Live According to You

I’ve hit many standstills on my path to finding myself. Many of them came from me comparing my life to others and thinking that the things that worked for other people would work for me. It took this past year for me to realize how illogical that was.

There is something that I have had on my heart to address not only for myself but for those who look at  my life

Many who know me know the hesitations I had with moving out on my own and it had nothing to do with fear: it had to do with the belief that had been instilled in me that you should not live with someone who is not your husband. I hit so many walls because, in my heart, I did not feel marriage was my next step however, moving was. After all, I was just newly a girlfriend and the thought of instantly skipping that and transitioning to wife did not seem logical especially considering I did not even know who I was yet. I had people tell me that that did not matter; all that mattered to God was that I was married and all those other things would sort themselves out.

So I prayed to God nonstop, asking Him to help me sort out my confusion; after all, He made me. I had pictured in my mind having a rushed wedding so that I was favored and every time I thought it, it did not feel right. This was weird to me considering clearly I love my boyfriend with all my heart but my gut would not let me accept the thought.

I have learned now that what was happening in that moment was my true self fighting against who I was taught I had to be. My true self is an explorer that takes chances all the while seeking growth and change. I gravitate towards the things that give me the opportunity to learn and help others and moving out was that opportunity for me. Yet here I was being told that before I explore, I had to do something that went against my current nature and that bothered me.

Who I am being is not denouncing God’s words or saying that I do not believe in them. In fact, my relationship with him now is stronger than ever. But what I do know is that there are just certain situations that present themselves in a person’s life where you have to prove your faith in God by just leaving, even if all the roads are not paved. You just have to take the leap and know that they will be and that is what I did because that is life.

And we will get married. I do not know when but I know that that is in God’s plans for us. And at our wedding, our families will come together and celebrate with us our triumphs and revelations in our journey through life and we will reflect on these times as necessary for leading us where we are. I am confident of that.

So my words of advice are this: there is nothing wrong with following in someone else’s footprints as long as at some point you stop and start some footprints of your own. I am not advising anyone who may have this same dilemma to go ahead and move in with their boyfriend/girlfriend because my path is not everyone’s path and we are not all meant to be prototypes of one another. Our footprints should be as unique as our fingerprints: no one’s should be the same. We are all individuals. Many of the things that work for other people will not work for you and if you have people telling you otherwise, they are wrong because that is how how humanity was designed to exist.

So in conclusion, in this past year I’ve found that the key to finding yourself oftentimes includes being alone with yourself. Who would you be if the very people who helped shape you as a person were not around? What if no one was guiding you towards the life they felt you should live? Who would you be? We live in a society where there are thousands of singers, writers, musicians, doctors, lawyers, etc and in the midst of it all, we are plagued with the task of not only choosing from those professions but also to make ourselves stand out within and it is daunting. However, you HAVE to find yourself within it all, even if it means going against the mold and forming your own. You owe that to yourself.

 

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My Struggle with Depression

Today is the day I reveal something that very few people know about me: for years, I have struggled with low self-esteem and depression. It started in middle school and hit it’s peak in high school and only within the past few years has drifted away.

So I guess I’ll start from the beginning.

The Beginning (2002-2005)

When I was around 11 or 12, the world I knew as a child had drifted away and I was introduced to a world that made mine seem more like a fantasy. Prior to those years, everything was carefree. I had not been exposed to things such as race, body image, sex appeal or “fitting in”. I just lived in a place where you were just accepted even if you were different and you did not have to match any particular criteria to get along with everyone. That was my life in Oklahoma. However, when I moved back to my parent’s hometown in New Jersey, I was exposed to a world I was not prepared for. Here, most girls my age were already talking about sex and what boys they liked or were focused entirely on what clothes would show off their bodies.

Diversity was also almost nonexistent here. My home in Oklahoma in comparison to my new surroundings in New Jersey were like night and day. The place I’d grown up was predominantly white, and here it was predominantly black so needless to say the culture was different. In middle school, when a white kid joined the class, it was like almost like a shock. Everything had become about color and it was here I was told for the first time that I “spoke like a white girl. It took me a while to figure out what that even meant.

