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    I’m a Black Woman and I Don’t Know How to Celebrate My Accomplishments

    “You are your ancestors’ wildest dreams, you are the epitome of what Martin Luther King Jr. marched for,” said my friend Steven. This statement took me back for a second. I knew what he was implying with his statement, I just didn’t know how to feel about it. During that moment, I started to think about how this a common feeling I had since I graduated high school. Hearing these words brought back a lot of feelings that have plagued my mind since I started my undergraduate studies. Were my accomplishments really that powerful that I made my ancestors proud? Was I really “making my ancestors proud”? Which is a popular saying in the Black community. I always had some of my family and friends hype me up about the opportunities that I have been fortunate to have. But honestly, I always felt like I still wasn’t good enough. It sometimes felt like I was living a double life. I was successful, put-together, and happy on the outside, but on the inside I was crippled with self-doubt, anxiety, and self-pity for some of the decisions I made and how my life turned out. 
    Feeling like I “made it” gave me sorrow about Black people who would never know the feeling because they had the opportunity to live to see their full potential. Feeling like I “made it” gave me doubt about what my future held since I accomplished a lot in my early 20s. The feeling of accomplishing a goal was never an easy feeling for me. I would feel immense gratitude for how far I came, and then a rush of sadness came over me because it was a voice in my head telling me I just got lucky and one day it would not always be that way. A feeling of self-doubt would tell me that I was not worthy of the dreams I had in my head. Anxiety told me that I was only achieving my dreams because I was the token Black girl and I made white people feel comfortable. Not knowing how to celebrate my accomplishments started when I was in elementary school. 

    Were my accomplishments really that powerful that I made my ancestors proud? Was I really “making my ancestors proud”

    In elementary school, I loved reading, and my mother did too, so we would go to the library every weekend to find a good book to dive into. Reading became my safe haven from the world and let me explore life beyond the subsidized housing I lived in. I was able to put myself in someone else’s shoes for a short period of time. I was able to learn about things that “project kids” never had the chance to learn or experience. Since I loved reading, this helped me excel in school and get ahead of many of my peers. I was always praised by my parents for my good grades and excelling in different subjects in school. 

    It sometimes felt like I was living a double life. I was successful, put-together, and happy on the outside, but on the inside I was crippled with self-doubt, anxiety, and self-pity for some of the decisions I made and how my life turned out. 

    The praise and congratulations went on into high school and college. I was always made to feel like I was on top of the world. In retrospect, I have learned that this was a contributing factor to why I felt like I couldn’t slow down and appreciate my wins. I always felt like I had to achieve more, go harder, and not settle too much on what I had accomplished or the opportunities I had opened up doors for me. I always had to think 10 steps ahead, and never get too comfortable with what I had. This is a problem that not only I deal with, but the reality of what people of color, especially Black people, have to deal with. When you are a Black person—a Black woman—society and systematic oppression make you feel like you no one cares about what you accomplished and that you need to always stay on your toes. If we celebrate, there is always something in the back of our heads telling us that it could be taken away or we don’t deserve the fruit we bear because we are not worthy of hitting that “glass ceiling” (whatever that means) that we see so many non-people of color hit. 

    I always felt like I had to achieve more, go harder, and not settle too much on what I had accomplished or the opportunities I had opened up doors for me. I always had to think 10 steps ahead and never get too comfortable with what I had.

    I recently spoke to a friend of mine who expressed on social media that she always felt like she wasn’t doing a good enough job at work and the pressure she always felt at work, regardless of what her superiors told her. She said that the hardest part about being a Black woman in corporate America/non-profit is, “We aren’t afforded bad days, passion, frustration, or disappointment. Every negative emotion we may have is an attitude of aggression. We aren’t even allowed to be introverted or shy because then we are mean, stand-offish, or unapproachable. This is especially problematic in the non-profit sector because of the emphasis put on the donor opinions and experiences.”
    When Black women constantly feel this way at work, it often seeps into our personal lives. We often think our accomplishments or wins won’t matter when the dust settles because it’s always “what’s next.” We never get extended the grace to reel in what we accomplished and the life we have built for ourself. If we get the job, the house, the man, or the promotion, we always get the rebuttal of “When are you going to get a man?” or “What do you even do?” I asked my same friend, “Would you say you know how to celebrate your accomplishments? And she expressed to me it is difficult for her to acknowledge them. “Honestly it is difficult. A lot of times I look at things like ‘this is what I was supposed to do.’ This is no different than what Black women also feel in their personal lives. Society looks at us as being the “strong” one because of what they have made us endure and what we keep allowing. But when you feel like you are already a minority, you already know you have to work 20 times harder than anyone else, Black and white people included, we often feel like being strong and enduring what is thrown at us is what we are designed to do. 

    When you are a Black person—a Black woman—society and systematic oppression make you feel like you no one cares about what you accomplished and that you need to always stay on your toes. If we celebrate, there is always something in the back of our heads telling us that it could be taken away or we don’t deserve the fruit we bear because we are not worthy of hitting that “glass ceiling” (whatever that means) that we see so many non-people of color hit. 

    In most of my jobs, relationships, and friendships, I always felt like I had to know how to take pain and suffering as the first step in order to reap the rewards. As I sit back and think of what I have accomplished and how I accomplished it, it all was derived from pain. I wanted to excel in college because I know most people like me don’t get the opportunity. Pain. I moved to New York to have better opportunities and felt ostracized and dealt with systematic racism. Pain. I found one of my passions for working in Diversity and Inclusion, but if I had not attended a predominantly white graduate school and faced racism and prejudice for the majority of my days, I wouldn’t be where I am today. But it was all derived from pain and suffering that America chooses as a weapon to make Black women feel inadequate for what they want to accomplish.

    We never get extended the grace to reel in what we accomplished and the life we have built for ourself. If we get the job, the house, the man or the promotion we always get the rebuttal of “When are you going to get a man?” or “What do you even do?”

