Finding my joy

I have always been what some would call a “serious” person. As a teenager, and perhaps even before, I struggled with depression. While my best friends seemed to always be laughing about something or other, I went through days where I could not see the joy or humour in anything. I was well into my twenties before I finally got a clinical diagnosis but I recognized that “something was wrong” in my early teens and struggled to handle it on my own. I wondered if I was bipolar as I considered how suddenly my moods used to swing to that sad, empty feeling that I experienced once in a while, and which could last anywhere from a few hours to weeks or once, in my final year of high school, for months. I often wonder whether this is why I decided to major in psychology…to help me figure out what was happening in my mind and try and find a solution. When I finally started seeing a therapist it took only two sessions before she told me that I seemed to exhibit the symptoms of an anxiety disorder as well as PTSD. I know it’s a cliche to say but it was really as if a weight lifted off my shoulders. In the years since I have continued to struggle with episodes where my anxiety has caught me up in a web of ruminating. But knowing what I am dealing with has given me the tools to deal with it, and has helped me to recognize that anxiety is something I have which affects me, but which does not define me or control me.

One of the hardest things about my anxiety is that I have to constantly work at finding my joy. I have a very easy time picking up on the negative – in my life, in my mind, in the world around me. It is sometimes much more difficult for me to focus on the positive and see all the good things around me. This past week has been one of those times where I found myself drowning in my own mind, unable to see past the difficulties. You see, my two month old and I were confined to our home for the last 4 days because we had both come down with a cold. Such a minor thing really, but somehow enough to trigger my feelings of despair, worry and guilt. I felt guilty that my baby was sick, guilty that I was too sick to care for my older child, worried that this was more than a cold.

Times like this, it can be hard to distinguish between what is “normal” and what is my mind playing tricks on me. Once I’m in the middle of a spiral, my thoughts come so quickly and are so negative that it feels impossible to pull myself up and out of it. Sometimes it is all I can do to get out of bed, to get through the day taking it one moment at a time. Days or weeks at a time can pass where I feel overwhelmed by life, by my past, by the future. Luckily, I am able to cope using some of the skills which I have learned since my diagnosis. The most important thing for me is to be mindful – to focus on the current moment, and be present in the NOW. This forces me to stop thinking about all of the worst-case scenarios and simply live. To accept that there are a lot of scary things in the world, but that since I am unable to control so many of them I have to accept the scary things and live my life anyway. The other thing which works best for me is getting outside into the world and interacting with other people, or with nature. This always helps to remind me of the beauty and joy to be found in life, even if it is often overshadowed by the negative.

Remembering that there is so much good in the world, so much good in my life…that is what gets me through the hardest moments.

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On anxiety

I have a degree in pyschology, so you would think I could have self-diagnosed. I suspected for many years that something was not quite right, and I thought perhaps depression or bipolar disorder. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that a therapist was able to give me a diagnosis: generalized anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As soon as I read up on both the pieces of my life started to fall together. It was like assembling a puzzle without knowing what the picture was supposed to look like. I know exactly what I have experienced – mood swings, angry outbursts, melancholy, a racing mind full of worst=case scenarios. What I didn’t know for a long time was that all of these things were connected to one another, and were a result of a number of traumatic events I experienced as a child/teenager.

On black love

I have never realized how much I depend on him. My partner is away.  It is day 5. Twenty-eight days to go.

My sister has come by to help with dinner and bedtime. She feeds the toddler, helps him wash up, pjs, reads some books, goodnight, no you can’t sleep in mommy’s bed, goodnight. I nurse the infant to sleep, burped, bathed, changed, burped again.  I will come back later to check if toddler has fallen asleep/ sticks around to chat. I am exhausted.

Finally, I sit on the balcony. There is still much to do. But I can’t. I am done. Exhausted. I watch the clouds race across the moon…the sun sets. Twenty. Eight. Days. 672 hours until he is home.

I don’t remember ever falling in love. Was there a moment when I suddenly found myself (falling) in love. Our love is something that grew, that just…came to be…in the background of a friendship. There were times when it felt like we might not make it. But at some point, I just felt it. A sense, a presence, so familiar, it must have always been there. A love. Our love.

By the time I realize I am in love, it feels so familiar. Like family. Like home. Like we have made it.

It feels like I am unable to function without him. Not only is he currently the sole income-earner (I’m a grad student on parental leave), but he does a LOT around the house – including most of the cooking, groceries, laundry. We are fortunate. We have been able to build a beautiful life together. We spend most of the day together with both of our children. We do a lot of our work from home, and he does most of his after the rest of us are asleep. He is our rock.

I love him because he is everything that a black man should be. His strength and resilience are the first things that I noticed. Well, after his tattoos of course. The first long conversation we had on the phone we talked about everything that mattered. Our past, our goals, kids, religion, family, regrets, hopes. I knew then.

I can’t imagine doing this without him. I can barely imagine getting through the next four weeks. Spending the days with our children…all day, every day…will be hard. But spending the days withOUT him? (Just breathe).

 

Immigrant

I am an immigrant.

My parents were refugees, fleeing a civil war in which my father fought. I was born along the way, on the journey from there to here. From the motherland, the land of origins. A warm country, noble, enduring, steady. To here. An unpredictable place, a cold country built on stolen land by a nation of people who still struggle to acknowledge their place in history as oppressors. Colonizers.

Immigrant. A person living in a foreign land.

Foreign. Not your own.

That is what we are. Never belonging, always searching for a place that fits just right. Looking for a space that is ours.

My children are the first generation born on this soil. What does it mean? For me, as a mother. For them, as black children. Immigration amplifies the generation gap. Will it affect my ability to understand my children? To prepare them sufficiently for what they will face, to overcome life’s challenges. Will they find a place to settle?

Or will they roam, like we do, searching for a place that fits just  right. Looking for a space that is ours.

Seeking a home of our own.