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UNAPOLOGETIC: Focusing On The “Self” In Self-Care

SelfCareRevolutionarySelf-care has been a topic of much discussion in my various circles these days. Whether at work, with friends and family, or on social media, many of us – mostly women – are in the process of prioritizing ourselves in order to preserve ourselves.

Just yesterday, I commented on a Facebook posting on the topic with the following:

I have to be very mindful about my own needs and really have to train myself to stop, say no, relax, and rejuvenate. The two biggest things I’ve realized are: 1) for me, self-care doesn’t have to be a huge action – it can be as small as going inside a bathroom stall and doing some deep breathing, or going for a 10 min walk – and 2) getting over the guilt of practicing self-care is crucial – we need to take care of us so we can take care of everything else.

As soon as I hit send, I had an epiphany and quickly added the following:

Actually – though women have tons to take care of, the validity of our self-care still doesn’t need to be contingent on being able to take care of others. We have to take care of ourselves because we owe it to ourselves. That just popped into my head, so I wanted to add on :)

When we tell people – especially women who carry a multitude of concurrent roles and responsibilities – that their need for self-care is valid because it helps them care for others, is that truly self-care?

At the root of it all is the understanding that we need to create space in our lives to rejuvenate and replenish ourselves. It may look like booking a spa treatment. Or taking a walk on a beautiful day. Or buying ourselves something nice. Or saying no to every hot Friday night plan in favor of Netflix & wine after a tough work week. We can honour ourselves and our immediate needs in a way that no one else can, but we often feel guilt around the practice.

If we need to take a day off from work, we feel like we’re letting our team down. If we tell our families that we’re taking an hour to ourselves to unwind with a bubble bath, we feel bad about not being there for their needs. If we disclose our self-care practices to people who mock us for our “indulgence,” we feel like maybe we’re truly being selfish. A method that’s been used to curb this guilt and second-guessing (and to encourage us to continue along the path of self-care) is the phrase “Take care of yourself so that you can take care of others” – and while that’s undoubtedly a valuable asset to making ourselves priorities, it shouldn’t be the only reason we do.

We juggle so many different hats. Parent. Lover. Friend. Coworker. Caregiver. Financial Advisor. Student. Homemaker. We could be wearing any combination of hats at any given time, and self-care is crucial if we’re going to be any good to the people who depend on us. I definitely believe that in order to be there for others, we first have to be there for ourselves. They say you can’t give from an empty cup, so self-care helps us give to others from a place of abundance, not a place of martydom.

HOWEVER.

It still isn’t enough to value self-care solely for the ability it lends us to take care of others.

Isn’t the reverence we have for ourselves enough of a validation for self-care? Isn’t it OK to just say, “I’m doing this for myself” without further explanation? I’ll admit, when I thought about this while writing the aforementioned Facebook comment, I was hit with a nervous flutter in my stomach that signaled the guilt I thought I had swept away. It takes effort as a woman with multiple people depending on her to say “This is for me” instead of “This is for me so that I can be for you.” For those of us who fall prey to the fallacy of the Strong Black Woman trope, it takes effort to separate ourselves from the value we earn by keeping things going. We are prided on our ability to take everything the world throws at us without missing a beat, and we often aren’t afforded the opportunity to drop bits and pieces or the whole load to focus on ourselves, even for a short while. We give ourselves permission for self-care by equating it back to the asset we’ll be to those that need us, and that helps to make it OK. The benefit to others is the easiest defense against cries of indulgence of selfishness, so we grab at it quickly. Forcing myself to move beyond that, and allowing myself to care for myself because I care for myself is a revolutionary act.

As I said on Twitter:


Now, I just need to remember that.

SAVE ROOM: Learning How To Make Space For Life

birthdaybe2015

I get dramatic about birthdays. I love my birthday, and a personal goal is to accomplish something so incredible in life that May 10th becomes a national (or international!) holiday.

I know I’m dramatic. Luckily for the people who are forced to put up with me, I can step outside of myself and see how ridiculously extravagant I get about each new rotation around the sun.  That being said, this year feels even more profound than usual. I initially chalked it up to needing some positive anticipation – last year was an overwhelming whirlwind of amazing highs and troubling lows, and this year I know I need more stability and growth. But as I thought about it more, I realized this birthday felt so profound because I finally learned a crucial lesson:

I need to make room in my life to let life happen. 

Things have been severely crowded for too long. Moving + baby + work + side hustles + bills + friends + trying not to forget about Bee = a life so stuffed that some days felt downright paralyzing. The most crippling thing was the fact that everything I had gotten myself into, I had chosen to do – so I had no one to blame but myself, and it seemed like no one could help me but myself. Nothing felt optional. I had to go to work. I had to take care of my daughter. I had to pay bills and take care of home repairs. I had to keep up with my freelancing. I had to keep working with the film festivals and magazines and youth groups and projects I was tied to. Everything linked to something else: I kept taking on cool projects because maybe something would pop off and I wouldn’t have to go back to my day job after mat leave. I forced myself to do daily social media management for clients because I needed the extra money to help with diapers and daycare. I felt obligated to try to plan events because I thought I had fallen off and wasn’t “on the scene” anymore like I used to be. Everything seemed indispensable, so while I started feeling stifled, I told myself I couldn’t drop any of it. If I was feeling stressed or overwhelmed, I convinced myself that the problem wasn’t the amount of things I tasked myself with, it was my work ethic. I had to find ways to focus, to be more efficient, to make sure I got things done and done well – in short, I wasn’t kind to myself at all.

