You know that moment when you're just out here minding your business and suddenly you get a phone call or email that the opportunity you've been waiting for has finally come through? Or, that split second when you're bolted over with an idea or inspiration that stops you dead in your tracks? There is nothing more exhilarating than these magical instances when everything you've ever done and all of your experiences and abilities meld together in one epiphany and you just know, on a molecular level, that your life will never be the same! What do you do with that energy? If you're anything like me and Quinta here, you want to milly rock on every block, shout it out from the mountains and tell everyone you know.
Slow down there whoadie! As natural as this impulse may be, it's not always best. In the brilliant words of Lil Wayne, sometimes it's better to "move in silence like lasagna."
Here are a few reasons why it's necessary sometimes just to stay low and grind:
So you have a brilliant idea, but how are going to execute it? When are you going to start? How are you going to transform this inspiration into reality? You're still in the idea phase and that's fine. Enjoy the moment, but if you share your vision right now you're going to get questions that you aren't prepared to answer.
Not everyone is going to see the beauty and potential that you see, and you can't expect them to. This is your baby, it's your job to protect and nurture it.
Let's say someone does share the enthusiasm for your idea. That may not be a good thing. Placed in the wrong hands, your brilliant idea can become your worst nightmare. Sometimes you have to play your hand close to your chest so no one can cheat you out of your win.
You're super sensitive right now...and maybe even a little irrational. Any critique, no matter how logical or well intended, feels like hate at this stage. You're not looking for feedback, you want validation and you're going to resent anything less. Why open yourself up to that kind of unnecessary animosity?
No matter how pure your intentions, sharing your good news can provoke jealousy. Not everyone wants to see you win. This doesn't make them bad, no one is immune from casual bouts of hateration, but vibes are real and transferable. Your dream is in it's embryonic stage right now and that kind of negative energy can be detrimental.
6. Protect your enthusiasm
That hopeful, child-like excitement is there for a reason. It's the fuel you're going to need to get you through the challenges that will inevitably come with the new opportunity you're stepping into. Enthusiasm is the currency of destiny. Protect it at all costs!
Life is good, enjoy your win, but as tempting as it may be to put yourself all the way out there, it's probably best to show some restraint. Stay humble, keep moving in the direction of your goals and let your life do the talking.
The transition into adulthood isn’t an easy one. Navigating relationships, managing workplace politics, hitting those milestones on schedule— don’t be fooled, no one knows what they’re doing. There will be all kinds of fumbles, blunders and awkward missteps along the way. If you’re constantly wondering to yourself, “Am I doing this right?” Welcome. This is just the place for you.
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Photo: InTouch Weekly
I juggled with the idea of writing about Kanye West. Not because of the sensationalism surrounding his story, but because of the painful connection I have to a story like this. Mental health awareness is far more than a popular hashtag. It’s deeper than a month of observance. It’s more powerful than a movement. For those battling with the disorder on a daily basis or for those who haven’t figured out how to define and confront the emotional rollercoaster they’re riding, mental health awareness is a life or death situation.
According to the National Association for Mental Illness (NAMI), nearly 44 million adults suffer from mental illness, whether it’s something more socially acceptable such as stress and anxiety or more complex such as manic depression or schizophrenia. Sometimes these illnesses aren’t properly diagnosed because many adults are afraid to discuss their symptoms or deal with the aftermath. This could even be the case with Kanye West.
Why is it easier to wrap our heads around physical health illnesses than mental health illnesses? One isn’t greater or more detrimental than the other. Although the conversations about cancer, HIV/AIDS and the countless other diseases are difficult, they’re still being openly discussed. However, many can’t seem to utter the phrase mental health without feeling the effects of the stigma or becoming worried about labelled as “crazy.”
What do you do when you’re crying out for help but your cries go unnoticed? What do you do when you live in fear of being stigmatized? How do you live with your grief, depression, anxiety or severe mood swings, when those closest to you are telling you to “get over it,” “pray about it” or otherwise dismiss the emotional turmoil you’re experiencing? What can we learn from Kanye West’s experience?
