Notes & Musings: Worry ‘Bout Yo Self

When I was in my 30s or so, I emailed my father because I’d had a revelation.

“You treat all of the women you’re connected to horribly,” I announced.

I’d cracked the code and I had proof. At the time, his mother was a recent double amputee, who’d just moved in with him and his wife. During a breakfast outing, she confided to Dwight and me that he was charging her rent.

I also recounted a rumor I’d heard about how he’d mistreated my own mother. It was something about helping another woman move to Moline, IL while my mother was hospitalized 165 miles away. The indiscretion occurred before I was born, but I’d heard about it so much, primarily when adults didn’t know I was listening, that I could re-tell it myself.

I left the secrets I’d accrued about his current relationship unsaid, and instead, concluded with his treatment of me, which included explicit and implicit abandonment and unfulfilled promises.

“You always did judge me harshly,” he wrote, “but you know what? You’d do better psychoanalyzing yourself.”

At the time, I was offended.

Wouldn’t knowing my parent offer insights into myself and our relationship? I mean, I guess I could’ve phrased it with a less judgmental tone, or used “I statements,” but I’m no therapist and at the time hadn’t sought therapy. All I suspected was that I may be better if I understood his patterns of behavior because parts of who he was had affected me in some way.

Or, was he right?

Would I do better to simply think deeply about my own negative behavior, which was quickly adding up and determine how to proceed with life in a healthier way? Would it be better to stare myself down in the mirror and focus on the image reflected back to me?

Nah.

Fifteen years ago, it was much easier to point out everyone else’s flaws than to identify and focus on my own. It always is. Plus, I wasn’t ready for that type of introspection.

conquer_oneselfBut, after finally doing the work, I find it’s also important to research your family of origin as a method of recognizing patterns of behavior they may have passed on to you. Sometimes these models have inextricably bound you together in unhealthy ways.

However, I do recognize the rudeness of my communication. If I had the opportunity to re-send this email to my father, I wouldn’t. I’d just accept the observations of his life as observations (and judgments) and be grateful about how helpful they may be for me.

While I believe we will do best to worry about ourselves, ultimately, we were each shaped by our first communities, our families. And understanding who they are/were can be integral to understanding ourselves.

What do you think?

Mental Health Matters: Anxiety

I learned the first semester of undergrad that being assigned several tasks at one time caused uncontrollable tension. There was an overwhelming sense that I wouldn’t have time to complete everything. That’s when I developed an organized coping mechanism system. I began keeping an agenda of lists. These lists ensured that I knew where I was supposed to be and at what time. As technology advanced, I not only kept lists, but I also created reminders on my cell phone and included the same events on my digital calendar. My lists had lists.

I’m sure list making is a “normal” task; my issue is that I never veer from them. A friend of mine jokes that she needs to make an appointment to speak with me. But she and I know it’s not a joke. I will not sacrifice a list item for an unscheduled phone conversation to catch up with a friend.

This rule continued as I raised children. My daughters understood that if they wanted me to do something, then they had to tell me at least a week in advance. I’ve missed ceremonies because they told me at the “last minute,” which would require me changing my schedule, sending me into a frenzy where I felt as if I didn’t have enough time.

The rigidity and necessity of my list making surfaced April 2019 when my youngest daughter was in a car accident. Someone hit someone else, who hit her, and caused her to hit a fourth person. She called her dad, who handled the situation and agreed that she was able to go to school. By the end of the day, she’d texted me complaining of headaches.

After an appointment with a DO (doctor of osteopathic medicine), it was decided that she had a concussion and would need further treatment. Additionally, she would have to take pain meds every 3-4 hours and rest for at least a week at home…with me. This meant no screen time and no thinking, just resting. Are you aware of how challenging it is to keep a seventeen-year-old off her phone?

This is when I fully realized another issue. When life is fine, I’m fine. List. Check. Go. When something occurs, especially if it’s traumatic, I begin to feel worried that I cannot handle the task at hand and complete my list. I spiral quickly.

