2019 is well underway and I’m just now finding my feet. I haven’t posted on this blog since November 2018 and I apologize. Life has been a rollercoaster and I’m holding on as best as I can.
I shared a pretty personal post recently on my Instagram that explains what’s going on. The responses I got to that post made me cry. And I got so many, I didn’t know where to begin in responding. This post is a beginning.
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Recently a beloved friend asked me why I’ve been so quiet. Truth is, 2018 was rough on SO many fronts. It started with my mom having triple bypass heart surgery — exactly a year ago this week. Watching her recovery, painful and slow as it turned out to be, was a lesson in mortality, health and life itself. My amazing father in law is battling cancer and it is such a cruel, unfair and unpredictable disease. Right now we are at their home to spend time with him. In the midst of our parents’ health issues, I found myself losing my career spark. I lost desire for the things I used to do and places I used to want to go to. I lost all drive for being in the in crowd. I found myself losing the need to write and to share. And when I did write, I would second guess everything I had to say. There were moments where I felt a deep quiet wash over me, like my work could just disappear and not be missed. I wondered if I still wanted to BE Afrobella. I found myself considering what I would do if I walked away from this platform I’ve created for myself. I needed a break and I needed perspective. I needed a reminder of my original purpose, instead of picking myself apart. I needed to reframe my approach to my own life, and to the work I have given myself. It took me some time, but I finally feel like this will be a happy new year. No matter what. So I say to you, if you’ve also been through a time where you feel like you’re flailing, this too shall pass. Keep breathing and press on. Seek the path in life that feels right to you. Love yourself through the process. 8 days into it, I’m finally here to say Happy New Year! Better late than never ?
When I shared my struggles with our parents on Instagram, I got an overflowing response from people. Most with just love and sympathy, but many others with relief and a feeling of being seen. There are so many people out there right now just going through it. Quietly, low key, going through tough stuff and putting on a brave face to the world.
Life will throw you curveballs. Dealing with aging parents, ailing parents, or health issues of any kind – yourself, your spouse or life partner, your kids, your pets – all these curveballs can throw off your trajectory and affect your ability to function as you’re used to. Online I’m hearing about so many friends and peers who have lost their job or been furloughed – circumstances like that will totally throw you off your center and shift your ego. Hijack your abilities. These are just a few of the scenarios people have shared with me, a few of the ways in which life can cause your plans to deviate and cause your mind to downshift into depression. I can say the shift for me began in 2017, but 2018 threatened to take me under.
What were my triggers? Watching my mom recover was a lesson that continues to unfold, continues to teach me new things about life and about my own future. On top of that is my father-in-law’s sickness, coupled with my husband trying to find his own way to deal with it all. It has been a season of challenge for both of us at the same time.
All of that spilled over into my work. I spent so much of last year questioning myself, not knowing what direction I wanted to go in anymore. I started to feel like my own voice was fading. I started to feel like the need for my voice was fading too. All around me, my industry was shifting and going in a more visual direction, away from writing. There were so many days where I simply didn’t feel like being seen, or taking selfies or sharing the minutia of my day to day through social media alongside the highlight reel of everyone else’s. My platform felt to me, like an advertorial display just waiting to be used – instead of how I used to feel, more in control of my voice and my destiny. I’ve been going along to get along. Now it’s time for me to find my voice again and navigate my new normal.
I’m still going through it, but I’ve gathered enough wisdom from the past 12 months to power me through. So I am here to share, in the hopes of inspiring someone else who feels recognition in these particular struggles. These are five lessons I’ve learned from experience within the last year.
- Who feels it, knows it. And if you’re going through it, you aren’t alone. Far from it. Seeing your loved ones experience pain, memory loss, confusion or suffering can leave you feeling drained, helpless and useless. Nothing can truly prepare you for this chapter of life. If you’ve grown up having your parents be your rock and foundation, seeing cracks in that foundation is a trauma. I’m discovering that so many of my peers are going through something similar – the ailment or loss of a parent, personal health issues, becoming a caregiver. Experiences like this can make you feel like your life abruptly switched stations. Like your life is no longer your own to control. If circumstances like these have led you to have a quiet season, know that you are far from alone. That may not make it any easier, but it’s something.
