to leave bed. There were days I felt like a fraud or a failure. But none of that is right now. I’m standing in the sunshine right now and I’m not holding on to the storm I just came out of. 

An Inconvienient option: But what if I fail?  

In general, I am an optimistic person. I believe fully in the ability to manifest and invite things into your life energetically, be it positive or negative. And I, up until recently, had a sort of delusional unshakeable belief in myself to be extraordinary and produce extraordinary things. I believed in my own magic. 

Believed. Past tense. Right now, two days before my dissertation proposal defense and the two days after P2AD’s graduation from medical school I find myself drowning in self doubt. Not knowing whether or not I am capable of making the best decisions for me and being unsure of the steps I am taking. It’s as if I lost the ability to truly connect and communicate with myself. 

So then I cry. I cry for several reasons. Many of which I’m tired of harping on. And the people around me ask me what I need, only its nothing they can offer. In the past two years I’ve been fighting like mad to get back to myself and its occurring to me now that I won’t ever make it back there. And I’m not supposed to. I need to be focused on a new place now. A new version of me. 

They say you should never take a job that doesn’t have some room for growth and challenge. I suppose the job I’m taking on is one of self acceptance and self-certainty. 

I want my committee to be proud of me Tuesday. I want to be proud of myself Tuesday. But what I realize is that the source of my pride may be unknown. Instead of being proud of delivering a flawless presentation with absolute clarity and poise, maybe I’ll simply be proud of myself for getting up and trying my best. 

It’s overwhelming whenever I think about it. Coming into this work that requires so much of Me when I feel so broken and raw. Daring to be authentic even when I do not feel capable, competent, or confident. I suppose I’ll settle for brave. That may be the best they get from me. 

And it may not be very academic. And it may not be very professional. But it is supremely human. And that’s my audience. Connecting to people’s human experiences and a reciprocal call into existence as a result of genuine connection. The only way I can do that is from where I am. 

My sad and broken place. My unsure and scattered place.  My sincere place. Here.  

First Class

I have no idea if my soliloquies make it to you or not. 

In my imagination you read them in between emails. You look forward to them. They bring a slow smile to your face. A woman you adore adores you, too. And she makes no secret of it. You hate it and hope it never stops.

Worried as always you can’t give her what she wants you return to work. The spaces that are familiar and easier to navigate, less complicated than the spaces between her fingers. Less warm too. 

Never asking for what you really want, and that’s for her full attention. In the metaphorical sense. You shy from the solicitation because with it comes a reciprocal obligation for you to do the same. Back to work.

The next client. The next meeting. The next airport. Hotel. Country. The gratification you used to get from it has begun to wean. You want someone to care for you. To write to you. To be worried if your flight isn’t in on time. Only you’d never admit it. Certainly not to her. Because she’d give it. She would give you everything you want and you know it…

So you order another Jameson and coke. Drink it fast and shake the remnants off the ice like you try to shake her off your mind. It’d moved beyond intrigue, curved through curiosity, and yet you hesitate in your pursuit of her. Unsure of the payoff. Really, unsure of yourself. Is this what you want? Is she what you want? You take the last sip and refocus back on work. The task. The deal. The plan. The thing you can predict and somewhat control. 

At least that’s what I imagine happens. Up there in first class. 

“But,” she whispers from 30,000 feet below and countless miles away, “If you want me to leave, I’ll leave. But if you want me to stay…” 

Pride and Witness 

Yesterday I was in a horrible mood. I knew that my dissertation proposal was coming out, and I was secretly hoping the email was sent when I was safely home and out of sight. I didn’t know how to respond to all the congratulations and I felt so far removed from the joy my friends had for the milestone. It wasn’t until I was continually checking my email to that I realized what I was waiting for. 

During my masters program, I was in a serious committed relationship. So serious, in fact, that he and I were supposed to be married by now. Which is kind of crazy to think about. Anyway, for every milestone of my masters he was there. When I passed my state boards. When I passed my national exam. When I was applying for doctoral programs. He was the first phone call when I got into my PhD program…and he was so excited for me and so proud of me. And I realized that’s what I was waiting for, yesterday. 

Not that my friends don’t matter, because they absolutely do, a tremendous deal. But there was no one proud of me like Deeds was proud of me. Who knew the intimate details of the struggle to get to this place because he was bearing witness to my life. No one who saw the tears over my computer keyboard. No one who saw the drafts marked as not good enough. No one who knew how many times I seriously questioned my ability to even do my research, especially now that I was a big ball of anxiety. There wasn’t anyone…except me. 