First, it's IMPERATIVE that you surround yourself with decent, authentic and well-meaning people who will notice your erratic behavior and tell you about it. Surround yourself with the folks who won't mock you, ridicule you or otherwise continue to let you pursue a breakdown because they are either embarrassed, ashamed or benefiting from your mental despair. Whoever pushed Kanye to seek help did not care about the publicity, the concert ticket refunds or his “brand.” They cared about the man and his impending meltdown.
Secondly, give yourself credit for addressing your emotional disturbances. It takes A LOT of bravery to commit yourself to an institution or allow someone to urge you to go and seek help. The fear, confusion, pain and desperation is enough to make people go into hiding or worse, contemplate suicide. So when you DON'T run and you DO admit that you need help, that can be the beginning of a cold, lonely and dark road where normalcy evades you. However, this road can lead to recovery. It might not be easy, and at times you might travel the path to healing alone, but taking those steps can save your life and enhance the quality of your life. Kanye’s story of admittance to the hospital might be more publicized than his recovery process. However, he has to remember that he’s not doing this for anyone else but himself. You have to remember this as well. During healing and recovery is your time to be selfish.
Finally, don’t become discouraged by people who don’t understand the complexity of your illness. Mental health isn’t something that can be compartmentalized, easily diagnosed or suppressed. In fact, it can take years before the onset of the illness surfaces. It can be triggered by an event that happened a long time ago or something that happened just a few moments ago. You can go long periods without feeling the effects of your illness and then they can suddenly appear and disrupt your lifestyle for any period of time. Mental health is a mountain that must be conquered by smaller, yet intentional steps. And sometimes, people might not understand your trek, therefore, they’ll discourage you or isolate you. Kanye might lose some friends and become the butt of a few jokes, but he’ll also figure out who his real friends are.
Kanye West has made a name for himself from his brilliance and blatant personality. However, at the core of Kanye is the story of a black man who dodged death, only to have it steal his everything (his mother), in the midst of a career within an industry which capitalizes on the pain of its artists. Kanye battles being a genius and normal guy who hasn't dealt with his grief, yet pushes to make himself known as an asset to multiple industries that might not fully understand (or care about) his story.
I've been in Kanye's shoes (the cheaper version), where mental breakdowns cause you to discredit yourself, question everyone and wish that the world could stop spinning and recover the sense of comfort and normalcy that you've been robbed of.
Do your part to understand mental health and to accept anyone who is battling mental health disturbances. They're not "crazy." They're not seeking attention. They're hurting. I’m one of those people. And chances are, someone you know is dealing with it too. Some people will tuck it away, hoping others won’t discover and judge their secret. And some will wear it openly, hoping that the right people find them and help them to heal and create a new normal.
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What is the healing component? What might seem like an obvious question/answer to many actually requires some thought. When was the last time you thought about your healing process? Mick Jenkins reflects on his healing component through his album The Healing Component. In an interview with Billboard, Jenkins said, “The project is stitched together through a series of skits, or more accurately conversations, on the nature and meaning of love for individual people, fleshed out and discussed in a way that’s reminiscent of the classroom interludes that pepper The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” In a world where it's common to live a facade and pretend that we have this life-thing figured out, Jenkins shares with us ways in which he defines healing.
After countless listens, I have summarized five steps to healing.
Seriously, What are you waiting on? Listen to the album.
1. Love yo'self
The greatest healing component is LOVE! Jenkins repeats this word throughout the album as if to remind himself that love heals all wounds. In terms of physical scars, if we desire for them to heal properly, we must love the appearance of our skin. If we took the same approach to our internal scars, we must truly love ourselves in order to deal with the pain to heal. In Jenkins' case, the healing component is overcoming his own imperfections as a man, finding his own truth and reminding himself about the undying love of God. A good friend of mine told me, “Love may not heal our imperfections, but it allows us to accept them.” MESSAGE!
“When people talk about love you really only think about the, the pretty parts, the romantic parts of love people don’t think about things like loving themselves and what that takes.”
