Check out my latest vlog on toxicity and ways I learned to combat it. #andsheis
As I’ve gotten older, I've continued to lose. I’ve lost relationships, I’ve lost pieces of my self-image, and I’ve lost the need to please people around me. Who I thought I'd be by 25 was lost in college. Losing can be a winning game.
I used to dream of being married, having at least one kid, and living in a big Atlanta home surrounded by my black boujee neighbors by 24. Like many of us, I used achievement as the only mark of growth. Oh she’s got a new job? Oh she got married? Oh she bought a house? She’s grown. While these may be measures of growth, I failed to imagine the growth that would come from lessons I would learn in hardships, from loss. Losing has been one of my greatest teachers. And not just failure, but losing a layer of the veil so many of us wear as we imagine our futures, and who we think we should become.
I was a late bloomer. Not physically: I pretty much have all of the same physical assets of my 9 year old self. But I carried a certain naïveté due to my sheltered upbringing in the church. Don't get me wrong, I am grateful for the covering of my parents and the faith they instilled in me. But I’ve found something about super Christian culture, perhaps even black culture, tells us that we should shield our youth from lessons they will inevitably learn - "grown folks business." The shell shock of learning that everything was not simply solved by mustard seed faith was, to me, a loss. No one really told me to expect discord as an adult - at least not the kind I experienced - not financially, not romantically, not personally. No one spoke to me about the internal questions I would have about who I was when I made the wrong decision. Self disappointment was an uncomfortable experience I would repress for a lot of my time growing up, it later manifested as self deprecation. I would blame myself, pity myself, shame myself, instead of working through what I’d done. This was my loss of innocence - not only in what I learned about the world and experiences, but what I learned about being human. When I realized I would fail my own expectations of myself, I had the choice to either lower those expectations or manage them with an understanding of failure as a teacher. I’m still working to manage.
My loss of innocence also involved the late discovery of my parents as people. The day you learn that your parents are flawed is a milestone. Seeing my parents hurt each other emotionally, whether unintentionally or not, brought into question the false notion I’d grown up with that love, and simply that, could solve every relationship problem. My heroes were *dunh dunh dunh* human, and that meant sometimes I could see “right” more clearly than they could. Wondering about who my parents would have been, if they had the same opportunities they gave to me, erased the idea of “legacy” I once had. Parents cannot live out their dreams through their children without burdening someone. In fact, my parents had to let go of their dreams to make room for mine. With that realization, I no longer felt like their child. I felt responsible. In losing my innocence, I gained perspective, drive, and empathy.
Is losing friendships the mark of adulthood? The subject matter is in almost every online women's magazine. And to my surprise, it was a marker in my latest season of growth. Let me preface everything I say with this: You must learn the difference between turbulence and toxicity. Turbulence is but for a season, and people deserve loyalty through a difficult stretch. Toxicity should not be tolerated because it requires devotion to habits that devour your emotional health and stability.
I grew up a closeted people pleaser. This manifested in my relationships with people as it related to setting boundaries and defining what friendship meant to me. I'll just put this out there: I never experienced someone flat out saying "I don't like you." I attributed that to my adaptability. I could adjust who I was to fit what another person needed, every time. If you needed my time, I could give more of that; if you needed space, I could back off. If you needed an ear, I would listen; If you needed to laugh, I would be funny. But being adaptable only has it's benefits for so long. Eventually you lose sight of who you actually are and what you actually need. By trying to keep everyone happy, I would forsake the tugs at my spirit that tried to remind me to replenish, or to step away, or to say no. My closeted desire to keep everyone happy fostered resentment in me and a constant questioning of whether or not people would still like me if I couldn't adapt.
The crux of loss came after my first serious relationship. Again, I was a late bloomer, so I didn't learn first hand about commitment, hurt and partnership until I was 23. Who you think you'll be while dating is often different than how you manifest, well, at least the first time around and especially in a toxic relationship. Through the course of and end of that relationship, who I was changed. I retreated. I needed more space. I didn't have much, if anything, to give, I was just trying to manage being. It was more than not being adaptable. When you try to hide a toxic relationship, you have to create distance. With that distance, a lot of my relationships changed. And even when the relationship ended and I learned my lessons, I would never be the same. At first, I was critically concerned about how to adjust who I was becoming to who everyone in my life was. But eventually I realized that some people would just no longer like the person I’d become, and that was okay. I had lost parts of my identity, and some of those identity pieces were what connected me to others. So, there was loss. Sometimes when we lose people in our life we judge ourselves harshly. We blame ourselves for the turbulence. And sometimes it can actually be our fault. Regardless, you have to decide to accept and still love who you are in that season, so long as you aren't toxic and aren't intentionally hurting people.