It seemed everything was odd about me here. Though I was only in 6th grade, many of the girls had developed physically while I was the odd girl out with my thin frame, gapped teeth and unusual height. I lost count of how many times “wow you’re so skinny” or “you need to eat more” were said to me. I began to focus on my body image more than ever and it didn’t take long before I did not like what I saw anymore. The seed had been planted.

Over the years leading up until high school, my family became fairly religious. As a practice, I began to wear skirts exclusively which didn’t help with my feelings about not fitting in. I only continued to further isolate myself.

My thoughts were confined to my journals and the only way I knew to deal with my issues was to pretend I didn’t have them. I took to sarcasm pretty quickly. When people would joke about how skinny I was or something, I would join in. I figured if I laughed at myself, people wouldn’t catch on to how insecure I was. That was what made sense to me. People liked when I was happy and funny so that’s the persona I took on.

Middle school got better when I gained a few close friends (whom I still have to this day). The three I hung out with the most were my close friends Christiana, Jasmine and Ian. They distracted me away from my insecurities and had never made it a habit to bring up anything about me physically. They simply liked me for me and I didn’t have to pretend with them.

High School & Depression (2005-2009)

When high school rolled around, I had decided to pursue an education at a vocational school rather than the regular high school because it would open up more opportunities for me academically. I acknowledged this meant leaving the people that had helped me cope but I figured I was ready for it. I didn’t realize how wrong I was.

My high school years were the most emotional for me. Aside from being away from my friends and my continuing struggle to accept myself, my parent’s relationship was in flux which left me feeling a lot of different things. I was both learning and witnessing things that were altering everything I had ever thought and I just remember feeling like the world was not a promising place anymore. Also, a guy I had liked and trusted had let me down and I found myself shutting down more and more and, worst of all, pretending even more. It wasn’t long before my insecurities transformed into a full on depression.

Once depression set in, everything made me upset. My low self-esteem had now turned into just pure hatred with myself. I became frustrated with the fact that I could not gain weight and even began overeating in an effort to slow down my metabolism. But all that did was make me feel more miserable and made me break out. I stopped watching TV because I was frustrated with seeing girls with big breasts and curves and I figured if I made myself oblivious to the world, I’d feel better about myself. I was not satisfied with anything about myself. My hair wasn’t long enough, my gap was too wide, my head was too big or my eyes seemed too far apart. Any critique I could think of was a valid one to me. I critiqued every inch of my body and there was nothing I liked about it. I started to hate taking pictures because anytime I saw myself, I was just disgusted.

I would smile and laugh with everyone throughout the day but get home, close the door and just hate everything about my life. Everything mentally was caving in and pretty soon, I was having issues trusting anyone. I convinced myself that I didn’t need anyone to help me and that I had the answers to my problems, I just had to figure them out. I wanted to fix myself by myself because I just knew people would find a way to let me down.

The was one of my online journal entries from November 3rd, 2008:

selfesteemIn my mind, this was just a phase I was going through. It would pass and I would look back and realize how disillusioned I was. I even justified my feelings about myself as “normal”. I used my gift of words to make it sound like everything in my life was fine and I even mastered talking about any and everything enthusiastically but my problems. I even mastered giving advice to help them with their problems as if I were in any place to do so. I had succeeded in tricking the people around me into thinking I was fine and that I had it all together while behind closed doors, I was simply not happy with much of anything. I was miserable.

The one thing that gave me a sliver of hope was college. I liked the idea of having a fresh starts and leaving all the negativity behind. I figured if I changed my surroundings, I would be better. I started to believe that the way I thought was not my fault and instead placed the blame on the people around me. So when college started, I just knew I would be better. However, it did not happen as quickly as I’d hoped.

College Years (2009-2011)

About a week into college, my enthusiasm about starting this new life was wearing off and I was beginning to feel more alone than ever. I started to realize a lot of what was wrong with me was not so much everyone else’s fault as much as my own. Though I was essentially beginning this new chapter, I was finding it hard to close the previous one and I was still finding it hard to accept who I was. I was this girl who preferred not to party or drink in a place where this was the norm and I found myself unsure of what to do socially. I debated giving in and just doing what everyone else did. Being different wasn’t giving me any answers and I hated feeling the way I did. After a while of listening to the devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other, I decided to just go back to my roots and joined the Highest Praise Gospel Choir on campus.