2. Patience and the weight that comes with it
Throughout the album, Jenkins talks about how Jesus spread love and how he aims to do the same. Jenkins hopes to make an impact on Earth, just as the chosen one did. He emphasizes the importance of patience in "Strange Love," learning about patience within himself as well as dealing with others. Patience is a heavy topic (wordplay on weight/wait), especially when talking about the power of healing. Not only are you giving up control, but you are also allowing yourself to let life unfold on its own. “Love is a muscle that you must build from inside.” Trusting the process of healing requires patience, it isn’t going to be easy. However, it will be worth it as you grow throughout your journey.
“The basics of his message was love, the basics just loving yourself and projecting that love onto others”
3. Sacrifice your pride
Sacrificing our own pride to love others is one of the hardest steps to healing. One of the most honest songs on the album, "Daniel’s Bloom," speaks about the importance of letting go of your own pride. Be willing to be vulnerable, to admit your mistakes and where you are wrong. Vulnerability is an important aspect of love. Mick talks about wearing his heart on his sleeve and being OK with getting bruised. He aims to emulate Jesus, who constantly spread love despite being humiliated and shamed. Letting go of your ego is admitting that sometimes scars bleed and it hurts. Nevertheless, healing is a process.
“Love is what flowers and finish blooms begin/Show me your plot and I’ll do the dirt till my wounds submit”
4. Admit you're not OK
Be OK with not satisfying everyone’s perception of you! Mick shares his moment of vulnerability throughout the album, “N*gga had to fall on his knees for a second.” I think we can all admit that we have come to a similar moment in our lives. At this moment, there must be a self realization that we are lost, broken or in pain. It is OK to feel this way, we are human and a part of healing is admitting we have scars.
“The underrated and often neglected
Are often expected to deal with it…
…Like we in here off a meal ticket or something
The lack of respect is astounding
And I refuse to accept it
N*ggas talking crazy
And you not finna tell me that I’m crazy
Cause I choose to correct it”
5. Stop running away from your problems
Lets be honest, we all have them. To completely heal, we must face our personal demons that have hindered us from growing. If you keep entering seasons where you are approaching the same problem, life is alarming you that you are avoiding growth. Don’t run!
“I am not flawless, I am not perfect, I sin in my soul, I cut through the surface Repair, heal and spread love/Work to repair the vision/Then you can see the fruits of living/Then you can see the fruits of living.”
So if you are entering a new season, continuing your journey or revisiting an old lesson. I hope these steps are able to guide you through your healing process. Whatever healing component you choose, I wish you growth, happiness and peace. Listen to Mick Jenkins' album, The Healing Component. #SupportIllLyricists
“ … Love came to me as a, as, what should be a focus because that’s the focus of Jesus’ message on Earth. You know what I’m saying and if that’s what leads my life, which is my faith then it only makes sense to start there” — Mick Jenkins
Listen to The Healing Component here.
Azaglo, Priscilla is a poet who sees words as a conviction, a lyricist who uses her tongue as a weapon and a blessing. Her name isn't important, just her lessons and beliefs. Azaglo aims to challenge, disturb, encourage and teach through her poetry. Follow her at Twitter & Instagram @writeazaglo.
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Is this life? Because it's not at all what you had in mind. Which is confusing because in a lot of ways, it's exactly what you aimed for. I mean, you're doing pretty well, you have a good job, reliable income, benefits, a decent spot. So, what's the problem? Why do you feel so stifled?
At one time are another, we've all felt stuck between where we are and where we really want to be. Life is full of in-between stages. And in those pivotal moments, decisions are critical. The choices you make can impact your entire life. It's at these times that you have to ask yourself some crucial questions, and that internal conflict can get real. Sometimes the voices in your own head aren't even loyal!
If you have ever in your life felt stuck, here are six arguments you've probably had with yourself:
1. How did I get here?
What type of millennial nonsensical malarkey is this? It's called being a grown-up. Welcome to adulthood where maturity replaces fantasy and responsibility overrides impulse.
2. I hate my job.
It's a job! What you need to do is consult this template, check these boxes and climb this corporate ladder. That misery you feel? You feed it with stuff. Bigger house, better car, upgrade, more stuff.