Instead of following the trail of dislike, and trying to reconcile every negative word I had spoken or heard spoken about me, I let it go and trusted that all things would work together. To be clear, this did not absolve me from the responsibility to apologize. You should always apologize where you know you did wrong, but you must rid yourself of the need to be affirmed when you change. Losing my need for identity affirmation was probably one of my greatest points of growth thus far. Some people sign up for who you are, knowing that you will change, others sign up for how you present. Learning to discern the difference is crucial. And finding the maturity to acknowledge who you are and who someone is to you can be one of your greatest points of growth. People deserve your honesty. If you cannot commit to being an old version of you, be honest. Share the "good news" and allow people the space to subscribe or not. If we take care of our spiritual health, things inevitably unfold as they are meant to. A friendship lost today does not mean a friendship lost forever. But if it does, you’ll likely find it was meant to be.
Where You Lose, You Gain
Losing is shedding the old to make room for where you are going and who you are becoming. Lose your self image that is dependent on anyone but you and God. Create a standard for who want to be, but base it in love for your personal evolution. What the world sees as a loss can often be a personal gain. And when you commit to self acceptance, you will suddenly notice rejection. Not everyone is meant to like who you are. Embrace it. It signifies that you are coming home to yourself.
“be easy. take your time. you are coming home. to yourself. — the becoming” Nayyirah Waheed
In July 2016, I packed up my apartment and left New York City for almost a year. At the time, I wasn’t sure what was next. I had quit my job and committed to a coding bootcamp. I was taking a risk and leaving everything I thought I needed behind: a relationship, a steady income, friends, a city I knew very well. I was so afraid of the potential consequences: what if it doesn't work out money wise and I have to move back home? What if I lose the person I’m so dependent on? What if I am just as unhappy somewhere else? Well unfortunately for my fears, it was too late...I was jumping.
Some of my then fears actually happened: my relationship at the time ended, I moved in to my parents home for about a month, and I had to take out a loan to cover my bootcamp costs. Surprisingly, each fear manifest was exactly what I needed to bloom --and that’s what life showed me months later. Several tears, a couple rebounds, a book of affirmations and 3 months of technical knowledge later I landed a dream job and my life changed forever. I started singing a little again. I started living again. But there was always a looming feeling that I had run away from things in New York. I felt like I had some unfinished business. So, almost a year later I gathered up the courage to return to New York City.
Returning home is easy. But returning to a place stained with memories of loss is a whole 'nother giant. Sometimes we glorify the things we leave behind because we never conquered the demons we battled in that season. I’ll be honest, I imagined coming back as some glorious return. I imagined coming back and spitting in the face of fear, doubt, insecurity, and loneliness -- my New York demons. But as the plane was landing I just felt nervous. I felt some of those old feelings reach the surface. I remembered what it felt like to have no faith in myself. And it felt uncomfortable. Suddenly, I couldn’t remember why I was so excited to visit.
Now don’t get me wrong, I had a good time. I saw so many people I love, many of whom I didn't appreciate until I left. And there’s nothing like the feeling of being in New York City hopping into a cab and driving past some of the tallest buildings in the world. But even in the familiar “omgggg” moments, there was no point at which I felt like I was returning to a place I once lived. The memories of the city and the memories of the person I was crept over me. Many memories were pleasant but there were few where I was genuinely happy. Just like that, for the next few days there was an odd feeling in the pit of my stomach as I moved through Manhattan and Brooklyn. I realized that while I had blamed people for my unhappiness all this time, it was actually the city that left me unfulfilled. There were no bars I just had to go back and visit and few restaurants I needed to get food from. There were many people I wanted to see, but even more plans cancelled at the last minute. The overall experience left me remembering what it felt for me to live in NYC: empty. A lot of acquaintanceships with no depth. A lot of dreams with no action.
I don’t think my emptiness was about the value of NYC as a whole. Instead it had to do with who I was and the things I needed to come alive. I now fully believe that your best life has to do with your surroundings. Where you are may not be who you are, but where you are can certainly unlock who you are meant to be. I will never count NYC out as a city I could live in...in some distant, distant future. But I couldn’t go back to NY without strong relationships, a faith community, and the intention to create a life for myself. I want to have my favorite sushi spot. I want to have the one place that makes me feel centered when I’ve had a bad day. I want to play bar roulette with friends and I want to actually make it to Harlem from Brooklyn on a Friday night. I won't leave until Monday morning but at least I’ll have made it.
Leaving NY taught me not to glorify the “stay at home in bed all day and speak to noone” personality. It taught me that sleeping in the dark with the black theatre curtains drawn was indicative of deep rooted lack of self worth and unhappiness. I gave myself a lot of labels while living in NY. I just don’t like to go outside. I’m a homebody. I’m not creative. I just like to bum it out. I’m not fun. I’m boring. I can’t...I don’t...I’m not. I counted myself out more times than not. And returning forced me to confront just how bad my self image was. Sometimes returning forces us to confront who we were and it's not just about praising how far we’ve come, it's about dusting off the final bits of residue from past destruction. That first return after a year of being unable to touch foot in the state broke the seal I placed on my past. Now, I have three trips planned in the span of a month and there is no fear stopping me from living as this new being in an old city.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
Waterrrrrr A gallon a day because water is life. Your skin, your body and your man thank you.
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.
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.