I did it again. That thing I do when I experience fear in the face of complicated situations. I psych myself to believe that the situation is out of my control. I curl up in the corner and put my emotions in a safe where nobody can find them, believing in my head that time will mend it. Then I turn my back and pretend the problem never happened. Should I speak? No! I don't like that gut-wrenching feeling of my hands shaking, my heart pounding out of my chest, shuddering to get a word out and burying myself in a deep river of thoughts with no life jacket for safety. Shaking! I’m shaking out of control. The thing is, no one can see me. But would they even say a word if they did? For me, it was safe. So safe that I can see the outcomes of my actions playing like a movie right in front of me. Where did I learn this inherited behavior? Well, that’s easy, from the environments I grew up in.
I remember my 9-year-old self being bullied by the kids at school so bad during recess that I sat in the corner of the floor shaking and crying, wondering why this was happening to me. Every time it would happen, I would never say a word. If I did, it became worse. They bullied me because of my dark skin and African background calling me “African booty scratch, black burn biscuit, medusa, Beatus”, and the list goes on. I dreaded going to school, not only because of the kids being mean, but because at school, I didn’t think I had a voice. At 13, I remember asking my religion teacher questions about the lessons we were learning one day. She became so frustrated by the number of questions I was asking her that she gave me detention.
After quite a few of these experiences through elementary school, I learned to stop talking unless I was called upon. Of course, I retracted into myself. Yep! That's me. The silence came so deep that every time something happened that was unfavorable, I avoided the conflict and held my emotions in. Whenever I tried to speak, the fear of criticism caused me to stutter.
This cycle did not begin with me. There were many forms of it that I've seen throughout my life, within the people and environments of my upbringing. The colorism/racism to no end, vicious addictions to mask the pain, habitual money problems, health issues, tumultuous relationships, shattered dreams, unresolved pain and shit tons of emotional baggage given to me with a pretty white bow. In the midst of all of this, that little girl grew up, pleading to break the cycle that she could not unsee.
This created a ripple effect that would travel with me into adulthood. The cycle is a vicious one and I know how to mask it very well. These emotions I’ve carried have built me into an extremely independent woman. Notice I said “extreme”. Since I mask my emotions, no one really sees when I’m in pain. I became a skilled problem solver because I realized that no one can fix your problems but you. Intimate relationships and friendships were held at arm’s length due to this intense emotional baggage. Trust is difficult when you know everything can end. I grew into my body and began to embrace my dark skin and heritage. I cannot change my birthright, nor do I have time to listen to the ignorance of others making demeaning remarks about shades of my appearance that do not have anything to do with my character.
Being an extremely independent woman leaves you no room to be human. I gave to no end, helping people solve their problems in any way that I could. I mastered the art of smiling when I felt like crawling into a corner to die. I felt invisible in my own life. Not that I don't love being independent, but it came with a price. Everyone thinks, “She has her shit together and she doesn't need anything. She can do it all by herself....no help!”
Even though my approach was different, I kept having the same problems. I felt that if I did everything I was told, things would be better. If I became that amazing friend I would gain an ally. If I remain quiet, even if the issue was unresolved, the conflict will go away. I was constantly seeking to be visible but instead I became more invisible. My voice was lost and sometimes I tricked myself in believing I never had one. An aged, old demon had come to my door again. The mental and emotional conflict became too much, until one night everything changed.
After work, I met up with some friends at a restaurant. By the time I arrived, they were all finished with their meals and ready to go. I remember asking them; where are we going? They were silent for a couple of minutes, which made me realize that they were going to a place that I did not belong. After a few minutes, they said they were going to my ex`s place. Immediately, I said, “NO! Our relationship is complicated and that is not a place I should go.” Of course, they tried to convince me to go, so they said a few things that struck a nerve. This turned my happy-go-lucky mood to confusion, and then finally to anger.
The invisible feeling came over me at that moment. The moment I gave my power away to a situation that didn’t serve me and decided to go along with the ride. They knew my history of emotional struggle and the pain that I experienced through this relationship, but it didn’t matter to them. Their snickering and giggling made me realize that my pain was their entertainment. They did not care about my emotions; they came to see a play. Because we were “close”, they knew what button to push. Not close enough! They had no ride to bring them to my ex’s place but me. During the car ride, they elevated the situation to convince me to go inside the house with them. We arrived! I got to the doorstep and said, “I don’t want to go in''. One of my friends looked over at me and said, “You will be fine”. We knocked and my ex's roommate had the “oh shit” expression on his face, but he let us in anyway.
