Eye of the storm

right now I’m having an anxiety attack. I’m crying. My palms are sweating. My entire body is shaking and tense. My breath is shallow. And all I can think about is how much I want to scratch my arms and legs which are both covered in open scars from previously failing to resist the urge. I’m sitting right in the eye of the storm. All I want or need is comfort but I don’t know how to get it. Who to ask for it. Depression, that old patient cunt tells me that I’m alone in my struggle. That people are over it. I was raped months ago. I seemed just fine in Jamaica. I was smiling on Instagram the other day. I can’t seem to hold on to peace. It keeps getting ripped away in the swirling vortex around me. I knew this would happen. I planned for this to happen. In June you will fall apart. 

I think my medicine just kicked in. My breath is deepening. Body still hot and tight I keep my…phone rings. Therapist had to cancel. I can feel my lungs constrict and my eyes well up. I can’t do this another day. But I have to. Ten seconds at a time. 

Always Bet on Yourself 

I have huge lofty dreams for myself. I do not and have never intended on living a typical life working a typical 9-5 (which is really more like an 8-7) with two weeks vacation and minimal job satisfaction. I never intended on paying student loans until I was sixty seven. I never worried about how I was going to afford to buy a home or finally travel to Europe or Africa or Australia. I long since convinced myself that I would be living an extraordinary life and that how I lived would be my meal ticket. Not like a reality star, but as a person who is open about her struggle, her success, her dreams and her deferments, her manifestations and her intentions. I know that my purpose is to inspire people and the best way I’ve been able to do that is through being vulnerable enough to share my own life. 

I’ve wanted to be a writer most of my life. And it is still a dream of mine, though it is not the only one. I’ve awakened to all the vast possibilities that exist in terms of sharing ones creativity and connecting with others. Many artists these days cannot thrive without social media. And many who have mastered the art of social media influence have become stars in their own right (read: The Kardashians). 

When I consider how to “stay in my creative lane” while also taking full advantage of the multitude of social media options available to me it becomes overwhelming. Until I really sit and consider what it is that I want. I’ve done this for a few months now and come to the following conclusions:

  1. I want to be able to empower women to define themselves for themselves. 
  2. I want each woman that I work with to learn what is special about her and how to tap into her talent. 
  3. I want to help people find, cultivate, and flourish themselves through change and transition. 
  4. I believe strongly in the power vision plays in manifestation and want to use expression as a medium for the aforementioned. 

It feels so simple in my head. While I still do not consider myself entrepreneurial, I am extremely decisive. I know exactly what I want and if not I typically know what I don’t want. Which is a start. 

So, as I’ve decided to take a month off from my dissertation I’ve been contemplating a part-time job. One for financial reasons, I literally do not make enough money to live on my paycheck–another gripe for another day. And the other to get involved in something that will fuel my post-grad professional aspirations. However, what is becoming more and more evident to me is that the job I want isn’t going to be on a job board or posted on LinkedIn. I am going to have to create it. 

I seriously considered quitting my part time job, which I enjoy, to dedicate myself fully to my creative processes and the rest of the time to my research. The idea still lingers…the biggest pro is stability. Although there is only so much foundation such an abysmal living wage provides. I also considered getting a full time job just to pay the bills and to begin to save money for next year…but at this point in my research, time is much more valuable a commodity than money. I don’t want anything delaying graduation. So I arrived at a crossroads of sorts.

What I’ve decided for the moment was to keep my job but for everyday I’m not working, where normally I would write, I will dedicate to my website or business to some capacity. I have no idea what I’m getting myself into, but I don’t feel afraid. Excited, yes. Maybe even a bit nervous,but nothing I couldn’t shake off.   Can’t shake off. Won’t shake off. All before asking for even advice from others 

Why? Because I think  you have to be the first person to invest in yourself. 

Easy to Hard

After reading a blog post written by a classmate of mine I was reflecting on some of my earlier therapy sessions and self-work of the past few months. Much of the struggle I had after experiencing sexual assault and continuing to write a dissertation proposal, teach a multicultural counseling class, work for a counseling and therapy department on campus, etc etc was that suddenly I was having trouble doing it all. I had experienced a shift in my being that tremendously impacted how and what I was able to do. I had to work twice as hard to achieve, what felt like, half as much. Add this to the “twice as hard” mantra that I already live by as a fat Black woman and you’ll begin to understand how I was emotionally and physically running myself into the ground. 

Also, as the link back to Conor’s work, this period of transition forced me to confront some beliefs I had, about myself and my abilities. I believed that I was entitled to a life and opportunities that other people work pretty damn hard for. I believed that because school, career opportunities, valuable personal and professional relationships and networking had always come easy to me. I prided myself on being nonchalant about impressive feats, rarely acknowledging my process for obtaining or maintaining them. Not only that, but I stubbonly and arrogantly believed I would continue this practice of living well and making it look easy.