3. Really? That's your fix?
Listen. Clearly you've missed the memo. This is what people do. Besides, how will you know who you are if there is no title on your business card to remind you? And, who's going to know your worth if it’s not spelled out on your bag, or your shoes, or your car? You get the point. I mean really...What exactly do you plan to do? Major in being you? How much does that pay? And, how exactly does that description look on a resume? And, tell me, who's going to match this magical 401K savings plan?
4. What about faith? What about everything we've been taught to believe?
Oh, that faith stuff...that's just something we say. In reality, that kind of thinking just gets in the way, so stop thinking! And when you do have a thought that ventures outside the lines, you must first pour it through the filter of what your friends might think, then measure it against what your family will say, weigh it on the scale of public opinion, hold it against the backdrop of “normal,” and once you’ve done all that — trust me, there won't be a morsel of a fragment of the instinctive urge, gift or calling that brought you to question to begin with.
Don't worry, because on those sleepless nights when your goals and dreams slip past the filter into your subconscious mind, I’ll be here to mute them and I'll remind you that you are sleeping on a California King Bed with one thousand thread count Egyptian linens, in your dream home with your partner and 2.5 kids. You will have made it! And, what more could you possibly want than that?
How about purpose? How about life? How about performing the assignment on earth that’s uniquely mine and exposing this light that’s been begging to shine, or trusting the word that you merely recite, or allowing my passion to keep me up at night?
How about making my own template to design my own existence? Is that so radical? Because I simply can't believe that the source who created my mind, my cells, my mouth, these words, this unique set of fingerprints unlike any other, did so just to fit me into a cookie cutter standard paper doll existence. To please whom? Them? Who the heck is this mysterious “they?” and why should I care so much what they have to say?
At the end of the day, what good does it do to check all the boxes at the expense of being you?
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The transition into adulthood isn’t an easy one. Navigating relationships, managing workplace politics, hitting those milestones on schedule— don’t be fooled, no one knows what they’re doing. There will be all kinds of fumbles, blunders and awkward missteps along the way. If you’re constantly wondering to yourself, “Am I doing this right?” Welcome. This is just the place for...
Organizing spaces have been some of the most unsafe, triggering and detrimental spaces I’ve been in. The rise of the fake deep hotep who dominates space, coupled with overeager radicals who don’t question the proliferation of hotepery in the space, leads to misogyny, transphobia, homophobia and hate running rampant among the very same groups of people who attempt to “get us free.”
How can those of us with any form of internalized hate work toward the liberation of a collective? The answer is, you can’t. You can’t dedicate your life to dismantling white supremacist capitalist patriarchy if you haven’t taken any steps to see how those systems of oppression have influenced your perception of self and the way you interact with the world. You can’t preach about police brutality and stay silent when black women are killed by police, you can’t talk about patriarchy when you don’t acknowledge your male privilege. You can’t roll your eyes at my love for trap music without addressing your own hate towards women.
There has been a buildup of these emotions among black women who are frustrated with spaces being dominated by leaders who only further oppression. #SayHerName has garnered attention in recent years in hopes of bringing to light the oftentimes unacknowledged deaths of black women at the hands of police, as well as #translivesmatter, which addresses the inconceivable rates of violence towards black trans lives. In 2015, Cecile Emeke released a poem titled “Fake Deep,” striking a chord with viewers worldwide.
You can’t liberate others until you work on liberating yourself.
This is not to say that there comes a point in time when one becomes free and can then begin to do the work. However, one must be proactively and constantly taking steps toward their own liberation if they feel even remotely inclined to work toward liberation of the collective.
So what does this look like in action? Intersectionality.
Intersectionality, a term founded by Kimberle Crenshaw and a core tenant of black feminism, is defined as the study of how identities intersect. Intersectionality examines how gender, race, class, ability, sexuality, religion and other identities influence how one faces systems of oppression. Intersectionality calls for thinking of identities as being inextricably linked in order to fully understand one’s lived experience.
Acknowledging intersectionality does not come easy. Frantz Fanon once said “imperialism leaves behind germs of rot which we must clinically detect and remove from our land but from our minds as well.” Oftentimes, oppositions toward intersectionality are the result of germs of rot growing in one's mind — how do we unlearn hate?