Ensuring my daughter ate food, rested, didn’t watch television, stayed off her phone, didn’t FaceTime her group for a group project (which she did), took pain medications every four hours, all while checking off my daily professor tasks, like grading papers and answering students’ question was…a lot.

But I didn’t realize it until my husband came home.

“Why are you so tired?” he asked.

clocksMy answer? Tears. I was emotionally exhausted. The days’ events had worn me out, and underneath it all I was also worried that our daughter wouldn’t recover soon enough. She was in a rigorous academic program and needed her brain. She had an oral exam in a week and AP exams shortly after. Concussions can take months to recover from. Her fogginess was evident. She couldn’t recall words, like theory. What if she never healed? What if this accident ruined everything? What if I wasn’t doing enough to help her heal? How was I supposed to balance helping her and doing my job?

I never saw myself as suffering from anxiety. I reserved that for other people, like my cousin who had prescriptions for panic attacks or those who washed their hands and cleaned obsessively. Certainly, I wasn’t like them.

I’d even read that people with anxiety chew ice and shared that info with my husband. “You used to chew ice,” he said.

And I thought so what? I’ve never had anxiety. But, I do. My life is peppered with people asking a simple question, like “how are you?” and me crying uncontrollably because I’ve held onto frenetic feelings and worse-case scenarios of a situation.

Last year is just the first time I’d realized it.

Part of the mental health stigma is that issues have to be extreme. This is untrue. You do not have to be walking down the street talking to yourself to have a mental health issue. You can simply have an overactive mind that constantly tells you there isn’t enough time to complete tasks. You can have the incapacity to appropriately regulate your emotions. Or, you can have fill-in-the-blank issue that you’ve kept secret to appear “normal.”

Either way, the first step for any healing is acceptance. I’ve accepted anxiety is a part of a few mental health issues I’ve tried to hide. Next month, I’ll discuss another.

January’s Mental Health Matters 

 

Mental Health Matters: Acceptance (Part I)

Around 2005, I found my biological mother’s side of the family, and with that came a narrative about my family’s mental health. The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services sent me a thick packet of information sealed in a manila envelope.

My mother had been diagnosed as having acute schizophrenia, undifferentiated type. According to the report she would oftentimes “walk around with an empty stroller” and could be found “lying on the couch, laughing hysterically.” Although she was an avid swimmer, in 1978, she drowned in Lake Michigan.

These images are not only vivid, but also profound. I immediately related to my mother’s psychosis. Finally, I understood part of myself.

I’d felt slightly off growing up. For example, in elementary school, it was difficult for me to walk in front of a class or across the cafeteria. Oftentimes, I thought everyone stared and talked about me. I had little reason to believe these imaginings, but in my mind they were true. However, I learned to cope. I’d pretend I was a horse with blinders on. I’d walk directly to my destination, ignoring anything in my peripheral vision, internally praising myself when I made it back to my seat without ridicule.

I never told anyone.

Learning about my biological mother introduced me to one of her sisters, Aunt Catherine. She outlined the remainder of our family’s mental health history. She suffered from depression. Her father, my grandfather had, too. Her mother, my grandmother had a nervous breakdown. Her two brothers were in prison; one murdered someone.

When I shared my relief that I’d finally found solace in understanding my off-centeredness, she rebuked it.

“Don’t try to be like us,” she said, “you’re not like us. You don’t have to be like us. Depression feels like you’re in a deep hole that you can’t get out of. You want to get out, but you can’t.”

I’d never experienced depression. In fact, my set point is joyful. So, I dismissed my newfound knowledge. Plus, who wants to identify as “crazy” anyway? I focused on other family similarities, like the tremors she, my daughters and I shared; all of our hands shake uncontrollably.

Still I knew something about me wasn’t normal.

