Photo courtesy of Vogue Australia November 2015
I wanted to cut my losses. Yet as I walked the sometimes brick sometimes concrete sidewalks, and new my pace and stride were at the mercy of my weariness, I thought perhaps it might be worth considering how my losses had cut me. I ‘ve been avoiding grieving for 2 years now. Not just one loss- multiple losses that life hemorrhaged my way.
There was the trip to San Francisco a few Januaries ago. A city that had always been safe and offered both refuge and renewal for me. I had invited him on that trip and he marred my safe space with his selfishness and emotional manipulation. Traits I knew existed but for years skirted the brunt of. She had not noticed and had not intervened. I bled silent tears on the flight home and into our home. It was the first “our” home since I graduated undergrad. It would stop being our home as he wouldn’t come home and stopped paying his share of the mortgage.
That same evening we returned from San Francisco I opened my work email to prep myself for the returning to the office the following day and noticed her name in the subject line. Her name was in multiple subject lines and I scrolled as quickly as I could to find the first time those eight letters entered my inbox. She was dead. She was my client, my client who anticipated her new heart, her new life. I called her mother who expressed the difference and joy I had made and brought to her daughter’s life. She shared that the new heart started and stopped. They revived her. It stopped again and they weren’t able to revive her. That was never an option for us. We were hopefuls, dreamers, defiant rebels envisioning vacations that weren’t dictated by the closest children’s hospitals in case something was wrong with her heart. As much solid food her body could muster. Perfect attendance during her student teaching because there would be no more need for health related absences, unless of course she had a cold or something. Dying wasn’t an option yet it was a reality. Her service happened while I was away. I was left with a grieving campus and being the sole clinician to support and manage my own grief, a unique confidential grief because, well I was a counselor, there’s that whole client confidentiality thing. My supervisor knew and I told myself that was that.
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The weeks that followed were surreal. Home felt awkward. Work felt necessary. I was lingering in bed a little longer and as I did I’d check social media on my phone. At the top of my Facebook feed was a rest in peace wish for a woman who was a more than a family friend but a woman I counted as a mentor, especially in some of the toughest times of my young adult life. I called my mother who shared she had not called me when she first found out because she didn’t want to upset me so early in the morning. I sobbed. Then I looked at the clock, got dressed and went to work. I sat in the back of the bus and stated out of the window. He same song played over and over again on my ipod. When I got to campus I wasn’t ready to be greeted by the warm faces of my office suite so I walked to our athletics director’s office and as soon as he said good morning I cried and cried and cried until I could pull myself together to get on the bus and go back home.
I searched for a new job. I was in no condition to emotionally invest, care for, or support people. I took a job across the country, one that would pay the mortgage since he had stopped and still allow me to work with people but not to the same emotional capacity- at least I thought so anyway. In my first week folks from various departments apologized for the “shit show” I had assumed the lead role for. I smiled awkwardly and politely ignorant of what they meant. Two weeks in I was well aware of the shit and the show. By October a student died from suicide. A student I had asked for resources to help and my request was seen as not necessary, that there were other students for to focus on- scholarship students. By November a colleague took a leave of absence, my team of fellow directors were splintered, and my supervisor was relieved from supervising as the president stepped in and then later an outside consultant to provide leadership. That same month a student was raped off campus at a party and when she told was physically assaulted. At least that’s what we were told. I saw her bruises- she was physically assaulted. I also believe she was sexually assaulted. I have colleagues who weren’t so sure. That might have something to do with the fact that one colleague bent over backwards to support her and still managed to be the recipient of menacing text messages and threats from the young woman, as the sheriff made my colleague aware early in the spring semester. By spring break half of my team resigned and I needed a break because for the first time depression for me was very real and my ability to manage it was not.
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I had lost students and colleagues. I was losing my money (the house in Philadelphia was bleeding me with the hits it took from the winter) and myself. I’ll never forget finally getting in to see my primary care physician Dr. Gore (interesting name for a doctor right? ) While I was already freaked out that I’d be prescribed some type of psychotropic drug, she told me she was prescribing two of them! She sat on that little stool, scrubs on, strawberry blonde hair in a sloppy top knot all matter of fact business as usual as she wrote the script, told me about the pharmacy downstairs, the side effects, and when she’d want to see me next. I was in shock. I wasn’t in denial. I knew that the likelihood of my needing meds was high although I really wanted her to just excuse me from work for a month and let me just sleep and travel it off. I just wasn’t trying to take one prescription let alone two. I got home and plopped on my then sage green couch, not completely sure of how I got home (I knew I took the bus, but I don’t remember the ride, I was in a haze), called my aunt back east who’s a counselor, and slept.
I went back east- closed on the sale of my house on which I didn’t even break even, colored my hair (going hues of blonde was such a great choice), and started working on getting my life together which I knew meant there was no way I could continue to work out west. By the third week of being east I took a short trip to DC and started to finally feel like myself again. Going outside wasn’t so painful, eating felt less like a duty or a reward for making it through the day, and joy in the things that had always brought me joy like the museums and shopping were returning.