So somewhere after I acknowledged why I was feeling so down, and I talked to both Deeds and my friend Nick about it, I decided to be proud of myself. It was quiet and it was understated but I allowed myself a pat on the back. For all that I’ve been through to get to this place is a blessing. I am proud of the work I’ve done. I’m proud of myself for doing it. And I know my parents are proud of me too, even though they didn’t say anything yesterday either. They tell me all the time. I have to remember that. 

I hate that I let something so small (and big) ruin such a special day. I hope that on the day of the defense I am able to stay present and rooted in the gratitude of being where I am. Rather than focusing on what I am missing, what I don’t have or what I have lost. 

And for those that are interested: my abstract 😊 

  

Hello Fear 

I’m talking directly to you, Fear. 

What would happen if I’m not as exceptional as I’ve always believed myself to be? If I never publish a book. Have speaking engagements. Begin to drink too much and become the girl everyone thought would do so much swallowed up in the quicksand of mediocrity. Or worse, failure. 

It’s a step I have to take alone. You’ve made that abundantly clear. And whenever God asks me to trust, the reward is greater than any pleasure I could’ve imagined. That is the request now, and yet here I am in bed with you, Fear. 

Playing small and hiding. I’ve got more fight in me. If I just keep believing in myself. I’m going to have to work harder than I’ve ever worked before. But I cannot fear that. I will be uncomfortable. I will be vulnerable. I will be unsettled. But I will be in my walk and if I just keep the focus there…

I will not lose. 

Q

He was a pool of possibility I wanted desperately to dive into. I didn’t know why, but I wanted to know everything about him. His dreams his fears his favorite memory. In the end I wanted to be the best decision he ever made. I couldn’t shake him. My mind chased him. My heart held tight wanting to surrender herself, hands open whispering “Take me” to an empty room. 

He wanted me too. I felt or maybe imagined. It’s hard to know which side of the mirror I’m on anymore. Give in to me and let me love you. I’d be so good at it. I was tap dancing for hours before I realized my legs had begun to ache. Enough. Read the signs, listen to the warnings: No Trespassing. A wall around him had been build years ago and persisted with no signs of wear. 

If he doesn’t feel it too then why does he call? Write? Look at me in that way. Smile at me for no reason. Affect me so very deeply. I’ve asked God and all of heaven, why…no answer still. 

It scared me that I knew I could love him. It terrified me that perhaps I already had begun to; This beautiful stranger. Still so much a mystery. Still water glistening begging me to jump in. But could it hold me if I did? Would it? 

My heart has never steered me wrong before. I will not betray it now. I will know the day he decides to choose me. Because he will send me flowers. His gentle acquiesce. A gesture that only we can measure the depth of. In that moment he will have caught me. And in him I’d float for as long as the current carried me. 

My love is too…

Yesterday as I sat on my bed watching Disney movies and grading papers, the man who would not be forgotten called me via FaceTime. In a moment I thought about my bare face, my threadbare tank top, my glasses and my hair in a ponytail–I wasn’t ready at all to be seen! I answered. 

In the time since the call I’ve fallen back into my old familiar habit of wanting him. Frustration over our current situations and my unsuccessful trials of faith and patience. I constantly ask myself if I’m crazy or if it’s one-sided. I always come to the conclusion “no” and allow myself to continue dancing in the daydream of him. 

I’d stopped reaching out and he noticed. Asking jokingly if I’d fallen out of Love with him. It wasn’t out of want. It was because I thought he wouldn’t notice. Wouldn’t mind my quietly slipping away. Or, if we are being honest, maybe it was because I find myself unable to speak half truths to him. I say too much all the time. I get naked honest. It’s almost as if I can’t help myself. He never minds. In fact, it is his preference. Even when he doesn’t agree with me. 

My love is too loud. My love is too Saturday Night. My love is too bold. My love is too full of bass. My love is too intimate. My love is too god damned good–to be thrown back in my face. My favorite part of For Colored Girls… Because my love is too good. It explains a lot about my current situations. My hesitance  to commit. It’s not because I’m overwhelmed with fear, it is because it is not the time. But through my companionship with him I know it is possible. 

So I sent him the words I’d written about him. I sent him my address and told him I prefer flowers over any other gift. I’ve told him my feelings for him and I make no secret of their depth. I will let him know when my thoughts go to him. I will reach out when I crave his comfort. As long as it feels right. 

Confetti Hangover 

when the shoes are off 

The dress lays crumpled in the corner 

Lipstick stains the champagne flutes and floors are sticky with celebratory remnants 

There is me. 

Wrapped in the sheets

Mascara stained cheeks. 

Crying because the party ended 

Rather than relishing in the joy that the party happened. 

Broken crown and lonely…I just hate when the music stops and all that’s left is the confetti. 

