No Sugar, No Flour- Day 30

nosugarnoflour

(Please note that this is an account of a personal experience and not an endorsement or recommendation of any sort. This should not be mistaken for health care advice. And I urge everyone reading this to consult their physician or registered dietitian for nutritional advice because I am neither.)

Many in my self-love challenge community know that this year my self-love practice is focused on my physical health. I want to be healthier in general and lose a considerable amount of weight in particular.

In January and February, I focused on being more active and going to the gym.

While I knew I needed to radically change the food I put in my mouth, to some degree I felt really stuck and overwhelmed. I would make a commitment to myself to eat better and then it seemed as if my self-control would betray me almost without fail.

And I would feel really awful afterwards. And every day was a struggle– knowing I should do better, but not knowing how to make it happen.

Then I heard a neuro-psychologist talk about the addictive properties of certain foods, namely flour and sugar and the way they affect the brain. She argues that certain people are more susceptible to the addictive nature of these foods than others.

And the solution to this is total abstinence from flour and sugar.

For those in the back, I’ll say it again: She advised a lifestyle change in which people don’t eat any foods that contain processed refined sugar or flour of any kind because it’s the flour and the sugar that addict people and trick the brain into thinking that you need more and more. Some experts have even gone so far as to label sugar and flour to be drugs, or even worse, toxic poisons.

This completely changed the way I thought about food.

Now it’s not like I thought pop-tarts, cakes, cookies, brownies, pancakes, or doughnuts were good for me. I mean, I wasn’t delusional.

But I didn’t quite know how eating those types of sugary, doughy “foods” leave my brain craving more and more until I felt powerless to control the cravings.

In other words, the more of those things I ate, the more I craved those things.

The solution it seemed was to completely eliminate all of those things from my diet.

Now, I cannot express to you just what a big deal this decision was for me. I mean, virtually ALL of my favorite foods had flour or sugar in them– preferably both. And it took me a couple of days to process this information. But I eventually knew I had to at least try it.

The first thing I did was make a list of all foods I wouldn’t be able to eat, if I were to adopt this lifestyle. Including all the foods I listed above, I’d also have to eliminate- cornbread, crackers, noodles, sweet potato pie, bread of any kind, syrup of any kind, honey, virtually any kind of box cereal, any kind of boxed food in the grocery store, many salad dressings and many many more things. So really quickly, I knew that I would be cooking almost every meal I put in my mouth.  Manufacturers put sugar or some type of “syrup” in dang near everything.

The second thing I did was start to compile interesting recipes that did not include flour or sugar, so that I didn’t wind up eating the same thing over and over. (If you follow me on Pinterest, sorry for the recent overload of butternut squash recipes.)

What I Ate

Since March 1, 2016,  I have not had any flour or refined sugar.

I found a no flour, no sugar food plan that dictated 3-4 meals a day with no snacking in between, broken down as follows:

Breakfast: one serving of grain/or starchy vegetable, one serving of fruit, one serving of dairy, and one serving of meat or protein

Lunch: one serving of protein/or meat, one cup cooked veggies, one cup fresh veggies

Dinner: one serving of protein/or meat, one cup cooked veggies, one cup fresh veggies and one serving of a grain/or starchy vegetable

Snack (optional): one serving of dairy or meat/protein with with one serving of fruit

So here’s what my food has looked like for the past 30 days:

My usual breakfast is one cup of skim milk, 1/2 cup plain oatmeal (not the sugary instant kind), 1/2 tbsp of peanut butter, a banana, and a few chopped walnuts. But sometimes, I’ll have scrambled eggs and potatoes with yogurt and a piece of fruit.

nfns-breakfast

Honestly, the first day that I had this breakfast I really missed the sugary oatmeal, so I was not in love with it. But funny enough as the weeks have gone by, my bowl of oatmeal is my favorite meal of the day.

On days that I have a lot of writing to get done I will have a cup of coffee right after breakfast or lunch as well. Since I can no longer have sugar and limit my dairy to 1-2 servings a day, I lighten my coffee with a bit of coconut milk and a sprinkle of cinnamon. It gives the coffee a creamy texture, and a nutty flavor and it is very very good.

