How to be a ghost without really trying… (+ FibroArt Monday)

Photo Credit: Moyan Brenn via CC Flickr

 

Happy Monday! ūüôā (Hope your day& mine is pain-free)

I’ve been thinking a lot about my tendency towards silence. ¬†Actually, let’s back that up, I’ve been thinking a lot about why I am as I am and how to change some core self-beliefs. ¬†Seriously, ask yourself right now,¬†Why am I¬†me?

Some of us tell ourselves that we are too busy to think about such nonsense.  Some of us know that it would be better for us to think about it, but are afraid of what we might learn.  Some of us have asked the question, but have no answers. Some of us chuck ourselves into therapy, but with no intention finding answers, etc., etc.

You get the idea. It’s not an easy question either to consider or answer. Still, this is a question that I believe that we should try to answer throughout our lives. ¬†This brings me back to my original statement about being silent.

Just over a week ago, I moved into the place where I’ll be staying until I leave Rome on the 21st. ¬†My landlord is an amazing science fiction author, who reminds me of a cross between Bukowski and a much slimmer Santa Claus. Yesterday, he said to me, “So, is everything okay with you? I’ve not seen you for the past 10 days.” ¬†Mind you, I’ve been at home. ¬†Still, he was right. He hadn’t seen me. ¬†I had made sure of that. ¬†It wasn’t because I wanted to avoid him, but because¬†disappearing,¬†hiding,¬†remaining unseen is second nature to me. ¬†I erase my presence, even when actively in the lives of others, which may be¬†related to my object permanence issues. ¬†That, however, started way before the memories I can access.

What I do know is that growing up, my silence and lack of presence was something that was valued in my household. I did not stir the proverbial pot.   When I did try to express myself, I was often shutdown and compared with others who I understood had undesirable qualities.

In other words, I was encouraged not to share my thoughts, express my feelings, interact with the world around me, have friends, and generally be a socially-adapted member of society. ¬†I’m lucky that I decided to become a therapist because I learned many of the interpersonal skills that I ought to have when I was younger.

Yet still, I have yet to unlearn that core household rule, which has become an unsettling self-belief: I must erase my presence.

And why must I erase my presence? The answer is rather simple, because the statement comes from my childhood thought: I should not speak or my family will hate me even more and I will have no home.

So, how do you undo the belief that being “present” in the lives of others means that you will lose whatever place you have? ¬†Well, I have no definitive answer, but I’ll let you in on what I am doing.¬†¬†ūüėČ

What I am doing is actively giving myself permission to:

  • Exist – I have the right to take up space on this planet, even if it means that others may be discomforted by that.
  • Speak – I have the right to speak my personal truth, even if it dispells the myths of others.
  • Love – I have the right to love and be loved just because I exist. My loving or being loved is not synonymous with my forfeiting my identity and goals in life.
  • Dream – I have the right to create goals for myself separate from the desires of others. I can dream as big or as small as I want to about my life.
  • Feel – I have the right to my physical and emotional experiences, even if they counter the needs of other people. ¬†If I think the sun is freaking hot today, then it’s hot. If I am sad, then I am sad. It’s that simple. No one can dictate my feelings to me.
  • Be – I have the right to be whatever I am and whatever I am not. ¬†It is my choice.

I could go on for a bit longer with the list, but there you have it. This is my first step.

Perhaps this may be helpful for someone else, especially if you grew up in a highly narcissistic family environment, or what I might call a house of non-self mirrors.

Take a look at yourself today. Smile at who you are, love who you are, acknowledge you are here and no matter what you have the right to be.

Until next time,

D. 

   

FMS & CW | Things We Don’t Talk About: Isolation

Image found on eltonchizy.wordpress.com: The Cry of the Outcast (Poetry). Click to visit.

FMS & Creative Writing on Isolation

Don’t talk about it. Don’t think about it. Don’t begin to believe it…even if you experience it every single day. ¬†What it means to be ill…until you die. ¬†What it means to rethink to think to rethink to think who you are and can be. ¬†Don’t talk about it. ¬†Don’t think about it. Don’t begin to believe it…even if you experience it every single day.

I cannot speak about anyone else but myself.  I am sure that others may understand. When you are looked at you as though you serve no purpose. You have no worth. You cannot do what you used to do. You hide yourself from yourself and everyone else.  Your accomplishments amount to nil if you cannot continue to add to them.

