#WhyIMarch – Because It’s Saving My Life

12 Jan

women march on washington

Early on the day after the 2016 presidential election, I called my Mom, crumbled to the floor and wept.

My husband came to bed after me the night before, he woefully said, “Trump’s leading,” and I bristled and fell back asleep.

At that moment on the phone, it became a reality. I had to go into work that morning knowing that millions of people didn’t care about people like me.

I’m a black woman with mental illness. It’s the ultimate triple combo that leads to persistent discrimination and misunderstanding.

For years, my intelligence, my attitude, even my own “blackness” has been put into question. I’ve spent my life trying to prove to everyone that I’m deserving of normal treatment.

How do you explain to people why you’re suddenly racked with fear and grief? It seems irrational, but all of the recent hate crimes since the inauguration have left me stunned and scared in Alabama.

The rest of the week after the election was a haze. My boss asked why I wasn’t getting my work done fast enough. All I could tell her was that it had been a rough week.

Two weeks later (and 20 days after my request for accommodations for my mental disability was denied) I was fired. No warning. My (unprecedented, mind you) three-month review was fine.

Was that one rough week to blame? Who knows? I was just handed an empty box and an envelope with a cold statement on letterhead saying I hadn’t sufficiently done my job, even when I knew I had. I’d only been there five months, skyrocketed their social media presence and knew it was my “forever” job.

The one thing that validated my abilities was gone.

I spent the next hour so wracked with anguish and tears, my husband wouldn’t let me drive home.

These past couple of months have been some of the darkest in my life. I had no desire to write. I became so enraged on Facebook, I had some folks telling me to calm down and others saying “stay angry.” I have no desire to do anything except sleep and eat.

It’s difficult for me to put sentences together without a lot of effort. That kills me as a writer.

There are things I’m not proud of that I can’t share openly that exacerbated my grief, anxiety and depression. Spending time with my family for Christmas pulled me out of that fog somewhat.

And now, thanks to donations from some awesome people, I’m able to attend the March on Washington with fellow Alabamians. Of course, the hubs is worried and has every right to be.

But now that I’m jobless, the only thing holding me back from going were my finances. No longer did I have to consider taking time off. It’s the thin silver lining I found in my situation.

This is Why I March. I march because it’s all I can do to express my frustration, anger and grief in an immediate, tangible and productive way. What happens from here will hopefully be steps towards a better life where I can be of good to other people in spite of the next administration.

 

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Five Things – #MyMightyMonth

5 Jan

Today’s #MyMightyMonth prompt is to write down five things that you’re proud of and five things you aren’t proud of.

Five things I’m proud of:

1) My ability to dig for a silver lining, even when it’s so dismal, I can’t even make out a cloud. Some days are easier than others. I think that ability is much easier for me to see in others than in myself. (But isn’t that always the way?)

2) That I can laugh at almost everything, even the inappropriate things. But, I still have a sense of decorum. Usually. Most of the time. Because sometimes laughter is all you have.

3) The tendency to be so emotionally sensitive, it boggles me why more people aren’t as open as I am. The fact that people can’t just tell me what’s going on or how they feel is frustrating and weird, but makes me more empathetic.

4) That I was able to take advantage of my extra-long single-hood by traveling and doing the things I wanted to do alone before I tied the knot. What a lovely thing to have had in my life for so long.

5) Even on days where I don’t feel like writing, a prompt can get me going for even a few minutes. Because writing is life. Writing is slowly pulling out all of the thoughts and weirdness in my head. Imagine my brain is a pizza and these thoughts are the gooey, never-ending mozzarella for everyone to enjoy.

Five things I’m not proud of:

1) My inability to separate who I am from the things I do, earn or achieve. As a Christian, this is practically blasphemous, because the basis of my faith is accepting undeserved grace.

2) My failings in my life – jobs, relationships – some of which I haven’t fully recovered. I set aflame to most of those bridges quicker than Godzilla on a really bad day. (I could have made a Sherman-in-the-South joke, but my hometown was one of his captures. Plus I’d prefer to talk geeky than about one of the most horrible wars in mankind’s history.)