    Sometimes it’s hard to decipher whether something is right for me if I didn’t have to suffer first to get it. This is an ongoing struggle for not just Black women, but also Black people. We always work 20 times harder, we are always thinking about our next goal, what we are going to do next and if suffering or obstacles are not attached to them—it feels too good to be true. 
    Black women don’t get the same grace from a society that we give everyone else. It is a never-ending cycle that we have to go through in order for people to see our worth. Just because you think we are strong, doesn’t mean we have to always showcase that trait every day. 

    Black women don’t get the same grace from a society that we give everyone else.

    There is no right solution to make Black women feel like they don’t have to wear the weight of the world on their shoulders. It is a learned habit that America and the people who have made up their own idea of what a Black woman is before getting to learn them. It will take years and decades to untwine the idea of what a Black woman is or is not. 
    Black women deserve the same dignity, rights, protection, and grace that is given out so freely to everyone but them. In order for Black women to get the chance to heal, feel, celebrate, and accomplish their desires, society has to change the narrative that has kept Black women in a box.  More

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    How My Hair Shaped My Identity

    One of my favorite things about my look is my pixie cut. If you asked me to describe it, I would say: short, edgy, and professional. As a disabled woman, it’s effortless and time-effective. I have the advantage of waking up and not having to brush my hair if my bedhead isn’t too visible. Some days I add a little style, but I love having a hairstyle where it’s easy to manage. My ultimate hair goal, however, is to shave my head and have a buzzcut. Jazzmyne Jay, a BuzzFeed content creator, is my inspiration; she’s given me the courage to experiment with fashion. I’ve wanted to do it for a while; I’ve just been waiting for the right time.
    Honestly, I’ve been waiting for an accepting work environment. I want to work in an environment where diversity is valued, where there is an open-mindedness to individuals who have disabilities and endure mental illness, and where there are strong core values and beliefs; where these things are instilled in the company. In the past few years, I’ve been trying to live intentionally. I’ve always been authentic in who I am, but I’ve tried to be more intentional these last few years with everything that I’ve been through. It’s hard to go into spaces where you are accepted, however, you feel that you still have to hold back a part of your identity, or when you have to hide your entire identity because you are not sure of the reaction, especially in this political climate where you’re often discriminated against for being LGBTQ+. 

    In the past few years, I’ve been trying to live intentionally. I’ve always been authentic in who I am, but I’ve tried to be more intentional these last few years with everything that I’ve been through.

    Chopping off all your hair is a way for you to start afresh and emerge a new person. I feel rejuvenated and on lighter feet after every cut. My hair wasn’t weighing me down anymore. Look at it this way: it’s like when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. Each haircut is as if I’m escaping from all of the anxiety and the depression that has happened since the last haircut to start a new season.
    Society pushes many stereotypes about the short-haired woman: she’s damaged, she’s aggressive, she’s manly, she must be a lesbian. As a society, we attach so many parts of a person’s identity to their hair: their sexuality, history, gender, and even personality, and when women have short hair, people tend to think of that as almost being political. She’s making a statement. Long hair is depicted as feminine and beautiful, whereas short hair is not. 

    Look at it this way: it’s like when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. Each haircut is as if I’m escaping from all of the anxiety and the depression that has happened since the last haircut to start a new season.

    As an individual with a disability (I have cerebral palsy and hemiplegia), I do not have the use of my right arm. Because of this, I have difficulty styling my hair, and what began as a move for more independence became a move for self-expression. I had long hair up until college, when I started getting pixie cuts. In high school, I’d had to ask my family to help me style my hair (ponytails, braids, etc.). On my own, I could get at best pin the bangs out of my face. Disabled women’s hair is just seen as yet another inconvenience in terms of independence, and at times we aren’t even given a choice around our hair length and style.
    When I attempted to pull my hair into a ponytail by myself, I ultimately failed. I had to deal with loose long hair in all weather and environments. I loved my long hair, and it was beautiful, but it was a source of inconvenience and discomfort. I’m never going to fit into a box. I’m never going to fit under a label; I’m never going to be anything anybody wants me to be, I’m always evolving. I’m all about breaking boundaries. Breaking barriers, breaking labels, and allowing myself to be free.
    And that’s what my short hair is to me. More

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    How I’m Learning to Live a More Authentic Life

    I love a romantic comedy. The predictability of the storyline and the inevitable happy ending sucks me in every time. I watch them on rainy days, I watch them on days when I have cramps, and I watch them on days when I’m feeling down. I’ve seen hundreds of romantic comedies, yet I’ve never seen one that is a true reflection of my authentic life. There’s no romantic story that features a Black bohemian femme who goes to college three times to figure out that the career she’s best suited for doesn’t actually need a degree at all. They have not written my story because my life doesn’t fit the typical mold. I’m a 37-year-old world-traveling free-spirit, living my most authentic life. My life wasn’t always this way, but today I can say that I love my life and I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

    There’s no romantic story that features a Black bohemian femme who goes to college three times to figure out that the career she’s best suited for doesn’t actually need a degree at all.

    From a young age, I realized that I wasn’t your typical child. My interests were different from my friends, the way I wanted to dress was different from my sisters, and my Christmas lists for Santa were filled with non-traditional items. I remember one year I asked for a hot stone massager and essential oils—and this was the ‘90s, so the term “self-care” as we know it now wasn’t even invented yet.
    I struggled through high school because everyone was so excited to go to college. My friends wanted to be nurses and teachers and seemed like they had it all figured out at the age of 18. I didn’t want to go to college. I asked my mom if I could rent a van and travel the country (#vanlife) when I graduated instead of going to college, and she turned me down faster than the speed of light. 
    I was frustrated because I wasn’t given options to explore what I wanted and what was important to me. It didn’t’ feel like college was the right next step, and I wanted time to explore what felt right for my journey. I grew up in a small town, and the lifestyle that was available to me in my hometown was not the lifestyle that I wanted for myself. I had no idea how to mentally and physically get out, yet I was screaming on the inside for somebody to let me go. I was craving freedom and wanted permission to explore all the options that were available to me.
    Instead, I was pushed into following the same steps that everyone else was following, but those choices never made sense to me. I went to college and followed the rules, and if I look back on it now, college was a giant waste of time. Yes, I had fun, but that fun cost me $30,000 in student loans. 