When I was younger, I cried frequently for all reasons. One time I remember swelling up with tears because my paternal cousins had visited from North Carolina. They planned to drive to Bolingbrook, a Chicago suburb to visit another cousin. I thought I wasn’t invited, so I cried, until they consoled me and assured me I’d be right there with them. I was ten.

When my parents told me my father had diabetes, I cried because I thought he was going to die. My mother came to my room and asked me to stop. “Crying for hours is excessive for a diabetes diagnosis,” she said. I was twelve.

It was the 70s and 80s, so I was deemed sensitive. Anxiety wasn’t a household term, and therapy in black homes was unheard of. Instead, I received the proverbial, “Whatchu crying for now?” question, especially from my grandmother, who seemed to want me to be tougher, something I never fully achieved.

I researched schizophrenia and clinical depression. Aunt Catherine was right. I was neither of those; but, dots were connected. However, I dismissed them because they didn’t form complete pictures. They weren’t direct links. I ignored the idea that mental health is genetic; however, like brown eyes and curly hair, traces of mental health can linger in one’s DNA. Curl patterns may be a little looser and eyes a little darker, but characteristics are there.

So, while it’s no easy feat, I’ve taken some time to accept this trait. Subsequently, because I believe the only person I can change is myself, I’ll be publicly exploring it in more detail this year on this blog as a way to de-stigmatize mental health issues and to bring truth to light. What better way to do both than to begin with me?

Oh, and those tremors? They’re more than just biological markers; They are a physical manifestation of social anxiety disorder.

Monday Notes: Friends

December 7th, 2018, I took a girls trip with five women. I’ve known one of these women since first grade and the others since seventh. While many of us have gotten together separately over the years for high school reunions or visits back home, the six of us hadn’t been together as a group since high school.

I admit I didn’t know what to expect. But I’m happy to report that it was one of the best trips I’ve taken with a group of women. We all got along just as we had over two and a half decades ago. It’s as if we were the same people, just 45 years old, with more life experiences to share.

Afterwards, I found myself reflecting on what made our time together so special.

img_8603-1We’re similar. All six of us attended an academically talented and gifted school called, Whitney M. Young for both the Academic Center (7th-8th grade) and high school. At the time we attended, it was the best high school in the nation. Meaning, we’re all not only intelligent, but we’ve also faced some of the same challenges throughout life when it comes to education and career choices. I mention this not to brag, but to highlight that when friends are similar at a core level, then deeper conversations ensue. Most of the time, we didn’t have to provide background information prior to talking about a shared issue.

We respected our differences. Prior to this trip, I believed that friends are such because they have similar interests; therefore, there is little need for compromise. You know what I mean? But that weekend revealed that while we are similar in some ways, we’ve grown to be different in others. That Friday, one of us wanted to sing karaoke, so we made our way to City Walk’s Rising Star. Another friend exercises daily, so she awoke each morning before everyone and walked on the beach. To our surprise, one woman enjoys watching NASCAR; so, we all paid our $20 and toured Daytona International Speedway. These are just three examples. While we weren’t necessarily fully invested in each other’s events, we each partook. I can only speak for myself in saying the reason I participated in everything is because we were there to visit with one another. Whether that be at a fancy dinner, on a jet ski, or at the pool, I was happy to compromise to hang out with women I considered to be friends.

We listened. On this trip we had constant, intimate conversations. We not only revealed events that had happened over the years, but also how we felt about these experiences. Not once did I feel negatively judged for sharing myself or my shortcomings. At no point did I think, “I shouldn’t have said that” for fear of the side-eyes or subsequent comments that accompany saying something not aligned with society’s values. Once again, I attribute the warmth of this inviting and supporting environment to the quality of women I’d unconsciously chosen to befriend years ago.

I’ve spoken a lot about relationships on this blog. But this trip solidified my overall feelings about them. Whether friend, familial, or romantic, good relationships feel warm and loving. They are non-judgmental and, in some ways, symbiotic. They are as natural as the ocean’s waves and as long lasting or fleeting as the sand that surrounds it.