The Battle of Sunday Night

Sunday is always my most reflective and introspective day. It is like that by design as I rarely, if ever, make plans beyond the occasional brunch. It is my day to be with myself. 

Only, increasingly it is becoming so hard to sit with myself. Just myself. I clamor and claw at the walls of the space of solitude and silently wish for someone, anyone to rescue me. I am so uncomfortable with where I am that having to be present is quite literally torture. It is when I reach for escape…maybe get a little buzz and forget. Maybe cry a bit and forget. Maybe call a guy and forget. Only now the calling a guy part is a trigger. 

What was initially supposed to be the personified version of a stiff drink, is now the entry way to a spiral staircase to my worst fears. And every time the feeling comes, I remember. And I clinch my jaw and I grind my teeth and I wring my hands and I can’t breathe. Yet even with knowing the awful consequences of a desperate phone call, I make them. Sending out bat signals across exes and old flings praying and hoping somebody can distract me from the loneliness and now deep sadness that I feel.  

I read somewhere that loneliness was God’s way of requesting time with you. Well I constantly fail at it. And I know it’s meant to make me stronger, when I am able to sit through it and not let it crush me or catalyze me into often regrettable actions. 

It won’t kill me, but it feels worse than death. It’s cold and isolated. Beyond the warmth of care and comfort, it is my own personal Azkeban. A sea of sorrow surround me and I am housed with my poor decisions that feed me lies of how my solitude was earned by unworthiness. I can recognize the lie and yet in the moment I cannot refute it. 

Today, on the Monday I feel a small victory in surviving another Sunday night. More clawing more attempts to escape myself, but no such luck. I find myself grateful that I was not successful. I know what the desperation can bring…has brought. It makes me feel weak. My Therapist would correct me and offer “human”. So it makes me feel so human. To be so vulnerable and to succumb so willingly to emotions. Not to be stronger than them and to chart my course after fleeting winds that change. 

I’m already scared for next Sunday. 

Hunger Pains

First off…I have to acknowledge how deeply uncomfortable I am right now in this moment. I haven’t talked to anyone about this, not really. Not even my best friend which is weird because I tell her everything. She’s going to find out here and I’m sorry for that JEM but I didn’t know how to talk to you about it. ((and ten minutes after writing and a few tears I have to close my eyes to click publish))

After it happened I didn’t have an appetite. One week would pass and eating would become a chore, something people or my shaking hands or growling stomach would have to remind me to do. It lasted for about two weeks, maybe three that consumption was something I did because I had to but not because I wanted to.  Then slowly it would return, my appetite would come back but after weeks of barely eating, I couldn’t eat as much. Smaller portions. It served its purpose and the craving went away. Then one saturday night I was getting ready for a birthday party. I had bought these red shorts over the holidays but could barely get them zipped when I bought them. I tried them on and to my surprise not only did they zip but they were comfortable. Flattering. I was ecstatic. I knew the weight loss came as a result of my trauma and ptsd but I didn’t care, I decided I was taking the “W” anyway.

Now it is about six weeks later and I just ate lunch, which I regret. It’s Wednesday and I’ve had approximately four meals all week. I’ve noticed myself hating food. Waiting until my head hurts or my hands shake from low blood sugar. Going out to dinner with friends and having half a roll of sushi. Or…after I eat after what I would consider to be a full meal I feel so sick that I wish I hadn’t eaten at all.

I hate when people ask me if I’ve eaten. It feels like judgment in the highest form. I know it’s not but that’s what it feels like. As if I couldn’t take care of myself…again.

I’ve asked myself if it is about control, because that’s what I learned from my studies. That women who have experienced sexual assault will develop eating disorders or disordered eating as a means to exert some control over their bodies. Maybe that’s it but it doesn’t feel right. I think maybe it’s the realization that the barriers of flesh did not and could not protect me.  That somehow my body which was my sanctuary is somehow less sacred now. Or is it more sacred? I don’t know. I can’t quite figure it out.

I promised myself I would never indulge the impulse to purge. But I wish I didn’t even feel it. I wish that I did not feel so at war with my body.  Part of me wanting to be healthy and the other part of me wanting to be empty. I wish the pain of hunger wasn’t so intoxicating.  I wish I wish I wish…

 

Writers note: While I have chosen to be candid and open about my sexual assault and the aftermath, I do want my readers to know that I am currently receiving professional help in addition to my written therapy. I have a psychiatrist who is amazing and a therapist that I often surprise with my frankness. I hope that the sharing of my story can be for the help and healing of others who have or are going through similar trials. And while community and shared experience is certainly important, I would recommend that if you or a loved one is struggling with any of these tough issues that you seek professional help as well. Nothing is more precious than your well being. 

-Jess