Paulo Freire says “Leaders who do not act dialogically, but insist on imposing their decisions, do not organize the people — they manipulate them. They do not liberate, nor are they liberated: they oppress.”
If you are someone working toward freedom for anyone, you must approach your fight for liberation through an intersectional framework, otherwise, you only end up furthering oppression by continuing a long and frustrating history of erasure. Moreover, understanding intersectionality will only make you more free. Show up to the work with an open mind, engage in dialogue, engage with theories that are difficult, and make space for people whose experiences are more complex than yours.
“Nobody’s free until everybody’s free" - Fannie Lou Hamer
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We love diversity, but it's not always represented in our mainstream mediums. “United we stand” is a popular American slogan that we hear quite often, but we don’t always finish the quote… “Divided we fall.”
Here at Blavity, we collaborate with all kinds of content creators from different backgrounds. We believe everyone’s experience is unique and everyone has a story to tell. We are black and do not apologize for it, but we also identify ourselves as American.
We asked the Creative Society to challenge the status quo and share all the reasons why we are America too.
Valerie Robinson (@unapologetic_us)
I am America too because this nation has been built off the backs of my ancestors. Hard work is engrained in our roots and we can rewrite the ending to our own stories. My contributions to society will one day create a legacy that will span generations as I make it a priority to revisit often what gems I wish to leave here on this earth and tackle generational curses. Although we are standing on the shoulders of giants, it is important to do our parts and not waste any of our God-given talents and the opportunities afforded to us. “The time is always right to do what is right.” I don’t take any of that, the paved paths or my unique voice for granted. If nothing else, I strive everyday to leave things BETTER than they were the day before.
“There is no such thing as I can’t, only I won’t… and that is unacceptable” - Anonymous
Rhonna Wade (@rhonnawade)
I am America too because my family came to America looking for the same opportunities others' families did. I know I am more than capable and able to contribute to the bettering of the society as a whole and I cannot not let those who are afraid of change stop me.
“We may not have it all together but together we have it all.” - Anonymous
Thomas C. Knox (@datewhileyouwait)
I am America too based on the Constitution and my freedom of speech. I am able to develop my own American dream, giving me the ability to reconstruct the values it’s built on. I can speak freely and create a journey that allows me to challenge right from wrong, which gives me the opportunity to inspire and encourage future generations to continue the work that those before us have done to build a unified nation.
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others” - Gandhi
Georgette Pierre (@georgette)
I am America too because my siblings and I were able to live better lives due to the sacrifices my parents made moving to this country. I’m able to do things and live things my parents never imagined possible or knew existed. For that, I am mindful of the mark that I leave on this world by seeking to live my purpose, doing my best to empower and speak up for those that may feel discriminated against. Also acknowledging my ancestors that came before me to make this life possible for myself and others.
“There can be no happiness if the things we believe in are different from the things we do.” - Freya Star
Brandon E. Miller (@thatguybmills)
I am America too because my ancestors are firmly rooted in the foundation that supports America. Like vines, my family’s contributions are woven into the history that defines America. And I, like you, continue to plant the seeds that once cultivated, will feed tomorrow’s America. I have faith that the American Dream will be what it used to be; regardless of what we look like, where we come from, how we think or how we live.
“The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” – Anonymous
Alicia Davis (@cubiclesandcurls)
I am America too because my parents came to this country for a better life and to give me more opportunities. I've worked hard to get everything I have and then some -- a good education, a job I enjoy and extra satisfaction from side endeavors. My history is American history and my struggle was born and can only be addressed by America.
“Think globally, act locally” - Patrick Geddes
Jon Lowe (@jlowe594)
I am America too because I was born and raised here, but it goes beyond that. Being American is not just about your document papers, but more about how you live your life, how you fight for equal rights, how you contribute to making this country greater, and how you vote to secure our country’s future. I am an American, but I am also an African-American.
“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” - Mark Twain
I am America too because I was raised in the burbs, went to a high school that was less than 1% black, attended 99% black HBCU Morehouse College, went to Stanford University for grad school, love hip hop, folk music, alternative rock, and R&B, play basketball and acoustic guitar, and often ask what IPA the local bars have on tap. I am unapologetically black, and a complex fusion of cultures and diverse experiences that are uniquely American. I am America because I am diversity and diversity makes America what it is.
