FUPA

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I’m gaining weight again. Slowly, I’ve been trying to adopt small, albeit significant, changes to my way of life. Coffee: black with no sugar, sometimes hot, sometimes cold. It’s been a while now, a month, maybe more, and though at times a sugar craving hits me with a shiver crawling from my chest, to my neck, to my mouth, it subsides. In the words of Myleik Teele, this thing is a marathon, not a race.

This morning I showered and got dressed to run a quick errand. When I saw myself in the mirror, I changed my glasses, then my clothes, and repeated variations of this for at least an hour. I considered not going outside at all. I didn’t like the way I looked. I hated how nothing fit right. How despite the constant effort, I always seemed to look so sloppy.

Eventually, I gathered myself, pulled on my favorite black pull on trousers, a black tee, barely-there black sandals and yellow round frames. I slipped in my earpods, blasted Lizzo’s ‘Worship Me’, and left. Leaving the house lately has required this kind of effort. These ebbs and flows of confidence coming to me boldly only to be hit with overwhelming anxiety that has me running scared moments later. It is exhausting. But it’s where I am right now. Rather than fighting it, I’m leaning in. Doing little things to find that internal calm. Giving myself one less thing to think about. I’m wearing what I love, even if it means rotating the same outfits in an already minimal closet every week. I’m giving myself manicures. Choosing the things I gravitate toward, rather than already defined societal standards that don’t align with who I am. I’m listening to Lizzo and Daniel Caesar and Eartha Kitt. I’m sharing the moments.

I’m also starting to recognize the importance of affirming myself. I never realized how constant my self-berating is. How actively working to change that is ongoing work. A kind of praying without ceasing.

I’m remembering that I’m not alone in these feelings. That the most revered among us feel it too. I can embrace my power to change the things that bother me while loving myself as I am in this moment. I can do both. I’m also learning that this work is internal. That no amount of wardrobe changes can fix a broken psyche. You have to do the work. You can’t escape it. You can’t escape yourself.

When I got home, I stripped off the pants and tee and bra and slid into my favorite almost backless black dress. Maybe because it hides my FUPA. Still, I can’t remember the last time I felt so beautiful.

sifting through pain

There are two opposing inclinations vacillating in my spirit. I’m in pain, about to bubble over like a pot of  water left on the stove. Part of me says, sit with it. The other, run like hell. Classic fight or flight.

For so much of my life I’ve felt abandoned, left to fend for myself, set aside to figure things out because, despite not having the barest of maps, I was a smart girl. Those that came before me figured it out. So, I assume, naturally they thought I would too.

But some conversations need to be had, don’t they? Pain needs to be acknowledged. Children need to be held, tended to. I was not in the wild. I needed looking after.

I turned 30 and it feels like I’ve run out of that ability to put things off until tomorrow. I have to sit in this muddied pain where things are not black or white, where lines are blurred and there is no such thing as absolute truth.

I may not know everything, but I know enough. I know enough to start sifting through memories, distinguishing reality from the stories I’ve told myself. These are the things that happen when words go unsaid. We tell ourselves stories so that we may live and eventually, we believe them.

At some point, we hit a wall. I hit a wall. And I suppose, the wall appeared because, I’m tired. I’m tired of feeling beaten and stuck and forgotten. I’m tired of people expecting me to give until there is nothing left for myself. Not that they did it alone. I was complicit, happy to be acknowledged with the least of everything in exchange for a glimpse of being seen. Pleased to be accepted by my peers who were far more accomplished in ways I’d only hoped to someday achieve. But, no more. I crave requited relationships, meaningful experiences. Not obligation. And not tenure. Despite being flawed, as we all are, I have value. I am worthy of love and capable of loving. I am hard and I am soft.

So I am sifting. Right now, that looks like quiet. Eliminating distractions, setting aside what I think I should be doing or reading or listening to and tuning into my spirit. Because, spirit knows. A body tells you what it needs if you’ll only listen. Already I’ve made progress. My feet were ready to run and yet here I am, planted, grounded, sitting with myself. Fighting the only way I know how. Telling, through stories.

30

It takes as long as it takes.