You do not belong to belong. No one seems to hold your name in their mouths. You belong to a category of that which should be disbelieved…even if they don’t say it. You breathe it in from their absent words. ¬†You breathe it into your self-understanding, although you don’t want to believe. You don’t want to believe your reality. Anyway, your reality is chronically wrong.

Your reality is painted by breathstrokes of waking and waiting to understand your worth.

Your worth is trapped and defined by a bed, by a line of medications toppling off shelves, by the phone that no longer rings, by the work that feels overwhelming, by stairs that seem too hard to climb…

Yet still, there is always tomorrow.  You have to believe in tomorrow because today offers little salvation.

 

ATR Challenge: Day 7 & Rilke’s “Live the Questions”

Where Has The Time Gone

My face today. ūüôā

Just a brief note to check-in about the Challenge. All is well.  The things for which I am grateful and consider right are the new relationships that I am developing and the new habits that I am forming.

For the most part, what is right is my simple state of being: in myself, in the moment, in connection with others.

Some Words of Encouragement

‚ÄúBe patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.‚ÄĚ – Rainer Maria Rilke

Until Next Time,

D.

FMS | How to (Re)Build a Future…

As a person living with fibromyalgia, I spend a great deal of time thinking. ¬†My thoughts go from the mundane (what can I eat today that won’t cause me to suffer?) to the extraordinary (what would it be like if I could fly alongside the birds outside my window?)…okay, maybe not so extraordinary.

The point is that when my body won’t act according to the demands of my brain, I spend my time reflecting on the present and then on the future. In so doing today, I came to realise that something within me had shifted.

For the firs time in a long while, I was thinking, whole-heartedly and fearlessly, about my future.

I was imagining myself travelling. ¬†No, not just around my neighbourhood, but to distant places like Japan and South Africa. ¬†I was seeing myself working again with young people, writing, teaching, meditating, advising, and generally being at peace and being happy (which I am now)…

It was amazing.  

And then I realised that this, this freedom to imagine, to dream, was something that I had thought had been taken away from me by illness.  I had preoccupied myself with thinking that I could do no more than I had already done with my life.

After all, I had overcome some major challenges with my illness, had given up my old ways of living, had moved to another country, immersed myself in a new culture and language, and begun studying again. ¬†I’ve even been able to work a bit.

Isn’t that more than enough to hope for?

No, it isn’t.

I still have my dreams and my goals AND I can still realise them. ¬†Even if I don’t exactly know the¬†how¬†of each step that it will take to achieve my dreams, I know that the first step is simply to acknowledge that I CAN achieve them, regardless of illness.

So, live whole-heartedly and fearlessly today, despite the challenges, despite your inner critique, despite the naysayers. Having fibromyalgia doesn’t mean that you have to stop living!

Live for You, live for Now, and live for Tomorrow!

[Relationships] To Rebound or Not To Rebound? Um…I don’t think we actually have a choice…

For a few days now, I have been thinking about that space in between relationships, oftentimes called the “rebound” period. ¬†Why? ¬†Well, because I am in it, but not just in it…

I am actually recognising and admitting to myself that I am in it.

Now, for some people, this may seem quite a strange concept.  The inevitable question is: how could you not know that you were on the rebound?

Image Found: SomeEcards.com

Well, the answer is easy enough.  I just never thought about it.  I simply lived with a kind of go with the flow mentality that led me easily from one relationship to another from the age of fifteen.

I am sure I am not alone in this.  More than likely, there are many, who just never seem to be out of a relationship or out of the dating experience.

Of course, there are some people who might say, “Hold up, D! I know you were single from years XXXX to YYYY! I was there listening to you complain!”

And while that may be technically true, i.e. that I was not in an established relationship, I was most definitely casually or seriously dating on a regular basis in between and complaining about those dating experiences…and not my last relationship. ūüėČ

The other day, I was talking with my friend, V. about being single. ¬†V. is about eleven years younger than I am and told me that since he had started his dating life, he had spent more time being legitimately single than not. ¬†His words gave me a serious pause for thought…especially as I was just about to head out the door to what could be seen as a–oh, I don’t know–date.

Image Found: Fremdeng.ning.com

His words acted like a very loud warning bell, stating oh so clearly, that I needed to back up and think about what I was about to get myself into! (Thanks, V.!)