Here, my transformation began. For so long, I had convinced myself that I needed to be away from people in order to help myself but here, I learned the opposite. I met people who understood me and assured me that I was this smart, beautiful and just all around wonderful person. While at first, I dismissed their thoughts, with time I accepted them as fact. I met people who actually wanted to hang out with me. I met people who understood how important my spirit was to me and people who nurtured that and made sure I stayed true to it. College soon became the best two years of my life because of them.

I began to fast and pray more than ever, listen to motivational music, read self-help books and bury myself in the bible because that was what I knew helped. I was finally beginning to accept myself and not allow the negative thoughts to take over.

Don’t get me wrong, I was not instantly cured. In fact, I still had phases where the feeling of inadequacy crept in. It was like I would go for quite some time feeling really good about myself and then, something would instantly click in my mind like “what are you doing? You’re not supposed to feel this happy,” and just like that I would listen give in. I even got into the habit of going home most weekends in college because sometimes, I just did not want to be around people. I let the thoughts get to me and went right back into isolating myself because that’s what I was accustomed to. However, it eventually becoming easier and easier to quiet those thoughts and emotions and I found that some weekends I really wanted to stay and hang out with everyone. I had finally found the acceptance that I had been looking for all those years.

And now?

Now, I can say I am in the happiest place I have ever been in my life and it is for a number of reasons. For one, those friends that I met all those years ago (both in middle school and college) are still in my lives and are proving to me that just because certain people let you down does not mean everyone will. Not to mention I have a great family that has instilled in me the values that I have now that have allowed me to be at this stage. Though I didn’t see it then, all those bible studies and Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday church services did plant a seed in me. Another reason is this blog. This blog has helped me open up in a way that I never have before because I remember how keeping things inside tortured me for way too long and part of moving on from that is opening myself up to the world and letting you guys know that life is a journey that is best traveled with others. Lastly, I do have to acknowledge someone who has been my personal angel for the past seven months and that is my boyfriend, Shamus O’Connor. He has succeeded in making me feel more beautiful and special than I ever have. And even though my insecurities creep up every now and then and he has to give me a pep talk by telling me how crazy I am to think I’m anything less than amazing, he deals with it all and for that I am forever indebted. I have no problem telling the world how amazing you are Shamus because you deserve it entirely. <3

Again, I do still have my moments. There are times I turn on the TV or see a magazine and some of the old thoughts creep back up but I can proudly say they do not last very long. The bulk of what I feel is frustration for girls who are growing up seeing things like that because I know what they did to me. Just this past summer even I noticed myself questioning myself all over again and I had to shut it down with the quickness because I refuse to be that person again. Now, my main concerns are the typical figuring out what I want to do with my life and moving forward.

I am just excited about life and everything it has to offer me and quite frankly, I am now happy about everything! I try not to embrace negativity because I remember what that was like and I can never do that to myself again. I even try everything in my power to make others happy.

Sooooooo my entire purpose for this entry is to say this: do not neglect the importance of having good people in your life. Life is not meant to be lived alone and it took me almost a decade of struggling to acknowledge this. God places people into your life for a reason and, quite frankly, some of those people are meant to hurt you. But that does not mean that everyone around you is a bad person. It just happens so that you can grow from it and not take for granted the good people that will be placed in your life later on.

And also, depression is not just a thing that happens to certain people. In fact, some people may be going though it right now and you may not even know it. Denial is not an uncommon thing with depression. It took me a while to even admit that was what I was going through. As I said, I wrote it off as a phase. And also low self-esteem is not to be overlooked either. I mean honestly, it sucks and can be destructive mentally, spiritually and physically.

So thank you to everyone who took the time out to read this entry. Continue to read and share and most importantly, love everyone! No matter who it is or what you think of them. I am living proof that you never know what someone is going through.

The Call That Started It All

I’m not sure about a lot of things in my life. In fact, there are many things that I question. Like for starters: Am I doing the right thing?

I listen to the wisdom-inspired voices my elders lecture me about time and how precious it is to wait for things. But then I listen to the adventurous voices of my peers, that tell me that life is short and to live everyday as if it is your last (or, as my generation pegs it, YOLO). So I guess another question is: which voice do I listen to? Or even better yet: which voice is right?

