First, giving honor to God and all of the Ancestors of years past and those who have recently made the journey home (Civil Rights Activist and U.S. Representative John Robert Lewis and Minister C. T. Vivian).
I am going to keep this post nice and short (ha!) because today’s post is actually a visual poem. The piece chronicles my experience with Impostor Syndrome after the death of my sister in 2002, which had me gravitate to toxic environments and relationships (both personal and professional).
For those who are unfamiliar with Impostor Syndrome, it is a psychological phenomenon where you feel like you are a fraud and that anything that you have accomplished is due to luck. I personally view Impostor Syndrome as a form of internalized oppression that is a direct byproduct of the systems of oppression that exist in society.
Since I had the nerve to be speaking on the topic of “Living a Limitless Life During a Time of Extreme Limitations” during a virtual group meeting last week, I thought it was important (Read: Critical) for me to talk about my internal limiting thoughts and ways of being. I also have 6 Tips that are helping me rally back from almost 20 years of living a life that was damaging me mentally, spiritually and physically:
6 PERSONAL LESSONS ON LIVING OUT MY LIBERATION/LIVING A LIMITLESS LIFE
This will be the first year in a long while where I get to do the holiday season differently. There was a bit of trepidation and self-judgement while I was typing those words, because it includes the holidays where it was just my smaller family unit. My waking up before daylight while still preparing days before and over concern with whether the food was going to turn out right and if everyone was alright with how the day went (run-on sentence intentional to give you the experience of running out of breath), created stress for me, yet calm and rest for others.
It’s called tradition.
Some traditions are healthy and culture-sustaining. I am referring to those that are emotionally draining and spirit crushing. Check out the 1998 Psychology Today article “Surviving Holiday Hell” if you are not sure what I am talking about.
I already know there will be those who will argue that I have no right to be critical of the ways of being that keep families together. These are the people I am addressing this post to today. The ones who sustain dysfunction because it is the norm.
I’ve thrown out at few terms. Let me define them right quick. Tradition is defined as–well, it has several definitions. The one that is relevant for this post is “the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, information, etc. from generation to generation,
especially by word of mouth or practice.” Along those same lines, Norms are defined as “a standard, model or pattern.” There is also a mathematical definition that only Neil deGrasse Tyson would understand. That is not the one I am referring to here. Let’s focus on “the standard, model or pattern,” meaning of the word for now.
There are some patterns–routines if you will, that we engage in that are health inducing: general hygiene, moderate exercise, semi-conscious food intake–in order to sustain a more healthy way of being. It is those unhealthy patterns that have been normalized in our families and other areas of our lives that we may want to pay attention to and eventually change. Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself:
What impact does engaging in this pattern have on your health and sense of wellbeing (i.e. is it raising your blood pressure to unhealthy levels, are you in physical pain in this situation, or are you in full on psychological distress)?
Is nurturing a culture of silence part of the tradition, allowing others to be compromised physically, spiritually, emotionally, etc.?
Who actually benefits from upholding the traditions? Do you even know who benefits or is there an assumed “we all benefit from this experience?”
How would you view the traditions and patterns of being if you observed them anywhere other than in your surroundings?
Something that I learned in the wonderful world of therapy (Yes, Black women do therapy too.) is just because it is the norm, doesn’t make it “normal” or healthy. Patterns of dysfunction are real. Sayings that come to mind here are “that’s just the way it is” or “it has always been this way” or my favorite “it is just a part of the fabric of…” are intentional culture sustaining messages to keep unhealthy systems in place (“Mmmm, may I have extra gravy on my oppression please? Thanks!”). Just because these patterns are real and are also a part of our daily routines (alongside the healthier behaviors), does not mean they have to go unchallenged and unchanged.
Hold on there, Sister! Are you calling my family/organization/relationship OPPRESSIVE!?!
It is not about whether I would call any area of your life oppressive. That is not my call to make. The question is: If you were silent, still and willing to tell yourself some hard truths (not the easy ones that support unhealthy behaviors), would you call those areas in your life oppressive? For those who get thrown off by the O-word, how about I use some vernacular that was appropriate during last month’s holiday: Halloween.
Would you say that certain traditions in your family/organization/relationship are blood curdling, soul sucking, fear inducing, brain numbing experiences that if you weren’t so terrified you would run from them?
Please note, I am not referring to a little discomfort, which helps us grow and expand as lifelong learners.
You may know what it feels like, but are too afraid to voice it because…wait for it…it will hurt someone else’s feelings, ostracize you and create imbalance/inconvenience/incontinence for others (Incontinence, Kecia? Really?).
However, what if you changing your course of action sets generations after you on a healthier course of interacting with one another? What if:
by not forcing the children (especially girls) to hug relatives, we teach them they have full control of how they chose to interact with others and have them create ways of greeting that feel comfortable for them (how would your life be different if you had been given that choice)?
instead of all the foods that keep Type II Diabetes running through our families like a track meet, we opt for life sustaining foods (that are still well seasoned, of course)? This one is all me!
instead of accepting invitations for the annual event where packing Rolaids is required for numerous reasons, you choose to give your time interacting with those who may actually appreciate your presence–not just once or twice a year? They are closer than you think.
we changed our standards and modeled new healthier ways of being with ourselves, nature and the people around us?