As of today, that’s my answer on this topic. Let me know what you think.

Monday Notes: Anything’s Possible

Remembering anything is possible has been one of my goals since 2017. It’s the first sentence on my list of goals that sits on the right side of my bathroom mirror. I remind myself of this because it keeps me not grounded. It reminds me of life’s possibilities.

Recently this statement was reinforced. One of my colleagues contacted me and asked if I would be the keynote speaker for a session at our national literacy conference. Their original speaker was Laurie Halse Anderson. Laurie…flipping Halse Anderson! If you don’t know who she is, then click here. She had a scheduling conflict and had to bow out. Because my colleague knew that three other women and I have an edited anthology coming out October 2020, he thought showcasing our work would be a good fit.

I had zero hesitation. I knew I could deliver the keynote because my co-editors and I have a strong message about marginalization in sports media and a desire to highlight how we talk about or don’t talk about issues of diversity and representation. Think Megan Rapinoe, Serena Williams, Simone Biles, and the most obvious, Colin Kaepernick. But I digress.

My point is never in a million years would I have thought I’d be replacing Anderson or giving a speech about this topic in November 2019. But anything is possible. All you have to do is be open to the anything and maintain alignment with what you value.

If you have 14 minutes to spare, here’s what I had to say:

 

Monday Notes: “Umi said shine your light on the world”

img_9353“Shine your light for the world to see.” It’s a quote from a rap song that I’d heard decades ago (Mos Def). But I’m really feeling it after our D.C. book reading. Just like the previous two, this one was completely different as well. The Jacksonville book talk was more like a starter event. The authors had never publicly read their stories before, so the energy was a mixture of excitement and nervousness. Though each writer’s voice was clear, it was quiet.

img_0768Three months later, we’d moved 345 miles north to Atlanta. Three women had read in Jacksonville, so they were a bit more familiar with expectations. Their voices were grounded, louder. This time the audience had changed. The energy was palpable in varied ways. Questions were about the writing process, as well as the healing process. How had any of us done this? This included forgiving our fathers for heinous shenanigans. This included writing our mini-memoirs for someone other than ourselves.

img_1904-1Seven months after the Jacksonville event, we convened in Washington, D.C. and everything had changed. Two readers were pros. Kotrish Wright declined the use of a podium. Instead, she used the space around her to give more of a performance act. Her voice rose and fell, like an experienced reader. Inflection was important for specific parts. Ishna Hagan read her narrative with confidence and poise. She stood in her truth, which seemed to give her power.

Tikeetha was a novice to this experience. But I couldn’t tell. She read her story with the ease of a famous author. Though her story is sad and heart wrenching, she managed to make the audience nod and laugh at all the appropriate times.

And finally, there’s me.

img_1919This time I felt like I was shining my light for the world to see. An attendee who had cried her way through a question and almost the entire reading thanked me for putting this together. She’d intended to find a way for her mother to heal from trauma and mental illness. Another woman recounted her own father-daughter situation. It was enough to be another chapter in our edited collection. She, too, admitted she needed to find a way to counter her childhood dysfunction. A friend of mine provided me with a list she’d brainstormed to broaden my reach: come to Richmond, VA and call her OWN network contact.

After this third reading, I feel like we’ve each come into our own. We’ve done much more than pour our hearts on pages for catharsis. We’ve demonstrated what love, forgiveness, grace, and healing look like. We’ve exposed ourselves in ways that neither of us believed possible.

“Umi said shine your light on the world; shine your light for the world to see.” With this project, we’ve shone brightly and come into our own. And we plan to continue in our own way.

Monday Notes: Book Reading in DC!

The authors of Daddy: Reflections of Father-Daughter Relationships will be in Washington, DC on Saturday, October 12, 2019 between 3:00-5:00 P.M. If you’re in the area, please consider joining us for this important conversation centered on understanding the importance a father has in his daughter’s life, beginning to heal any past trauma, or sharing your own father-daughter story (positive or not).

