On becoming

One year ago this time was probably one of the most miserable in my life. To be fair, it’s only been 25 years and I have a lot to be thankful for. But last year I had *another* quarter life crisis. My first was quitting my PB at Johns Hopkins. This, my second, was when I turned my back on myself, metaphorically speaking of course.  I’ll spare you the long winded version and only share the necessary details. The overview is that as we grow, there are significant bumps along the way that are meant to sharpen us but feel like they destroy us. One of my breaking points was last year and it exposed that who I am is constantly evolving and accepting that may save me from a lifetime of disappointment. Now I'd never been the girl to go with the flow of change. In fact, I’m pretty well known for shouting definitive statements from the roof tops, or at least I used to be, for two reasons. One, I’m dramatic in the most typical African girl way. Two, I just knew God had a plan and I just knew God spoke to me so I just knew exactly how my life was supposed to pan out. But being so sure of who I was is the reason I ended up feeling so unstable when my actions didn't match the idea of who I thought I was in my mind. 

This crisis was about losing my identity, or rather it was about finding it. I have a word of advice. Anytime you have to make yourself or your beliefs smaller in order to accommodate a behavior, experience or relationship, pay attention because you’re out of alignment. I never thought it could happen but I lost myself completely in someone else. And not in the beautiful, romanticized way, if that even exists. This one was painful, for me but also for people who knew me. Not knowing myself or not knowing that I didn't know myself allowed me to get lost in someone else’s journey instead of my own. How does this happen? Well, have you ever met someone who was so different from you but still felt like home? I’ve met a few people like this in my life. And when you truly connect with someone whose fundamental beliefs differ so much from yours, it urges you to question your beliefs, or at least it did for me. If you don’t know who you are, encounters like these will shake you to your core and suddenly you’ll have no idea what is your truth. 

Looking back, I remember the feeling of not knowing myself and it was one of the worst feelings I've ever had in my life. I was so unsure of what to do with each step because the result of my actions scared me. I wasn't comfortable with being unsure and I wasn't comfortable with losing the people who may have actually been in the way of my expansion.When you are becoming you have to be comfortable losing relationships, self-images, stability. You have to get lost in yourself because getting lost allows for a beautiful journey of discovery. When the ultimate prize of your beliefs is not a stamp of approval for your actions and is instead a knowledge of truth, you’ve accessed a new level of heaven on earth. When you can recognize the ultimate fullness of joy as being love instead of falling in love, your life will truly transform.  When you finally see people, the ones who loved you and the ones who hurt you, as teachers then you'll be able to appreciate the beauty that comes in being sharpened.

I spent a significant part of 2015 and 2016 measuring my success and my happiness by what I did and what happened to me. That's natural. But if actions drive your self-worth forever you'll never recognize the sincere truth about how amazing you are. Ultimately what matters most is the way joy spreads across your face and laughter erupts from your lips. That happens in the moments when you are becoming. In the choice of be vs. do…be.

 

 

Beginners “Go To” Products for Taking Care of Sensitive Skin

I have finally accepted that I have sensitive skin. A number of different triggers cause me to flare up: food, deodorants, skin care products, and supplements have all caused me days or weeks of excruciating pain or unbearable breakouts. About a month ago I decided to just, well, grow up and take care of myself and my skin. I decided I was going to go natural,  with everything, but I truly did not want to pay that natural product coin. So this is my beginner’s guide to taking care of your sensitive with cheap, easy to find products.

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  1. Coconut Oil If you have natural hair like I do, then this is already a staple product. But regardless of the labels, all coconut oils are not created equal. My all time favorite is Trader Joe’s Extra Virgin Organic Coconut Oil. Coconut Oil has many uses but the best for a sensitive girl because it’s said to be antibacterial and antifungal. Now be careful because everyone’s skin is different. Coconut oil is great for my facial breakouts but when I tried to use it under my arms, I had the worst inflammation I’d experienced in years. My roommate typical uses it to remove a full faced of makeup. I use it after a shower and/or washing my face to hydrate my skin. Can you say pimples-be-gone? 