3) Self-sabotage – If I was paid to have this skill, I’d be one of the richest people in the world. I have a keen ability to take something wonderful in my life and twist and distort it into something unrecognizable.

4) Not taking action on the boundless resources I have to better myself. I could be less anxious, less depressed, less stressed and more productive. But the anxiety and depression itself are so powerful, it crowds out everything else. It’s as though I’m ignorant on how to help myself, because all of that knowledge is snuffed out by more powerful forces in my brain.

5) That I haven’t taken care of myself in the simplest of ways. You should never need a to-do list to tell you to brush your teeth, but I do. I’m surprised I haven’t created a to-do that says, “Keep on living.” Sometimes my brain sucks.

What I Want to Improve in 2017

1 Jan

 

2017
When you have anxiety and depression, you literally want to improve everything. You want to improve the way your toenails grow. You want to improve how your eyes are shaped. You want to improve how your voice sounds recorded.
Every single part of you is scrutinized, evaluated and diagnosed with some sort of failure or deficiency.
And that’s just what YOU want to do. That’s what your brain convinces you is wrong. EVERYTHING. It starts to make sense why plastic surgery is such a huge business. You can convince yourself there are flaws where there are none.
These thoughts don’t include absorbing every saying, every commercial, every social media post you hear or read externally.
You question why so-and-so liked that Facebook post but not this blog post. You analyze and critique your social media posts and place values on them based on the number of comments and likes you get.
So to ask what things you want to improve is like selecting your favorite N*Sync member.
(That’s obviously a ridiculous notion. JT, of course.) Or asking which countries in the world you’d like to visit and then proceed to list every dream destination you’ve ever heard of.
So, let’s narrow this down. Most won’t be SMART goals – goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, reasonable and timely. (I remembered all of those and given my anxiety-related memory issues, this is a massive win for the 2nd day of 2017.) These are generalizations that I’ll specify at some point. One step at a time, right? What are a few things I want to improve in the New Year.
Improve my writing. I want to publish one of my ordinary e-books (or e-book ideas) on my own and then thousands of copies like Andy Weir’s The Martian. A book so powerful, Matt Damon looks at an adapted screenplay and basically says, “Yup. This is what I want.” I want it to affect someone so deeply that it becomes a book people read and re-read when they need a pick me up, like The War of Art (a book that will only take you a few hours to read but will impact the rest of your life).
Improve my relationships. Not exactly how I communicate with people or how often I spend time with them. But how I react to these moments. Appreciate them more. Not take them for granted. Push all of the other thoughts that anxiety fills my brain – useless negative self-talk, unimportant situations, uncontrollable circumstances.
Focus. On that person. On that moment. Second by second.
Embrace my frustration and anger. After this year’s election, I unloaded my disappointment and anger on Facebook. I frightened people. They knew of my struggles with mental illness, but they didn’t know how upset and how sensitive I was at the outcome of the election.
Not even I understood that anxiety and depression make even the smallest slights or seemingly hopeless circumstances explode into uncontrollable monsters unleashed on every one and everything in my path.
That aloof, unattainable social media justification actually came to me then – random friends who send a message or post a comment that says, “Hey. It’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to speak your truth.” I tried to focus on those than the ones pleading me to back off before I offended someone.
Spend 5 minutes a day doing the things that really matter. When it comes to self care – breathing, stretching or other forms of exercise, prayer, reading and, of course writing.
This is going to be hard. And the biggest improvement would be to accept if I fail at this in 2017. Here’s hoping that I’ll look back on this and smile.
What will you improve this year? Resolutions are for international and often tenuous peace agreements. Improvements are just for you.
This is part of the #MyMightyMonth challenge done by the Mighty. Some I’ll post to my blog and to The Mighty. Others I may not, but it’s a daily challenge!

Holidays: When You’re Forced to be Grateful

12 Dec

There are a lot of things going on in my life that suck. Yes, it’s become sort of a joke that 2016 has felt like the worst year ever, because we’ve lost a lot of iconic people. We had a terrible presidential election season that seemed almost comical but was painfully real.

