I know you got excited when you read the title, because you. You want someone to get it. I can’t promise that. What I can say, is that I’ll try. I’ll try to be as honest, as present, as black girl trying to be strong for (them) as I can, because I think I get it now: “being strong.” It’s not that people want you to “be strong”, it’s just that they don’t know how to see you weak. How to comfort you. How to be a landing for you in those moments. A safe space. So, you hide those moments. You beat yourself up for falling apart. You apologize for feeling. You tell yourself that no one has time for your healing. For your moments. So, you “be strong.” You put on your black woman/man and you force through. You search. You search in lovers or something less moving. You’ll find yourself overcompensating at social events that mean nothing to you. Sometimes, it’s a late-night phone call to the person you know will answer. Most of the time, it’s crying to friends who you feel are tired of helping you shape shift. Tired of helping you piece those same broken pieces of yours into something grounded enough for that moment. You wonder If they’re fed up with helping you create something that you can identify. You whisper a “thank you” through the phone or your shaken hands type “thanks” and you fall back into your alone. It hurts that it’s over now. That the pretty words or the warm voice isn’t yours until the morning, because you’re ok right now. That fear starts to smother you, because of tomorrow. Tomorrow, you may drop the sculpture they’ve helped you form. You must start over tomorrow, black bro and sis. That’s what’s scary. That tomorrow, all the work that you did to be strong today, might not be enough.
I remember when I stood in the hospital lobby as my mom was dying. I don’t remember how I felt honestly. There were people. They had voices that had no sound to me. I was floating. In and out of myself. Everyone was romantic. They came with hugs, texts, prayers that felt like a slap in my black face. I felt someone pull me away from my mother. She laid there and I tugged at her body, wondering how the air became so hard to focus on. My father watched me hard. “Stay here with me, Lant. Stay here with me.” I looked at him unfocused and wondered “What’s left?” I was supposed to be “strong”. That’s what I told myself and when I sat there I told myself that I was supposed to feel. I was supposed to be present. That right now, I was supposed to have this moment. It was a room full of people and I had to find the air. I had to find a way to breathe through it, because people. They needed me. I told myself to ignore myself. I don’t know if that was progressive. If that was safe. If it was natural. Just bring strong, that is. Not when it comes to being. Not when it comes to dealing. Honestly, why do they tell us to be strong? Why did I tell myself to be strong as I laid there next to my mother? I think I get it now. I didn’t want to hurt. They didn’t want me to hurt, but it did. You don’t want us to cry, but we do. We will. You don’t want us to feel it all, but we must. Yes, we are strong, but we’re also learning how to deal while dealing. When I laid there next to my mother, I was searching for ways to deal. I was also telling myself “You have to deal.” The ironic thing is, I wasn’t giving myself permission or the space to deal. I forced myself through the stage of “dealing” right into the stage of “presentation.” You cannot enter the stage of presentation, unless you deal.
So, black bro and sis reading this or black boy trying to understand or whoever may have decided to spend some time with me, you don’t have to be strong right now. I’m not going to force that on you. I’m going to tell you to just be. I know you’re heavy breathing in your head right now. I know you may feel some guilt to your knees. I know that back there, you didn’t get closure and I know that it seems like everyone is ganging up and the air is closing in on you. What if I told you, that you get to be an ice cube right now. Here’s some heat. You get to melt right now, because you can have faith in your solid. We can melt. I promise that once we get back to our chill, we ‘ll find our shape again.
Let me explain. I also have dealt with anxiety and depression. What I’ve learned from my battle with both is that: Anxiety is fear of the unknown. It’s the middle space between reality and imagination. It’s the bridging gap between floating and grounded. It’s a blinded perception. It’s usually a distorted image rooted in fear, insecurity, and rejection. It’s a weight that pulls on your mental freedom. It keeps you moving aimlessly within this cage. The cage however, is completely created and controlled surprisingly by you. Anxiety is always inward panic. Sometimes, it can show itself physically. Usually in situations that provoke immediate panic. Anxiety isn’t always heavy breathing. It’s not going to always show itself as “dramatically.” Sometimes, it’s that text that you get from a friend asking “are you upset with me?” Sometimes, it’s someone avoiding you at a social gathering and when confronted, they reply “I didn’t want to ruin your night.” It could be that person that always responds with “not tonight. I’m a little tired.” It could be silence. The thing about anxiety is that it’s an illusion of chaos that our minds have created. Our minds tell us, that (we) are chaos. We then move through the fear of that chaos being projected into our reality. Picture this, someone randomly runs into your living room and yells “I’m sorry that I spilled juice on your white dress.” They then come into the room and sits carefully, avoids interaction with the juice or you and constantly hands you napkins. The person is literally on their toes trying not to create chaos. Working tirelessly to not spill juice that hasn’t been spilled. That’s anxiety. Someone with anxiety lives in fear that their chaotic mind will somehow ooze out of their pores onto the carpet. Black bro and sis, what if I told you that we don’t always owe someone a clean room.