Quote: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” - Matthew 6:33
Nic (@niktrition + @thefleektox)
I am America too because I embrace that America is all that is the Western Hemisphere; cognizant that this expands beyond the boundaries of what has been established as the United States of America. Being American is not about boundaries and limitations, but about enlightenment formed through the experience of globalization. The same globalization that warranted its founding and continues to emancipate those shackled by limited opportunity and rights. I am America too.
“Think Globally, Act Locally” - Patrick Geddes
Marqueeda LaStar (@lastargotnext)
I am America too because we are a nation of individuals that love our communities and ride for our chosen tribes. We champion our freedom to live as we choose. To be both bold and darling. To never stop reaching, growing or evolving. We live enriched lives due to these choices, challenges, tireless dedication to self-improvement, building a better tomorrow and the resulting diversity of expression. Our differences compliment our common ground. In Tim Curry fashion, I ask, What is light without darkness? I live to completely realize and help others embrace the untapped power and potential that lies within our differences. I love my weird and yours.
“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” -Audre Lorde
So... What does America mean to YOU?
Spread the word. Post your own self-portrait on Twitter or Instagram and tell us why YOU are America too. Make sure to tag @Blavity using the hashtag #IAmAmericaToo.
Learn more about the Creative Society.
Talk more about this with us on Thursday, November 3rd at 12pm PT | 3pm ET on Twitter.
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Last week marks a little over two months since my sister died. Most people in my life will be shocked reading this, because outside of a vague Instagram post, I haven't spoken about it. I've been able to hide this from the world, but everything that is a part of me has seen the remnants of it.
The day after I found out the news, I went to work and continued to put in time. I sent my boss an email a few days after, assuring her that I would still be in the office despite the tragedy. I paused for a moment to remember our last conversation; an argument that happened when we were 15. It had been seven years since we last spoke, Who was I to mourn her? I asked myself. Our relationship was years in the past, so I kept going.
I kept going to happy hours, kept working, kept hanging out with friends; I stopped in her hometown for her wake and kept going. I kept going until the damage that was happening inside of me forced me to stop. But, I was restless. I couldn’t sleep at night. I had vivid nightmares. I traveled, thinking my wanderlust would solve my problems. But I felt paralyzed. I became sporadic, careless, to be more precise, and it continued to get worse.
I began to live every day like it was my last, scared that it would be my last, literally. Because when your first best friend dies doing something seemingly normal, how else would you react? But, as it always happens, my mother caught me right where I was. She looked at me one day and said: You’re not dying.
I can look back and laugh at that moment, though it was only a few weeks ago. However, in the midst of this, I’ve learned that we need to pause in tragedy, as well as a few other things:
Death is no joke.
This sounds crazy, but it's not. In a world where death happens so often, especially at the hands of those who are supposed to protect us, I believe that tragic death has become normalized. My Facebook timeline is always filled with posts hoping that someone rests in peace. When it happened to me, to someone close to me, it seemed normal, but it wasn't.
Don’t be afraid to take time for yourself.
A former boss of mine once stopped me mid-conversation and asked me in plain words: "Why are you here?" At first it sounded aggressive, but she was right. I was sick. I could hear it and everyone could hear it (and see it). My response to her was: "Well, I have work to do." This was the same logic that stopped me from taking time off of work after my sister's death. I even worked overtime on the day after her funeral. Nobody stopped me, but they should've.
Family is paramount in tragedy.
When I said I kept going, I really kept going. The day after my sister's funeral I boarded a flight to Europe. I didn't really begin to feel better until I got to spend some needed time with family. That was 5 weeks after everything happened. I've learned that healing doesn’t have to have a time stamp, but pausing to be with your family and loved ones will accelerate that process.
Love yourself by forgiving yourself.
I feel an overwhelming amount of guilt for not having communicated with my sister in the past seven years. She sent me a Facebook message a few years back, but I blew it off. My feelings then were valid. How could I have possibly foreseen her sudden death? I couldn't.
Not all relationships are meant to be held on to.
