What are you reading to stay grounded?
After three years, I’ve decided to start dancing ballet again.
This is huge for me, because ballet is something I have associated heavily with New York. On weekends, and sometimes after my unfulfilling 9-5 in Midtown, I used to walk to Alvin Ailey for the beginner class. Ballet slippers and leotard tucked neatly into the bottom of my purse, I didn’t mind the long avenues and wide streets to get where I was going.
I loved dancing. I hated life in New York. Other than the vibrant Native community, it was suffocating and deeply isolating. I stayed, in all honesty, because I thought I should. I didn’t know what it meant to be myself in Providence; to have finished school and not yet settled into whatever was next. If I had to struggle with existential questions and quarter-life crises—which seemed inevitable—the struggle might as well, at the very least, have a veneer of importance.
I left three years ago now, but I fear sometimes that misadventure stripped me of my nerve, my boldness, my audacity. Loud noises startle me. Men make me nervous when they stand too close. The smell of bourbon turns my stomach. I hate when people tell me how busy they are. It’s like I’ve shrunken into the shadow of the courageous young woman I used to be.
But if you’ve been following this blog, none of this is new. Blah blah blah. Even I want a new storyline. My own discomfort has dulled into white noise, and my anxiety notwithstanding, I have to ask myself: what’s next? I am learning that sometimes things get better…and some things don’t. Maybe there is no existential solid ground; maybe the best I can do, for now, is to feel my way along the unease.
Last night, I fished my ballet slippers out of a box I still have not unpacked from New York. I placed them next to my bed on the rug I bought in Morocco (which features, if you are wondering, an Indigenous Amazigh pattern from Anfa, or so-called Casablanca). When I woke up this morning and looked down at them, I felt a twinge of indignation grip me by the spine.
Take your life back.
I shook the old slippers loose. I tried them on—point, flex—and let my heart break. Again. I’m angry that I left. I’m angry that I came back. I’m angry that in all this time, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.
I don’t know if it’s the anxiety, the wack antidepressant that hasn’t done anything for my pessimism, the weather, the back-to-back-eclipses. Some days I don’t feel brave; others I wonder sometimes if I’m wack. All I can do is put on my ballet slippers, show up, and try again. And again. And again. And again. And again. As many times as it takes until I feel my feet on the ground, until I break open.
Am I the only person who feels like an epic fuck-up sometimes?
Like I just can’t get it together, and I’m destined to be a hot mess forever?
Like I will eventually die alone — and/or with lots of cats?
I’m guessing not. Last night, I got into a particularly self-deprecating funky funk that precipitated a panic attack. If I’m totally honest, I’m still partially in denial about panic disorder being a real thing for me, despite what my therapists and doctors have told me. Anyway, I had been feeling sad earlier, so I went to a coffee shop to write (and drink a well-deserved, boughie holiday hot chocolate).
It worked for about twenty minute before the panic gripped me again. At that point, I went to my car and proceeded to freak out in the parking lot for another half hour.
“Going to the coffee shop made things worse,” I texted my best friend when it started to subside. “I’m just a failure at life, and at this rate, I’ll never be happy.”
After chiding me for my self-deprecation, he responded with something I wasn’t expecting.
“I’m drinking and I feel like shit. I feel alone and like no one wants to be with me.”
I immediately went into best friend mode because (not to brag) my best friend is truly amazing. His confession snapped me out of my funk, but it also made me realize I’m not the only one who feels like they don’t have it together. It made me feel like less of the overly sensitive fuck-up I tell myself I am.
Of course, I was not happy to hear my friend is also struggling. (#SchadenfreudeSunday. Just kidding. I was really proud of myself for coming up with that). Nor was I necessarily seeking someone to commiserate with over wine and bad Christmas movies (though we did some of that, too).
Of course, neither of us has figured it out. Will we get the promotions and pay raises? Will we always be overworked and underpaid? Will those boys call us? What if 2019 isn’t better? I don’t know. So why am I sharing all this?
Because not doing so is what isolates and ultimately kills us. Sharing our vulnerability, deep insecurities and fears helps us to see that they are not so unique to our lives. It makes our suffering seem less personal and pointed. I’ve learned there is great power in honoring the struggle, in not rushing to qualify it or cover it up. And not only that, along the way I’ve found out I’m not the only anxious, overcommitted, just-above-broke millennial out there.
Cheers to authenticity? Idk. We’ll figure it out, netompaûog.
I don’t care what anyone says — I love this song.
I have an invitation. It’s a beginning of summer / full moon in Capricorn / Mars retrograde meditation, of sorts.
What is that thing nagging at you? That circumstance you’ve accepted as immutable, that relationship that seems like it will never change?
Got it? Good. Now:
What if you’re wrong?
Go with me.
Once it became clear that I would be spending most of my summer in Providence, I decided it was going to suck. (My relationship with my hometown, for those who don’t know, is strained more often than not). I was ready to resign myself to a season of preparation and waiting for the next “thing.” In typical Aries fashion, I made up my mind to focus (on the future) and buckle down.
Which I definitely have been, to an extent. But there’s only so much preparing one can do. Maybe it’s because Mars is one of my cosmic rulers and I find it hard to sit still. Or it could be that I’d had enough isolating. Depression and anxiety are funny that way—they trick us into believing something has to happen “out there” in order to activate our happiness and fulfillment.
Point being, I can’t identify exactly where the shift happened. But little by little, I started showing up for my own life. Spending time in nature. Accepting invitations. Reaching out to friends and family I hadn’t seen in months. Exploring new places. Trying new things—namely, food. (By the way, the restaurant scene in Providence is bar none).
