Shift Happens

I’m in no way suicidal, but I contemplated stepping in front of a subway car once. It was about a year ago to the day that I stood at the yellow line of the Sunset Station in Los Angeles and thought, “What the hell am I doing here?” I felt purposeless, and therefore useless and hopeless. What I’ve come to understand now is that hopelessness and extreme discomfort is a sure sign that things are about to change. Crazy right? I find that the more popular topics regarding manifestation and taking hold of the very things we’ve been praying for don’t cover the pain that precedes the reward.
In the past five years, I’ve become a very self-aware woman through much trial and error. To be self-aware is to know oneself and to break it down further, it means to become both the participant and the observer in your own life. You thus begin the process of truly understanding who you are by observing how you respond or react to things; what triggers you. As a natural observer, I’ve learned that doing nothing is as much of a response as taking action. I have trained myself to use my hyper-sensitivity and awareness to my benefit by checking my intentions, identifying and sitting with my emotions, setting boundaries, and applying everything I’ve learned to manifest the life that I desire. Unlike the application, these lessons were easy to learn and they prepared me to see the hard things to come, 2020 for example.
The whole year has been a Wizard of Oz moment; the pandemic, senseless deaths resulting in social unrest, and Trump are all a part of the tornado. We’ve just landed in a strange land where we all celebrate that Trump is no longer in power, but now we have another quest: to get back home (the new normal). All in all, we’re not in Kansas anymore, but there are still issues here. We have a new President-elect, but there are more reports of the virus resurging, police are still abusing their authority, and the energy of the collective conscious is heavy. With the election being over, there is a weight that has been lifted, which frees us to focus on other things, even while some of us aren’t willing to address those other things. Up until a little while ago, I was among the unwilling. I was tired of having nothing to do and the way I’m wired, I get tired from doing nothing so sheltering in place has been hard on me. The more active I am (physical or mental), the more energy I have. To get my energy back, I began running again and started to look into creative remote work, while dreaming about my ideal life. It involves finally acquiring a passport and traveling internationally. Whether I travel alone or with company, I don’t care, I want out! My dream life also includes being wealthy, married with children, a dog, and a well-furnished van behind the house for cross country road trips. This dream has been edited time and time again, but now I feel I am acquiring everything on this list. They weren’t kidding when they said pressure creates diamonds because I’ve felt the pressure of instability and loss and I’m finally seeing the glimmer of perfect manifestation.
I’m here to report that answered prayers can be overwhelming and scary and that’s ok. The key is to feel the pain and fear and progress despite it. I have a high pain tolerance as a former athlete, but my emotional pain tolerance was low. The pressure of being homeless on the streets is a different type of pressure from having to live in a young adult shelter with difficult personalities, and I’m not referring to the shelter patrons. The pressure of living with strangers as roommates is a different type of pressure from living with the family members you dislike. However, nothing beats the pressure of not knowing your purpose, and the day I stood waiting for the train, I felt utterly lost and overwhelmed. This wasn’t the first time I’ve felt this feeling, but it was certainly the first time I pondered calling quits. I didn’t feel hopeful about the future or content with the present. I felt alone, but I want you to know you are not alone.
Looking back from where I sit now, I’m glad I didn’t give up because I’m finally catching glimpses of my purpose and what I want to do in this life. As much as I complain about it, sheltering in place has provided a wealth of time for me to observe my journey to this place of peace, wholeness, and emotional healing. I am not alone. You are not alone. Be sure to check on your friends and family to remind them they’re not alone. We are all collectively working toward the life we want to lead at our own pace, so don’t make comparisons, take notes, make adjustments, and live your best life!

Burning: Inside and Out

Experiencing personal racism is exhausting. It’s on the news. It’s in my mail. At work when I get some. It’s even in my family.

As I navigate this heat,–let’s call it Traumatic Racial Stress Syndrome, because that’s what it is–it’s as if the land around me is burning. The air is choked with its gritty scent. My home and possessions are threatened by active danger.

My retreat is to a place within where I have learned to cool my embers with the balms of healing. Even so the heat, smoke and flames are always at the door. They wait at the supermarket. Lurking in the woods is commonplace. Don’t even think of getting your brows done.

This is what it’s like to be a Black-Skinned Woman in 2020 America. It’s hot all the time–fires burn on every TV show. Every dinner party is laced with it. My actions are never good enough. I must learn my place or pay the price. I wear my papers on my skin: I do not belong.