    I was pushed into following the same steps that everyone else was following, but those choices never made sense to me.

    After I graduated from college, I was still trying to figure out how to lead a “normal” life. I got a 9-5 job, a one-bedroom apartment, and moved to Philadelphia to try my hand at adulting. I remember going shopping to get professional clothes (of which I had none). Everyone was so excited as I came out of the dressing room in different versions of dress pants, blouses, and black flats. I’ve never felt like crawling out of my skin more than I did on that day. 
    I believe that moving to Philadelphia (even though corporate life wasn’t for me) was the turning point in my life. Living in a big city on my own gave me the adult playground I craved for in highschool. In Philly,  I was able to encounter different cultures, lifestyles, foods, and careers that I wouldn’t have had access to in my hometown. I remember the first time I tasted Indian food. Wow! I fell instantly in love. The flavors and spices that I experienced that night were completely new to me. I was never exposed to Indian food growing and my mind was blown. If a simple dining experience could open up my mind in this way, I was excited to see what other new experiences were ahead of me. 
    It felt as if I was getting a second education, and this knowledge proved to be more beneficial to me than my geometry class ever was. Because I was able to interact with so many different people I felt confident to show who I truly was. Seeing different lifestyles exist and thrive allowed me to take that first steps to uncover my truth. I went from an unfulfilled, suit-wearing, meat-eating 22-year-old to a happy, thriving, afro-wearing, free-spirit 37-year-old! That transition didn’t happen overnight.  I knew what it felt like to live someone else’s life and I wasn’t willing to do it anymore, so I slowly began making changes that honored who I was. I wanted to celebrate what I loved about myself and stop hiding who I was from the rest of the world. It was time for me to step out as my full self, and I was ready to take that journey. 

    Seeing different lifestyles exist and thrive allowed me to take that first steps to uncover my truth.

    I spent 20+ years being someone I thought I was “supposed to be.” It wasn’t until I started paying attention and honoring who I truly was and what I needed that I began to lead my most authentic life.

    If you want to start living your life on your own terms, ask yourself these three questions:

    What do I love about myself?
    This was not a question that was posed to me growing up, so it wasn’t something I focused on until I was in my 20s. When you ask, “What do I love about myself?” you begin to unlock clues and truths that are meant to be seen. I discovered that I loved my creativity and that creativity was meant to be celebrated. As a child, I was always creating. I sang, danced, cooked, and came up with “science experiments” out of thin air. My thoughts bounce around and don’t necessarily follow a linear pattern. I think my creative mind frustrated the adults in my life, so I was never pushed to use it. Realizing that my creative mind pushed me to brainstorm and innovate allowed me to strengthen this muscle and has become one of my most valuable assets.
    Answer honestly. Let whatever answers come up to be the start of something new. Once you have your list, see if you can use that information to make some small changes. Did you realize that you love your funky fashion sense? Head out to the thrift stores and buy a few favorite items. Not everything on your list will change your life dramatically, but starting small can begin to build the confidence to continue living life on your own terms. Remember, the things you love about yourself may just be your most valuable asset too!

    What and how am I hiding?
    It was easier for me to hide in corporate work clothes than walk into a room rocking a tie-dyed kaftan with a full afro. Hiding who I was and what was important to me was a coping mechanism I created. In the ‘90s where I grew up, the kaftan version of me would have been too much for people to handle. It felt safer to hide that piece of me from the rest of the world instead of walking in my full truth. In hindsight, if I would have continued to stay hidden, I would have never allowed my creativity to help me build the successful business that I have today. That business has allowed me to help so many people, and I never would have gotten there if I continued to hide who I was. 

    It was easier for me to hide in corporate work clothes than walk into a room rocking a tie-dyed kaftan with a full afro.

    Are you hiding? Why? When you hide, who you are you limit yourself from experiencing your full life? You were created in your unique way, and the world needs to see you fully. Stop hiding and walk in your truth one step at a time. 
    In 2005, I decided that I wanted to do the big chop and begin to wear my hair completely natural. I gathered all of my courage and headed to the only Black salon in Philadelphia doing natural hair at the time and cut my shoulder-length hair down to one inch. When I walked out of that salon, it was undeniable that I looked fly. From that point on, I could no longer hide. 
    Discovering how and why you are hiding could require you to make some uncomfortable decisions. There is a reason why you have been hiding, and walking out as your full self may take some time. Be patient with yourself and take it slowly. Ask yourself, “Where do I feel safe as the real me?” Maybe spend some time there and see how it feels. It may just be five minutes, and that’s OK. Know that every day won’t feel like a party, but the work you are doing is important and necessary. 

    Where can I begin to walk in my truth?
    Living an authentic life takes time. It’s unlikely that you will be able to go from 0-100 in 24 hours (although if you do, I will be your biggest cheerleader), so find a place to start. The first unveiling of my truth came when I went cold turkey and became a vegetarian. I was no longer at home having to eat whatever was cooked for dinner. I could make my own choices, and vegetarianism made sense for me. Could I have quit my job, packed my car, cut my hair, and traveled the world? No. That wasn’t an option for me, so I started small. 
    You don’t have to make giant life-altering decisions to live your truth. Why not explore your love of writing by journaling for five minutes each day? There is much satisfaction from small changes that ultimately honor the real you. Take your time and discover the real you at your own pace; even one thing a week can lead to big changes! Every step forward unveils something new. Have fun and enjoy the process. 
    Living my most authentic life is non-negotiable. Our individuality is what makes us special, and we need to honor that uniqueness time and time again. Standing in your truth might be scary, but it’s what we are called here to do. Explore the freedom in being unapologetically you 365 days a year. Celebrate what you love about yourself, step into the light, and one step at a time, you will get closer and closer to living your most authentic life. More