Before I knew it, I wasn’t obsessing about the future elsewhere. I wasn’t isolating, over-thinking, over-analyzing, and otherwise finding creative and highly intellectual ways of making myself miserable. The time and energy I spent worrying I channeled into actually living. And it’s made all the difference.
Back to my invitation.
What is your storyline?
What if you’re blindly committed to it? Even if it’s self-defeating?
What if you’re wrong? What if the detour is the path?
What if you made space for other possibilities?
And what if being wrong is a massive blessing in disguise?
I’ve been practicing yoga for about nine years now, and the lack of representation (e.g., of teachers who look like me and experience the world in similar ways) has always been a bummer. That, and the fact that a lot of Western practitioners don’t understand that yoga is not theirs to claim.
In my home practice this past year, I’ve been relying heavily on the YouTube yogis, who have mostly been thin, white women. In fact, if you didn’t know any better, you’d think thin white women are the face of yoga.
But they’re not! Black girls do yoga too, and we’re out here shining. I wanted to offer a list of some Black womxn YouTube yogis who have been blessing my practice and keeping me motivated. Share this list! Let’s support them!
1) Jessamyn Stanley
I really resonate with Jessamyn’s style and I love that she is so vocal about not being anyone’s token. Her on Snapchat rants (also posted on her YouTube channel) will challenge you to confront your own ideas about what body types “should” do yoga.
2) Malaika Brooks-Smith-Lowe
In Travelsana, Malaika offers different practices in fabulous locations. This one, from Peru, is for connecting to the root chakra.
Keisha is a lifestyle blogger also offers insights on healthy living in general.
4) Faith Hunter
Check out her short series on chakra opening as well!
5) Yoga N Da Hood
At first I was like…really? But I’m lowkey here for Yoga N Da Hood.
A huge part of self-care, for me, has been reading. I’m a historian by training, but in this season of my life, I’m putting down the monographs about the slave trade in New England and early colonial wars (because they’re triggering AF). Here are a few books that are feeding my soul these days. Wunnegan!
1) The Mindfulness & Acceptance Workbook for Depression, Kirk D. Strosahl, Ph.D and Patricia J. Rohinson, Ph.D. I highly recommend this book for folx struggling with depression. Not only does it include Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and mindfulness exercises, it lays out some neuroscience and psychology to help us laypeople understand how depression works and how we can work through it.
2) How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, Kiese Laymon. This is one of the most important collections of essays to me. Uncle Kiese’s writing is honest, grounded, and challenges me to be human.
3) Gather Together in My Name, Maya Angelou. Absolutely required reading for all bad and boughie millennials, particularly young womxn of color. Auntie Maya’s wisdom reminds me that it’s okay to not have it all figured out in my twenties.
4) Confessions, Saint Augustine. I keep trying to tell yall that Augustine of Hippo is bae. For its soul-searching honesty about the saint’s own pride and solemn yet deeply joyful reflections on the nature of God, Confessions is one of my all-time favorites.
5) Life Visioning: A Transformative Process for Activating Your Unique Gifts and Highest Potential, Michael Bernard Beckwith. I also highly recommend listening to Uncle Michael’s Super Soul Conversation with Oprah and his sermons from Agape Spiritual Center.
6) The Third Jesus, Deepak Chopra. A lot of Christians don’t like Deepak Chopra. That’s fine. This book has helped me in my journey to expand my consciousness and really dig into Jesus’ teachings.
7) Meditations of the Heart, Howard Thurman. Be your own friend and look up Uncle Howard. He was a theologian, philosopher and mystic concerned with Jesus’ teachings as they relate to the disenfranchised. He also wrote prolifically about the importance of spiritual practices – meditation, prayer, and cultivating a rich inner life.
8) Living Through the Meantime: Learning to Break the Patterns of the Past and Begin the Healing Process, Iyanla Vanzant. Although her show on OWN sometimes feels a little bit like Love & Hip-Hop, Iyanla is an amazing teacher who unpretentiously breaks down spiritual truths. Don’t forget that Auntie Iyanla is a lawyer by training and an ordained minister. In other words, she knows what she’s talking about. Her writing is not to be missed.
9) LaRose, Louise Erdrich. Any and all Louise Erdrich, to be honest. To say she is a masterful storyteller is such an understatement. LaRose broke my heart open. There were times I would have to set the book down and just let it sink in.
10) In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens, Alice Walker. The essay about finding where Zora Neale Hurston was buried (!!!)
11) The Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks. Again, Rumi is absolutely required reading. This is a great translation divided topically.
What else should I be reading? Put me on! Comment, tweet, let a sistah know!
Since it’s Native American Heritage Month, and November is generally not my jam, for the remainder of it I’m going to loosely focus on a very important and overlooked topic: mental health in the Native community.
I have been drafting and re-drafting my own thoughts about my struggles with mental health. In so doing, I’ve realized that it is not something that can neatly be summed up in one post. I am actively decolonizing my notions of self. My therapist pointed out to me how often I say, “I should” (followed by some perfectionist nonsense).
So I’m not doing that here. It was that tendency, in fact, that led me to be actively suicidal. And that culminated with a major depressive episode in which I ended up overdosing. After narrowly escaping death – something I am still wrapping my mind around – I ended up in the psych ward.
That’s right. Me, the seemingly well-adjusted, sophisticated brown girl whom everyone expected to make it, had her life upended by mental illness. But I refuse to be ashamed of my struggles with PTSD, anxiety, and depression. I refuse to perpetuate the BS that Native and Black womxn and girls don’t struggle with mental illness when in fact we have borne the brunt of the violence of colonization, chattel slavery, displacement and dispossession.
Instead, I hope to share a little about my ongoing journey to wellness, towards self-care and self-love; messy as it may be some time. All I know is that I am grateful and joyful to be alive.