Flight of the Fenix

Flight of the Fenix

I have lived a difficult life. My struggles may not seem severe to some, but my life has been hard. I have lived a life full of fear because of the trauma I have endured. I have never known a life that was fluid or easy. It was never in the cards for me. I have spent the majority of my life struggling to find ways to be comfortable and content. But it was never for all the right reasons. I never wanted to be comfortable with myself because I was so busy trying to make other people around me comfortable.

My mom passed away when I was two years old and because my family is well-known, every one in the city knew. Parents told their kids. And those kids bullied me. They thought it was funny that my Grandparents were raising me. They thought I was a freak. We were in kindergarten and first grade and kids went out of their way to my make experience uncomfortable. I was the freak with no parents. And no one–not even my family–ever let me forget that.

In middle school, my Grandparents and I relocated to Indiana. Where I was bullied some more. My hair wasn’t right, my clothes weren’t stylish enough, I was too quiet.  I wasn’t pretty enough. I remember being grade a C- on the Appearance Report Card. But that grade wasn’t low enough for the classmate who consistently groped me in the middle of my last period art class in 8th grade. I was 13. No teacher ever came to my rescue. My Grandfather had just died and I didn’t want to burden my Grandmother.

In high school, I had trouble adjusting to being back in Rhode Island.  At the end of my sophomore year everything around me just started to crumble. I felt myself splitting in two as the familial issues arose. July 3, 2007 is a day I will never forget. My cousins and I call it “The Big Bang.” In Spring of my junior year, at age 17, I was homeless. I found solace in working and playing sports. Circumstances forced my hand and long story short- -I had to live with the source of my anxiety. I developed insomnia, ended up in counseling, and my grades slipped. I started skipping school regularly. Then, again, in Spring of my Senior year, we were homeless again. My Grandmother’s health was all over the place during this time, so I had that pressure on my shoulders in addition to the regular stressors of teenage life.

After I graduated high school, I couldn’t wait to get out of that city. I thought that would be the cure-all for my PTSD and its symptoms. I was wrong. My freshman year of college consisted of going home every weekend to work and living alone in my dorm because the roommate I was assigned didn’t work out. I was always in my room and I hardly ever went to campus events. I stayed on campus to work the Summer of 2010 and it turned out to be one of the best things I have ever done. That Summer I met new people–who I’m still friends with to this day–and came out of my shell. I still went to counseling and my Grandmother’s health was still all over the place. By my junior year, I was working 3 jobs and going to school full-time. I got into a relationship with someone who was older than me and I thought I was in love. That’s what we all think, right? Young and dumb, I guess. At the end of my junior year, I knew that I was not mentally prepared to go back to school in the fall. But I went anyway. And then I had a nervous breakdown. And I allowed myself to break down in front of my Grandmother for the first time. She was spooked. It’s crazy how people are always surprised when the strong person can’t be strong for those few months. She cried with me and told me that she supported me no matter what I did. She let me know that it was okay to take care of myself. Shortly after that, I got out of the mentally/emotionally abusive relationship that I had been in for almost 3 years.

Fast forward a year or so, I was working at a group home for teenage girls and found that I loved working with kids. But I paid a price for it. I worked there for 5 years and I was assaulted and injured. I worked 40+ hours a week. A few years later and my Grandmother’s health starts to decline and I decide that it was time for me to move back home to help her out. The very same day I began moving my stuff back into her house, was the day she died. She had no idea I was even moving back home. It was a surprise. I self medicated with sex and alcohol–but ended up back in therapy because I found that I wasn’t coping in healthy way. It has taken me two years to come to terms with the fact that she is gone. I have my moments, but I am not in the deep abyss that I used to be. Two years later, and I got the courage to leave a job I loved because it wasn’t good for me–mentally–anymore.

My whole life I have lived in some sort of fear. Always afraid of what people think about me and how they perceive me. I have difficulty forming relationships because ultimately, I believe that people will leave me. The way each of my parents did. The way most of my family has. I fear being lonely so I put up these walls–brick-built–so no one can get in. I thought it was safer this way. But in hindsight, it hasn’t been healthy. It hasn’t been easier. I’ve just made it harder on myself. I don’t like crowds and I don’t like being touched so I used to stay in the house all the time. But there is an entire world outside waiting for me to explore. So now I spend my days living and exploring. I want to live my best life.

I say all this because someone out there needs to hear this the way I needed to hear this 10 years ago. IT GETS BETTER. But ONLY IF YOU WORK FOR IT. You create your happiness, it doesn’t just fall into your lap. The fear of missing out on your dreams has to be greater than the sum of your other fears.