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    4 Lessons I Learned From Grief—and How They’ve Changed My Life

    As a child, I remember my friends going over to their grandparents’ homes for the weekend and coming home with mountains of homemade cookies and hand-knit sweaters. Me? I came home from my Grammy’s house smelling of patchouli and incense. I would hop back in the car from East Texas back to Dallas arm-in-arm with a pile of new books from the thrift store, a head chock full of Beatles songs, and lots of stories to chat about on the two-hour drive home.From what you can probably gather, my Grammy wasn’t the typical grandparent that you may have grown up with. She was a nurse dedicated to each and every patient that saw her, an activist for everyone who walked past her, an animal rehabber who took care of everything from chinchillas to possums, and a hippie at heart. When she died in 2017, I was wrecked—and so was everyone else. It wasn’t until I began to deal with my grief in a productive way that I realized something: the people we love leave us with lessons in the smallest, most magical of places—it’s just up to us to find them. 

    1. Life’s too short for boring
    I’ve always been a monochrome girl. I love a nice gray sweater, a fantastic pair of black jeans, and dainty gold jewelry. My room has always been decorated in neutrals (with the exception of an unfortunate satin purple bedspread in the 4th grade), and I’ve always been happy with it. My Grammy, on the other hand? Everything has always, always been an explosion of color. From the tie-dyed peace sign bumper stickers on her red Nissan Cube to the bright shirts and scrubs she wore on the daily to the card she carried as a member of the Red Hat Society, she was a huge proponent of rainbows and color bursts in any and every situation. 
    When she died, I wanted to honor her in little, everyday ways. For me, this looked like adding a rainbow quilt to my bed and a bright-colored tassel to my keys. More importantly, it was a reminder to me that she wasn’t one for normal things—and life was too short to be normal all the time. Loss is heavy, but finding bright spots to remember your loved one by is a way to lighten the load. By finding tangible, small ways to remember the person you lost, the grieving process might just shorten itself.
    My challenge to you: Add a little color to your bedroom with a bright pillow, swipe on some red lipstick, or pick up the bright blue socks from Target instead of the plain white ones.

    It was a reminder to me that she wasn’t one for normal things—and life was too short to be normal all the time. Loss is heavy, but finding bright spots to remember your loved one by is a way to lighten the load.

    2. Spread some love in your loved one’s honor
    As a (sometimes) vegetarian, an animal rehabber, and a seriously political woman, my Grammy did her absolute best to teach my sister, my cousin, and I about how lucky we were to have an Earth that supported us like it did. She also taught us how lucky we were to have animals that roamed the Earth and snuggled up next to us, and she was recycling everything in sight and carrying reusable bags way before it was the cool thing to do. She spent every extra second of her life volunteering somewhere, in some capacity, and I never once heard her complain. From picking up extra shifts as a hospice nurse on top of her normal ER hours and waking up at all hours of the night to bottle-feed injured possums, she never, ever put herself first. 
    In the years that have passed, I’ve become acutely aware of the holes in my community and the world that I could be helping with. Many of us probably understand the dichotomy that often occurs when we lose someone close to us—that balance between honoring someone while remembering they weren’t perfect people—that can add a confusing element to an already confusing time. While I’m sure my Grammy had qualities that were certainly not great, choosing to embrace her love for the world has helped me become a better person in every way. Grief is a messy, convoluted process, and none of it is particularly joyful. However, choosing to embrace and live out the spots in your loved one’s lives that gave them joy is the surest and quickest way to give yourself some spark.
    My challenge to you: Set up a recurring monthly donation to a political candidate that inspires you, go pet the puppies living in cages at your local animal shelter, and rinse the shampoo out of your bottle so you can recycle it, damn it!

    Grief is a messy, convoluted process, and none of it is particularly joyful. However, choosing to embrace and live out the spots in your loved one’s lives that gave them joy is the surest and quickest way to give yourself some spark.

    3. People make all the difference
    After my Grammy died, we had the intensely un-fun job at our hands to go through her things. I found myself near her bookshelves—the exact ceiling-to-floor shelves that had captivated me as a child—picking through the thousands of novels and self-help books that filled out. On the bottom shelf, I found a collection of all of her old high school yearbooks. They were coated in a thin layer of dust, and it was obvious that she hadn’t touched them in a while. I cracked them open, and the inside front and back covers were simply covered with long, handwritten notes about how grateful they were to have met a sweet spirit like her. As a high school teacher myself, I understand how rare it is for any high schoolers to write much more than “have a good summer” in anyone’s yearbook. 
    The truth is, our life is full of tiny little moments and seemingly ordinary encounters that can, quite literally, change lives. Whether we’re in line for an oil change or making friends at work, the same old adage rings true: people will simply never forget how you made them feel. In a world rife with turmoil and heavy with reminders that life can change on a dime, it’s our job to build meaningful relationships and love as well as we can. After all, not a single day is guaranteed.
    My challenge to you: Pick up the phone and call someone you haven’t talked to in a while, write a thank-you note to a teacher who made an impact on you, or make a point to have a true conversation with someone you love.

    The truth is, our life is full of tiny little moments and seemingly ordinary encounters that can, quite literally, change lives. Whether we’re in line for an oil change or making friends at work, the same old adage rings true: people will simply never forget how you made them feel.

    4. Never, ever stop searching for more
    My Grammy was always looking for something. I spent 23 years as her granddaughter before she died, and in that time I saw her explore transcendental meditation, dabble in Buddhist and Hindu prayers, twist herself into yoga positions, burn incense, and convert to Judaism from Methodism. She was on a constant quest for self-improvement, an understanding of the beyond, and a spiritual view of the world. While her method was unorthodox, it also reminds me of how important it is to never stop looking. While religion might be an extreme example, it’s our job to question the world we live in. It’s our job to look into things, to try new methods for life, and to be unorthodox while we still can. 
    Losing someone is a difficult mountain to climb, and it often opens up questions that weren’t there before. However, taking that heartbreak and sadness and making it into a learning experience? I feel like there’s nothing that could honor those we love any better than that. We’re only on this earth for a short while, and making the most of every single second is the only good way to do it.
    My challenge to you: Go to therapy, download an app and dabble in meditation, or crack open a new self-help book that challenges you.