I started to think that perhaps there is no such thing as right and wrong but rather what is you and not you.

For a while, drawing that conclusion made me feel like I had figured things out. But in reality, I had simply created an entirely different realm of questions for myself, including the deeper, most important question: who am I?

As a young adult, I am entering a world in which I am unfamiliar with; one in which I have been told about but never really experienced. In this world, I have been faced with situations and ultimately made decisions I would have never thought for I’d make. None bad, just…different; different from what I had been taught was the best thing to do.

This leads me to my story.

As many of you may or may not know, I have a boyfriend for the first time in 22 years. Why? Because I made a decision to do something that was entirely and completely outside of my comfort zone…

Before I continue, I guess I should give a backs story. I met a guy who was unlike anyone I’d ever met before. He was kind and even went out of his way to be social and get to know not only me but, everyone he met. He had the ability to make a person feel special not by simply talking to them but genuinely caring about what they said.

I was one of those people he enjoyed talking to. In our conversations, I discovered that a lot of his thoughts mirrored mine. Though different in the aspects of how we were raised or what we enjoyed doing or listening to, we managed to find commonality in the areas that actually mattered. His views on life and how he believed it should be lived patterned mine down to the letter. And despite different religious practices, he saw God in a way that could put faith into any unbeliever. His mind drew me closer to him.

My encounter with him was on route to being temporary and, at one point, I had accepted that. See, we both were employed as counselors at a summer camp which was to last no more than two month. In his presence, I had originally written him off as a guy I’d compare other guy to because I had this mind set that I did not want a relationship until I was more independent. It wasn’t until he had to leave camp early that I started to realize how much temporary was not what I wanted.

With his absence came a void. I did not know of anyone I could connect with that way again and that thought alone made me restless (literally!). I convinced myself that missing him meant nothing and was simply my mind reflecting on things that would make me feel better (which I now realize made no sense whatsoever lol). Though I had his number, the thought of calling him or texting him just seemed desperate.

But after two days of my thoughts eating me alive (and the fear of never hearing from him again approaching), I decided not only to call him but to also tell him that I really missed him. I remember pacing around Wal-Mart beforehand talking with my cousin Je’Meda on the phone while simultaneously including my friend Becca (who was with me) into the conversation. I was not nearly as dedicated to shopping as I was getting my thoughts out to two people I was use to talking to. The conversation consisted of everything from “I’m not calling him, that’s desperate” to “…but I really want to talk to him!” [Side note: I’m not bipolar, just a female lol]. After an hour of talking in circles, I forced myself to do it: I called a guy I liked.

The call went better than I pictured it in my head. In my mind, he would think I was a total weirdo for calling and tell stories about me to his friends back home. I was nervous about the call initially but hearing his voice helped me realize something I had forgotten in the midst of my cranial chaos: this guy was not just a guy I liked, he was my friend! It was, in all honesty, one of the easiest conversations I could have ever had. There were no fumbled words or awkward silences. He had made me laugh through most of it and made me realize just how much I had, in fact, missed talking to him.

From then on, we began talking any chance we could. Most of my nights off consisted of talking to him for hours outside of the camp’s gymnastics building. Naturally, when camp ended, we made plans to see each other. He lives 3 hours away from me and, for the life of me, I did not think he would be willing to come that far just to see me. Little did I know, I was wrong. If I totaled up all the hours he’s spent driving to come see me, I’m pretty sure he’d qualify for some sort of boyfriend of the year award (I’ll look it up babe lol).

Fast forwarding to now, Shamus and I have been together for a little over two months. He later told me that that phone call I made gave him the confidence he needed to continue to reach out to me and ultimately led us to where we are now. I rewind back to that day and try to imagine what would have happened had I let fear get the best of me. The experience made me realize how much fear had held me back. So in these two months, I have done more than I’ve known I was capable of because he has motivated me to follow my dreams and continue to do what makes me happy.

I guess the point I am trying to make in this entry is to not be afraid to do something. I learned there is no harm in stepping outside of your comfort zone and doing something that terrifies you. Even if the outcome is not one you want, at least you can say you did it. Fear is merely an illusion that holds us back and hinders us from becoming the people God intended for us to be.

And to think this all started with a phone call…

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