Read Tikeetha Thomas’ blog.

Read LA Jefferson’s blog.

Read Ishna Hagan’s blog.

Read Kotrish Wright’s blog.

 

Monday Notes: Everybody Is Not A Christian

I’ve held off discussing much about religion on this blog because I haven’t felt the need. However, recent comments have revealed people’s assumptions. Some people think I’m a Christian.

One example comes from a client. I missed her call. I think it was a Wednesday. Because she couldn’t reach me by phone, she emailed. In her note, she mentioned that I was probably busy at church (Bible study). I wasn’t at Bible study. I was at home, sitting on my couch, watching TV.

6739b4f3-6728-4a5f-b619-0be05846a9e2A similar assumption occurred with another client. He was explaining how he’d be in Jacksonville for some type of religious convention. He told me that I’d enjoy it. I just listened as he talked. I think my silence led him to engage in a guessing game of sorts.

“I know. I know Doc. You probably have your own church that you go to and you can’t be fooled up with mine, but I think you’d like to come. I’ll send you the information.”

I laughed and told him it sounded like a place where I could sell some books.

2b958bba-a7d1-458e-ac31-32b51e56dc18-516-000000333c818582This is what I usually do. I listen to the person. Laugh it off and let the conversation die. Past experience has taught me that saying something like, I don’t go to church; I don’t follow organized religion; or I’m not a Christian leads to full-on conversion techniques. Christians, in particular, either (a) ask me to attend their church or (b) outline reasons why I should follow their religious lead.

In the past, I’ve explained my religious background. My mother was a Sunday school teacher. My father was over the children’s ministry, and eventually, he became a Baptist deacon. My paternal grandmother was a staunch Catholic. One of my stepmothers was Apostolic. I know how to finish the phrase, “God is good…” as well as “God of mercy…” I know in some churches, I’m supposed to hold up one finger to symbolize excusing myself out of the sanctuary. I know the difference between AME and Methodist. Jesus Can Work It Out is one of my favorite gospel songs and I was thoroughly offended when Google Chromebook sampled it for a commercial. I’m familiar with hymnals, scripture, and all other manners of church behavior. But I am not a Christian.

What I’ve tried to explain to others is that it is because I’m well versed in Christianity that I choose not to participate.

The notion that my choice is not out of ignorance of the faith seems to baffle some people. In fact, it causes downright cognitive dissonance.

One day, my dad actually said to me, “I know you at least still pray because you’re doing so well.”

He couldn’t believe that my perceived success could be due to anything, but the Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Bible, and some sort of private conviction.

d9149271-a384-4edd-944a-c18da7b625a7-516-0000003386e4911eListen. I get it. There are 2.3 billion Christians in the world (Hackett & McClendon, 2017). Seventy percent of Americans are Christian (Religious Landscape Study). So, if you were to assume, then statistically speaking, you’d probably be right.

I guess my point is, as long as there are six other options that I could’ve chosen, the best thing to do is not to assume. While I’m at it, the most respectful act is also not to try to convert people once you learn they have other beliefs. Non-Christians are not wanderers who’ve lost their way. They actually might be thinking individuals, who’ve chosen a different path.

Monday Notes: In Search of Balance

The past 11 weeks, I’ve been busy. Remember when I silently reflected and meditated for 14 days? Remember when I said I needed to figure out how to generate more money? Welp, shortly after, I attracted several clients.

Since mid-June, I’ve edited 12 manuscripts. This means each week, I’ve pored over a different person’s dissertation or self-published book. While I’m grateful for the business, there have been repercussions.