I will sidebar a bit and say, even when I openly admitted to people how much I was struggling they would assuage my fears noting that it was understandable or I was navigating my situation with grace or strength. It wasn’t that these types of comments were not helpful, it was that they didn’t match the type of connection I was seeking. I didn’t need to be built up, I needed someone to sit down and catch a breath with me. 

My ultimate fear of being mediocre quite literally came to pass, at least according to me. And I recognize that I say that as an able-bodied, middle class, formally educated, cisgendered being in a doctoral program at a prestigious private institution in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. ((That was a LOT of privilege to check)).  But for me, that feeling of having to struggle was necessary. It made me appreciate the milestones I’ve reached in a new way and more importantly it made me confront the skewed and entitled beliefs I had about myself because of my various privileges. 

None of us wants to admit, I think, that we are barely just holding on. That at the end of the day we collapse into our beds if we are fortunate enough to have them, and we are exhausted by the show we have just put on for the world. It is difficult and sometimes dangerous to embody our vulnerabilities so openly, and yet that very thing was my saving grace. I didn’t have the energy to lie or to charade or to smile on some days. And I wanted people to know why…

When I read the Caitlyn Jenner article, and she said that after the cover went out she was free, I understood her. Because after I announced and admitted “I was raped” I felt the same freedom. Freedom from the shame and freedom from the work of having to pretend I was okay when I wasn’t. To admit all the insecurities it unearthed, and to be honest about how it changed me–how I work and to some extent, why–has been freedom. 

And while I am not sure the opportunities or tangible benefits that come from this sort of vulnerability, I can affirm that for the soul? It feels so damned good. Life is hard enough…we do not need to shame one another or house shame ourselves around what we accomplish or how we accomplish it. For me there was no other way around open, public honesty. I find my strength in vulnerability. Some people call it overshare, but those people do not feel the rich reward of connection I am afforded due to my naked honesty.   Looking back, I can say that situations that cause you to give yourself a good hard examination are the best types of opportunities, seize them. Maybe, I think, that is God asking us to sort out what we no longer need so that we can be given more to grow into. Furthering the belief that we are given this life, this life, because we are strong enough to live it. 

Different

Placing my foot carefully in the footholds I pushed myself up the rocks despite he rushing water. Left then right then left again, knee scrapes be damned. Sitting down to slide into deeper water before climbing out, rushing down a waterfall and grabbing hold to a tree for balance, I was making my way. Nearly 1000ft of rocky waterfall, I remembered my first time at Dunns. I was nervous. I did not trust my body, despite being roughly the same size then that I am now. I fretted over falling or hurting myself or people watching me wondering why I even bothered to try in the first place. Climbing has no place for insecurity. 

I noted how markedly different I felt this trip. I unabashedly ditched my cover-ups and wore only bikinis at the beach. I made new friends with ease without the internal dialogue of me wondering if they noticed how _____________ I was. The blank could be anything, but in Jamaica it was usually fat. I was so aware of my body there, and not in a good way. I recalled the shame I felt for being so big and so black as if the combination of the two were a punishable crime. It hurt further because I felt like if anywhere could be tolerant of me, it should’ve been there, right? Despite it, I felt at home in Jamaica. I conquered fears and loneliness and I began to step into myself. 

Returning back as the woman I am now, I felt the place differently. Men coveted my attention and my body (because of, not despite). But more than the acceptance of men, I was in love with the woman I saw reflected in the mirror. And what I realized was how much self-love and self-acceptance communicates to the world. 

The trip was not without falter. I had my first flashback of the rape, triggered by smell. My body slid into panic as my mind slipped into meditation: you are not there anymore. You are safe. You are okay. Come back to this moment. I took command of my emotional response, noting for Robert (my therapist) the entire process of how I avoided a panic attack. That moment was a metaphor for the work of not only this trip but this year: I had to forget what the present felt like remembering that moments are temporary, but the God that dwells within me as me? That is bigger, stronger, more powerful, than any moment no matter how anxiety provoking. 

In short, I had to remember who I was. Who I am. Who I have the potential to become. Jamaica reminded me to look up. To be in awe of the woman who stands before me in the mirror. The woman who in the last five months has been to hell and is clawing her way back to grace. I love that woman and that woman is loved by the people I hold most dear. 

Arriving at the top of the waterfall I remember thinking about footing. I could always trust the footing of those who went before me if I saw it and if they were, in fact, going where I wanted to go. Not to mention how reassuring it was to have hands that would steady you and support you as you climbed. However, there were times when you had to trust yourself; Find your own footing and put your own hands upon the slippery earth to balance. And you would survive the effort. I would survive it. Not only that, I would find success from it. 

I’ve found myself smiling at my changes. My differences. My growth. My faith in myself and my abilities, which is really to say my faith in God. For the first time in a long time I could feel the sun on my skin and the fire in my belly. I was alive. I am alive. I am here, and I am happy. 

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.