Edissa completed production of a short documentary September 2020 and submitted it to several film festivals. She’s working on her next film and hiring a new Contributing Writer for Karma Compass.

Protect Your Heart and Relationships

August de Richelieu from Pexels

COVID-19 is often deadly because of pre-existing conditions that suppress the immune system. One of these is heart disease. While a poor diet and a lack of exercise can contribute to a weak heart, dysfunctional relationships can do so, as well.

Here are several examples of this: a significant other that always offers you a cake when you are trying to lose weight, and does not accept your answer, or individuals that have specific thoughts and feelings about events that have happened in their lives, but project those emotions onto you. Individuals that routinely dismiss your wants, needs, and ambitions and “friends” that may actively sabotage your efforts to improve yourself or your life may need closer examination.

“But it is not that bad.” 

We try to tell ourselves that we can handle what life gives us, and that is a great way to maintain motivation. But what are the outcomes of constant interactions with those who put you down? Are they maybe otherwise challenging to be around? You may experience:

  • Lack of trust
  • Hopelessness
  • Depression
  • Anger
  • Trouble sleeping or eating
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling distracted
  • Self-sabotage
  • Difficulty accomplishing tasks
  • Physical illness or discomforts like teeth grinding, eczema flare-ups, etc.

This list is not exhaustive, but as you can see, not setting and defending firm boundaries in your relationships can create havoc in your life if left unaddressed.

How can you tell if you don’t “gel” with someone?

Some people, like family, are not very easy to avoid sometimes. In cases like these, it may be helpful to keep your contacts with them as restricted as possible. Strangers on the street can sometimes be easier to deal with — but always use your discretion. When in conversation, do your best not to overshare. Do not become too invested in the outcomes of your exchange with this person. Keep in mind that you define your happiness.

Transforming your relationships

Attempt to cultivate radical honesty about what you think and feel. Physical sensations may manifest as a way to let you know what your emotions are if you can not seem to name them. Stop to notice and accept them without judgment. Gently but firmly share with others how you feel, and state that you would like for your boundaries to be respected. Some people you may come across have no idea about how you are receiving them. Others you may have to, unfortunately, let go. 

Resources for Survivors of Sexual Assault

You’re on the other side, now what? Methods of healing sexual trauma can include art, music, spoken word, or any other creative outlet. You may already have creative training — but if you do not, don’t fret. Some resources may be free or low cost to get started.

Create your own space

If you can not find a venue that allows you to share your creative gifts in the world, you can create your own website or start a YouTube channel for free. Creating your own website gives you the freedom to speak frankly about the issues important to you without being censored by a third party, a la Facebook.

Talk therapy

If you can afford talk therapy and would like to try it, give it a go! Psychotherapy can be highly transformative when approached thoughtfully and consistently. One thing to keep in mind when searching for a therapist is seeking someone who is familiar with or empathetic to your unique story while challenging your thought patterns with compassion. 

Some questions to think about are:

  • Does this therapist have extensive experience with sexual assault survivors?
  • How spiritually inclined is this therapist? What are some ideological deal breakers for me?
  • Does he or she start appointments on time and engage, or are they simply “phoning it in?”
  • How comfortable am I with taking psychotropic medication, if recommended?
  • Do I feel centered and connected to the work, or do I feel misunderstood?

Books as refuge

Perhaps you are gifted with words or like to doodle. A composition book or a Moleskine may be the tool you need to unlock your deeply hidden emotions. Some creatives report that the movement in their wrists helps them not focus on the pain. 

Readers have plenty of books to choose from as they sort their feelings out. Here is a small list of books to get you started.

Things We Haven’t Said: Sexual Survivors Speak Out, edited by Erin Moulton

The Complex PTSD Workbook: A Mind-Body Approach to Regaining Emotional Control and Becoming Whole by Dr. Arielle Schwartz

How to be Safe in An Unsafe World by Dr. Harold Bloomfield and Dr. Robert Cooper

The Body Keeps Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk

A great podcast to listen to while you clean or drive:

The Left Ear, with Dakota Johnson

This Happened, by a survivor

Honor yourself at all times

Go to therapy at whatever price point you can afford. Get your pain out. You deserve to heal from your sexual assault.