Four hours after breakfast, I have my lunch.

nfns-lunch2
Lunch example–One cup cooked string beans, One cup fresh mixed veggies, 4 oz of roasted salmon

Honestly, I’m still getting used to a meal with no starch or grain. This is my least favorite meal of the day because of that.

I have dinner five hours after lunch and one some days I REALLY feel the absence of a grain/starch.

nfns-dinner
Dinner Example–One cup of steamed cabbage and carrots, one cup of roasted winter veggies, one cup of fresh kale and red onion, and 4oz of tilapia

Dinner is usually very filling and satisfying.

Four hours after dinner, I usually have a snack because I don’t like to go to bed with an empty stomach and depending on when I had dinner on some days, it has been as much as 6 or 7 hours.

nfns-snack
Half a cup of cottage cheese and half a cup of unsweetened apple sauce

The Result

Getting though the first 7 days was very difficult. I’m not even gonna lie. It took a whole lot of effort to eat on a particular schedule and to plan out my meals  in advance simply because I wasn’t used to eat. Further I was not at all used to not snacking between meals.  But by day 3, this part got easier. I just fell into a routine.

By about day 4, I started to have really intense cravings for certain sugary and doughy foods. It was kind of ridiculous, honestly. And I had a headache for like 48 hours straight. I was irritable and began to notice how advertisements for these foods were EVERYWHERE.

But…

Almost immediately after cutting out the sugar and flour, my body started to feel better. I was able to move more. I woke up each day feeling a bit lighter. Honestly. I didn’t realize just how bloated I had been.

By day 14, I had noticeably more energy.

My vegetable variety has increased a great deal. In the past 30 days, I’ve had avocado, cabbage, carrots, brussel sprouts, broccoli, spinach, kale, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, red peppers, yellow peppers, habenero peppers,  string beans, squash, white potatoes, cucumbers, red beans, and romaine lettuce. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten that many different vegetables in such a short period before. I don’t know why, but that felt like a big accomplishment. LOL.

And I lost 10 pounds.

So I’m planning to continue. I’m going to take it one day at a time and continue to monitor how I feel. I’m hopeful.

I’ll keep you updated!

Self-Care is Self-Love in Action

self-care

I want you to think of everyone that you have ever really loved. I mean everyone. Romantic relationships, family members, friends. Even pets, if you like. Everyone.

How did you show them that you loved them?

You probably showed them that you loved them, both in big and little gestures– gifts, sweet words and pet names, doing things for them, being protective, providing for them in ways they can’t provide from themselves, etc.  This is the price of love and when we love someone we usually love to be able to do these special things for them.

Caring for our loved ones is how we nurture our relationships. It’s a privilege.  This is how we show our beloveds and the world that they are special to us.

But for some reason, we find it hard to do these loving gestures for ourselves.

We claim that we love ourselves, but:

  • We talk badly to ourselves.
  • We refuse to do the things we need to do to make our lives run smoothly.
  • We neglect ourselves.
  • We allow other people to treat us shabbily.
  • We give up on our hopes and dreams when they seem to difficult instead of seeking our help and support.

And more to the point, if someone treated someone that we loved the way we treated ourselves, we would probably tell our loved one to  distance themselves from that harmful person.

All of us in the self-love challenge community have made a commitment to loving ourselves more and that means we have to

  • stop neglecting ourselves
  • stop  putting everyone before us
  • finally start tending to the important parts of our lives that no one can do for us

This is the basis of self-care.

And the great thing about it is, self-care feeds on itself. Like compound interest. The more you care for yourself, the more you feel loved and want to care for yourself.

So here’s my question for you: How do you take care of yourself? How do you nourish all the important components of your life?

In the comments below, I’d like to hear what your self-care plan is.

Do You Know Who You Are (Really)?

Be True To Yourself

Could you love someone that you didn’t know?

My guess is that you probably could push yourself to do so. But it would be a struggle.