Yes – I have an amazing partner in life who shares many of the responsibilities I named above, but when it came down to the things I do outside of home and baby, he wasn’t with me shooting in the gym. The writing, the events, the projects, the work – the choice to do them and the reason why I was doing them lived solely in my head and heart. The pressure I was putting on myself to do them lived there too, so I knew that while HomieLuva is an incredible sounding board, I’d have to initiate any change I wanted in my life on my own.

I started off by doing a basic time audit of my life. My days were full of things to do, but I soon realized that a lot of these things weren’t serving me well anymore. There were things I was doing simply because I told myself I had to, and further – I told myself that to not do them was to be a quitter or a failure. When I was honest about what some of these things were doing for me, I realized they weren’t doing a gotdamn thing except stressing me out. I could barely stand things that used to fill me with excitement, and it was downright depressing. My next realization was that there was a constant, nagging feeling of some awesome opportunity just within my grasp, but my life was so cluttered that there was no room for it. I felt things passing me by and though I couldn’t definitely state what it was that I missed out on, I knew that I literally had no space for anything new – so good things were undoubtedly floating away.

Next, I thought about my current priorities. Taking care of my family, my finances, and investing in myself topped the list. Comparing my priorities to my audit, I realized that a lot of the things I felt obligated to do didn’t fall in line with any of my priorities. They may have had a place at one point in time, but things changed and I was now just forcing a square peg into a round hole. There were things I knew I’d have to say goodbye to, say “not now but maybe later” to, say a firm no to – and I had to say it all immediately. Over the last couple of weeks, emails have gone out, calls have been made, and the things that I needed to say have been said. I’ve finally reclaimed a bit of freedom. I have room to breathe and to just be without having to do, and it’s the best birthday present I could have asked for.

I’ve given myself the gift of leaving room for life. I’m trading in excessive guilt and undue self-imposed pressures for the space to find things to enjoy, inspire me, and help me grow. I’m letting go of things that put some dollars in my bank account, and believing that things are coming that will give me even greater prosperity. I’m clearing things out and making a new foundation, and it feels like I have nowhere to go from here but up.

Let’s toast to fresh starts and swift, sustained ascents. Happy birthday to me.

MISSING IN ACTION: The Silence of Black Organizations That Serve Us

via BlackEnterprise.com

via BlackEnterprise.com

It’s often said that silence is golden. Contrasting with the clamour and din of the world we live in, there’s a beauty in silence; a special solitude in the space that it gives us.

Then, there’s an aspect of silence that stuns in another way. When the world’s noise begs for a voice to respond, that revered solitude festers into neglect and the golden beauty of silence tarnishes into ugliness.

For marginalized people in this city, this country, this world – things aren’t just noisy, they’re deafening. Individual voices raised in retort have done amazing things, but when voices combine in effort, even more impressive things ensue. That’s why for me, at this time, it’s distressing to feel the crushing silence emanating from long-standing Black institutions who have failed to add their voice to our current struggles.

This past weekend, I passed on an invitation to one of Toronto’s – if not Canada’s – premiere Black events. I looked forward to the opportunity to get dolled up and connect with old friends and new people. What I didn’t look forward to was the nausea of watching Toronto’s mayor grace the event with grandiloquent comments celebrating the same demographic victimized by the carding policy he supported a week prior. The cognitive dissonance is unsurprising, yet it’s hard to shake the feelings of frustration and disappointment.

Even more disappointing is the fact that organizations that purport to advocate for Black community/communities and support their advancement have failed to take their place at the current tables of discussion on the issues affecting the people they claim to serve. No representatives at police board meetings. No participation in or organization of town halls. Poor outreach to the community in favour of more insular, self-congratulatory efforts. Refusal to engage in the conversations that community members are asking – no, begging – for. I guess you can chalk some initial silence up to lack of awareness. Then, you can say, “Well, maybe they’ll be present at the next meeting/will have a quote in the next round of media coverage/will issue a statement of their own.” Then, you wait and wait and grasp at nothing but empty silence and realize that their silence is their statement.

The Star’s “Searching for Toronto’s next generation of Black leaders” covers a spate of perspectives on issues affecting advocacy and activism in the city. Why do older leaders hesitate to pass the baton on to younger generations? Is there a misunderstanding of new waves of activism? How do we increase community involvement in various initiatives? This article asks questions and attempts to answer them, highlighting some of the very issues that I feel compound on the function of Black organizations in our communities.

Far too many Black organizations uphold narrow paradigms of respectability, putting an asterisk beside the definition of the demographic they represent. Far too many ascribe to the modus operandi of “Just pull yourself up by your bootstraps” without acknowledging that sometimes those very bootstraps are given to us, already frayed and deliberately unable to support our weight. Far too many think that their presence is effort enough, failing to actively engage the individuals and communities around them. Far too many cry that there’s no one new to helm the ship when their white-knuckled clutches on power impede their ability to let new blood in. What we need are organizations that understand, as Audre Lorde said, that “the Master’s tools will never dismantle the Master’s house.” We cannot build an empowered Black identity using the sociopolitical tools that were created to work against us. We need organizations that are truly open to new voices and new ways of doing things; ones that are accessible in a myriad of forms; ones that aren’t afraid to speak up when and where it matters; ones that don’t value photo ops over true progress.