    It’s our job to question the world we live in. It’s our job to look into things, to try new methods for life, and to be unorthodox while we still can. 

    Perhaps the most vivid memory from the week my Grammy died is getting the call that she had passed away and thinking to myself that it was my job to hold everyone else together. We’re a family of close-knit, like-minded women, and my mom lost her mother that day. The way I saw it, I couldn’t let myself cry or be overcome with grief. If I did, I was letting everyone else down and giving us permission to unravel from the inside out. I held my sister’s hand at the funeral and spoke to everyone gathered without a single shake in my voice, and I never, ever let anybody see me cry. 
    In hindsight, all that stoicism did was turn me away from every single lesson my Grammy had ever taught me. Feelings are there for a reason, and the people we love leaving us is staggeringly painful. Instead of sinking into ourselves, we’re all meant to rise up by loving people deeply, constantly bettering ourselves, sending love out in every direction, and doing it dressed in colorful clothes. After all, what’s left without color, light, love, and emotion? Nothing but darkness. When the people we love leave us with good, we have to carry it on. More

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    My Name is My Identity: Why Having a Ghanaian Name Means So Much to Me

    To commemorate the 400 years since enslaved African people departed from West African shores and landed in the United States, Ghana declared 2019 the “Year of Return.” Hundreds of thousands of people from the African diaspora around the world went to Ghana to rebuild a lost past and connect with their roots and ancestry. I heard countless stories of people adopting new Ghanaian names that connected them to their unknown history. There was an electrifying atmosphere and I felt proud to be a Ghanaian with a Ghanaian name. My name is one of royalty and purpose. I own my name; it’s who I am and I’m proud of it. My name is NaaDei, pronounced ‘Naa’ (like in ‘na’tural) and ‘Dei’ (as in ‘day’). These two ordinary syllables have perplexed many for my entire existence, causing much confusion, dismissal, disapproval, and negativity. When I was younger, I didn’t appreciate my name and, if I’m being honest, I wished I had an English, easy-to-pronounce name. Sadly, campaigns like My Name, My Identity didn’t exist in my childhood, so as a consequence, my sister and I literally changed what we called ourselves. That uncomfortable, constant, lengthy, arduous, and repetitious dialogue about my name was so draining that I ended up using an easier “nickname” until my late teens.

    That uncomfortable, constant, lengthy, arduous, and repetitious dialogue about my name was so draining that I ended up using an easier “nickname” until my late teens.

    Unsurprisingly, many people have a similar experience. Whether it’s too ethnic, too different, or too awkward, I know I’m not the only one who has shortened, changed, or abbreviated their name to make it “easier” for others. We change it because we don’t want to constantly reinforce, explain, and justify our identity. I say “we” because this happens far too often in society. Our society is diverse and multicultural, so differences should be expected and accepted. Yes, a name may sound different, but it still deserves enough respect to be pronounced correctly. 
    My most vivid memory in relation to my name is from my university graduation ceremony. The school asked us to write any “unusual” names phonetically on paper to make it easier for the announcer. My name phonetically is ‘Nah–Day Neek-Way’ and this is exactly what I wrote in bold black marker. As I walked up to the podium, I handed the paper over and smiled, as I was about to walk across the stage after four years of hard work. But to my dismay and embarrassment, I heard, and I quote, “Natalie Negwalski!” What? How? I was horrified! I had a million thoughts running through my mind in that millisecond but the loudest one was, “NO, NaaDei, you need to correct her!” And, so I did! Normally I’d let it slide, but not that day. With thousands of onlookers, I politely shook my head and index finger simultaneously, saying NO, please say it correctly! After three attempts, she got it, and I finally walked across the stage feeling an immense sense of pride. 

    Our society is diverse and multicultural, so differences should be expected and accepted. Yes, a name may sound different, but it still deserves enough respect to be pronounced correctly. 

    That was the first time in my life that I wouldn’t accept being called anything else but my exact name. And what made it more empowering was that several strangers of different races approached me after the ceremony either giving me high fives, hugs, or applauding what I had done, because they too knew how I felt. They shared my experience and were happy to see someone stand up unapologetically about something that was different.
    While my name appears to be different, it’s not. The Ga-Dangbe tribe’s cultural norms are based on the family surname, gender, and birth order. The prefix “Naa” signifies respect and royalty and “Dei” is given to all first-born females in my family’s clan. I’m a first-born girl that can be traced back to the Neequayes in Accra from centuries-long ago, and I’m connected to all of this because of my name. These types of rich customs and traditions exist all around the world. Millions of people have different types of names with deep-rooted meanings signifying a meaningful family, culture, or legacy. My identity is part of who I am and my name connects me to my ancestors, and that is not strange.

    Millions of people have different types of names with deep-rooted meanings signifying a meaningful family, culture, or legacy. My identity is part of who I am and my name connects me to my ancestors, and that is not strange.

    I acknowledge that saying new names can be uncomfortable, even for me. However, if you find yourself in that predicament of saying a new name: ask how to say the name correctly, clarify if needed, apologize if you mispronounce it, make an effort to learn from your mistakes, and lastly, don’t make excuses. The old excuse of “I’m sorry, I’m just horrible with names” doesn’t cut it anymore. People should no longer dismiss their identity in an attempt to appease others. Be respectful of the millions of people with “unusual” or “strange” names. It’s not only courteous to pronounce someone’s name correctly, but it shows an effort in creating an inclusive and diverse environment. 
    Your name is arguably the most important thing about you because it’s the one word people use to identify you. It’s part of who you are, and that will always matter! So, to all the women and girls like me with “ethnic,” “different,” or “unique” names I say to you, be proud of your name and where it comes from. And correct them, sis! Correct them—EVERY TIME! More

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    Being the Shy Kid Can Make You an Awesome Adult