But on a personal level, this year was one of the worst ever. I gave up freelancing to hunt for a job, only to have that job snatched away from me so quickly I never made it Facebook official. Physically, I’ve never looked or felt this bad. I’ve resorted to picking my skin which has scarred it.

I’ve gained a lot of weight and I’ve let my hair become so out of control it requires going to a pro to fix it. There are other mental, emotional, spiritual and physical issues related to my anxiety and depression that I can only discuss with a therapist or a doctor.

Now I’m back to where I was a few years ago. Feeling rejected for the umpteenth time. Feeling like I’ve sabotaged jobs, relationships and myself so frequently, the consequences are irrevocable. Feeling the most unpretty. The personality I had when I first moved to Alabama – one of optimism, loyalty and determination – has left me.  I have changed so much and mostly in ways that are sour and unbecoming.

What happens when you feel like you’ve hit rock bottom? I feel like I’m in that stage where I’ve just fallen and still tending to my wounds and cleaning myself off. I’m not ready for re-entry. When you’re in this place, you have to focus on the present. On what you have left when you feel like the parts that make up who you are have disintegrated.

There is still a bit of light left. I still laugh at the smallest things. I still recognize how amazing and privileged I am to be in the place where I am now.

To have people in my life who will not simply walk through fire to rescue me. They will lift me up and carry me through the fire so that I can help myself.

I know not everyone has that, and I’ve thought of them every day to get me out of bed in the morning.

Being at what feels like the bottom of a hole forces you to think simply.  The normal trappings of temporary happiness that spring from having a job, a lot of acquaintances who love you only when you’re happy have been burned away.

You focus on the simplest of blessings – food, shelter, health, faith, family. You look around and wonder why God saw fit to wake you up today. You search for what was so important that He chose to give you another day of life.

For instance, today I’m going out with friends. I didn’t plan it, and I don’t want to go. I don’t want to spend time with other people right now, even ones I know love and respect me. I want to remain in the shadows. But I know that’s one simple reason why I’m around today. For something so simple. Something that I could try to back out of but can’t since I wasn’t the one to plan it

That has been really easy lately.  Backing out of obligations to either stay home with my husband or just stay at home. Everyone expects me to bounce back. Yes, I have a mental illness, but it’s never been an issue. I stop. I grieve. I move on. However, this time and this year is different.

Resuming my normal won’t happen for a while. I’ve disengaged with a lot of my contacts while freelancing, and several I won’t be able to mend. I’m not in the right mental condition to go on job interviews. So it appears that, like a few years ago, December is dedicated to hibernation. Thankfully, I made plans with my family before everything went south, so I can’t back out on them.

There are traces of that super-determination left in me. I’m in the last steps of applying to a graduate program. I don’t have a lot of faith that I will get in. Not so much because I am in a self-defeatist mood, but because I didn’t prepare properly. I put together a lot of documentation in a very short amount of time, which is awesome considering my attitude at the moment but may have made for a less than ideal application package.

I’ve been so down that I haven’t wanted to write. I feel like all of the creativity has been sucked out of me. So for now I’m choosing to write about being down. Not my most eloquent of posts, and certainly not one where I manage to turn it around and make it relatable and positive. But that’s where I am today.

Why a Great Job Is the Best Kind of Relationship

7 Sep

I don’t care what anyone says, there are times where you should just take a break from writing, even if writing is your job.

These past few months have been one of those times. After following the strict but sage advice of one of my writing mentors, Linda Formichelli, I read her book “Commit.” Unfortunately, “committing” to something also involves “un-committing” to everything else.

After an important conversation with my husband, I determined not long after my last post that I’d start looking for a job. A “real” one. That is one where the paychecks are steady and you actually are within a working environment around other people.

I sent a blanket email to a lot of then very important people in my life that I had committed to saying, essentially, “I’m sorry, but I quit.”

It’s the self sabotaging email that perfectionists with anxiety send out more often than they should.

I was really surprised at the responses (or lack thereof). Most of the people who I had recently committed to responded almost immediately and said, “I’m here. I can help.” Some of these people were barely my acquaintances, because I had just joined their organizations a short time ago.