Perhaps some of these organizations are misunderstood. If that’s the case, I truly hope that they do the necessary work to make change and align their internal missions with external perception. Maybe a redefinition of who they serve or a revamp of the hows and whys of doing what they do is needed. Additionally, a reminder needs to be given that there isn’t much room for ego in community work. All critique and criticism isn’t cruel – more often, it’s a sign that your community is invested in what you do and wants you to do even better, so disparaging that response isn’t always a smart move.

Then again, maybe I’m the one who is looking at this all wrong. Maybe I’m expecting things of people and executives and institutions that they aren’t meant to deliver. When it comes to carding or police brutality or fighting for higher minimum wage or support for Black women, maybe I’m waiting for people to speak when they truly have nothing to say. What I do know is this: your silence speaks volumes, and I hear you loud and clear.

MAKING HER WAY: Talking Black Actress, Diversity, & The Creative Process With Andrea Lewis

Black-Actress-Andrea-Lewis

When you’re a young Black woman in Canada, there’s nothing like seeing another young Black woman from Canada doing her thing. There’s a pride in watching someone’s trajectory as they blaze a trail from the streets and neighbourhoods you share to corners of the world you haven’t touched yet – and there’s a comfort in feeling like that trailblazer hasn’t forgotten where they’ve come from.

Andrea Lewis is one of these trailblazing, young + Black + Canadian women. After roles in The Natalie Cole Story, Down In The Delta, and her starring role as Hazel on Degrassi: The Next Generation – and after also releasing two albums – Lewis has ventured into a new realm as a digital content creator with her webseries Black Actress and her production company Jungle Wild Productions. Backed by powerhouses like Issa Rae, Tatyana Ali, and Essence Atkins, Lewis’ Black Actress webseries has carved a lane in telling the stories of Black actresses determined to make it – through intros from women like Jenifer Lewis, Amber Riley, Garcelle Beauvais and more, and through the journey of Kori, our thespian heroine played by Lewis.

In an effort to make a way for other artists and other stories, Lewis has launched Jungle Wild Productions, featuring “a collective of young, talented, content creators who are focused on producing a new generation of original television, film, and digital content that showcases women, people of color, and the LGBT community.”

I first reached out to Andrea when I was planning my Mirror Images event last year. We recently met, and finally got to connect names/email addresses to faces. Now, I’m able to share her story with you all – read on to learn more about her journey, and find out how you can help in the Black Actress/Jungle Wild Productions takeover!

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B: As a singer and actress, when did you realize that entertainment was your calling?

A: I knew from a very young age that entertainment and the arts were my passion. I don’t remember a day where I couldn’t sing lol and I started doing commercials on TV when I was two years old. I was very blessed to be put into the right place at the right time to foster my talents.

B: What led you to create the Black Actress webseries?

A:  I came up with the idea for Black Actress after an experience I had while filming a movie in Vancouver, and my cast mate introduced me as “Andrea the urban one”. It was a very strange and awkward moment that let me realize he saw me the same way the script saw me and it was just as “the black girl”. From there I knew I had to create something that told the story of a woman of color pursuing the ups and downs of acting and chasing her dreams. Something that showed us just like everyone else. 

B: You explore a lot of themes through the character of Kori that are relatable to many Black women, whether or not they’re aiming for stardom. Kori seems so sure of herself at certain points, then seems painfully insecure. What do you want viewers to get from Kori’s flaws, failures, and successes? 

A: I think Kori represents the inner dialogue of insecurity. I want viewers to see a bit of themselves when they watch Kori. I wrote her based on a time in my life when I was very insecure and unsure of myself all while still pursuing my dreams and I just had to find my way through it. I hope to inspire everyone watching who may suffer from the same insecurities as Kori, to get out of their own way.   

B: Where did the name of your production company “Jungle Wild” come from? 

A: One of the definitions of “wild” is “unrestrained” and this is simply the way I live my life – I don’t want anything to hold me back, especially not myself. I came up with the name “Jungle Wild” because it makes me feel like that, like nothing can hold me back right now because I’m taking control of the wild nature of this business- aka the jungle – and making it my own, without any restraints. 

B: You’re gearing up to produce a few new series on Jungle Wild like “Beyond Complicated,” “Fuel,” and “Married.” What are the kinds of stories you want to tell through your production company? 

A: I’m so excited for the shows that we have coming this year! I’m working very hard at telling diverse stories that represent the voice of millennials. 

B: If someone wants to venture into vlogging or creating a webseries, what are 3 tips you’d give them? 

A: Build a great team of people to help you and who understand your vision. Write what you know and just do it! 

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B: You clearly embrace and showcase your Caribbean heritage in Black Actress. Being a Black, Canadian, Caribbean woman, do these different layers colour your perception of being an actress in the U.S.? 