So since we’re creating a movement of women who are committed to loving ourselves, we must also be dedicated to knowing ourselves better. Completely. Because knowing yourself allows you to accept and love yourself.

So who are you?

No, really. Who are you?

I got some questions for you:

  • What are you into?
  • What’s your “thing”?
  • What do you believe in?
  • What’s important to you?
  • What’s not important to you?
  • When it comes down to it, what do you want your life to stand for?
  • If you knew you had 6 months to live, how would you spend your last days on earth?

Knowing who you are and what you value helps you to weed out and filter through all the “stuff” that comes your way on a daily basis.

And most importantly, knowing yourself and your values stops you from judging yourself based on the opinions of other people. It frees your mind.

For example, I know that I value freedom, simple living, fairness, and knowledge. These values guide my decision making. So when well meaning people, for example, suggest things that they think will be of use to me, if these suggestions are not in line with my values, I simply don’t do them. Plain and simple. They are not for me.  And when other people don’t live according to my values, I’m OK with that, too. They have their own life to live, just as I do.

I determine my worth. No one else gets this privilege. And the same goes for you. You determine your worth. Other people’s opinions belong to them, not you.

Listen, we each only get one life and we need to make sure that we honor it by being true to ourselves and not living the life that other people think you should live.

So here’s what I want you to do. Right now I want you to think about the three things that are most important to you. And in the comments section below, I’d like you to share your top three values with us.

Til next time.

And if you haven’t already done so, be sure to sign up for the 7-Day Self-Love Challenge here.

Clear Out Your Inner Junk Drawer

Let it go(1)

Do you have a junk drawer?

A lot of people do.

It’s the place in the home where you can put any and everything that doesn’t seem to really have a place of its own. Things like extra condiment packets, old batteries, tape, pencils, scissors, take out menus, tools, etc.

And because the junk drawer is so great at storing things, you can kind of forget all the stuff that’s in there. And the irony is when you actually need something that’s in it, you can’t find it. Years can go by without clearing it out and before you know it, you have all this useless little stuff that you never use, just taking up space in your home and being an eyesore.

junkdrawer

But do you also notice that sometimes, we behave like we are junk drawers?

We hold onto useless baggage from the past that other people left in our lives just for the sake of holding onto it. And all this useless stuff weighs on our emotions, self-worth, and relationships.

Here are some examples:

  • An ex-lover was unfaithful and treated you badly which made you feel unworthy, so now you hold on to that “junk belief” just because a temporary person came and dropped it in your mind.
  • You got fired or let go from a job, so now you hold onto the “junk belief” that you are disposable and have little value.
  • You made a mistake for which you were embarrassed and now you carry around a great deal of shame around this mistake, even many years later.

But you are not a junk drawer.

And you simply have to let all this stuff go. Stop holding onto old useless resentments, shame, heartaches,etc. Let it go! Forgive people. Forgive yourself. Try things again. Try new things. Live in the present. Because life is happening now.

Junk is stagnant and still, but life is always moving, growing, developing, and changing. Since you are alive, you must do these things too.

Because the more you hold onto all that junk, the more it weighs you down and gets in the way of living. You will remain stuck and stagnant too.

The more you hold onto these useless unnecessary junk, the less free you are.

And I don’t know about you, but I want to be free!

So here’s what I want you to do right now:

In the comments section below, please tell me what junk beliefs have been hanging out in your mental junk drawer for far too long that you are finally deciding to let go of.

Can’t wait to read them.

Til next time,
Jennifer

Self-Love Begins with A “Gifts and Gratitude” Mindset

Gifts and Gratitude

Do you spend a lot of time thinking about how you wish your life was better?

The truth is that most people do.

They think that people have it so much better than they do.

I know I can personally attest to this. Many years ago, I closed my Facebook account and shut the world out because I was so consumed with looking at other people’s lives and comparing myself to them. I saw so many people I grew up with were getting married, having beautiful children, and looking glamorous, but I wasn’t. I wanted all of those things in my life too, but they weren’t happening for me. The end result was that I felt really bad about myself. I felt like there must be something wrong with me. After many years feeling like crap every time I logged in, I decided the best decision was for me to completely walk away.