The Intersection Between Racism and Ableism

Racism causes and exacerbates anxiety and other mental health concerns. One in four Black Americans are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, aggravated by racism. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) acknowledges that racism also complicates challenges in receiving help for other ailments. This relationship creates an intersection between ableism and racism, two challenges that need solutions. 

Racism and Psychological Ableism

Psychiatry has a long history of being used to control those who present or behave in a way opposite to what is expected in mainstream society. Today, we have the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) 5, which helps counselors and therapists identify psychological maladies. One of the main criticisms of this instrument is that its existence is based on eurocentric, patriarchal cultural norms and therefore, pathologizes any behaviors or beliefs that exist outside of those outlined in the manual.

This is harmful because it erases and marginalizes all patients that are children, female, do not present as “left-brained,” have social mores that are more communal than individual, and have intense emotional and physical sensations. This is compounded when those who have these traits are melanated and are treated as if they have a disability due to their genetic makeup. The use of medication such as Ritalin and Adderall to “control” children, more specifically Black children, is harmful if it doesn’t address actual brain imbalances.

Checking Ableism

It takes everyday work to be an ally and not lean on privilege. Here are a few ways you can help those who need it:

  1. Do authentic work when providing services that were not asked for.
  2. Remember that just because you can not see a person’s ailment, doesn’t mean it’s not there.
  3. Understand that an event or proclivity may not be distressing to you but it might be to another person due to culture, upbringing, and expectations. 
  4. Encourage and allow those who need assistance to speak for themselves, while honoring their concerns and requests. Do not change or influence what they want for your own benefit.
  5. Provide adequate resources to allow those you are assisting to help themselves.

Goodbye Puzzles

 

“There is no escape: understanding a subject means transforming it, lifting it out of a natural habitat and inserting it into a model or a theory or a poetic account of it. But one transformation may be better than another in the sense that it permits or even explains what for the other transformation remains an unsolvable puzzle.”

~Paul Feyerabend

 

The need to transform myself is so strong that it’s like a undertow pulling me in to a new rhythm, drowning me. This happens all the more when I struggle against the current, resisting with feeble humanness, paddling through fifteen-foot waves with only smooth palms as instruments of survival. Each time a wave bats my shoulders and eddies around my feet, filling my mouth water, my lungs burning with salted spray, I continue to fight, heaving up and missing, no place to kick off. What am I fighting against? Why is the other direction so scary? Why is the same vast body less comforting when I’m dragged and pummeled by it then when I release the tension and float with it toward some distant shore? Or should I turn toward it, as they say, to swim with the current? I must be willing to aim the trusted vessel of my body into the unknown because I’m already well equipped to mutate, born under the constellation of the Archer, having entered the world in a dire battle for life—or so my mother tells me.

 

Here is the reason for the raging battle: I no longer want mere survival. I’m not looking for an oar or a raft or a boat. I’m searching out dry land, a rock for these high-water, riptide times. This is not a poem or a metaphor. It’s a thirst for fresh water and a firm foothold amongst the living. Will I live?

 

This time, I’m paddling with the swift motion of the force swelling around me. The surging water is sweeping me away from familiar ground, the old things broken up by a sudden storm. The realization of my own mortality, of the constant corporal dying that must not be met with spiritual or emotional death. This dying is a call to life, shaking me awake to my floundering in the surf, afraid to let loose in the deep or set out for the dry place beyond. This thing in me is asking me to grow, to let go of the small hallowed out place in which I hide, whence I retreat, removed from light.

 

Who cares? Only I do. Only I.

 

It’s not enough to suffer with the unhappiness of a life of complacency, staying in an unpleasant situation, not for happiness’ sake, but for the comfort of the familiar. I cling to a job that pillages my soul daily. This is my family of origin all over again. Or so my therapist tells me. Each day I give the best parts of myself, the most vulnerable and the most brilliant. They take it all. These folks have never been as kind to me as my family. They have failed to honor or recognize me in the smallest way, leaving me to waste in isolation, ostracized where I had thought myself at home. So this return to the self, the awakening of the sacred from the extended nightmare, is over. I’m finally ready to break up with my former employer. How funny, strange and good it is to open my hands and let go, surrender the loose bits of sand and some pretty shells with my eyes on the horizon. “Goodbye.”

