Being Strong Sucks.

Being strong sucks. I am strong by choice, not by necessity. I am strong because I don’t know what weakness feels like and I’m too much of a coward to find out. I’m strong because I’m stubborn. Failure in any form, has never been an option for me. I’m a Phoenix because the fire within me keeps me going–even if I  have to burn for it. Being strong sucks. Because it means that when I am tired–like I am right now–I can’t just give up. So it means that I have still have to somehow figure out a way to make it work. I still have to put on this facade–I have to wear a mask. Otherwise, people around me get uncomfortable and treat me differently.

People think that they know me because they see the me that gets stuff done and the me that doesn’t back down. But, I’m tired, ya’ll. It’s October and all this ridiculous stuff has happened on top of it being October. I’m buckling. The Phoenix has 5 phases (birth, burn, ashes, rebirth, flight) and I’m stuck on Burn right now. Maybe even close to ashes. Being strong sucks. Because it means that no one asks how you’re doing–they think I’m good because I seem to have a handle on things. I’m too stubborn to ask for help because I don’t even know how how to help myself.

Being strong sucks because it means that every time something sets me off, I think about everything bad that has ever happened in my life. I get triggered daily but somehow breathe it out. But right now, nothing helps. I just want to sleep. And cry. And eat. Being strong sucks because people think that I’m not battling the ghosts of depression, PTSD, and anxiety. Well, I am. I am not ashamed. I refuse to be. I’m proud because I manage just fine on my own. I am the Phoenix–always have been. I always tell myself that everything happens for a reason and that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel. This struggle has to mean something. It can’t last forever.

I’m always putting other people before myself–even people I can’t stand. Because no matter how bad things are for me, I know there is someone out there going through worse. I’m always concerned about someone else’s well-being but what I’ve come to realize is that there are few people in my life that give a damn about mine. Being strong sucks because people take advantage and act like I’m Capt’n Save ‘Em. Who’s gonna save the hero?

Being strong sucks because I have to hide a major part of who I am. Although I am not defined by my diagnoses, PTSD has shaped how I look and feel about the world and the people in it. People think that I’m just some big jerk who doesn’t like to shake hands or hang out in groups. When in reality, there are reasons why I am the way that I am and why I do the things I do, the way I choose to do them. Everything serves a purpose. This is how I stay strong.

Being strong sucks because people think that anxiety and depression (any mental illness, really) is a cop-out. It’s not. My feelings are valid–I am valid. For those of us who struggle alone internally, minimizing our feelings only makes us feel worse. But I also don’t need to be fixed. I’m not broken or damaged. I’m just built differently. I have chosen to think of my armor as an eternal bird capable of rebirth because it keeps me going. I have literally been through Hell and I’m still here. I’ve been in and out of therapy for the better part of 10 years. I’ve tried meds and I know that they work for most people, but they just didn’t work for me. My armor isn’t built for them. In my experience as a young black woman, I find mental illness to be taboo. In my culture, mental illness is dismissed, minimized, or I have been told that I should stop worrying so much. But it’s not that easy.

Being strong just sucks.

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Old Soul…dier

I’ve often been told that I’m an “old soul.” As an adult, this is a compliment. As a kid, I hated hearing it. However, as I’ve grown I’ve learned that wisdom is acquired by knowledge and not by age. No matter how young (or old) I am I will always carry with me the wisdom, strength, and courage that growing up with Southern Baptist Grandparents has given me. I can’t get back all the time I spent as a kid worrying about things like bills, how I was going to eat my next meal, or where I was going to lay my head at night. I can’t make up the time I spend as an adult worrying about trying to get people from my past to love me. I can’t get it back. I am who I am. I spent a lot of time as a kid worryimg about medical terminology and keeping track of where my Grandparents’ nitro was in case they had a heart attack. I spent a lot of time with my Grandmother being my only friend. I couldn’t help but learn from her example.

All I know in life is that I am supposed to work hard at whatever it is that I do. I was taught that integrity and honesty were the most valuable qualities to have. So I work damn hard. I’ve held down two and three jobs at a time. I ask for nothing from no one because that is what I was taught. I value friendship and family even when it doesn’t value me. I don’t trust easily so people have to work for my friendship. A lot of people don’t have the patience or understanding to bother to get to know me. So my circle is small. Real small. And that’s okay. I can’t relate to a lot of people my age because we just aren’t on the same wavelength.