  2. Dove Bar Soap Even though I really do not f with Dove’s strategy these days I do love me some unscented dove bar soap. I actually use two kinds of soaps when I shower. The first is Tea Tree Oil soap and the second is dove bar soap. I use the Tea Tree soap to clean my skin and reduce inflammation, but boy does it dry me out. Dove serves as my moisturizing wash and honestly there is nothing better than that lather and that smell.

  3. Dove Deodorant Stick Okay I’m not gonna lie...I’m still debating this one. So I tried Natural Deodorant for two weeks and I gotta say “It’s a no for me dawg.” At the very least its a no on its own. While the irritation under my arms was completely gone, if it was even slightly hot outside I sweat like I was in a sauna. Not to mention, it doesn't last. And who has time to apply deodorant with their fingers multiple times a day? I’m now transitioning to two layers of deodorant. First is my natural deodorant “Primal Pit Paste” to protect my skin and the second layer is the Dove Deodorant stick. Now, I just had an awful breakout but I’m 90% sure its because of the food I ate and not the deodorant, but only time will tell. All I know is the dove stick doesn’t feel dry and it doesn't clump up after a long day. Note that it is also an anti-perspirant.  The true test of how well this works will be when I whine my waist dancing some night but for now, and probably a while, I'm giving this a thumbs up. 

  4. Shea Butter In college someone once told me I have black undertones. Everyone at the table laughed and I rolled my eyes. But the truth is I have a number of black pigmented spots all of my skin. Most of these I was born with and embrace, but some are due to dark spots as a result of product use. Recently I’ve started using Shea Butter to help with the dark patches under my arms. I'll say that the patches are slowly evening out to my skin tone. By that I mean it takes at least a month of consistent application to even notice a slight change. But Shea Butter is also a perfect hair product and body moisturizer, all for under $5 at the beauty supply store.
  5. Tea Tree Oil Bar Soap Mark my words, tea tree oil is the best thing that will ever happen to your breakouts. The bessssssst. Tea Tree oil helps reduce inflammation and also dries out infections. Trader Joe's sells Tea Tree Oil bar soap that is safe to use on the skin and its one of the main reasons my skin cleared up this year. Not to mention I use the bar to address any immediate breakouts I experience. 

  6. African Black Soap If you’re someone who loves to obsessively clean after every shower then this natural product will change your life. This is like exfoliation meets moisturizer meets looking at my poppin af skin. I’ve had my skin clear and get softer in just 1/4 a bar of African black soap. The bar is thick so it can last a bit longer than the others mentioned in this list. The only issue with ABS is that it leaves behind a pretty obvious layer of residue. After a couple of days my white tub was looking brown and misused. But all of that has been solved by daily shower cleaner. 

  7. Waterrrrrr A gallon a day because water is life. Your skin, your body and your man thank you.

  8. Vaseline. Remember when your mom used to make you use Vicks Vapor Rub for literally every illness? Cold? Vapor Rub. Headache? Vapor Rub. Stubbed your toe? Vapor rub. Well vaseline is my all purpose product. I use vaseline to protect my nails while I do my make up and honestly...when I eat African food with my hands. But I mostly use it to try and protect my skin when I have exposed bruises or soft tender areas. For example, if I don’t want to be touching a pimple all day, I rub a little vaseline on top like a nice barrier. If you have a wound you cannot bandage directly, this also works as the perfect sealant. Apply a little over the wound or scar and apply a cloth bandage and you'll be brand new in just a few days. 

And She’s Paleo

Since I was about 9 years old, I’ve been dealing with a pretty bad skin condition. For the sake of my sanity, I won’t go into too many details about the condition, but the gist of it is something in my body would cause irritation and inflammation resulting in tumor like lumps in the skin under my arms. For so many years, I was just embarrassed to have the condition that I didn’t tell anyone except for my doctor. One thing was clear, they had NO idea what was happening. They suggested epsom salt baths or switching deodorant brands. And as a middle school child I immediately thought this was happening because of the way I took care of myself. Still, my reactions, to who knows what, were painful but few and far between...until high school.