A: Yes, I’m a West Indian Canadian and that’s a very different experience from being an African American, but I grew up watching African Americans on TV and that was my example of people of color on screen and seeing images of people who looked like me. US culture is different from Canadian culture but I am able to pull from all of my experiences in Canada and living in the US as a Black Canadian to have a unique approach to my career and the stories I choose to tell in my writing. 

B: You recently took part in a ColorOfChange.com campaign urging the Academy to disclose their numbers on diversity after what was deemed “the Whitest Oscars ever.” From your view inside the industry, what positive moves are being made to increase diversity, and what’s still lacking? 

A: Little strides are being made. Hollywood is still a predominantly white male business but the president of the Academy – Cheryl Boone Issacs – is the first Black president and she’s a woman. Despite what we saw this year, she is working on bringing diversity to the Oscars. I think we’re seeing bigger strides in television, with the amount of Black female leads and Black showrunners and directors that are doing amazing work. I’m extremely optimistic though, as disappointing as it was to see the lack of diversity in the Oscars this year, I’m still very hopeful next year and the year after that will be different. 

B: Amid all the concerns of competition among Black women, it’s so affirming to see the support you have through Issa Rae, Tatyana Ali, and Essence Atkins – never mind the presence of all the featured actresses who give their words of wisdom in each episode of Black Actress. What has that support done for you, both professionally and personally? 

A: The support has been awesome! These women are my friends and my peers and I couldn’t ask for more with all of the support they’ve given me, my vision and the show. I always saw the show in this way and I knew that once I started telling people about it that the support would be there, because the story is positive. 

B: What have you learned about yourself throughout the process of creating Black Actress/Jungle Wild?

A: Black Actress is a huge project and it takes a lot of people, time and parts to make it work. I’m very grateful for my producing partner Brian Walker who’s been with me through this process. But through all of this I’ve learned that I’m capable of doing anything I want.

 

Black Actress is in its second season – you can catch Kori’s ups and downs (including features from Tristan Wilds, Reagan Gomez, Franchesca Ramsey and more) here! Lewis and team are in the homestretch of a Kickstarter campaign to help with production and distribution of S2 and S3 of Black Actress, so if you like what you see, donate!

FULL OF YOURSELF: The Audacity of Self-Confidence

 

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“You can’t wake up looking for the recession.” – Jenifer Lewis

While doing some research, I came across an episode of Black Actress featuring the incomparable Jenifer Lewis. As soon as I heard that quote, I internalized it in a way that told me something I needed to hear that day: “Bee – stop looking at the things you lack. Stop claiming your deficits and ignoring your gifts.” It’s easy to fall into a self-confidence recession, and sometimes I have to ensure that I don’t fall into that hole.

There’s an air of audacity around self-confidence in women. From birth, it’s drilled into us that it’s more noble to minimize compliments and to not toot our own horns. We’re taught that it’s preferable to be more sugar than spice. We try to embody “everything nice” until we see that the jig is up – “everything nice” usually serves others at our expense, and that realization sometimes comes too late. To buck those trends – to accept compliments, to celebrate ourselves, to stop worrying about being nice and start busying ourselves with being authentic –  breaks the mold of what “good girls” do, thereby fragmenting the view of what a “lady” is.

You’re more malleable when you aren’t self-aware. You’re easier to predict and control when you aren’t self-assured. People know what to expect of you and how much space you’ll take up when your words and actions show that the answer is “not much.” I realized I didn’t want to be malleable, predictable, or controllable. I wanted more than the basics and more than the small space I allowed myself, and the key to that is through self-confidence.

There’s levels to this, though. For me, self-confidence is rooted in the fact that there ain’t nobody else out there like me. No one with my skills, laugh, height, skin tone, hair texture, voice. No one with my past. No one awaiting the gifts that are coming specifically for me in the future. There’s no one who possesses all these things the way I do – and for that fact alone, how can I not revel in the fact that I’m a 1 of 1?

I work damn hard, too. If someone compliments something I’ve done, I’d be a gotdamn fool to act like my merits are minuscule. And trust me – I’ve been that gotdamn fool. I’ve said “Oh, that was just a thing I did,” or “Gosh, it’s nothing big” when I’ve actually wanted to heartily say “Thank you!” and bask in the fact that yes, I did that.

I love me. I didn’t always – I didn’t hate myself, but I was indifferent – but I do more and more as the years pass. I love me enough to bounce back when someone else doesn’t. Or when I’ve failed and had to remind myself I’m worth the effort to try again. I love me enough to say “I want more” and follow up with “You deserve it. Go get it.” I love me, so it makes bouncing back from “I’m not feeling me” to “I’m dope as a muhfucka” a bit easier.

When did we start to believe that any step into self-confidence equated to arrogance? When did we start to believe that it was more important to make others comfortable than to take up our rightful space in the world? When did we decide to wait for someone else to confirm the things we already saw in ourselves? When did it begin to matter that other people sometimes don’t like the fact that you like yourself?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: low self-esteem is an epidemic of massive proportions. Playing yourself small under the guise of “being humble,” denying yourself the opportunity to be enriched by others, not celebrating the things that make you you – I don’t know about y’all, but acting like this starves me. I like feeling full, and when someone tells me it’s bad to be full of myself, I remember another necessary quote from Nikki Giovanni:

and he said: you pretty full of yourself ain’t chu
so she replied: show me someone not full of herself
    and i’ll show you a hungry person
Fight the recession. Be full.