I returned west to pack up and move back east. Where, I knew not. I had resigned from my job without another in place, trusting God things would work out. As I wrapped up my pacific northwest stint it was amid a friend from high school dying and my grandmother’s cancer diagnosis. By the end of the academic year half of my team resigned and I later found out that my supervisor also resigned.
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I moved back east and started a new job in August. By September the new leadership had made it abundantly clear which departments on campus she thought highly of and which she didn’t. My department was bolded, highlighted, italicized, and underlined on the didn’t list. By November my campus was on lock down for an active shooter threat which resulted in the student dying by suicide. By March top level vice presidents and directors were resigning and retiring left and right, unprepared for and undesiring of the unethical tyrant style culture that crept into campus. Amid the resignations and challenged leadership I was fending off what had become the usual racism and sexism, I found myself sitting in my office uttering “I wish I wasn’t Black.” I didn’t really wish that. I wished for the power that was not given to me or anyone on campus who looked like me. By late May my supervisor in his own commitment to being an ethical higher education professional- resigned.
At his departure and given a new initiative launched by the school suddenly my department of one was suddenly valuable, necessary, integral, important- at least in theory. In practice the same disrespect and discrimination I had experienced, shared with my supervisor and HR continued but I now needed to manage all of that and manage this initiative. I noticed what was feeling like a loss of self again. I’d been there and was not trying to go back, hence the walk on the sometimes brick sometimes concrete sidewalks, as well as the thought of cutting my losses, and and realizing I needed to pause and look at how my losses had cut me.
Photo courtesy of Vogue Australia November 2015
In the past two years I’ve lost my homes. I’ve lost my sense of safety. I’ve lost quite a few people in my support networks. I’ve lost my brother (no he didn’t die, but he’s chosen to relate to me as if I died and I’m not sure my family understands the level of hurt that’s been incurred). When our grandmother died last December he didn’t speak or acknowledge me at her funeral. I lost my grandmother. I’ve lost friends who could only manage to be friends if I lived in the same city as them. I’ve lost jobs. I’ve lost students. I‘ve lost clients. I’ve lost hope. I think it’s been making a slow comeback but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I lost hope for a good bit. And vision. Vision of how I wanted to effect change on the campuses where I worked were just stolen and stolen in part by the energy I had to use to combat discrimination while trying to bring my vision to fruition. I lost a really great church home on the west coast. I wish I could say I lost weight, but nope. In fact I write this at the heaviest I’ve been since undergrad. I’ve lost sleep. I’ve lost a lot of my drive. Not all of it, but I’ve been working really hard lately to get it back.
I’ve lost. And I need to grieve. Like grieve and grieve and grieve. I didn’t know that until the other day, until I hit an emotional and mental wall and was crying in a local coffee shop. I was trying to work, to give and I knew I had nothing else to give other than give myself time, room, and space to grieve.
On Jill Scott’s album Woman, there is an Interlude that I’ve been playing on repeat for days now. The interlude is Pause and my favorite line is “I’m calling to schedule a nervous, no make that a necessary breakdown.” I’ve heard it dozens of times. However for the past week that song, and that line in particular spoke to me and made me listen as if Jill herself had come to my eclectic little piece of the Eastern Shore. When I got home that afternoon from the coffee shop those words resonated with me even more so. I needed to schedule a necessary time to breakdown- to grieve. To count the ways my losses cut me. To assess the wounds and not put band aids over that which needs stitches, limp on that which needs to be reset and put in a cast, to sift, entangle, engage, remember, hold, see, feel and feel and feel and feel and feel some more. I needed to be the stereotype the media has of me- emotional. Not just the one my culture has of me- strong, able to make it work, able to figure it out.
I remember talking to a friend about some of these losses and he responded that it could be worse. His brother recently died. For months I told myself what he told me “It could be worse.” The reality is while things could be worse, they could be better. There’s no measurement for pain, how it wounds us, and the time or processes we need to grieve and heal. Everyone and every wound is unique. To negate the reality of our pain, our losses, our cuts, our need to grieve doesn’t benefit anyone- not us, not the people we believe love us or are trying to love us.
So, I’m gone go ahead and grieve. I’m going to count the cuts caused by my losses so I can heal. I’m not 100% sure how that’s going to look but I’m giving myself permission to be alright with that too. I’ll keep you posted on what it looks like but my gut says it will look like some travel, some resigning, some relocating, some cooking (and eating), maybe some dancing, definitely some writing, some praying, and well we shall see.
The Simply LIVED life has always been about encouraging women (and those who love them) to get what they need. So, if you need to count the ways your losses have cut you, dress the wounds or enlist help dressing the wounds, please go on and do so. Go on and grieve, cause while it could be worse, it could be better and grieving may be the start to better. xxoo
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