- Be clear about your life goals. I don’t mean career benchmarks, or far-flung trips. I mean your LIFE. Your short, precious, beautiful, unique life. What personal dreams do you need to achieve to feel proud? What bridges do you want to repair? Which grudges do you need to get over – internal and external? Observing and experiencing everything we have for the past year made me realize the kind of life I truly want to live – peaceful, quiet, settled, grounded, abundantly joyful. Things I used to want, I no longer can abide. Which leads me to my next point.’
- Discernment is necessary. In a struggle season, you may find yourself feeling adrift. Obligations that used to feel totally surmountable may become overwhelming. Friends may fall away for a time. Events may pass you by. It’s a time when your self-care becomes paramount, and priorities truly shift into place around your new normal. I’ve heard so many of my friends who are going through similar times speak of life as being a fog they’re trying to navigate through. The fog may manifest in different ways. For me, sadness leads me to comfort foods or to shopping. I had to really check myself post-holiday because I was making all sorts of bad decisions for the sake of trying to lift my heavy spirits. For my husband, when he’s sad about his dad he tends to withdraw inside his head and into his work. It may take him days to remember something I asked, or something he needed to get done. Or to eat breakfast or lunch if I don’t remind him. If you’re in a fog of your own because of life, and you’re just getting through each day as best as you can, then I encourage you to recognize your warning signs. Recognize when you need a hug, or a walk in nature, or the presence of people. Recognize when you need to pray, seek therapy or both. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or say you need help! We are humans doing our best, for ourselves and for each other. If your self-care is going down the tubes and your days are blurring together, set alarms for your usual meal times and try to keep yourself going as best as you are able at the time. You have to do what you must to be your own life raft when the waves threaten to take you under.
- Your future can be as bright as you make it. There’s a classic reggae song I love by the late great Tenor Saw. It’s called Lots of Signs. The lyrics linger with me often.
Life is one big road with lots of signs
I’m gonna make up my mind to face reality all the time
I’ve definitely been seeing lots of signs on my road. To watch your parents get older is to see an image of your own elderly years. Participating in the Arivale program has been an additional, more detailed sign post for me. Now I’m so clear about my blood work, my genetic predispositions, the signs of what’s to come for me if I continue with my current lifestyle. I see the changes I need to make, if I want to avoid what my mom’s dealing with. What my aunts and uncles are dealing with. And my sister. And my brothers. You get the picture. I’ve got diabetes and high blood pressure in my genes. Now more than ever, I see what lies ahead for me. My father-in-law has cancer and he’s already passed along information about the genetic tests my husband should take, to see if this lies in wait for us in the future.
When you feel like nothing really matters because of the circumstances you or your loved ones may be in, it can be tough to convince yourself to go for a walk or exercise or meet deadlines or do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself every day. But it’s so important to keep trying, to not give up on your well-being.
- Your health and happiness are essential and non-negotiable. My sister-in-law Lisa recently inspired me with this simple truth – you have to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. It’s true on the airplane and it’s true in real life. In order to be the best caregiver you can be, you have to take the best possible care of yourself. For me, that means intentionally consuming and doing the things to make sure I am healthy, whole and strong. Leaving behind the things that deplete me physically, mentally and spiritually. It doesn’t simply mean doing things that make me happy all the time (otherwise I would be eating cookies all day and never exercising). It means taking a more mature, responsible and future-conscious approach to my self-care, and moving beyond pedicures and platitudes to less-fun aspects like doctor’s appointments and therapy. 2018 was a year of figuring out what the work was. 2019 is my year of truly DOING THE WORK.
I’ve been hearing over and over again that the personal is universal. These lessons are here to guide me through the next 12 months, and maybe some of my life lessons apply to you too. Here’s to making it through this year better, stronger and wiser for our experiences.