I suppose that's the thing that is finally sinking in for me today. For as long as I can remember, I've held on to this idea of how life was supposed to look according to these self-determined benchmarks I was supposed to hit by some day off into the seemingly distant future. But somewhere along the line, the days inched closer to the present, and that seemingly distant future drew nearer. 

By 30, I thought most people knew themselves more fully, knew what they wanted to do, and where they wanted to be, at the very least (if they hadn't known and become them already). But that just isn't true for me. Like magic, I thought 30 was the age of arrival, that finite point in adulthood where suddenly, it all clicked. I am trying to let go of ideas that don't serve me and embrace the truths that do. I'm reminding myself that it takes as long as it takes, and that's okay.

 

journeying

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I’ve been trying to finish Sula for weeks. It’s been with me in cars and on trains and planes in New York and Tennessee and still, I’m only halfway through.

Reading these days takes greater mental effort. It’s become a practice of forcing myself to put technology away and sit in silence. Or, almost silence. In New York it sounds like birds and trains and cars and planes passing. Horns honking. People talking as they walk by. Odd, how they become such soothing sounds when curled up with a good book in the middle of the day. I’ve taken to burning palo santo on a makeshift incense tray—a rose gold candle cover atop a growing pile of The New Yorker. It’s on loan from the library and due back today. And while I can finish it, I don’t want to rush the process. The journey of digesting the characters and nuances, rereading sentences and chapters. I don’t want to miss a thing.

I’m trying to do the same with my life these days, being gentle with myself when all my plans fall to the wayside. When the people you thought would be there aren’t. When things that should have changed, don’t.

 

I am moving toward that quiet space, inching toward myself. I’m close but not quite there yet and still, I’m relishing the journey.

Most of the stories we hear are looking back. We come, we see, we conquer. But as long as we’re here the story is ongoing. I am in the thick of it. The hard part. The working toward something you can’t fully see or grasp but know it’s there. The part where you want to give up but don’t, where you are suddenly grateful for the burdens that force you to press on, to keep going.

Keep going. That is the key to journeying. In pain? Empty? Afraid? Put one foot in front of the other, for as long as you can and keep going. You will meet the parts of you didn’t know existed on the other side.

Along the way, speak up when you feel the need. Change course or company when it feels right, even if it means you’ll have to go the rest of the way alone. It’s how you find authenticity, how you trust your voice, how you serve others by loving them enough to walk away, by refusing to be a crutch, refusing to be silent. I’m talking to myself.

losing it

Is this what mental illness feels like? Already I’ve composed iterations of this in my head. The pitter patter of my grandmother’s slippers grating against the hardwood floors like sandpaper to my skin. I get overwhelmed when I open the kitchen cabinet in hopes to find ways to sustain myself. All I see is death. Even the food in this reality will kill you. The food that is affordable and everywhere. I look in the bathroom mirror and I don’t recognize myself. All I see is madness. I wonder if I’ve just broken free of this self-imposed reality. This distraction. This consumerism. This nothing is ever enough.

When I sit with myself, I face these kinds of questions, these realities merging into nothingness. I want so much more for myself. But I cannot be protected. I was safe and then I was ripped from that safety and brought here. Whose idea is that? Akwaeke’s? Because it isn’t mine. But nothing is.

We are constantly receiving these messages: inspiration, hopelessness, inadequacy, death.

Always. Constant. And never ever enough. I read somewhere that everything we do comes from love or fear.

Choose feelings. They’re the most true. Not emotions, you understand. Your gut, your spirit. Yourself. Choose love. Love, for me, is writing. Love is sharing. Love is learning, seeking, fulfillment, seeing more—traveling. These are the moments I feel most connected to a greater thing. A purpose. My truest self.

Or are these just more messages through portals? More distractions to keep you from realizing that we’re all just sitting in boxes of varying worth depending on their location and material and surrounding opportunities to share in a community of like-minded ignorance.

Coffee cup in hand, organically sourced and pesticide free, dressed in raw silk, bought from a woman who raised the price significantly to feed her children something other than the cans that are killing us, to live in a better box, in a better location, surrounded by better communities of like-minded ignorance moving a little closer to choosing love.