And it was years before I felt good enough about myself to log back on.

So what happened in the interim years?

I developed a Four Part Self-Love Practice that I will be sharing with you in the next few blog posts.

The first part of this practice was with shifting my focus towards a “Gifts and Gratitude” mindset.

This is the room where I do most of my gratitude journaling.
This is the room where I do most of my gratitude journaling.

Here’s what I learned:

A BIG reason for why I felt so bad before was because I was so caught up in what I thought my life SHOULD be, that I couldn’t see and appreciate my life for what it actually was. And I spent so much mental energy in the gap between what I had and what I thought I should have that I was miserable.

But in hindsight, I know that at least 2 things are true that I hadn’t realized before:

  1. EVERYBODY has their own particular challenges, so just because things look so great on the outside doesn’t mean everything is perfect on the inside.
  2. There is always someone looking at your situation right now and feeling envious about something in your life.

These 2 things let me know that instead of getting stuck in a never-ending cycle of feeling sorry for myself and drowning in comparison, I needed to shift my focus to identifying the talents, gifts, strengths that I do have and showing my gratitude for them regularly.

Because, here’s the thing: if I am always focused on what I don’t have, I never get to appreciate all the wonderful things that I do have. And not appreciating my gifts is a surefire recipe for feeling bad about myself.

So here’s what I want you to do right now:

I want you to publicly name your gifts and talents. In the comment section three things about yourself that you are grateful for right now in this very moment.

We need to start a movement of beautiful women who are proud of their strengths and talents and not focused on what they do not have.

This is where self-love begins.

Self-Love Manifesto

Self-Love Manifesto
Click on image to see enlarged version.

I believe in the power of self-love.

Because EVERYTHING begins with the relationship we have with ourselves. And when that relationship is rooted in uncompromising love, there are no limits to what we can accomplish.

Self-Love is the ability to see your own value as a human being.

Self-Love encourages you to set healthy relationship boundaries that prevent other people from treating you badly. And it’s through self-love that we can stop sabotaging ourselves. Self-love is believing in your own worthiness enough to say what you need and go after what you really want.

But most of all, self-love is believing in your yourself enough to get up and keep living after each fall.  After each disappointment.

And I know all about falling. Believe me.

My mission is to teach as many women as I can how to love themselves no matter how many times they have fallen. I want more women to understand that they are valuable and worthy just as they are right now and that they do not need any source of validation in order to “achieve” worthiness.

Below is my self-love manifesto. Please download it and share it with whomever you like. These 10 statements are the basis of my self-love practice. I try to practice each of these statements everyday in real time. And as all things, it’s a practice. Some days are easier than others. But this is my foundation.

The Abundant Life Practice Self-Love Manifesto:

  1. I am enough just as I am. I don’t have to do anything to make myself “worthy.” I am my own source of validation.

  2. I have many things to be thankful for. So I begin each day with a grateful heart.

  3. I make mistakes often. This is how I know I am alive and willing to try new things. There is no other way to grow. Life is all about growth.

  4. I have wonderful gifts to share with others.

  5. I give myself permission to let go of everything that gets in the way of loving myself.

  6. I must always put myself first. I understand that I cannot give anything to anybody if I don’t first give to myself.

  7. I don’t take the actions, words or beliefs of others personally. Because what other people think, do and say is always about them, not me.

  8. I forgive myself and others easily. This is how I let go of the past.

  9. I stay away from people with bad intentions. This is how I protect my precious time, energy, and spirit from being wasted and devalued.

  10. I practice a habit of self-care that honors all the parts of me—physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional.

If self-love is difficult for you, I encourage you to adopt the Self-Love Manifesto and practice it until self-love becomes easier. You can also sign up to take the 7-Day Self-Love Challenge.

The Backlash from ‘Formation’ and What It Means for Black Women’s Mental Health

Beyonce Formation

Everyone knows how much I loves me some Beyonce.

So last week when she dropped a unexpected new single with a video, performed in front of the whole country during the superbowl half-time show, AND announced a tour that would be coming to Chicago all within a matter of 48 hours I was in awe.  It was all so… well… Beyonce.