THE MISSION: 3 Ways To Thrive When Life Is In Flux

 

thrive-survive

It’s been about one week since I ended my maternity leave and went back to work.

Going from pre-Magician: balancing day job and side hustle

to

post-Magician: balancing baby and side hustle

to

post-mat leave: balancing baby and day job and side hustle

has left me feeling like I’m a certain state of chaos.

Now, I’m blessed to have a great partner in HomieLuva who not only encourages me to do my thing, but is also taking on house-husband duties and staying home with Little Magician (more about that to come on The Brown Suga Mama). That aside, it’s still quite an overwhelming transition to figure out how I fit into this new world, how I succeed in this new world, and how I continue to be me in this new world.

These first few days have been an OVERWHELMING blend of waking up early, attempting to say goodbye without crying, navigating the work commute, trying to remember staff names and computer logins, being stuck in rush hour traffic, writing deadlines, event planning, trying to remember to eat dinner, baths and baby laughs and going to bed so late that I start stressing about waking up before I even fall asleep. But I’m doing it, and pushing through. It’s all I can do, really.

Do you know how scary it is to feel like you don’t know how to do something, but know you have no choice except to get up and do it? When Little Magician was first born, the mornings used to give me that kind of anxiety. HomieLuva would leave for work, she’d wake up, and I’d say a silent prayer just hoping to get through the day without making any huge mistakes. That fear and anxiety left me for a while, but now it’s back. I don’t know how to be this woman who’s a mom with a full time job and engrossing side hustle – and be good at it all – but every day I get up, say a silent prayer, and head out into the world to to do the best I can.  I’m not the first woman to struggle with balancing her various duties – I encounter them on social media, I read about them in magazines, and I see them in real life. It’s comforting to know I’m not alone, but it’s still lonely in the days where I’m figuring out what my perfect recipe for success is.

I recently decided that my theme for 2015 is going to centre around the world thrive. I’m determined to be full and fulfilled in all aspects of my life, so I’m starting to function from a place where the things I do and the decisions I make support that.  There are a few things I’m committed to doing to help me thrive and to feel more settled in my multiple roles and identities:

Create room.

I’m realizing that I don’t need to be doing all of the things I’m doing. Certain things have expired and are no longer serving me well, and that extra baggage of duty just adds to my stress levels. In order to make room for the things and opportunities that I know will help me thrive, I have to cut some things loose. This means saying no. This means letting go of FOMO (fear of missing out). This means remembering that quality is of more importance than quantity at this point.

Less complaining, more action.

I tend to do something that HomieLuva calls “spiraling”: I get stressed about one thing, then I start bringing up everything that’s going wrong, and before you know it, I’m a mess who can’t find her way out of the hole she’s dug herself into. Yesterday I decided that venting is important, but I need to partner it with a piece of action as well. I”m going to start trying this: whatever I vent about, I’m going to end the vent session with a declaration of action, and follow through. It’s important to remember to not be paralyzed by your stress and to find ways to make even the smallest step towards something better.

Remember I’m doing fine.

In juggling all of these different roles and identities I have to remember that while things seem daunting or overwhelming in the moment, once it passes I realize “Hey – I survived. And things weren’t that bad.” I’m more capable than I often believe, and situations aren’t usually as dire as I make them out to be in my mind. Just remembering that I am, in fact, doing OK helps to keep going when the going gets tough.

I’m able to look ahead and see a vision of myself with things more figured out than they are now. I see the Bee who is integrating the various aspects of her being, who is a walking Venn diagram with things overlapping and intersecting in harmony, who is thriving and seeing growth in the layers of her life. I can see her and I’m trying to catch up to her – running without a map and stumbling along the way, but trying to reach her nonetheless. Here’s hoping that sooner or later, we meet – and start walking thriving together.

JEANNINE, PT. 2: Sharing A Story Of Mental Illness

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In today’s post, we continue with part 2 of Jeannine’s story of living with mental illness. Jeannine recently disclosed her diagnosis with bipolar 2 disorder, and today we’ll get a bit deeper into her story. If you missed part 1, check it out here!

Mental Illness Misconceptions

The biggest misconception people have about mental illness is that we are ‘crazy’ and dangerous. I hate when people talk about how they met someone who was just so rude and angry about something that she/he “must be bipolar.” That is a huge pet peeve of mine because everyone gets angry and that certainly does not define the disorder. Or when I tell people about my disorder they try to comfort me by telling me about the one time they were “depressed” over a breakup or something similar. I am always like OMGosh that is sadness, not depression. There is a lot of ignorance surrounding the disorder because of the images that are portrayed of people with mental illness. You rarely hear the good. It is often that they killed someone or did a mass murder or were gunned down by police. It frustrates me because there are so many people who have a mental illness or bipolar who are managing and living their lives without any violence. There are good aspects to my illness during hypomania. I become very creative and productive. I can complete a weeks’ worth of tasks in a day. I need little sleep and feel super refreshed and energized. I love being hypomanic because of my ability to just be on the ball and stress free.  A lot of people are unaware of the hypomanic or manic aspects of bipolar disorder.