    Being the shy kid can be hard. You may have wondered if you’d ever be able to start a conversation with ease or stand up in front of the class to talk without going bright red — but by the time adulthood hits, most of us have managed to leave our awkward years of conversational trip-ups and eating lunch alone behind us. Although being shy is rarely a sought-after quality, sometimes the least confident kids make the best adults. But being a shy child can shape you into someone pretty special. Here’s how:

    You’re fine with your own company
    Although those long lunch breaks spent alone might not have been much fun at the time, they can be good practice for adulthood. No matter how sociable you might be, there will always be situations where you find yourself alone. Perhaps you’ve moved to a new city or work in an unsociable office. Or perhaps you are simply finding that as you get older your friends are increasingly busy and your Friday nights are less booked up than they used to be.
    Having been a shy child means that you are likely to be comfortable with your own company. You can probably happily fill a free weekend with a good book or box set and won’t have a problem with eating out alone. 
    Being happy with your own company also means that you will be open to opportunities that more extroverted individuals might balk at. Traveling alone can be an incredible and affirming experience, and you probably wouldn’t think twice about going to the theatre or a gig by yourself if no one else wants a ticket. Being shy as a child sets you up to enjoy the things that you want to in life, regardless of whether anyone else wants to come along for the ride.

    You’re a good listener
    If you were ever the person who would rarely speak out in a group, then you’ve probably been practicing an important skill without even knowing it — being a good listener. Those days of nodding along whilst everyone else got to the chance to talk will mean that you’re in tune to the dynamics of conversation and are happy to sit back and give others the floor. 
    Although it’s also important that you now feel comfortable turning the conversation onto yourself every once in a while, being a good listener is still an incredibly valuable trait. Your friends will appreciate your ability to engage thoughtfully with what they have to say and will know that they can always come to you when they need someone to lend an ear.

    You appreciate your grown-up confidence
    Whilst others might take for granted being able to strike up a conversation or confidently command a room, you will remember how difficult this once was for you. Even if being the center of attention still makes you squirm, you will appreciate your abilities to flourish in certain situations. Perhaps meeting a new person or articulating your opinion might be much easier than it once was. Or perhaps you’re now able to happily host a party or present at a meeting. Whatever kind of confidence you’ve found in adulthood, you can be proud of how far you’ve come.

    You value your friendships
    Being shy as a child might have meant that your friendship circle was small or non-existent. Although this can be hard and have lasting impacts, it will also mean that the friendships that you are fortunate enough to have gained as an adult are especially valuable to you. If these friends are from your childhood, then this is particularly true, as you will know that they appreciated your shyness back then and love you for you.

    You’ve overcome a hurdle — and you know that you can overcome many more
    When you’re a shy child, the thought of being a confident adult can be hard to fathom. Participating in simple social interactions can be agonizing, and your shyness might feel like a vast obstacle to living your fullest life.
    If you’ve managed to gain confidence as an adult, then congratulations! You have overcome a significant hurdle and become the person that your shy self could only have dreamed of. Turn your knowledge into power and take this mindset forward into other areas of your life. If you can overcome your shyness, then you can overcome any other challenge that crosses your path. And that’s confidence far beyond being able to hold a good conversation.  More

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    10 Things I Learned From My Immigrant Parents

    Growing up, I really struggled with my identity. I was raised in a predominantly white suburb of Chicago as the child of Chinese immigrants, and was always left with a sense that I was different from my peers. When I started preschool, I couldn’t even fully understand English, and I was terrified. I became aware of how I couldn’t effectively communicate with others, and as I got older and tried to find myself, the struggle morphed into multiple identity crises involving my appearance, my beliefs, my struggle with learning two languages, my social life, and even the food I eat. How do you navigate assimilation without losing connection to your former culture?Throughout all this, my parents have always been there for me. They are my rocks; my solid ground to stand on and lean on for support. As I’ve gotten older and reflected on my experiences, I’ve come to realize how much my family has shaped me. They have taught me—through their words, actions, and personal experiences—some very important life lessons that I will hold onto and hopefully pass along to my own children. 
    I would say the way I’ve been raised is interesting. While it has many things in common with other immigrant children’s upbringing, parenting is extremely personal. As an adult, I now see the choices and sacrifices my parents have made for the benefit of their kids. I am extremely grateful for the foresight and self-awareness my parents have that helped me to become who I am today.
    Here are 10 lessons I’ve learned from my parents. 

    1. Hustle hard
    Moving to a completely new country halfway across the world is hard—like, really hard. My dad was determined to make a better life for himself and his family, so he busted his ass to do so, taking test after test and applying to graduate schools in the United States until he finally got accepted. That was his ticket to success. but the hard work didn’t stop there. He continued to work tirelessly, providing for our family of four, doing his best so that we could live comfortably. He’s shown me the value of working hard for what you want in order to accomplish your dreams. It takes guts and it takes perseverance. Some of my biggest fears in life are failure and rejection; it’s what stops me from making more daring decisions. But when I’m reminded of my family, I am able to reach inside of me and emulate their strength, finding myself reaching higher and higher, taking steps to achieve my dreams.

    2. Being strong in the face of adversity
    My parents experienced many atrocities throughout their childhoods and faced many difficult situations. They both grew up during a time of civil unrest and survived a food shortage, essentially living in poverty. They didn’t even have consistent access to electricity until they were out of college. That seems worlds away from the life in which I was raised, but never once have I ever heard my parents speak of their past with even a hint of bitterness. They keep their chins up and soldier on, looking forward to the future, no matter what. I see true strength in them and they never fail to remind me that people are capable of so much, and we can always work toward overcoming our struggles.