Beyonce literally changes the game every single time she drops new music. And it is wonderful to witness.

On top of all this Beyonce magic, the song itself seems like it’s on par to become a Black girl’s national anthem. “I like my baby hair with baby hair and afros”….. ” I like my negro nose with Jackson 5 nostrils.” She said these lines surrounded by images of a drowning post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, Black Lives Matter movement imagery, and Black cultural tradition symbolism.

beyoncecopcar

I immediately recognized “Formation” as Beyonce’s personal protest anthem: the media has not been very kind to Blue Ivy’s natural hair or Jay-Z’s wide nose and full lips. And American political systems historically have dehumanized and devalued black lives. Here was Beyonce, I admit unexpectedly, taking a stand against this hatred of her family and her community.

And to add gas to the fire of Beyonce’s protest song, the Super Bowl’s 50th anniversary happily coincided with the 5oth anniversary of one of the most revolutionary Black protest movements in recent history–The Black Panther Party. So Beyonce used her platform to pay homage to the Black Panthers by dressing up in the black leather, black berets, and afros that were the uniform of the Black Panther Party and perform her protest anthem during Black History Month at that.

black panthers

But the backlash to this celebration of self has been swift by people all too eager to ignore the demands of respect.

A politician in Canada has publicly considered banning Beyonce from entering Canada. The UK has banned her song and video from the radio and television. Rudolph Guiliani dismissed her performance as anti-police, unprofessional and disrespectful. And other’s derided it as divisive and evidence of “cultural decay,” whatever that means.

Beyonce’s response? A simple, “I wanted people to feel proud and have love for themselves.”

But how does wanting people to feel good about themselves get interpreted and vilified as a political controversy worthy of being banned?

The answer: Very easily if you’re a Black woman.

To be a Black woman is a beautiful thing. But it also means that you are constantly mocked, under-appreciated, and copied without recognition by mainstream society. You are a caricature. You are told that you are too dark, too big, too loud, too bossy, too domineering. You are told you that you should be more like other women. You are told that we should be loyal to others, but not to expect loyalty in return.

And all of these messages serve to make us feel less than. When little black toddlers are misaligned in the media for having “too nappy hair” and being “ugly” physical features, we know the world devalues us very early. It is psychological warfare and the toll it takes on your mental health is costly.

But if we are to love ourselves– and we absolutely must–we have to know that we are OK just as we are. We cannot alter ourselves enough to make other people appreciate us, nor should we. We know from history that this strategy simply doesn’t work. Those of us who have tried to lighten our skin, surgically alter our bodies and faces, educate ourselves into respectability know that this never compels those that devalue us to see our worth and beauty.

We cannot wait for other people to “get” us because they never will.  We must be ourselves right now.

To me this is the lesson to take away from Beyonce’s “Formation.” Name and claim your worth.  Know your worth despite what others say.  Celebrate and appreciate yourself. Even those things that you have been taught to be ashamed of.

We have to continue to create environments, cultural products and perspectives, and support systems that validate ourselves and our work.  This is how we protect and promote our mental health.We create healthy, inclusive, and affirmative spaces to protect us from the onslaught of mainstream media and values.

This is our task and no one will do it for us.

How to Face Reality (Even When You Don’t Really Want To)

How To Face RealitySometimes life is scary. And we don’t want to face reality.

Maybe it’s your finances, or your health, your relationships, your children, or your financial situation. Maybe it’s all of these things wrapped up into one great big ole overwhelming package.

So what do we tend to do?

Avoid and ignore it. We don’t go to the doctor or balance our check books. Allow ourselves to stay in relationships even when we know we shouldn’t. We won’t face our emotional issues even as we self-sabotage.

We just close our eyes like we’re on a scary ride at an amusement park.

Instead, we pour our precious life energy into–hours in front of the TV or Facebook, food, sex, gossiping, seeking out drama, temporary relationships, daydreaming without action– anything that will take our attention and time away from confronting and dealing with what is happening right in front of us. We let our power slip right through our fingers hoping to feel better momentarily. And we do feel better.  At least for awhile.