Coping Strategies

I am registered for a Dialectical Behavioural Therapy or DBT program and have been on the waitlist for over a year now. My treatment is still a work in progress and I really wish I had more information or a better plan here, but the truth is I really don’t. I take it one day at a time and try really hard to monitor my moods, symptoms and their manifestations. I also have limits on my bank accounts, no credit cards, and live directly on cash. It helps to avoid overspending, which is a symptom of hypomania. My diagnosis is still new to me and I am working on developing better treatment plans for myself. I self medicate a lot and that is something I really want to work on.

About Jeannine’s Support System

My support system consists of my dog, a few friends, my ex, and my counsellors.

jeannine misty

My biggest savior in my whole treatment is my dog Misty. She is my saving grace and I say it all the time, she saves my life every single day. My dog keeps me grounded and reminds me to enjoy the little things in life. I go for walks and get to be in nature, which helps me so much. I can relieve stress by just petting her and hugging her. I cry to her and confide in her. I know it sounds strange because she is only a dog, but the love we have for each other and our connection is what I need on a daily basis. She is the best part of my life and I want to take this opportunity to say that emotional support animals (ESA) should be recognized in Canada and not just the US. I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t have her.

[My friends] show more understanding and tolerance than before because of [bipolar 2 disorder] and they allow me to express myself more.  I have very few friends, one in particular, who I feel completely comfortable talking to about my illness because she doesn’t judge.  She knows how to listen and understands how difficult it is for me to talk about it. She has the necessary empathy to give me her undivided attention and I love her so much for that.  Thanks baby girl – you know who you are! My family doesn’t really know enough about it to say anything. It is definitely not something that we talk about — at all!

I wish I had a better support system, but you can’t force someone to support you.  I do wish that I had a place to talk openly about what I feel and what I go through daily. It would be nice to know other people who struggle the way I do, but are successful in their management of their illness.

When Well-Meaning Words Hurt

I don’t like when people say that they know someone who has this disorder and tell me about a bunch of horrible things the person has done, only to say “Are you sure you have bipolar?” as if the disorder is only associated with bad things. There are times when I am hypomanic and I wish I would stay up there. Since I have become a little more open I have heard a plethora of advice, such as “Maybe if you didn’t give in to your disorder…” or “Just tell yourself to get up!” Oh, and my favourite is “I think you use your disorder as an excuse, and maybe if you didn’t label yourself then you wouldn’t feel the way you do.” The worst thing I think I have ever heard and still hear a lot is to keep my disorder a secret because I will be labeled. I absolutely despise when people say that. I feel like there is truth to what they are saying and that is all the more reason to talk about it and let people know. If we don’t start the conversation, how can we ever expect things to change?

Jeannine’s Inspirations

There are a few people who inspire me. Jenifer Lewis, the actor, because she is amazing at her craft. I had no idea she was bipolar and when I found out it just amazed me because of the numerous roles she has been in. She is an amazingly versatile actor. My biggest inspiration though is Melody Moezzi, she is the author of Bipolar Life. I love her book because I found it so funny and real. Melody is a Middle Eastern American who is an attorney, author, public speaker, and advocate for bipolar sufferers. I love how she has battled and overcome so much. She had a lot of adversity because like the Black community, the Middle Eastern community does not really acknowledge mental illness. There is a very dismissive attitude amongst both cultures. Her fearlessness inspires me often. She gives me a lot of hope and is a constant reminder that I can heal from this.

What Jeannine Has Learned About Herself

I have learned that I am a tough woman and can overcome anything. I have been through a lot and am still here telling my story.

Final Question: For people you know who may be finding out about your mental illness for the first time via this blog post, what do you most want them to understand?

That I am still Jeannine, the same person that they have always known.

I’m so honoured to be the conduit for Jeannine’s story, and can’t tell her enough how proud of her I am. If you’d like to reach out to her, please shoot me an email and I will forward to her. 

Continuing the conversation, I’ll be hosting an important event on February 7th at The Royal Cinema: the premiere of The Blind Stigma, a documentary focusing on mental illness in the Black community. Please check out the documentary trailer, an interview with the filmmaker Stacy-Ann Buchanan, and grab your tickets here! Let’s keep this going and keep lifting each other up in love and support. 

JEANNINE, PT. 1: Sharing A Story Of Mental Illness

It’s kind of serendipitous how things work out sometimes.

Today marks Bell Let’s Talk Day – a day spearheaded by Bell Canada to shine a light on the discussion of mental illness in our society. I didn’t plan for this post to be published today, but it makes all the sense in the world that it is.

Today’s post features part 1 of the story of Jeannine, a university friend of mine who reached out recently with an unexpected request. It’s my honour to fulfill that request and to give her the space to share something she’s kept hidden for too long. So, without further ado, meet Jeannine.

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3 Things About Jeannine

I used to take skiing lessons and still can’t ski. I do mixed martial arts and box. I have 13 nieces and nephews for a total of 21 members of what I consider to be my ‘immediate’ family.

The Big Reveal

I have bipolar 2 disorder and a hint of borderline personality disorder (BPD).  I was formally diagnosed with bipolar 2 disorder in November 2011 and have not yet had a formal diagnosis for BPD. If I could sum up my mental illness in one word it would be ‘sucky/crappy’. It is definitely the hardest thing I have ever had to deal with in my life and it consumes a huge part of my life.