Maybe a lot of who I am has a lot to do with being an only child. I did a lot of reflection–just sitting alone in my room. My cousins weren’t always at my house. My Grandparents made sure I had enough toys and books to keep me busy. If I ever said I was bored my Grandmother would tell me “you got all them toys, so don’t tell me you’re bored.” So I played by myself. I talked to myself–a lot. Like out loud. I had this old-fashioned desk that my Grandmother re-finished and I would lay out schoolwork for my imaginary students to complete. I taught an empty chair. Sometimes I would sing hymns and preach Psalm 23 to an invisible sanctuary. Looking back, I was building parts of me that I would need later in life and I didn’t even know it at the time.

That’s another thing about me. I remember everything. I have excellent long-term memory. Every Sunday in Church, I was listening and watching. I wasn’t with the other kids who were running around and being told to hush. I was sitting quietly next to my Grandmother or Granddad sucking on peppermints or butterscotch candies. I was watching how passionate the choir sang Order My Steps. I was listening to the Reverend preaching about planting mustard seeds. In school, I would listen to the teacher but at the same time would be watching my classmates. I might not have known all the answers, but I knew I wanted good grades.

I have never understood how people can be so disrespectful to their parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents–or anyone older than them for that matter. I was taught that respect is everything–especially with your elders. If I talked back as much I hear kids do these days I would have no teeth. I’m not sure what happened after my generation but the lack of respect is disgusting. I work with kids and some of the things I hear them say I just don’t understand. It’s like pulling teeth to even get a please or thank you. I learned a long time ago that common sense and common courtesy are flowers that don’t grow in everyone’s garden.

I think spending so much time watching and learning from people older than has made so much older than my age. Of course I’m leaving out everything I’ve been through. Trauma can age you. Fight or flight–do or die. All of these things make me who I am; and I am no longer ashamed of being an “old soul.” I earned that title. People don’t believe that I’m under 30. If I were to equate my mental age I think I would be somewhere mid 30s to early 40s. Something my uncle said to me in high school has stuck with me: “you only get old if you let yourself get old.” No matter how old I am physically or mentally I will still be me. I don’t have to let my age or what others think about how I carry myself define me. Because the truth is that being this way has saved my life more times than I can count. I’m quick on my feet and can think my way through any crisis. I’m thankful for the woman I have become and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

October’s Very Own…

Solstice

The smell of death lingers in the air.

So many different shades cover the Earth.

The breeze whistles through limbs that reach skyward, only to be slumped downward.

The air is crispy, the Earth is warmed by the soft rays of the Sun.

I’m surrounded by broken bones that have fallen from now bare skeletons.

They crunch beneath the soles of my feet.

The wind has stripped the flesh from its frame.

I’m falling.

I have fallen.

Eventually, I’m covered in a cloak of crystals.

Where I shall sleep until the Sun warms me.

When the birds sing again and the smell of the ocean mist dominates my nostrils.

It’s October. I used to look forward to this month. It used to mean that Thanksgiving was right around the corner and of course, all the wonders of Halloween festivity. But not anymore. I hate this month. This entire month is a reminder of just how orphaned I am. It commemorates all of the most devastating losses in my life. The loss of each of my parents. All three of them.

Last year was the first year I was alone for the month of October. I could deal with it when it wasn’t just me. But now that my Grandmother is gone, I have to find all the strength inside me to make it. Fall and winter are my least two favorite seasons and of course October is a fall month. Of course. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a real thing, people. I can tell you that for sure. As soon as the temperature drops and that first leaf falls–it’s a wrap for me mentally. I become more easily irritated and my patience is at an all time low. It’s harder to fall asleep, and much harder to get out of bed in the morning and find reasons to live and laugh.

Being alone in October last year was rough. I still don’t really know how I made it. Well, that’s not true. Hope and perseverance kept me alive. Knowing that my each of my parents lived on in my heart kept me moving–keeps me moving.

I’m rambling. Back to why I hate October. First, it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. My Mother died in 1993–when I was just 2 years old. She was 26. I’m 25–26 in a few months. Every year I’m closer to outliving her and scares the hell out of me. Cancer research and treatments have come a long way since the 90s but I would be lying if I said that I don’t lose sleep over the fact that I am at such a high risk for developing breast cancer–or any cancer for that matter (thanks genetics). I hate the color pink (purple is the best), but every October, I wear pink with pride for my Mom. I wear it not only to honor her, but as a reminder to myself about how important it is to cherish every moment in life–no matter how painful.

When I was 12, my Grandparents decided that we move to Indiana with my Aunt and her family. My Grandfather’s last act of love was buying my Grandmother a house. A house that they never got to spend a night in together. Shortly after we got to Indiana, my Grandmother was admitted to the hospital. My Grandfather followed her within a week. He never came home. He died on October 8th, 2003. The last time I ever got to see him was when he was barely conscious at 6:00 am when the paramedics came to get him. See why I hate October? It gets better–worse, really.