As I walked through the front door, I felt like I died one thousand deaths and not one death felt real. The wind was knocked out of me as I was now walking out of my body. Sweat dripping, heart beating, hands shaking! I can’t shake this feeling off. I am gone. I became that 9-year-old girl on the recess floor shaking from being bullied. This time I was at the point of no return; what I ran from and avoided had finally caught up with me. My mindless behaviors came out to play and I was ignorant of my actions.
My drama became their entertainment. I was the woman they vengefully set-up to play the leading role. As we walked in, all eyes were on me and I could see their smirks from the corner of my eye. One of my friends left to find my ex while the rest eagerly waited to see what would unfold. The moment he saw me, his face lost all color and he became flustered. With tension at an all-time high, he approached me. Refusing to play-out their dramatic movie, I regained composure, greeted him and removed myself from the situation.
I met him outside to chat and after being conveniently interrupted, we parted ways. I went back into the house to look for my friends and they were nowhere to be found, so I began talking with this woman. She said, “This is embarrassing and it’s unfair that your so-called friends put you in this position.” The last thing she said stayed with me for a long time after, “It’s time to take your power back! You should leave the party. This is too painful.”
She was right. I got up, told my friends I was getting some fresh air and walked out of the house. Once outside, I ran to my car and drove as fast as I could to get home. Meanwhile, feelings of being disposable and worthless washed over me. It seemed every situation eventually gave way to these feelings and in the end, I would repeatedly give away my power.
I drove up to my apartment complex and parked the car. I took the keys out of the ignition. I was so angry that I banged both of my hands on the steering wheel and shattered my watch into 1,000 pieces. Screaming, “Why is this happening to me again?” I got out of the car, walked into my apartment and went straight to my room. I said to myself “Not again” as I laid in bed angry. A few minutes later, out of nowhere, I got a biblical verse via text message from a family member saying “Today you shall part with every inherited garment of disappointment, frustration, shame, untimely death, disgrace, failure, sickness and diseases that invades you at the brink of your miracles. Isaiah 43:18-19.”
After reading this verse, I started to investigate my behavior and sit with the real pain that I was going through. Is there a miscommunication within me that I have not come in terms with? I wanted to understand my behaviors and the process of how I got here. How can a situation make me feel so disposable and invaluable? After thinking deeply, and crying of course, I started to slip into sleep. The biblical verse gave me a bit of comfort that I would be okay. The text message had disrupted my thoughts at last and put me on the path of self-reflection.
Dead-end jobs, toxic relationships, emotional barriers, blinded faith, fear-based choices. I was imprisoned by comfort. I was a proud servant of a system built to hold down those of my skin color. My intelligence made me invisible, my gender automatically made me a second-class citizen. All of these challenges had confined me to a mental cage of never-ending chaos, avoiding my intuition at every turn. I started to unravel my behaviors and how much power I was constantly giving away to things that did not serve me.. My realization sparked a deep awakening.
In between, everything around me was hypertensive. I noticed the unconscious bias around me and people doing things without actual thought. My world by spinning around faster than I could keep up. Every time I went to sleep; I would dream up new ideas that built upon one another. I began to write them down on paper. My perception of how I viewed the world started to take shape on paper and I could not control myself. There was so much to say, due to many years of silence, that I was writing uncontrollably. My job was unfulfilling and I started to have a bad taste for it. Three weeks passed with barely any sleep.
My excitement spilled over me, and I called everyone and told them about what I had discovered. To them, I was talking in circles and they couldn’t even follow what I was saying. I went on social media, posting every hour, declaring everything I was doing at each moment. My family was worried. They didn’t know what to do, so they decided to admit me to the psych ward. Once in the ward, the real world became distant and that gave me time to sleep, and write. I kept writing uninterrupted and building plans of what I would execute when I got out. Shortly after I got out, I was released from my position and it didn’t phase me. I am embarking on a new life and no one can stop me.
Year of unconsciously accepting that I didn’t have a voice and using my bitter experience as a crutch has come to an end. The value that I put on my life will set the standard of how people will treat me. I reclaim my power and let go of the emotional barriers that once bound me. Through my journey, my social initiative called Mindless Behaviors was born. My platform raises awareness about unconscious bias and unintended actions that we do on a regular basis that inflict trauma. We create thought-provoking communal conversations to alter our perceptions of these scarcely discussed behaviors. Our goal is to guide people from being reactive to reflective in decision-making.
The night that changed my life taught me many things:
- We cannot control the environment we live in, whether it is toxic or not. The only thing we can control is our reaction to it.
- Perception is a reality. Find a way to see things from different perspectives before making informed decisions.
- Life is not happening to you, but it is happening for you. Seize every experience and learn from them. They are our mirrors and greatest teachers.
- Your voice matters; don’t let anyone take it away.