    3. Health should always come first
    The topic of health is a constant point of conversation in our household. My parents have drilled into my head that health comes before all else. It’s very difficult to take proper care of our business or others if we don’t take care of ourselves—it makes it so much easier to become overwhelmed. My mom always uses the analogy that our bodies are like batteries that need charging. If you’re depleted of all energy, how can you accomplish anything? If we’re able, then we should take diligent care of ourselves through cleanliness, proper nutrition, exercise, and sleep (though I am definitely terrible at that last one, sorry mom!). Through this constant reminder, I’ve come to better understand the value of this and see the truth behind it. We all wear many hats and I definitely think I am a better person all around when I take care of myself. It’s easier to be present and be a good daughter, friend, sister, student, and person overall.

    4. Never stop learning
    Something I learned very early on from my parents is that “brains are like sponges.” We are constantly learning things and we should never stop trying to. Knowledge is power, and no matter how old we get or what challenges we face, we can always gain something—an insight, a new idea, more understanding. They encouraged my curiosity, encouraging me to seek out the answers I wanted. My dad always gets so excited when I teach him something new, like a recipe or an interesting fun fact about a topic he doesn’t usually think about. I associate curiosity and the desire to learn with simply having enthusiasm for life.

    5. Love can appear in many different forms
    One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from my parents and through our culture is how everyone may show love differently. In some Eastern cultures, it is more typical that we show love through our actions rather than our words. My mom happily helping me with laundry or cooking food for me was an act of love, not just an act of obligation or devotion. But from living in the United States for so long, my parents have, over time, learned how to become more communicative as well. They’ve gotten much better about verbalizing how they feel and I love seeing how they change and grow as people. That desire to connect with their kids through their words showed their love as well. They wanted to bond with us and express their love in a way that their Westernized children could better understand. It shows that people all show love and affection in different ways—both culturally and individually.

    6. Always choose kindness
    My parents are two of the kindest, most generous people that I have ever known. They’re always quick to offer a helping hand or go out of their way to assist someone in need, and they never do anything with the expectation of having those favors be returned—they do it just because they’re good people. They have shown me that it doesn’t matter your background, your socioeconomic status, whether you’ve had a bad day or not—you can always choose to be kind. It’s taught me to always seek out the silver lining of every single situation, even when there doesn’t appear to be one at first. They have always emphasized that it’s important to put positivity out into the world and treat people well. In this sense, it’s kind of like good karma. When I make the effort to be positive in my thoughts, attitude, and behavior, I tend to receive it back in the form of kindness from others and opportunities and it becomes a positive loop. Plus, you never know what someone else is going through and it’s always worth it to try to make someone’s day.

    7. Frugality
    Of course, living a life of hardship leaves its marks on a person. Like many other immigrants, my family was very frugal. A sort of survival instinct was deeply embedded in their daily lives and habits. There wasn’t enough food to go around for a while, so they had to learn how to ration and share. New clothing was a luxury and a rarity, so learning to mend fabric was a necessity. Stocking up on supplies when they were available and affordable was a means of survival. Though we now live comfortably and don’t need to keep up some of these habits for survival, old habits die hard, and they’ve passed on some of these instincts to me. I find myself doing things like avoiding too much food waste, using supplies like paper towels and soap sparingly, and watching my water usage. Though it’s not entirely necessary, learning the skill of frugality has been helpful to me. I’ve learned to balance my spending between necessities and “wants,” and it even helps me be prepared in case something like an emergency happens.

    8. Choose your friends carefully
    My mother was always extremely adamant that I be careful about who I befriended. The people you are closest to most affect your development, personality, and behavior. She’d had her fair share of critics when it came to her choices over how she’s led her life and her actions. She’s been criticized for how she tried to raise her kids in a more moderate way, allowing us to become more Westernized, and how she gave up her career to move to another country, amongst other things. And honestly, who needs that kind of negative energy? We all deserve to be surrounded by those who love and support us.
     
    9. How to bridge differences
    Obviously, growing up in a household trying to merge and navigate two different cultures can be difficult. At times it’s both frustrating and messy not being able to see eye-to-eye on things, or not even be able to totally understand each other due to language barriers. Throughout the years, we’ve had to practice lots of patience with each other and try to keep an open mind. As I’ve grown into myself, it’s become more and more apparent that many of our opinions differ drastically. Being able to hold conversations about contentious topics we don’t agree on can be very aggravating and emotional. We’ve gradually learned how to express those opinions without stepping on each others’ toes too much, and I think this lesson has greatly aided me in my life in general. I love being able to talk to people who don’t necessarily agree with me and being able to have a constructive conversation about our opinions without offending each other.

    10. Food goes beyond simple nutrition
    Eastern medicine was a major part of my upbringing. Every time something was physically wrong with me, my parents tried to fix it with some concoction of herbs. Honestly, sometimes it seems like mumbo-jumbo, and to many people it probably is, but I’ve grown to accept and respect it more and am quite fascinated by it. Some have become more interested in traditional Chinese medicine, and there have been more efforts to research it. It goes back thousands of years—and hey, I’m an avid tea drinker anyway. What’s the harm in drinking some tea that’s supposedly good for me? It’s taught me that some of the foods we already consume can be used to purposely fuel and heal ourselves. For example, garlic has antimicrobial properties and chrysanthemum may help to decrease inflammation. I was raised to believe we can use food to heal ourselves from the inside out, and I think that’s kind of magical. Because of this, I’m very conscious of what types of foods I consume and pay very close attention to how it affects me. My mother has given me some herbal teas, and truthfully, whenever I feel a cold coming on, I always reach for them just in case. Maybe it’s a placebo or maybe it actually helps, but I usually end up feeling better, and that’s just fine with me.
     
