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.

you belong everywhere

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You are allowed to take up space. To speak up. To be here, just as you are now. Yesterday, a relative of a friend of a relative made a comment about my hair in jest. About how they couldn't love me because it isn't long enough. "No box, no give." The words are an expression. A thing they say when they see a person that is less than desirable. The last to say it gets the unwanted prize.

Typically, these are the kinds of encounters that stay with me. Like a single negative among a sea of positive expression. It stands out. It is set apart. And it is the thing I am drawn to. The one who was brave enough to say it, so it must be true.

Except, I love my hair like this. I love the texture of my matted curls. How my hair springs back when I pull it to show how it's perceived length is deceiving. I love how just being in New York again has made me lose weight so my favorite things fit a little closer. All of the moving to get to wherever. All of the walking and never driving unless I have to take an Uber because walking will make me late.

 

I love my straight leg jeans and my mules and my white tee and my sunglasses. And myself. I loved myself in a moment when someone told me I was unloveable. It was unprecedented. But I was grateful. 

When I had a moment to myself again, I grabbed my phone and recorded a reminder to myself:

"You are enough. You are amazing and you are beautiful and anybody who tells you differently does not deserve you. Don't second-guess yourself when someone tells you that you aren't enough because your hair is too short or your ass it too flat or you "talk too white" or your stomach isn't flat enough. You're amazing. Take up more space. Own your uniqueness because those are the things that make you special. You belong here. You belong everywhere."

After, I went outside with my sister and asked her to take this picture. I wanted to remember how I felt in a moment where someone said I wasn't deserving of love and I proved them wrong because I already loved myself.

freedom

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“What does Saida want for Saida?” I remember reading the words distinctly. My mother had sent them to me in a text message. She was and is a praying woman. She was praying for me, for direction in my life, when she said she felt those words in her spirit. I still don’t know the answer to that question.

When I was 13 my 8th grade English teacher at the time, John Patrick Murphy as he had introduced himself, gave my class an assignment to start journaling. It was around the time he would read entire chapters of The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros and be in tears by the end. I wasn’t much of a writer before then, but I read a lot.

I was taking a nap one afternoon sometime before the journal was due when I was jolted from my sleep by this dream I can’t remember. I grabbed a pen and paper and I wrote my first poem. After that, you could always find me writing.

They were terrible poems written in iambic pentameter about heartache and this desperation to be seen. I was always very aware of the intensity of my experiences as a child. Back then, death was a familiar thing. When I was nine, my father and grandfather, the two most important men in my life, died within the span of a year. And shortly after, a childhood friend was violently murdered during a home invasion.

I had a cloud around me, this sadness, and I seemed to be like a fly on the wall at home. I looked in on conversations where my sister laughed off my mother’s warnings not to become a teenage mother shortly after our cousin had become one, and my stepfather telling my mother that he wouldn’t stand for another man’s child informing him that he was not their parent in the midst of an attempt to discipline them.

 

I snuck bowls of his cereal that I was not to eat and cautiously rationed his Cameo cookies in the same vein. I folded laundry and baked cakes and cookies and made french toast. I broke a magic eight ball with a knife to see what was inside, stunned that blue water and white dice had determined so much of my fate. I set fire to paper napkins on the kitchen table and watched the opposite of age-appropriate movies while I mixed flour and water to make my own play-doh that I hid under my grandfather’s bed when he was coming.

Back then I wanted to be an opera singer. I loved Scary Spice and was convinced that we were distant cousins because my grandmother had the same last name.

I see myself now, holding a mirror up to this face, this little girl stuck in an aging body. I miss what I’ve lost every day and struggle to keep grasp of what is here still.

I became so many things because of—I don’t know what—this incomplete amalgamation of dreams that never fully materialized. I don’t know what I love or what I’m good at or who I’m supposed to become. I vacillate between these two worlds, one of dreams and the other of pragmatism, and slowly I am losing the dreamer. I thought I would be so many things by now.

I’ve blamed others for my being here. Never taking responsibility for the role I played. Whatever the particulars, I chose over and over again, to chip away at my dreams until they were a laughable memory, a thing that never could be again.

Now I have to start over. Begin at the beginning. Strip down. Get naked and honest and sit with myself. What does Saida want for Saida? Freedom. To guffaw, mouth open and head held back. Confidence in her skin. To become who she’s always been.