It was just me and my Grandmother (or G-Ma as I prefer to call her). Just the two of us. Us against the world. As a teenager I took for granted all the things she gave up for me and how much she sacrificed. If you’ve been reading my other posts, then you’ll know that now as an adult I appreciate with every fiber of my being the kind of Woman my G-Ma was. The transition to me becoming her caretaker was seamless. She was my best friend. I did everything I could for her. I’m not rich, never have been. But my life is much richer with having known her. She gave me the kind of wealth people die for. She made me rich with unconditional love. I realized none of this until after her death. That old saying “you never miss your water until you well runs dry” is true. I went from phone calls everyday and visits when I had time off from work to complete silence. I was so lost. For months. I mean LOST. The kind of lost where I was mad at the world and mad at myself. The kind of lost where I would just cry and cry and cry. And I’m not even a crier–or I wasn’t until my G-Ma passed away. I was with her on October 25, 2014 when her heart gave out. The doctors say I had gotten there just in time. But I know in my heart that she would have waited for me no matter what. She told me that my whole life. I believed her.

This year is 23 years since my Mom passed, 12 years since my GrandDad, and 2 years without my G-Ma. I hate October. But this year, I know better than to allow myself to fall back into that deep, dark abyss of depression. I am fortunate and blessed. I have 3 Guardian Angels. I carry them with me in my heart everywhere I go. But I still hate October. Logically, these are just dates. But even if I ignore the calendar my body still remembers the changes in the air and the smell of the leaves. All I can do is flame on. After all, I’ve always risen from the ashes–never burned in the flames.

How Many of Us Have Them?

How Many of Us Have Them?

        When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.

– Maya Angelou

I’m sure we’ve all heard the term “actions speak louder than words.” And in most cases, this is true. But there have been times in my life where someone’s words showed me who they really were. That old saying “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me…”—not true. Words can hurt—but ONLY if we allow them to have power over us. I have learned this the hard way. Too many times, I gave second, third, and 15th chances to someone who couldn’t stand by their word or spoke any sort of negativity towards me. I held onto “friendships” or the “family” that I thought I needed because that’s how I thought things had to be. I was too afraid to be alone but even more afraid of losing the people who I would die for—even knowing that they wouldn’t die for me. What sense does that make? None.

It has taken me a long time to accept the fact that we as human beings are supposed to make mistakes. Some of us learn from them, some of us don’t. It has also taken me a long time to figure out that everyone has a different definition of friendship. Some of us take the word more seriously, but there are also those of us who throw it around with ease and consider everyone a friend. Many years of being bullied, lied to, and taken advantage of have shown me that everyone is not my friend. To be a friend to me is to love, to support, to reach out, to be the light between oceans in the darkness even if I can’t see the light yet. A friend is supposed to be family. For me, a friend isn’t someone I make jokes with–I can laugh with anyone. But a friend is someone I trust–and because of my past there are few people I trust. To know me is to love me and I don’t see the point in opening up my heart to everyone I meet.

I have–or had– people in my life who I love with all my heart but there aren’t at my stage in life yet so they can’t understand or even empathize my pain or the talk about the things I believe to be important. I don’t fault them for that–that’s life. I tried for sometime to continue reaching out to them but we just don’t click. I wish that we could make the friendship work because I believe that somewhere inside of them they feel the same way. But life just sucks sometimes. It’s the way it works. There have just been to many “I’ll call yous” or “let’s get together sometimes.” Too many let downs. Too many chances at fostering a relationship that might not even mean as much to the other party.

The same goes for my family. I have always said that blood makes you related but it does NOT make you a  FAMILY. As I’ve said before, friends can be family. When I was younger, I had a family. We were close. We did everything for each other. But as we’ve gotten older and with my Grandparents being gone–we’ve faded away. I was mentally depressed and physically sick over the fact that I was alone. Because the image of what a family is was destroyed after my Grandparents passed away. I kept trying to reach out to my relatives. But no one ever came to my rescue. It took me too many chances to figure out that I was wasting my energy hoping and wishing for something that just wouldn’t be.

I’m not saying not to trust people or not to have friends. I’m not saying that at all. But what I am saying is that we have to be careful with who we give our energy to. Energy is everything. Energy is how we get out of bed and face the world each day. When you work as much as I do, you don’t have energy to waste. Everything in life is a choice. You just have to decide for yourself which path is right for you. For me, keeping my circle small has been a blessing in disguise. And all this time I thought it was a curse.