What Bipolar 2 Disorder Looks & Feels Like For Jeannine

Bipolar 2 disorder looks like chaos to me and feels lonely. I often refer to my illness as my shame because for me it still is shameful. It’s as if I judge and stigmatize myself. Anyway, it is very hard for me to make decisions – especially those that affect my entire life – such as career choice or relationships. Even [deciding] what I want to eat becomes difficult. My thoughts race a lot making it difficult to form a clear thought process. When I am depressed this is especially prominent. My mind can go off on a tangent of insults, put downs, a synopsis of all my disappointments, and remind me of every bad thing anyone has ever said to me. I was once told by a counselor that I have a negative box. I open it up when I am depressed and go through all of the problems I have ever encountered in life. A counselor told me this prior to my diagnosis and I have never forgot because that is exactly what it feels like. In those moments I hate myself and think that no one in the world cares about me or will notice if I am gone. I am in a dark place and for some reason I feel horribly safe there.

It doesn’t make sense, but in those moments I want to remain in my depression alone because letting anyone in is dangerous. I become full of shame and embarrassment with an overwhelming warmth of loneliness.  I use the word ‘warmth’ because it is warm and comfy being alone in those terrible moments. To let someone I know see me like that would change everything they know about me and how they perceive me. I never let anyone see me there – no one. I have been told by my closest friends that I hide my illness very well and I think I do. Actually, I know I do. I have worked very hard to hide my shame, but it doesn’t take long for a roommate or someone who lives with me to notice that something is wrong or that I am “different”. I’ve had a roommate diagnose me with bipolar before I really knew what it was, let alone been diagnosed. This disorder affects my judgement, decision making, my relationships, my mood, concentration, and sometimes my social interactions. It is a hard thing to deal with and I often question my mental state when doing anything, especially with people that I know.

Jeannine’s Journey To Diagnosis

I knew that something was different about me and that is why I started to see my doctor and counselors. I wanted to be “fixed” and expected it to happen. I thought that I would go to the counselor and they would be able to connect the dots, unleash my demons, and send me on my way – boy, was I wrong. I had always been a bright student and did well in school, but when I got to high school I just stopped caring. I stopped trying and going to class and was completely withdrawn. By the time I got to Western (the University of Western Ontario) I had enough with this disengagement and started to see a counselor. I kept going back to these counselors and was so hungry for an answer and didn’t stop until I found one. I went to many doctors and services in hopes to get some help and support in my search for an answer. I was also aware that I had mental illness in my family and knew that there was a possibility that I had one. I had always been a sensitive person, but it got so extreme that I needed help. I thought that everyone hated and judged me, especially when I arrived at Western. I felt like a fish out of water and needed to get grounded, so when I found about the free service I took advantage of it.

All About Treatment

Treatment is still very much a work in progress. I have a hard time coming up with a concrete plan that works, but have been doing a lot of trial and error. Right now, treatment looks like medications, which are Wellbutrin and Abilify. I also see a couple counselors and have a psychiatrist. I have learned some coping skills, such as grounding exercises, breathing techniques, and medication. I am also aware of regular sleep, a good diet, and exercise, but do not follow these guidelines the way I should.

I struggle with every aspect of my treatment. I never used to take my medication because I thought it was a band-aid solution. I wanted to be cured and not treated – that was my goal. Last year I was receiving no treatment except for counselling and got a huge wake up call. I learned where my illness can take me and I don’t want to ever go back there, so I started taking my medication regularly.

Jeannine’s story continues in tomorrow’s post – learn more about her treatment plan, the most important person in her support circle, her inspirations, and more. Also, you’ll learn more about The Blind Stigma, a documentary discussing mental illness in the Black Canadian community. Today, follow the #BellLetsTalk hashtag on Facebook and Twitter to support the initiative.

MONDAY RANDOMS: A Mish-Mash Of Thoughts

aye fam

So, I’ve started this post about 3 or 4 different times, erasing and re-crafting new opening statements that speak to whatever particular topic I feel should be my go-to for this week. The problem is, my mind is so all over the place that I want to equally speak on 3 or 4 different things, and I figure I’ll just do them all instead of trying to choose one.

Bee The Yogi

Last week was a really rough week for a few different reasons. I had a particularly tough day on Thursday but found solace in an unlikely spot – my neighbourhood yoga studio.

I’ve always been a sporadic yogi, mainly due to cost and the fact that yoga studios were often too far out of the way to make them easy for me to attend. I’ve always loved how yoga made me feel, so when we moved into our new ‘hood over the summer and I realized that a yoga studio was within walking distance from my house, I was curious about the possibilities of signing up. Instead of doing my usual investigative process before attending any fitness class, I simply Googled the studio, found a class starting in 30 minutes, grabbed my mat, a towel, and a bottle of water, and showed up.

I’m so glad I did. Moving my body, sweating, challenging myself, and focusing on something other than my problems worked like magic. After a day where I felt like I could do absolutely nothing right, the “Good job!” I earned from the instructor as I held the eagle pose meant everything. At the end of the class, I cried all through Savasana to release my remaining stress, then signed up for the newcomer special. Let’s see how this goes…

Sights Set On Spring

I’m not sure what it is, but winter 2015 is feeling like some ole bullshit for myself and a number of people I’ve spoken with. It seems like a lot of us welcomed this year in the midst of major flux – people are looking for new jobs, searching for new places to live, dealing with health issues, managing family issues, assessing current relationships, and are generally trying to just figure things out.

