When Life Hands You Hardship

I’ve learned more about mortality in the last four years of my life than I had in the entire seventeen before that. 

It’s astounding. I’ve never found a good reason to use that word, but here it is.

Out of the 3 quarters most of us spend here at Cal Poly every year, ever since my sophomore year started, I’ve had to talk to professors in the first two weeks of classes in at least 2 of them.

Because something happened. Whether it was an incessant onset of unending migraines, the loss of friends, or everything in between, there was always something I wasn’t sure I could handle and didn’t know how it would impact my studies.

I mean this is college—this is life—so of course there are a lot of things we can’t see coming. Unfortunately, the jobs or the kids or the friends or the classes, none of it stops long enough for us to get our foundation put back together once we lose it.

In the words of Ellis Grey, “the carousel never stops turning.”

So, what do we do?

Last week, here’s what I did: I kept moving. Just like I think we all do. I went to class, to work, did the homework I could remember to do, and I put one foot in front of the other. Because one thing I realized, at least for my situation, is that it could have been worse. So, so much worse.

Photo by Henry & Co. on Unsplash

Long story short, I blacked out last week Tuesday and fell on my face, much to the pleasure of my glasses and the black eye I’ve been sporting due to the former party. Even though it’s not a great situation and my eyebrow may have a nice little scar down the center to eradicate any chance of a unibrow in my future, the blackout happened in one of the best places it could have. Our Multicultural Center (MCC).

Now I’m not saying I’m glad it did, not at all. But what I am glad for is that I was surrounded by people who care about me, who knew what to do and who to call, and would never make me feel like a burden for being someone they love and in turn, worry about. I’m glad because I got lucky. Unbelievably so. That day, I worked a 5-hour rush shift in our university store—on the second day of classes, talk about a rush—and I went to a two-hour class that got our early, so I just happened to decide to walk across campus to hang out in the MCC.

Had I not made that decision, I don’t know where I would have been. Had it been 20 seconds later than when I decided to leave that room for class or had I not stopped to talk to friends, I would have been on a very large set of stairs; I would have been set up quite perfectly to fall down all four flights.

I got lucky. And I know it.

So why am I telling you all this, why should it matter to you? Well, other than the fact that you care about my well-being of course, right?

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Regardless of whether you know me or if I’m just another person to pop up on your reading list for the day, I say all this to remind you of the things we cannot see coming. I mean, I quite literally did not see and sort of cannot remember this one coming very well at all. In my first post of the year, I looked at 2020 and told myself it was a new decade to make my own. With the start of a natural hair journey and what could have been a clean slate, I wanted to start it off strong.

My life and my brain had other plans. I can’t change that.

I also can’t change the fact that I am no longer allowed to drive, nor do I feel safe being alone or isolated from other people for too long a period of time. I have to ask for help more, I have to let people help me, along with re-adjusting to the bus system that kicked my butt sophomore year.

And the biggest part, something that I think we all struggle with, is that I have to be okay with not knowing. I do not have the answers and I do not know if I will ever have them for what happened, why it happened when it did, why this happened to me… The usual questions we have when it comes to situations like this. Instead, I realize that there is only one thing we are ever guaranteed from the moment we breathe air in this world: once we are alive, the only thing we know for sure is that we will die at some point. That is the only luxury we are given.

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We don’t have the answers for what we’re going to do with our lives, who is going to stick around for us, or what paths we should stay away from. Nor do we know when we should ease up on ourselves, when we should push harder, and when we should simply try moving a different direction. I wish we did, really I do. It would be easier.

But I guess “easier” would also make us pretty boring as human beings. It would take away every last bit of what makes us the fragile, emotional, headstrong, creative, passionate, and individualistic people that we are.

Without all these questions and problems and trials and changes, I don’t know about you, but I would be pretty bored with myself. I wouldn’t have a reason to ask for help, to have people to ask in the first place, or any real purpose as to why I care about the things I care about. I wouldn’t need any of that, I wouldn’t have been put in any position where I did.

I wouldn’t have a reason to know that I will be writing for the rest of my life, because I would have nothing to say.

Do you know how oddly sad that is? Not that I wouldn’t have any real struggles or a full consciousness of the world around me, but that something I care about so deeply and share with the people I love wouldn’t actually hold any value in my life anymore.

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Maybe in a way, a very small small way, I’m glad that what happened last week did happen. Because yes, the migraines are back full force every day, my mental health isn’t the greatest because it feels like someone took a sledgehammer to my foundation, the exhaustion is unmatched, and my memory is like a pile of mashed potatoes that someone thinks they need to keep mashing… Yet, here’s the thing:

I’m here.

I know that it could have been worse, I could have been worse, and I’m here. That is more than I knew I needed to be thankful for on our first day of classes last Monday. So, I’ll go ahead and put that thankfulness out into the world today.

I will share it with you.

These days, our lives, they aren’t easy. I mean, my problems are very different from my neighbors or the people in Australia or really anyone else in the world. Yet, we are all doing our best to get through what we need to get through and do what we must as we try to keep our heads above water. If we’re not, I’m hoping each of us have people to pick us up and remind us why we keep going anyway.