I would love to hear how you are living out a more Healthy Holiday season. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To your wellbeing!
P.s. For anyone dealing with a higher than usual level of stress or depression, please do not suffer in silence! Immediately go to your local hospital if you have serious thoughts of hurting yourself or someone else or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.
Below are a few additional resources that may be useful:
I told myself “Self, you need to be consistent with the whole blogging thing. You love to write…it’s a part of your healing practice, after all. Plus, you are incredibly funny, insightful (while at times lacking modesty) and you have a great story.”
“Self” got busy re-arranging the furniture of her life. So, here we are posting 5-months later. So it goes.
I have spent my time working on my overall wellness and wellbeing. Not one to toot my own horn, but I realized just how great I was at taking care of everyone else and how terrible I was at making my own self-care a priority. I mean T-E-R-R-I-B-L-E.
All the Certificates of Appreciation, letters/emails from students and colleagues could not make up for my overall decline…while others were watching.
This realization came while I was making my amazing chicken noodle soup for some of my sick colleagues.
Record scratch moment: My family has this thing about not having your house or your life be out of sorts “in front of company” or while others are watching. The guilt, shame and exhaustion that comes from having to try and make it seem like everything is okay, when in actually some of the life situations around you are in the “Abyss of Suckedge,” is both heavy and unnecessary.
So yes, life was sucking while others were watching, got it.
However, as is my cultural and genderized training, I kept up the facade and kept a somewhat quivering and chapped stiff upper lip.
Back to the soup.
The organization I was supporting came together for a retreat. Two of my colleagues/clients were full on sick, but had very heavy workshop calendars, so they “had” to keep on pushing. Other members of the team looked worn out as well. And of course there was me: Full on hot mess with a pending divorce, a 3rd concussion walking around like Dory, in overprotective mother mode and trying to act like everything was okay.
I was not okay.
However, I still wanted to do what I could to make sure everyone else was.
Just so you know, my chicken noodle soup has been sanctioned by The Divine Council. Not only can it heal the sick, my soup can end strife of any form, while helping you balance your taxes. Not to mention that anything else I cook is suspect, so this soup being as great as it is, truly is on miracle status.
On to the soup.
Okay, the transformative part of the story really is not about the soup. What was most important about that learning experience for me came from the questions the situation brought up for me:
Where do those who do work helping to better the lives of others (us Helping Profession folk) go to gain the support we need when we get worn down by workplace issues and secondary trauma?
Yes, we may know what to do by way of our training and experiences. But, do we do what we know when it comes to our own self-care and wellbeing?
Many of us have been trained in the importance of therapy, exercise, eating well, taking time off, etc, etc. Facts:Some of us don’t do what we know to do. Many of us do not do what we know to do. I venture to believe that part of the “mental health crisis” we are seeing in our country has something to do with the fact that the people who have been championing the wellbeing of others are worn out, too. Yes, we are supposed to walk the talk while talking the talk of self-care, but that is easier said than done. Especially given the expectations brought on with how “connected” we are in every way.
Reflecting on the two questions, along with me taking the necessary time to re-connect to myself and my new world, has been empowering and purpose driving. Part of my wellness work required me to reconnect to my “why” and “what’s next?” For my “why” I can say I have always been passionate about motivating others to bring their best into their work worlds. I remember when I lived in New York, I was talking to a group of young people on the subway about what they wanted to do in the world and how they planned on doing it (you should have seen the older adults ear hustling in on our conversation).
I spent time thinking about experiences like the young people on the subway, my former students who have gone on to do amazing things, working with career changers who stepped out on faith and preparation to make big changes for themselves and their families…the kind of work that brought me joy and pumped life into me.
As I think about the intersections of my professional and personal experiences (some bitter, some sweet, some savory, some just “eh”), I am ready to stir things up in my very own “career & wellbeing soup pot.” I am excited for this new chapter in my life and my new coaching practice, Keeping Balanced Coaching(yes, another “KB” business). It is thrilling to think about what my coaches and partners for the practice are bringing to add into this brilliant mix of work and wellness. I look forward to our encouraging the overall wellbeing of those who support our children, our families and our communities…and them being well as they do it.
Final note: In case you were wondering, the soup I made my colleagues was absolutely delicious…it always is (no modesty when it comes to my soup game)! I always forget to take pictures of my soup and I don’t think I ever will given it is my signature dish. Here’s a tip: I throw in pinches of everything I have that I deem as soup-worthy. With my soup, my career and my personal life; I have adopted my (non)cousin on my dad’s side, Brené Brown’s two-word mantra, “Nothing wasted.”
Cheers to you on your soup/career/life excursions!