Others I considered my closest friends ignored the email or later gave terse responses after some prodding. I was disappointed and was finally able to express that much later, but it reminded me that the only people in my life who are consistently there for me didn’t get involved much in my business  – that’s my tried-and-true friends and family.

Despite coming to this devastating realization, I moved on. A few weeks after Loving Day, I started a new job and, like any great relationship, I find myself not having to prove much of anything. It took one interview (well, three with different people in one day) and about a month to show that I know what I’m doing.

Again, I was surprised. These people barely knew me, and every job always takes a warming period. Because I’m an introvert and overachiever, I have to soften my motto of “I don’t come to work to make friends” or Scandal’s overarching theme that black women have to work twice as hard to get half the benefits. Because I only have one officemate and most of my co-workers are in other buildings, when I’m near their offices, I stop myself to say hello, to catch up. Most of them are usually very busy, but I like to preface my stops with that acknowledgement.

I want my stops with them to be like a gentle reminder that there’s more to work than just being stuck staring at a computer screen. Plus, it’s forced me to pull out of this social funk you tend to enter when you work from home.

So, like most new relationships, there has to be some effort on my part. You don’t expect to become besties after a few interactions. But I mean when I say, “Great relationships mean not having to try as hard,” something I learned from a former friend many years ago.

The right job (or relationship):

  1. Minimizes mistakes. Yes, the ideal job is supposed to be one where you grow and learn to lessen the amount of mistakes you make. But as someone with anxiety and bad run-ins with bosses and co-workers, I was afraid of even making the smallest mistake. My boss is quick to say, “It’s no big deal,” and she means it. She’s not going to bring it back up again or threaten to take away my job. If a boss (or friend/romantic partner) tells you, “It’s okay,” you’ve got a real winner.
  2. Celebrates the small wins. Every time I sent an email where I wanted to hold back on congratulating myself, I get replies that are encouraging, even when the final results of my project aren’t quite what I wanted. This is the marker of a great job or a great relationship – where folks make it a point to congratulate the smallest achievements.
  3. Ignores the things that don’t affect success. I’ve had jobs where I was told what I wore was inappropriate (the “yoga pants incident”). Or that my personality was too open. (Vague speak for “We are frightened by your drive/attitude/behavior because you’re too young/too angry black woman/not black enough.”) It was really demeaning experiences. I have roaring laughs, joke a lot and tend to get overly excited or enthusiastic about things. My bosses and co-workers aren’t (openly any way LOL) irritated or see these traits as flaws. In fact, my enthusiasm was a bonus during the interview process and still works today. (Although my boss will tell you it was my writing, not my winning personality, that landed me the job LOL) My husband has seen me with good hair days maybe 3 months out of the almost five years we’ve been together LOL. The rest of time it’s damaged, kinky, stinky or just boring. But he doesn’t care. Quirky or even annoying personality traits are simply hurdles to overcome in a solid relationship. They aren’t used as excuses to end things or make things difficult.
  4. Gives you reasons to stick around during the rough times. Despite the fact I’ve garnered something of a dream job, part of that “dream” includes all of the crap I have to endure – mainly the inordinate amount of walking during hot weather. Also, it really, really sucks to get sick when you don’t have a lot of sick leave and your boss is out of town at the same time. (Oh, dear Lord.)Life is fraught with problems. The older I get, the more I realize “Everybody’s got something.” It helps me to empathize more and complain less. My “somethings” may seem like the end of the world to me, but I have plenty of friends  whose “somethings” are worse.(This brings me to an aside: if you’re like me and you suffer from a mental illness like anxiety or depression, never, ever, ever downplay your “something.” That’s what contributes to the stigma that having an unseen illness isn’t “as bad” as someone who experiences physical illnesses or disabilities. I’ve been trying for years to get over that…to not see what I’m experiencing as something to just get over.

    What you’re experiencing is real. It’s valid. And when it affects your life, it’s okay to talk about it.)

Every relationship is a challenge, but it should never be a constant uphill battle. Sadly this was something I was beginning to experience working from home and within certain relationships.

Even the people we dislike the most have a “something” to overcome. We have the ability to use it to make our dream jobs or relationships come true.

But don’t work *too* hard at it.

 

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