Lucky for me, I know that I do. And even if I might sit in this for a little while, not quite at my best, they’ll probably sit here with me.

If I’m really lucky, maybe you will too.

As I figure all this out and try to keep everything straight in my head, I ask for your patience and low expectations, now that I’m realizing this is another one of those “before and after’s”—I may never be able to go back to the before and I’ll have to live with that. All I can do is keep moving.

I just hope that you will move with me and maybe share your own stories with me while you do. I would love to hear what has made you who you are today, because it matters. Maybe more than you give it credit for. Trust that.

And happy Friday everyone. I hope to see you next week.

Back to the Basics

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Welcome to 2020, another year and another day to be thankful for every person who has followed me this far. Because there are big things happening in the world and well, we’re only getting started.

And I’m starting it off doing something I’ve never done before (on my own, at least). 

I’m trying out my natural hair. It might not seem like a big deal, I mean, for a lot of people it isn’t. But for black women, for all of us who feel as if we cannot be our natural selves in a way that society supports, it takes a lot to grow into who we are and want to be. Hair has a whole lot to do with it.

Here, let me explain.

You see, I grew up looking at magazines and TV shows with women in it who all had silky smooth straight hair. I didn’t see people who looked like me; that says a lot about the world around us. At least, it said a lot to me as a child. 

It told me that I was outside the norm.

From what I can tell, the world around us has taken a turn towards a movement of acceptance, the celebration of differences. But growing up, I didn’t see that. What I saw was a whole lot of insecurity, the kind that you carry with you until it’s something you can’t ignore.

Photo by José on Unsplash

Now, I’m choosing to face it. Because I want to see what I can do without anything altering who I am, from the way I live my life down to how I wear my hair. There is something to be said for authenticity, right?

I have nothing against relaxed or straight hair; the thing is, I’ve never worked with my own hair in its natural state. I am 21 years old and I have never taken the time to embrace myself as I am. As undergrad winds down and graduation looms five months away, I feel that now might be just the time to do exactly that.

Do you know why?

Because how we look, what we do, the way we own our lives, it defines us. There are so many things that have happened in the last few years of my life that have completely altered my perspective on the world around us. I wrote a book of poems on the way out of high school (check it out here if you haven’t yet) and reading it back through, I am nowhere near the girl who wrote it.

I’m okay with that. Every year of high school, I changed my hair in one way or another. I guess you could say I was trying to find something that felt like me. Each style was something different, something fun—as a black woman, I have a whole lot of options to change my hair up if I wanted to.

Photo by ActionVance on Unsplash

Going back to the basics, going completely natural, is not one of the ways I’ve tried yet. It simply seemed too hard, too complicated. And a little far outside the boundaries of “normal” that I didn’t have the confidence to push. Maybe it’s time to challenge myself a little.

I’m not doing this because it’s a new year and I think I can completely change who I am simply because the calendar flipped another page. Not at all.

I’m doing this because I need to know who I am in order to change myself in the first place; I only aim for the first part of that process. Maybe you’ve noticed in the past couple months—years even—I’ve been doing what I can to get back to the basics. To rebuild the foundation of who I am, the one that’s been breaking and rearranging with every day that passes me by.

Weird that doing so starts with my hair, isn’t it?

In a way, that’s exactly where I need to start. How I look is one of the first things I have ever defined myself by, so I want to take control of that into my own hands this time. I wrote a poem a two years ago, A Black Woman’s Battle Cry, that spelled out how I define myself. From the stereotypes that follow me, the choices I make or the capabilities I hold, are things that can either hold me back or push me forward.

The first line of that poem was all about my nappy hair, how it makes me different. Instead of letting it hold me back the way it used to, I’m going to let it push me forward.

Forward, or right, or left, or diagonally… I’m rebuilding a foundation with whatever I’ve got. Whatever comes next.

So, it’s a new year with the same old me. But the year comes with a few new challenges; I think maybe I can be ready to handle them. Can you?

Here’s to whatever 2020 holds for all of us. Happy New Year.

Another Year, Another Journey

Well, it’s almost the end of another calendar year and time just keeps trudging on to the end of 2019. To kick off this year, I remember calling cancel culture on new year’s resolutions—after all, sometimes they’re great and other times, they’re merely excuses for things we’re going to. Even when we usually don’t.

Anyone else find that to come true this year? I know I did.

But 2020 will be different, right? We’re going to better ourselves and set goals that we can meet and live up to everything we are hoping to… Or not.

The only guaranteed thing about 2020: it’s going to happen. All of us may try to do the best with the time we’ve got left in the year, squeeze in as much time as we can with other people, and just make the most of these last few days. One way or another, the countdown has begun.

And I can’t say I’m ready. I mean, 2020 means graduation—graduation means figuring out my life plans and making a legitimate step into this whole adulting thing. It’s also an election year, a leap year, I turn 22 (whatever that means), it’s the return of a new kind of roaring 20’s, and well, it’s a new year.