    What types of lessons have you learned from your family? More

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    The Pandemic Helped Me Become More Confident With My Disability

    As someone with a physical disability, I have always struggled with my mental health. I’m not certain whether my anxiety and depression are only manifested as a reaction to my experiences as a disabled woman, but I am confident they are, at the very least, exacerbated by it. Even if I tend to forget, I’m fortunate that my disability (Charcot-Marie-Tooth) is fairly easy to hide. My disability is a neurological disorder that causes the muscles in my lower extremities to be weaker than normal. I wear leg braces to help me walk, but other than that, I live a fairly normal life. My mental health is severely impacted by my disability, however, because my anxieties are constantly on edge as I worry about people staring, or about climbing stairs, or about standing for too long without a chance to sit. Ever since I was a child, I’ve lived with severe anxieties that caused stomachaches and nightmares. I feared everything from going over bridges to being sucked down the drain (this fear inspired by a Rugrats episode). It was so bad that if my family went out on a school night, I would nearly be in tears if I hadn’t been able to finish my homework beforehand, for fear of not having enough time to complete it when we finally returned home. 
    It wasn’t until a few months ago, when my anxiety transformed into depression and I struggled to keep up appearances of being just fine, that I finally got help. I am unable to pinpoint the exact moment my depression became a thing. It’s possible that I was rejected from one too many jobs, or I could feel some of my college friends and I growing apart as our early 20s began to slip away. Either way, I knew I was in trouble when I struggled with my writing; my creative juices simply were not flowing. I am writing about living with a disability for an MFA program and constantly focusing on the struggles I have faced with my disability became too much for me to work on. At the same time, I knew I needed to complete my memoir not just for my degree, but because I felt by getting my truth down on paper it would begin to help me understand and reconcile my negative feelings towards my disability. 

    I am unable to pinpoint the exact moment my depression became a thing. It’s possible that I was rejected from one too many jobs, or I could feel some of my college friends and I growing apart as our early 20s began to slip away.

    I had wanted to work with a therapist for several years, as more of my friends began seeing one and shared their positive experiences. But, like many Americans, mental health costs were not covered under my insurance. I contacted therapist after therapist, hoping I would find one who would take pity on me and offer a discount. Finally, I found one and have been working with her for several months. 
    We were able to meet in person once before we were forced into quarantine. I was worried that I would no longer be able to see my therapist, but was glad when she offered telehealth sessions. Our first session was a struggle, the video continuously froze, the audio was too low, and I ended the session fearing the next virtual appointment. After that first session though, we decided to forgo the video and just do a phone call.
    While I was happy that I was still able to speak with my therapist on a weekly basis, I feared that by not being able to see me, she would miss out on certain physical cues that were instrumental to understanding my anxiety. I have found that the only way to combat this is by vocalizing the reason behind the fidgeting, or if I don’t know the reason, simply vocalizing the fact that I am feeling anxious at that moment. This is challenging me to be more honest about my thoughts and feelings. On the flip side, not seeing my therapist face-to-face has given me a certain level of confidence I would not exude in person. In-person, I would be more focused on what I was doing with my hands or fidgeting with my hair than the conversation at hand. Like many aspects of our lives at this time, I need to be OK taking the good with the bad.

    While I was happy that I was still able to speak with my therapist on a weekly basis, I feared that by not being able to see me, she would miss out on certain physical cues that were instrumental to understanding my anxiety.

    I told my therapist how, in a weird way, I felt fortunate that I have struggled with anxiety for most of my life and that I had sought help before the pandemic began. Nearly everyone is now living in a state of constant fear and anxiety, and many people have not had to deal with these feelings before. As someone who has lived with anxiety all my life, I am slightly better equipped to recognize irrational fears versus rational ones, which I think makes a huge difference in this pandemic. I read a lot—whether books, magazines, newspapers, etc., I am almost always reading—and I have found this breadth of information and various perspectives have made it easier for me to identify those rational versus irrational thoughts.
    Books allow me to see that I am not alone in my way of thinking. For example, I am currently reading Sally Rooney’s Normal People (which is also a limited series) which tackles numerous mental health issues. I see myself in those characters, and it is helping me understand why I think the way I do. With the pandemic, I read verified sources that reference experts to determine what level of worry is rational. I admit the beginning of the pandemic made my anxieties even worse (for a time I had a panic attack anytime I listened to White House press briefings), but as the weeks stretched into months, the shock has worn off and I have educated myself enough to feel I have the tools necessary to be as safe as I can be, without closing myself off from the rest of the world.
    Whenever I go out I wear a mask, I wash my hands, and I keep my distance. I have not seen my family and friends in person because many of them are essential workers, but I video chat with at least one or two people every week and plan on having safe, socially-distanced dates with a friend. I feel as time has passed, I have begun to settle into my “normal” levels of anxieties, which I have been learning to deal with for months now. I work to challenge my suffocating mindsets, but more importantly, I am working to trust myself. 

    Like many aspects of our lives at this time, I need to be OK taking the good with the bad.

    I have decided to treat myself throughout this pandemic by ordering an abundance of goodies from face masks to bath bombs, salon-quality hair products to new clothes. When I put on new clothes and my hair is done, my face is clear and my makeup looks good, I feel rejuvenated.
    Doing these things, like buying fashion and beauty products, helps me feel good about myself and my body, something that I have always struggled with. With the pandemic, I went several weeks where I didn’t do my hair at all, I wore sweats or pajama pants every day, and it negatively impacted my mental health. I was hesitant to order things at first because I felt guilty for the delivery drivers and warehouse workers, but after a few weeks of realizing that things were not going to change anytime soon and I was not going to be able to go shopping in person for the foreseeable future, I finally broke down and made my first purchase: prescription glasses and sunglasses.
    I felt this was a necessary purchase, as I did need new glasses, and when I got them in the mail and tried them on I felt better than I had in weeks. They helped me feel cute and confident. After this, it was as though the floodgates opened and I felt free to order more: I bought a new CC cream from Ulta, as well as bath bombs, face masks, and lotion, I bought salon-quality hair care products from R+Co and, my most exciting purchase, I signed up for a clothing subscription service.

    Doing these things, buying fashion and beauty products, helps me feel good about myself and my body, something that I have always struggled with.

    Before the pandemic, it was my goal to become more comfortable with my body and less afraid of showing my leg braces. I planned to promote body positivity on social media by sharing photos of myself in dresses or shorts with my leg braces on full display. I have yet to get the courage to do this, but with my beauty purchases and focusing on my mental health with my therapist, I believe my confidence level is growing daily, and before long, I will be ready for the world to see me as I am—disability and all. More