I loved my sister dearly, but we grew apart. Earlier this year, I wrote about how death changed my perspective on relationships. Now I’ve realized that there are certain cases where this isn't always true.
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When I told my mother I wanted to quit my job on Capitol Hill to write full time, she was apprehensive. I’d been at my job for three years and I loved my boss, the people I worked with, and the work that I did. I even saw a clear path for upward mobility in my career there, and had devised a plan for it the moment I walked through the heavy wooden doors of the Rayburn Office Building. But then I began writing again, and my first love quickly turned from a pastime to a side hustle. Then it started to consume my daily life, forcing me to ask myself some hard questions. In the months before I left I'd sit at my desk contending with the thought that perhaps the job was more of a marker for where I thought I should be rather than my true purpose. Finally I got to a place where I came in and did my work, but otherwise felt like dead weight. And that's when I decided to go.
My choice to leave was made even harder by the fact that I knew my feelings could be tricky sometimes. When I was 15, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and being impulsive is one of its most definitive traits. The diagnosis had come at a time when I was performing locally as a hip-hop artist, totally ignoring my mental health and getting into a lot of trouble. I had a baby at 21 years old and dropped out of college. I married his father, but we separated soon after. I still wrote music and worked odd jobs, but I felt like nothing had turned out the way I’d planned and it was truly depressing. So I withdrew from my family and friends and stopped making any big plans. In fact, there were some points during that time when I battled bouts of indecisiveness so crippling that I felt my best recourse was to stand still. Luckily, even though my husband and I were living separately at the time, his parents offered to help with my son and encouraged me to go back to school and finish my undergraduate career.
So I did just that.
It was the first goal I’d stuck with and accomplished in a long time. Though issues that stemmed from my disorder threatened to derail the last two years of my studies, I worked hard and graduated with an English degree. Right before I graduated, one of my professors encouraged me to apply for a congressional internship, and a few months later I was an official part of a congresswoman’s staff. It was only part-time, but it was salaried, and I didn't mind either way because I was happy to get my foot in the door.
Then I did everything I could to kick butt in that office. In such a small press shop, there was a lot of work to do with her social media, but I did it. Our office won two awards for social media engagement while I was there, and the changes I suggested for her website are still in place today. Another bonus was that the women I worked with were strong, capable, and drama-free. I learned so much from that office about writing and editing that after awhile I decided to start writing again. I had written for my college paper and won awards for some of my short stories, so I thought it'd be a good hobby for me. So I dove back into my old blog and got a few articles published, but tried to quell any desire to write full-time.
My reason for this was simple — despite reading stories about other women who’d managed to launch successful writing careers while holding down a day job, I told myself that I wasn’t like them. Having bipolar disorder had kept me on an emotional balance beam for most of my life, and I wasn’t ready to fall off of it again. Those thoughts were inwardly devastating for me, but I accepted them as my truth for a long time. Even after I took advantage of the great healthcare I got through my job and went to talk therapy, I was hesitant to make any drastic changes in my life. Surprisingly, what snapped me out of that mode was the realization that I was inadvertently doing something extremely selfish and potentially sabotaging my own growth.
Really, sitting at that desk even though I’d lost all passion for the job months before was one of the most selfish things I've ever done. I watched desperate interns who would’ve given their left kidney to work in that office bust their butts the way I did when I first came to work, and I knew they were doing it because it was their dream to be there. It just wasn’t my dream anymore.
I knew it had gotten bad when I began to view staying at my job the same way I view holding onto someone with whom I have no real plans on staying with long-term. Once I stopped being invested in the work I was doing, I knew that it wasn't right for me stay in that position. So, I stopped being a placeholder in that office and made room for the next person who’d give it their all.
I left on good terms, too. One of my favorite coworkers made cake, I received Hallmark cards scribbled with warm goodbyes and a kind send-off that makes me smile whenever I think back on it. But now I’m settling into my new reality, and I feel complete. I kept a side-gig putting together proposals for a government contracting firm, and I'm able to do that from home. The income from that enabled me to start my own company, and ultimately, my goal is to work solely for myself and travel the world. Even my personal relationships are better since I stuck with my counseling.