All big things.

Photo by Kylo on Unsplash

Before moving forward, though, I’ve got to admit something: 2019 was an incredibly unexpected year. Unexpected in the way that, there were just so many things I couldn’t see coming. The real start of a new novel, a very different Orientation experience, a minor that seemed to be just what I was looking for, the beginning of the end of college for me, and so so much more. It’s hard to keep track of everything that happens in one calendar year—though you might remember that I basically keep a weekly journal about it online—what I can say is that I’ve learned a lot. 

Now, I get to share that learning with you. After all, why not start the new year on the same page.

This year brings me to 5 main areas of takeaways. It’s been a big one and a hard one for so many different reasons. But it’s another year almost done. So, let’s reflect.

Time Does Not Stop

Even when it feels like it does, or feels like it should, time is one of the few constants we have in our world and it stops for no one. On things like a quarter system where classes are hard and ridiculously fast paced, it can be great because it’ll be over soon enough. Or, it can be terrible, when you just can’t keep up. Life itself is kind of like that. While there may be no way to stop time or make it pass any slower, we can always find ways to make it pass a little easier at least. How? Just breathe. When things are hard or blurring a little too fast around you, that’s okay. There’s no way to avoid it, and we don’t have to. Find your people, hold onto the support I hope you have, and let the time pass—don’t try to stop it. You can’t. Just breathe through it instead.

Very Little is Guaranteed

I’ve made a lot of empty promises to myself over the past year, from saying “oh, I’ll start waking up earlier in the mornings” to “just one more Netflix episode.” The thing is, unless I do something about it right then and there, I can’t guarantee it will happen. No one can. Sometimes we get busy or traffic picks up or life does instead; the only things that make a difference are the actions we take right now. Earlier this year, I was planning to spend the summer in SLO, and I finally decided to take my rabbit with me. We were going to spend the whole summer together, me and my white ball of fur. Plus, Nick. Instead, she spent one night with us and I woke up to Nick telling me he had to leave for work but there was something wrong with her. Parasites—kind of like good intentions, they stick around for a while until they’ve taken up enough time and enough life to have done their job. Meanwhile, your plans never get fulfilled. So, stop planning. Start doing.

Life Happens

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There are quite a few words we can substitute here for “life” and I think we all know a good amount of them, they’re all the same. The good, the bad, the everything in between, it all can show up whether we plan for it or not. A pop quiz, a bad hair day, heart attacks, downpours, a car accident, a kind gesture, cancelled class… Nothing is off limits. Not us, our lives, the lives of those around us, and definitely not the way we see the world. I’m not sure there is any way to go into a year with the same mindset you leave it in, too much happens for that. I used to think that I was healthy, that my friends were healthy, my parents were invincible, and good things happen to good people. Well my health, jury is out on that one, a few too many young friends have been lost to be qualified as healthy anymore, my parents have their own lives beyond me or my siblings, and things—good or bad—just happen. Some of it is out of our control, however, how we react to it all will always be our choice. When we can, we handle it with grace.

You Get Out What You Put In

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This one goes exactly as it sounds—if you put in fifty percent of your energy to something, it isn’t like interest that gathers over time. You only get fifty percent back out. In WOW this past year, I gave everything I had to the program because it mattered to me. All of my time, energy, tears, and work was returned to me not through credit but rather through people. Those people mean the world to me and I am lucky to have them. I only ended up with 20 Orientation Leaders I care about endlessly because I gave each of them as much as I could. In classes, my grades were only as good (or bad) as the time and effort I put into them. Sometimes, like Spring Quarter, things are not ideal. I pulled a class load on top of work and Orientation that no one should ever do—I knew that when I went into it even when I had little choice. But I passed all my classes and pulled through some incredible, hard, life-changing experiences. I would never take any of it back. I put everything I am into this past year of my life and I’ve gotten an entirely different me out of it. To me, that’s a year well spent. 

Give Credit Where It’s Due

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I would say that this is about appreciating the people around you, but really, I’m actually talking about appreciating yourself. No matter what 2019 looked like for you, you have made it through all the way through to today. I know that I’ve worked incredibly hard, as have so many people around me, and we deserve to recognize that. Because it hadn’t been easy. As a matter of fact, this has actually been a very difficult year for so many people I love and there is no way to deny it. I don’t want to. How we get through these years make us who we are. Our reactions, understandings, musings, growth… All of it is what defines us as people regardless of class, race, gender, ethnicity, culture, aspirations, or anything in between. So, it you’ve made it this far, don’t forget that you deserve to look back and understand why. Understand how much you had to do with the you that exists in this very moment. Give yourself credit where it is due to you.

Whatever this year has been like for you, take a minute to look back at it. It’s been a long one, one that flew by in some ways and dragged on in others. But a lot has happened, for all of us. And we’ve made it through another decade, I think that warrants a retrospective appreciation.

Once you look back, sit with it, and then it’s time to move forward. Because here comes 2020.