I’m not really sure what changed in high school but it felt like puberty and my skin condition were battling each other. My breakouts became much more frequent and painful, sometimes even debilitating. There were a few occasions when I had to skip out on school because the pain was so bad. This is where I pull you into the secret life of a Nigerian American teenager. I was raised by two incredible, God-fearing parents who taught me the value of putting God first in my life. But the traditionalism of their African roots gave them a very particular perspective about how and why these breakouts were still happening. I simply wasn’t “praying enough.” I didn’t actually want my “healing.” I wasn’t “speaking scripture to the wounds.” All of this lead me to start believing that my breakouts were connected to a lack of faith, or a poor relationship with God. As I got older, deeper in my faith, and had worse breakouts, I actually started to resent God for what I was going through. I wondered what was I doing that wasn’t good enough for healing and restoration. How many times did I have to writhe, crying in pain for my prayers to be answered? That question that persisted through college.

 

By junior year, I was so used to living with the pain that I wouldn’t even call a doctor when I had a bad breakout. I’d just lay at home, skip class, apply a warm compress and watch tv. Then one day, two days before I studied abroad I had the worst breakout of my entire life and I had to be rushed to the emergency room in the middle of the night for surgery. The horrible part was how painful the surgery actually was. But the good part was a doctor had finally identified my condition by name. She told me they don’t have much information about treating it, but it’s way more common than I would expect. Her suggestions were to stop shaving, take antibiotics and use topical cream when I had a breakout, and switch my deodorant brand. Well, I took 2 out of her 3 suggestions and instead of stopping shaving altogether I switched to an electric trimmer so that I didn’t cut my scars. Things improved to the extent that I was learning to manage life with my condition. But the breakouts continued, the inability to lift my arms in public continued, and shame persisted.

As an adult, navigating what to wear, going to the beach, and entering new relationships have all been influenced by my condition. I think managing the condition from such a young age made me used to keeping my arms glued to my side. But I also carry a body image insecurity because of it. Have you ever noticed that men really love to lift your arms in the air when dancing with you? Over time I have learned to swerve the ones that do for fear of their reaction to my scars. In my last relationship I was so fearful of making my partner uncomfortable that I created physical barriers between us. Fast forward to about two months ago. I was in so much pain that I decided to do my own research about the condition and see if other people suffering like me had any suggestions. I found out that 1) I have it a lot better than some of the people dealing with this condition. Like a lot better. I immediately became grateful about that. 2) People were starting to find that the condition was related to food and eating as though they had an autoimmune disease stopped their breakouts and cleared their scars. The suggestion was to become paleo...forever.

 

Well I had tried being paleo once before so I just knew that wasn’t happening for me. I thought No...must be something else. It has to be my products. Because I love food and I couldn’t imagine giving it up. During Easter, however, my breakout was so bad that I started the paleo diet the next day also giving up nightshades. To my surprise, my skin started to clear up within a week. The bumps that were surfacing shrunk and disappeared and I was in shock by how quickly my body reacted. But I wasn’t convinced. Certainly this was a coincidence. Well, this weekend  I cheated myself and ate rice, processed foods, tomatoes, dairy, and bread. Almost immediately a new bump surfaced under my arm and within 24 hours 4 had, and they were painful. At this point I was dealing with mixed emotions. One was “wow, I found the trigger for my skin condition, this is amazing!” The other was “wow so y’all are really saying I can never have McDonald’s french fries again?”

 

So where am I now? Well for one, I’m no longer blaming my condition on my inability to pray correctly. I’ve really grown to understand that sometimes we need to do work and make changes to get the healing we are looking for. I don’t know what will come out of this journey but I’m sure something will. Second,  I’m deciding to change my life and slowly transition to being paleo forever. This is going to be difficult. If I’m grabbing a meal with you and I order french fries, don’t judge me. I’m not completely jumping ship yet because I know I’ll fail but I will be keeping a diary about how it’s going and sharing with you all! If you’ve been paleo, are becoming paleo, have tips or need suggestions, leave a comment below! We’re do this together folks...this is gonna be fun.