I haven’t had that many anxiety attacks as we’re used to seeing them. I had maybe four throughout my life. It’s more of a recent thing. A month after my mom’s passing, I tried to start working again. It was May, so Mother’s Day was approaching. I worked at a grocery store, so of course we were running ads for the holiday. I was irritable, angry, and envious. I was at work though. For customers to get their discounts on their groceries, they had to have a club card. My customers never had their cards, so I tried to help them out. I would put in our old house number. One night, I did this and my mom’s name came flashing across the screen “Wanda Jones Lewis.” I tried to do everything that I could to get her name from in front of me. I tap keys, I scanned the closest item, I system rebooted, but nothing worked. I couldn’t breathe. All I remember was hearing my aunt saying “breathe Lant. You have to breathe.” That was my first real anxiety attack, but I have been dealing with anxiety for as long as I can remember. I guess I became good at keeping it from spilling onto the carpets of the world. I guess, this time, I was tired. For the first time, I couldn’t control the presentation. This is when I realized that I was really here.
Something else that I’ve realized is that our anxiety is somewhat in relation to our social spheres. The interactions that we’ve had with people throughout our lives, often result in the way our minds cultivate images. If you’ve been bullied for instance, like I have you may have a certain anxious thought pattern. For instance, “I have so many enemies”, “they hate me”, “I am not a good person”, “they are talking about me”, “I’ll never be enough.” The motivating factor of those anxious thoughts is our humanness. It is our mistaken prone nature. Those with anxiety often fear their own humanness. We hold on to those mistakes and we add them up. We worry that our humanness has effected the entire world around us. Imagine one day you were rushing through a door and you accidently closed it behind you while someone was a little further behind you. You’ve told yourself that it was your obligation to hold that door for Jessica. Now, you have also told yourself that because you didn’t hold that door, Jessica must think ill of you. You meditate on the fact that you didn’t hold the door and you connect that to how you and Mike argued five weeks ago. You’re obsessing now about being the common chaotic denominator. You’re focusing on that door closing and what that could have meant. Not the actuality of what happened. What if I told you that Jessica made it through the door and is now at home curled up with her favorite Netflix show. Why? Well, Jessica wasn’t dependent on you. She wasn’t dependent on your humanness. Your entire character isn’t based off this. You get to hold fifty more doors tomorrow. This has no association with (you). Why? Mainly because, Jessica had no expectations of you in the first place.
Let’s deal with that (you). Those parenthesis, that’s your space. That’s yours. You get to live in that space. You get to decorate it, cultivate it, and build it to match your fly. Anxiety tells you that everyone is against you for that (you). That you must sink in that (you) instead of rise in it. You paint the walls with gray, you fill it with loud noises and markings on the wall and piles and piles of old clippings and debris. You did that to (you). That’s the Self-doubt. Its constant is wandering and wondering. You wonder how you can be. You aim to be, so you push for perfection. However, you only push for perfect to dodge rejection. The thing is, since anxiety is rooted in fear, aiming to be perfect is a double-edged sword. The best way to deal with the fear of rejection is to deal with the (you). It’s to really sit there and start piecing together those old clippings on the floor. The first question is “what happened back there?”
One day, I had to sit and recognize the patterns with my anxiety. It was towards the end of a very tumultuous, two-year relationship. I think I can finally admit that it was mentally, spiritually, and emotionally manipulative and abusive. It was a very pivotal point in my battle with anxiety and depression. I remember I laid there in my bed crying and I asked myself “why are you being so mean to yourself?” I sat up straight and just listened. I literally started picking up piles and piles of my old stuff and I felt my inner woman piecing together everything that I had been running from. I was at that fork in the road where I could do my normal routine of running and avoiding or I could deal. I was so used to presenting, that I started avoiding people to avoid being forced to present a whole image of togetherness. I was in pieces, so I forced myself to deal that day. I told myself that I was tired and I heard God say “Cool. I want rest for you.” That’s when I realized that there is enough space in my life for me to deal.
YOU GET TO DEAL. YOU ARE OWED SPACE TO DEAL.
When I realized, this I started to take a little action. This isn’t one of those “I started to find myself” think pieces. No. This was the first small step of a million steps that I am still taking. I realized that energy was the greatest of investments. If I invested so much energy into others, imagine the self-work that could happen if I invested in me. I literally had a “yo, that’s crazy” moment. Honestly, as good as we aim to be to others, we should be as good to ourselves. My next realization was “Lant, you get to mourn your best friend.” I don’t have to force myself through that. I don’t have to force myself to cope. I get to be natural in my dealing. I get to be genuine in my dealing. I get to feel that, because I’m feeling that. I get to cry and scream and call my daddy at 2 A.M and sing our favorite songs to her picture. That’s mine. That is (mine). Remember the parenthesis is your space. That’s how you deal in your space. The pain isn’t unhealthy. The human experience isn’t unhealthy. The dealing isn’t unhealthy. It’s the forcing yourself to “be strong” that can become unhealthy. That’s when you find yourself drinking in bathrooms, popping pain pills, smoking, axing out credit cards and rolling over to people in the morning that you have nothing for. What you’ll find yourself doing is moving through your anxiety. Moving through the fear of being. Moving through the fear of not knowing how to deal. You’ll tell yourself “they see me. Let me run, because I’m dripping the carpet!” Yes, you are and yes, we do see you. We do, because we messed up a couple of carpets too back there and it’s all good. Your human is perfect. You’re here and because of that, you’re not conditional. You are. YOU. ARE. I can stop here, because that’s the end of the thought. YOU ARE. You don’t have to overthink that. You don’t have to live in fear of your here. There aren’t any conditions on your portion, your presence, on (you). You get to chill in that. You get to melt. Black bro and sis, I hope you found your shape again.