Meanwhile our problems  just keep getting bigger and scarier. Because when you ignore something it does not simply go away, it usually tends to get worse.

Eventually the problems get so big that a crisis happens and ignoring them is no longer an option. We are forced to deal with them all at once whether we want to or not. Except now we are in crisis mode,  only able to manage the emergency: An illness. A foreclosure, repossession, or  bankruptcy. A job loss. A family crisis.

But if we made a habit of facing reality regularly, we might have been able to mitigate the damage. We may have even been able to prevent the crisis in the first place. Or at the very least we could have had a better plan in place for when the shit finally hit the fan.

It is your duty to face reality. Love yourself enough to face reality square in the face.

Here are my tips on how to face reality (even when you don’t want to):

Take an honest assessment of your life

Have a day (or four) of reckoning. Brace yourself.  Play some relaxing music. Get some alone time. Take out a notebook and a pen and think about each of the main areas of life- health (emotional and physical), wealth, social, family, work.  In your notebook, create a separate page for each of these areas. Now write down the reality of your current situation in each of them. In each of these areas, reflect on what’s working for you and what’s not. Think about the things that are going really well. And think about why they are going well. What have you done consistently to grow these areas so well? Then think about what’s not going too well.

Ask yourself:

  1. What have you tried to do to help the situation?
  2. What more can you do?
  3. What areas seem most urgent?
  4. What have you been “meaning” to do, but never quite done?

And remember that this is not about perfection. No part of your life will ever be perfect. This is about being aware and doing what’s in your power to improve and/or make plans so that nothing catches by surprise later.  This is about being proactive about your life.

Identify your regular escape mechanisms

Now listen. I love escapism just like anybody else. It feels really good.  But unfortunately I also know what happens when I spend too much time in escape mode and finally wake up one day and have to figure out how to get out of the hole I created for myself while trying to escape. Escapism, like all things, is best in some form of moderation. Sure, have that cupcake. But you probably shouldn’t have 10, because you will have to face the consequences of that sooner or later. Sure, check in on social media. But you probably shouldn’t spend 20 hours a day, 7 days a week mindlessly hanging out there because that’s time that you could be investing in other things that can grow your  life.

And I’m not saying that you shouldn’t enjoy things. I’m simply saying excessively seeking out pleasure while not handling your duties and obligations is a form of escape which ends up backfiring in the end.

What are your escape mechanisms? What are you avoiding? Keep track of how many times during the day you seek to “escape.” This can be an eye-opening practice in and of itself. How many times, you know you “should” be doing something else, but just can’t bear to face it.

Sketch out a new reality (your new destination)

Part of the reason that we don’t want to face reality reality is because doing so makes us feel helpless and overwhelmed.

But that’s just the beginning. You don’t have to stay in that state of overwhelm.

The next step is figuring out what to do next.  Perhaps you need to change some of your behaviors, or use your time more effectively. Try to do those things. If you are not able to them on your own, don’t give up! Figure out out how you can make such changes more likely. Maybe it means hiring a coach or therapist to help you figure out your next steps. Or, maybe it means putting some things on autopilot. Perhaps it means finding an accountability partner.  . Love your life enough to at least try to make things different. No one else will. This is your job.

And you can’t get  there without knowing where you want to go.

Now, I’d like to hear from you. In the comments below please share something that you were trying to escape from in the past but finally faced. Or what your favorite forms of escapism are.

And if you need some help in facing our reality, please be sure to check out my Jumpstart Your Life 6 Week Coaching Program. 

Why I Became a Therapist Part 2: Rebuilding Myself

 

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In Part 1, I shared  how I was far away from home and felt really alone during my first semester at college. There were thousands of young people around me yet I felt isolated and ignored.  I was very confused and my whole world was turned upside down.

After many many days of feeling really really bad,  I decided that I just could not go on that way. Something had to change.

So I took all the courage I could  muster and went to see a student health counselor.

A therapist.