I’m calling it now: spring/summer 2015 is about to be amazing. With all of the trials and tribulations people are experiencing right now, I’m clinging to the belief that all of this chaos is just shifting the best parts of our lives thus far into place.

One of the quotes I live by in times like these is from Pearl Cleage:

The Buddhists believe that sometimes when everything is in turmoil, it’s because something wonderful is ready to be born and that thing is distracting you so it can have some privacy during the birthing process.

Here’s hoping that springtime gives birth to wonderful things.

Accountability Is Key

Are you working on something? Trying to achieve a goal? If you don’t have an accountability partner, do yourself a favour and get one.

I have accountability partners for various things. A group of veritable strangers on Twitter make up one group – if you follow the #GetCreative2015 hashtag there, you’ll find a gang of creatives who are using Twitter to keep each other working, learning, and growing, and it’s been SO helpful in these first few weeks of the year. I have a girlfriend who lives in Texas who keeps me in check and inspires me on various levels, including my goal to be more physically active (she was super proud when she heard of my yoga adventure the other day). Having even one person that you can check in with and who keeps you on track with whatever it is you’re trying to achieve makes a huge difference in productivity.

I’ve talked about mentorship and sponsorhip (two practices I wholly believe in), but having someone who keeps you accountable is another piece of the puzzle. Try to find that person for yourself, or offer to be that person for someone else – it’s truly a gamechanger.

 

Whew. It feels good to get those mini-thoughts out. At this point, I’m just hoping for a week better than the last – and I wish the same for you.

2015 FEARS: When You Can’t See What’s Next

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2015 is here, and I have to admit something – I’m a bit scared.

I usually welcome the new year with anticipation or more aptly, vorfruede: (n) the joyful, intense anticipation that comes from imagining future pleasures. Especially since 2012 – which was one of the worst years on record for ya girl – I’ve tried to muster as much courage and optimism as I could with each new year, willing it to be better than the last.

And that’s generally what’s happened.

2013 was about rebuilding after enduring the traumas of 2012 (which I’ve sorta talked about but never written about). I started reconstructing my self-esteem and did the work to really begin figuring out what I wanted my life to look like. 2013 was my personal “Pheonix rising from the ashes” year, and I went through it dusty but determined to get back to who I knew I could be.

The work paid off in 2014. That was the year I felt I really started to step into being the woman I’ve always dreamed of. I took personal and professional risks, I practiced forgiveness, I found success, and I accomplished things that have been present on my vision boards for years now. I became a mother and in that role have found a new opportunity to mold this woman called Bee, who now has a girlchild looking to her for love and guidance.

2014 was a lot. I’m still trying to catch my breath and let all the wins, losses, and changes settle in, but now we’re in 2015 and it’s go time again. What scares me is that much more change is afoot and the year is beginning with me in a fuzzy haze, unable to see my next step, unable to find a map to help me get to some unclear destination. After a few years of working in set goals and absolutes, maybe 2015 is about letting go of control a bit…letting the change wash over me…focusing more on who I want to be and how I want to feel about life than merely working towards the acquisition of things. What scares me is that despite having goals for the year, I don’t really see anything. I can’t remember a year filled with more unknowns. On the positive, I try to view the unknown as the sign of an open road, of possibility. On the negative, it makes my stomach tight, my breath short, and my sleep disturbed.

I want to be consistent with blogging, continue to earn my stripes as a freelance writer, and work on some other new creative projects. I want to put on great events. I want to travel. I want to read more. I want to make money. I want to continue to work towards fulfillment in my professional and personal lives. So, the intentions are there, but this 2015 haze has perfumed the air with the scent of trepidation, watchfulness and assessment. Was 2014 a fluke? Will I make the right decisions when it comes to my career? Will I take good control of my health? What will my shifting priorities mean for my life? How am I going to balance the various identities that jostle against themselves in my body like atoms do? How will I handle all the changes in my life, knowing I’ve never been good with it at all? Too many questions make me nervous, but all I see are the questions and all I feel are the nerves.

I know I’ve grown, because even through the nerves and fear, I still carry a tiny sparkle of hope that everything will be alright. In fact, one of my personal mantras (that always makes sense to me if it doesn’t for anyone else) is “Everything will be alright, then it will be better than alright” and I’m carrying that with me. Old Bee would allow this fear to paralyze her, to cause her to shut down when things get too hard, to crumble with even the slightest touch of negativity, to fuel a never-ending game of “What If” where she tries to control every possible outcome of a situation. I’m not 100% removed from that girl, but this year I’ll attempt to let these nerves be the energy that propels me while embracing the fact that “I don’t know” is an answer I can give myself. “I don’t know” doesn’t mean “I’ll never know,” but it gives me time and room, allowing me to be a bit kinder to myself in what will undoubtedly be a year that requires self-care.

So, 2015 is here and we have no choice but to be present and make the best of it. Hopefully this haze will dissipate and my way will become a bit clearer – but until then I’ll just float along, letting go of things that don’t serve me well, grasping the things that do, finding the beauty in “I don’t know,” and making an effort to simply do my best every day.

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