My dry eye flared back up. About two years ago, the optometrist diagnosed me with this condition. To remedy it, I use eye drops; I only wear daily contacts (the kind you have to throw away after one use); and I take frequent screen breaks. Usually I can keep it under control, but staring at the computer, while reading 200-page manuscripts every week caused it to return. Sometimes this meant my right eye felt a little itchy and dull; other times it meant there was a bit of pain right behind my eyeball.

woman-typing-on-keyboardWriting was not a priority. This really bothered me. During the past few weeks, I’ve wanted to write. In fact, I’d created a goal to write a new piece and submit for publication every two weeks. This was impossible. It turns out that it’s challenging for me to read other people’s works, while writing my own. I don’t know about you, but I need time and space for the writing process to unfold. By the time I turned off my clients’ work and decompressed, I was tired and only wanted to sleep. This was a bit frustrating for me because I value writing above all else.

Reading blogs shifted to an even lower priority. I found myself not wanting to read as many blogs, which is unusual. Even when I’m on a social media break, I take at least one hour every day and read other bloggers’ material. But after editing thousands of words for hours, I didn’t want to read anyone else’s. It didn’t matter how inspirational, uplifting, or funny the blog was, I couldn’t make myself read for 60 minutes and meaningfully engage.

Editing 12 manuscripts in 11 weeks reinforced a few lessons:

  • Know your priorities. While I know that priorities shift depending on the circumstances, I think that your main priority should always remain number one. For example, writing is important to me. I actually felt bad that I didn’t want to exert the energy to express myself, even though I had the words piling up in my brain.
  • Know your limits. Prior to taking on so many clients, I already had a sense for what was reasonable for my lifestyle. The number is two. I can edit two manuscripts per month and maintain a sense of calm. Anything else is too much, and I won’t be wavering on that moving forward, unless I hire help.
  • Be ready for what you’ve requested. I asked for an increase in income, and I received it. But I wasn’t necessarily prepared for some of the consequences. As a result, I’ll be fine tuning how I co-create my life because after all, I’m in charge of myself and my choices.

So, tell me…how have you all been? What’s been going on? Have you ever gotten a little more than you bargained for? If so, how did you cope?

Monday Notes: My Bisexual Daughter

My daughter has a lot of positive qualities.

She is intelligent. I first realized just how smart she was when she was three-years-old. I begged the teacher to put her in the next class, but she disagreed, that is, until she interacted with her for two days.

“You were right,” she apologized, “I just thought you were like all the other parents who think their child is brilliant.”

The next day she was in the four-year-old class.

Her intelligence was reaffirmed years later at the end of third grade. I’d received her first state standardized test results. She’d gotten all the answers correct. Even with my background in education, I’d never seen marks like that.

She is caring. I remember when she cried because she was saving a lizard that had somehow entered the house, a frequent Florida occurrence. His little green tail fell off as she used a glass to capture him. She immediately burst into tears, but soon calmed down when I reminded her that lizards’ tails regenerate. She dried her face and released him outside where he belonged.

She is socially conscious. She loves being black and championing for black people in different ways, like when she assured her dark-skinned friend it was okay to stay in the sun; she had no fear of “getting darker,” and neither should he.

She can also be found telling her father and me about her new choice of water, why we shouldn’t be buying McDonald’s, why we should stop eating ‘carcinogens’ (e.g., meat), and why we should sign a petition about parolees.

She is kind. When she found out her big sister wouldn’t be able to attend our last trip, she offered to save more of her own check so that her sister could go. Of course her sister declined the offer, but my point is she offered. She also considers her friends and frequently stands up for them in different situations or is there for them when they need someone to listen.

She is trustworthy. This is why we had no problem passing my car to her at the age of seventeen. She drives to school and back home. She drives to work and back home. She drives to her friends’ houses for parties. She drives back to school for extracurricular activities. She drives to complete her service project once a week during the summer. She spends the night over friends’ houses, and when she doesn’t feel comfortable where she is, she texts me…and comes home. We trust her and her judgment.

These are the qualities that come to mind when someone asks me about my daughter. The last thing I consider is her sexual identity. I just wished society felt the same.