Although I don’t know what my life’s going to look like a year from now, I can at least say that this fresh start — and every fresh start I’ve ever given myself — has brought me nothing but growth. I’ve even learned that stumbling along the way is not necessarily a result of my disorder, but it is a result of me being human. Today I see that I was never meant to be a placeholder in anything I do, and I really don't think that should be anyone's goal. There's always someone who's hungry enough to fill your shoes, so slay or get out of the way.
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I'm no historian. But I connect beyond a doubt with the artist spirit. The artist spirit is the one that rose despite the darkness of its environment. Or the crushing pressure that life puts on us. The artist spirit manages to take all the spicy seasonings of pain and create beauty. I didn’t work in a brothel to survive. I wasn’t antagonized by racism my whole natural life. I wasn’t plagued with drug addiction, like Billie. But I’ll tell you where I think Billie and I intersect: I found my soul voice in pain. The source of my “pain story” might differ from Billie’s, but we have that song in common, where singing unleashed our mourning and made our pain into power – I think we both know this feeling.
My own pain grew out of a horrid relationship which included unthinkable physical and mental abuse. Oh, my blessing is also my curse. I want to heal every pain in the world and be a force of support for those in need. This humanitarian gift becomes a liability if it's the motivation behind an intimate relationship. In my case, I loved a person in a great state of pain who was incapable of loving themself, who was full of anger, and who then turned this hatred into violence against me. Being in a relationship with someone who had psychotic tendencies made it impossible to be healthy.
I also simultaneously mourned for the drug addiction of a close family member — it broke my heart everyday. I also struggled to raise myself out of my economic poverty and found myself temporarily homeless. I once had a nervous breakdown from all the stress, and physically melted to the floor into a puddle of hysterical laughter — It seemed the tears no longer came and my body didn’t know what was left to do, then a chord snapped, I fell and an impossible laughter belted through me.
Some of this hurtful history is a blur, some of it I remember crystal clear. I DO know that through it all I sang. I sang and I sang. It wasn’t the shows that made me a soul-singer, it was the fact that I discovered singing soothed my own soul. I started humming instead of weeping. My voice was my own soul crying out into the world.
From that point forward, my voice always had an urgency inside of it and a connectedness to pain. It also has an empathy for other people’s pain. My voice has hurt and disappointment and anger inside of it. And it combined with the sweetest tones and melodies to reflect the irony of being alive: We survived. We made it to that microphone. We lived to tell about it “tonight." The microphone was our time to speak our power.
I do not sound like Billie Holiday. My writing is not in the genre of Jazz. But my spirit and Billie’s spirit, we meet. Billie left us too soon. The trials of life drowned her. I hope that my own voice carries the torch. In addition to the pain, I sing of great hope. I sing to the Billies that are to come; You ARE somebody. Your story is amazing and worthy to be told. You are not alone. You are loved. Don’t give up. There is light after the dark – I’ve seen it.
Photography by Diana Ragland.
Makeup, Hair and Shoot Production by Heidi Giselle.
From the author, about this photoshoot:
October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. I am a survivor of a violent relationship. Since leaving behind my painful past, I’ve gone on to be an advocate for social change and human rights, using my voice and songs as a service to others. I’m currently on the executive board of CONNECTnyc.org, a nonprofit that provides resources and counseling for families overcoming domestic violence. This year I released “Dance Revolution,” a single produced byDJ Spinna, in support of the One Billion Rising campaign to end gender-based violence.
Maya Azucena, a multi-award winning recording artist and magnetically inspirational woman, is known for making music that uplifts the soul. Maya’s work has been featured in O Magazine, Washington Post, Billboard and countless other publications. She’s starred in MTV's Madeand earned a Grammy Award -certificate for contributing her 4-octave range and soul-stylingsto a song with Stephen Marley. Within the last year, she’s toured to Haiti, South Africa, India and Russia. She also joined the Essence Fest lineup in New Orleans with Oprah Winfrey, Maxwell & Beyonce. Inspired Artist Movement's "2016 Inspiring Artist of the Year," Maya considers herself an "advocate for art as power" and uses her songs to empower those in need. www.MayaAzucena.com
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