Present day, I help homeless families find stable, affordable housing. I still work a lot, but I enjoy what I do. And every day off I get, I am doing something that scares me. I want to be fear(less). Fear less. If you told me 10 years ago, that I would be where I am today, I would have laughed. I came close so many times with thoughts of suicide. But I don’t allow those thoughts to permeate my self talk. I have learned that you have to trust your fear. There is a reason you are afraid. But some fears have no reason other than preventing you from living your whole life. I don’t really care what people think of me. I still get anxious in public, but I don’t allow it to prevent me from living my best life.

I am so grateful for all of the experiences that have shaped who I am today. Without fire and ashes, I couldn’t be the Phoenix that I am today. They key is to persevere. Rise above your fears and self-doubt and let that fire push you to your full potential. I’m not where I want to be, but I thank God and the universe that I am not where I was 10 years ago.  

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The Phoenix, Part 2

She has risen.

She has been reborn again and again.

She is constantly evolving into the woman she desires to become.

A product of mistakes, she is familiar with pain and struggle.

She is the meaning of adaptation and evolution.

She’s been burned by the flames, only to be re-constructed by the remnants of her own ashes.

Of her past. Remnants of the pain, deceit, depression, and hopelessness.

The sweet smell of change wafts through the air—

It serves as her personal aroma of incense.

Close your eyes…can you smell her?

Can you smell the bitter sweetness?

Can you taste her strength on your tongue?

Her beauty is more than skin deep.

She is not defined by a mask or a sheath.

She is everything inside and underneath.

She is plain Jane to the naked eye,

But truth is, she is Extra Ordinary.

Her simplicity cannot be duplicated.

Her past remains in the still-burning embers in the fireplace,

But her future is in full bloom.

Out of ashes she arose—

from the flames of hell.

But here she is, radiant and powerful in her own right.

Written in 2010.

Learning to Paint with all the Colors of the Wind

fullsizerenderAs a kid, we all loved Disney’s spin on fairy tales. The story of Pocahontas was Disney’s first attempt at recreating a historical event. I was a little over four years old when Pocahontas came out. I loved it. I had the glasses, the sheets, even my toothbrush was Pocahontas. I loved her because she was strong and brave–things I wanted to be. It was also one of the few Disney movies where the woman didn’t need to be saved by a man. Of course, at the time I had no idea what gender roles or stereotypes were about.

As I’ve gotten older, I have re-watched Pocahontas and discovered myself within the story lines. Especially after my Grandmother passed away. It helped to think that she was all around me. If I needed her, I just needed to be still and listen with my heart. She is my Grandmother Willow. I have found that when I am missing her the most, watching Pocahontas soothes me. I know it might not make sense to you, but it works for me.

I went a long time without seeing my Grandmother after she passed. And then one overnight shift at work, I heard her call my name. I looked up, and I saw her walking towards me. My reaction was nothing short of freaking out. I jumped up and answered her, but she was gone as fast as she came. You might think I’m nuts. But the truth is, I’ve been seeing Angels my whole life. I used to see my Mom when I was younger. Sometimes I smell my Grandfather. But in that moment at work, I was finally seeing my Grandmother. I wasn’t expecting her. She had never been to my place of work, but clearly she always knows where to find me. I just had to sit up and listen. I watched Pocahontas the next day.

There is a scene in the movie where Pocahontas is wandering through the woods shouting “Grandmother Willow! I need to talk to you!” This is how I envision myself whenever I am watching Pocahontas. It’s how I communicate with my Grandmother. When I’m especially missing her, I listen to Grandmother Willow’s song, Listen With Your Heart. So, that’s what I’m doing. I can’t see her, or touch her, but I can listen with my heart. She taught me how to do that my whole life.

The Pocahontas Soundtrack has become a part of the soundtrack of my life. I have been searching for the right path my whole life. Grandmother Willow teaches us that sometimes the right path is not the easiest one. I just want to know what’s Around the River bend for me. My Grandmother taught me to paint with the Colors of the Wind when she was teaching me how to be compassionate. And even still, now that she is gone–I am still learning to paint with all the colors of the wind because I look for her between the rustling of the trees.

I look for her in the sunrise, the sunset. I look for her in the way the leaves fall from the trees. I search for her at Ocean Drive between the rumbling of each wave. I find her in the strangest of places, disguised as the funniest creatures. She knows I need to laugh, to smile.

I haven’t been to Church since the day after she passed away, over two years ago. But I bought a Bible to hold in between my fingertips. So I can feel how the spirit helped her push on as long as it did. I don’t talk to God anymore. I talk to Grandmother Willow. When I pray, I’m praying that my Guardian Angel can give me strength. I don’t know what my faith is anymore, but I have faith in my Grandmother Willow. She has never failed me.

Side Note: You can find the talented tattoo artist responsible for the shrine on my leg on Facebook here. (Thanks Eric!)

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.

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.