Now perhaps you, like me, grew up in a community in which people did not see therapists. And if they did, they certainly didn’t talk about it.  Seeing a counselor or therapist was essentially an admission that you were crazy or even worse weak.

That’s why I didn’t make the decision to go see a counselor lightly.

counseling_center_syracuse_university
SU counseling center

But unfortunately the experience did not make me feel any better. In fact it made me feel worse. The therapist that was assigned to me was not very empathetic and I never really felt like she cared. Perhaps it was unfair to compare her to the adults who nurtured me and made me feel like things would be OK.  I never warmed up to her. There was always something missing and we were never able to build a working rapport. We just couldn’t relate to each other and I felt even more alone.

I went to two sessions and never went back.

Introspection and Self Work

Since therapy didn’t work for me at the time, I knew I had to figure it out myself. The first thing I did was buy a journal. And I wrote in it every single day. Because I didn’t have much of a social life, I had a lot of time to reflect. My first task was to think of things that made me laugh or put me in a good mood. I wrote a master list for myself so that when I was having a really bad day I would flip to that page and try several things until I was in a better mood. This was the beginning of my coping tool kit. I learned how to self-soothe as an adult. Next, I wrote out all my frustrations, hurts, and hopes for the future. Since I didn’t have anyone to talk to, I expressed myself to my journal and that helped a great deal.  It was very therapeutic. And I began to look forward to it.

Connection

Once I realized that I needed to find a new center of focus, I sought out people to connect to. I knew I couldn’t get through the next four years without any friends. I thought to myself that in a place of thousands of people, surely I could find one person to be my friend. And I did.  I found more than a handful of like-minded folks. People who had similar interests. Some were a little older than me who were able to show me around and invite me to events, and others were right in my dorm. I began volunteering at a few youth centers off campus. It was nice to have people look forward to see me coming. And I joined a student organization and met even more people. It still wasn’t like home but it was so much better than feeling like crap in my dorm room.

Permission

Sooner or later it hit me that I was out on my own in the world. After I grieved for the loss of my old reality, I began to see all the amazing opportunities in front of me. And I gave myself the permission to take advantage of it by doing things I . I cut off all of my permed hair and went natural, something I had been wanting to do for a long time but wasn’t allowed to do when I lived at home. And this was like 15 years ago before it was as common as it is today. In fact, I remember one of my new found friends crying as I did it because she thought I was crazy. I majored in African-American Studies, even though my dad wanted me to be an accountant.  I formed relationships with some very wonderful professors  in the department who helped me so much more than the student counseling office. They invited me into their offices and homes.  And because of their influence I studied abroad in Zimbabwe.

 

PhotoGrid_africa
Me in Africa with my baby locs

I lived in Africa for a year and it was really life changing. And not in a gross “Oh look at the poor black people, I’m so fortunate” kind of way. But it was life changing because of 4 main reasons

  1. It really drove the point home to me that people live differently. And the things that matter to me don’t necessarily mean anything to anybody else. And that’s OK. They have their own issues to worry about. And that means that everything ain’t about me. Nobody cares (in a good way). Though I saw that when I first went away to college, I had taken it personally and experienced it as rejection. When I got to live in another country with a completely different culture, I realized that the world was a big place. Bigger than I had ever imagined and it was silly of me to expect to be treated the same way in all environments.
  2. But people are essentially the same all over. For example, people argue in Shona language about the same things that people argue about in English.
  3. Being flexible is so important. Electric power rationing was a way of life. Whole areas would be without power, sometimes advance notice would be given and other times not. People just dealt with it.  I remember one night I was sitting in a popular cafe where there was a live band playing. All of a sudden all the power went out. Everybody started laughing and clapping. The band went on playing and the waitresses came around and placed lit candles on each table. It was a  very sweet moment. And I think about it often as a reminder to be flexible and not to get stuck on Plan A if it doesn’t work out. Sometimes Plan B is kinda fun even when it wasn’t really expected.
  4. I saw that I could survive far away from home on the other side of the planet. It was confirmation that I could do anything that I wanted to do.

Now, stay tuned for the third and final installment of journey to be a therapist.