 

Walking away, saying ‘no’ to things we’re in the habit of yessing, is never easy. Reality can quickly become insanity like a thousand fragments of truth, none remotely recognizable, yet quite definitely a part of the whole. Who we are eludes defining, evades labels. Searching for the lost parts of myself after deaths, breakups and separations becomes a project of enormous proportion. Shaking my scattered parts, sifting through my past, scanning the oddities, looking for a piece of me I can place in time and connect with: here the edge of a wave, there a shoreline cut at just the right cresting angle to fit my own, I’m inclined to take my time with this one.

Gleanings from a Shingles Bell-Jar

This week marks my fourth week battling Shingles. It is now officially a saga. What can I do now that the pain has moved beyond what Motrin can control? I am beside myself with pain—literally; I’m like an alien unto myself, watching myself wriggling beneath a glass. I don’t recognize this body anymore. This new level of pain, discomfort and sensation is almost more traumatic than Shingles itself.

After two weeks, I felt that I had sufficiently recovered to claim that I had overcome my ordeal, surviving all the worse that Shingles has to offer. That is when my second outbreak began. All of the healed areas were once again under siege. A new level of sensation has taken hold; torture owns my body. Itching, biting, and walking creatures move along the flesh of my chest and march beneath my arm at will. This can’t be real, I tell myself, but it is. My face muscles convulse; my eyelids—the tops and bottoms on both sides—twitch and pulse. My fingers go numb, and a star of pain ignites in the center of my back, exploding into emptiness. I cancel plans. Buckle down for another term. My sadness, resignation and grief at my emotional and physical distress are overwhelming.

When this all started, with my usual optimism, I decided that everything would work out fine because it was the beginning of my spring break, and at least, I could stay home and convalesce, and perhaps with some luck, party the last weekend before school. This is the story I told myself. This is the presence of mind I embraced. What a ridiculous fantasy. I urged my partner to go on vacation without me because there was no way I could do anything, go anywhere or see anyone. I have had to remain inside and sit with my pain. I maxed out on Motrin, going to the edge of the daily dose, reeling with pain at the end of the it; watching the seconds tick by waiting for the next capsule. I even tried to dull the pain with alcohol, but the beast will not be lulled by bottled trifles. I must ride this wave. I have no choice. I have to go on.

This is the new trauma of this illness.

The pain overwhelms me and my body coils in on itself like an angry snake. As I catch my breath, my eyes drown in tears. I can’t believe that I’m here—still—again! I’m not sleeping, because the pain is more intense at night. My teeth feel like they will crack from clenching of my jaw against the pain, and my head throbs with the pressure. I don’t understand what’s happening, but my body temperature drops, giving me chills and covering my body in thick sweat; the pain rises in waves all through the night. I wake depressed, but I put on a brave face. After all, I am a warrior. I am a survivor. I can handle this.

I cannot.

I am flooded with heaviness and the weighty tenderness of a body deprived of rest and fed on a sleepless night of torment. I begin to sob in agony. I am home alone; I can weep with abandon and no one will hear me. This is the problem. I am so alone with my pain. Depression has moved in and is finding the ground fertile. I miss my friends. I miss hugging people. I miss running around with the beautiful children in my life. I miss the amorous touch of my lover. I am an alien in this body. I reach out to friends—over the phone. Please make me laugh or forget. It is little consolation. I yearn to be well again, whole and pain-free.

This is trauma, emotional and physical trauma yet it does not compare to other traumas. To me, Shingles is a stern teacher. I must forgive her. Even if I don’t like the lesson, mastery is required. The imposed isolation and the loss of the vibrancy with which I customarily live are more than enough to crush me. I don’t have much to give, because just putting on a shirt feels like an accomplishment. But what I have learned is that people are precious. I don’t think I’ve ever taken this for granted, but now it’s even clearer. I can’t wait to hug people without flinching. Screaming babies will be no obstacle to quality time. I’m looking forward to spending more time with people. I know I’m not the only one affected by this disease. As a community, our lives have been altered.

MilletTheGleaners

On my way back and down from the crest of the curve, I am aware of how steep and sharp the descent is, no less perilous than any other journey of the human spirit. I hope to understand more about myself as I emerge from this dark night of pain. Like one of Millet’s peasants, out of sheer desperation, I am gleaning the earth for sustenance. I plumb my soul in search of the Edissa I’m becoming, holding my hand up to the glass in an awkward greeting. I see me there, and wonder, Who will be left from this fire? Will I know her?