Seriously, if I were to add up all the times when I was not in a relationship and not dating in any fashion between the ages of fifteen to thirty-five, I think I would come up with less than five years (and that figure is really generous on my part).

Five years of being single out of twenty years is really not a great deal of time.  Not only was I operating on a permanent rebound status, I was also not being fair to the people who dated me, either casually or seriously.

Even more importantly, I wasn’t being fair to myself. ¬†I wasn’t allowing myself to heal and to learn lessons from my experiences, so that I could make better choices moving forward–not that I am not grateful for everyone and all the experiences I have had.

Image Found: Examiner.com

Still, it would have been far better for me and for those who had been involved with me had I waited and sorted through the feelings that can emerge when a relationship ends, such as sadness, fear, anger, jealousy, envy, guilt, shame, and that general sense of abbandonment (even if I had been the one to end the relationship).

Instead, I found myself in many emotional tug of wars.  However, I was the one working both sides of the rope,  attempting to pull people closer to me when they seemed too far away from me at one moment, only to pull them far away from me when they seemed too close to me in the next moment.

After my conversation with V. and subsequently my therapist (yes, I have started therapy again ), I began asking myself why was it that I hadn’t chosen to remain single for long periods of time.

Certainly, some might imagine that it would be an issue of fearing being alone…but anyone who knows me would easily refute that. ¬†I love being alone, even in a relationship. Furthermore, I rarely experience loneliness.

Seriously, I really enjoy solitude. ūüôā

Julie Andrews, Sound of Music. Image Found: TheAge.com

Perhaps I thought that that was what ought to be doing, i.e. dating and “moving on with my life.”¬† You know, gallivanting in meadow with the magical spring weather that forces you to embrace the warmth of new love…or something like that.

I am of the mindset that it is more than likely this.

Perhaps it was an effort to “reset” my last experience, which oftentimes enough had provoked some kind of painful emotional response. ¬†Thus, being with someone new was a lesson that intimacy wasn’t something to be feared–remember, I really like my own company and so it is easy for me to isolate.

Well, the point is that I am embarking on a journey to understand this experience of being on the rebound and also working through it.  Thus, when the time comes for me to actually have another relationship, I will be better able to understand what I want from it and what I can give it.

If you are like me or the contrary to me (actively staying away from dating and relationships), then taking a moment to pause for thought on this subject might not be such a terrible idea. ūüėČ

Until Next Time,

D. 

“The Buddha said…”

“The Buddha said that we are never separated from enlightenment. Even at the times we feel most stuck, we are never alienated from the awakened state. This is a revolutionary assertion. Even ordinary people like us with hang-ups and confusion have this mind of enlightenment called bodhichitta. The openness and warmth of bodhichitta is in fact our true nature and condition. Even when our neurosis feels far more basic than our wisdom, even when we‚Äôre feeling most confused and hopeless, bodhichitta‚ÄĒlike the open sky‚ÄĒis always here, undiminished by the clouds that temporarily cover it.” – Pema Ch√∂dr√∂n, from The Pocket Pema Ch√∂dr√∂n

This quote by Pema Chödrön resonated with me today and I hope it will do the same for you.

Also, I wanted to share with you links to the two books that are most dear to me and they are both by Pema Chödrön:  When Things Fall Apart and The Places That Scare You. Both of these books remind me of my place in the universe and how to take each step forward even when my path is seemingly covered by impenetrable darkness.

There are, have been, and will be moments in our lives when it seems that nothing is going as we had hoped, when we feel our hands are bound by some unknown and unseen force, when we despair of our existence and our present feels profoundly heavier than both our past and imagined future.  Even in these moments, we must maintain our faith in the concept of limitless possibilities and probabilities, in our ability to shift our thinking and thereby shift our emotional space.

In essence, we can change our reality…one step at a time. ¬†After all, no matter the duration of our winter, there will always be a spring.

So, let’s keep our chins up and eyes forward while trusting in our abilities to make it through every single day until we arrive to the places, in which we aspire to be.

Until Next Time,

Diedré

Secrets…Being a therapist…Why I blog…

INSANITY copy

INSANITY copy (Photo credit: Inspiredhomefitness)

The other day my sister, Michelle, posted the following to my Facebook page:

“Why are you skinny people doing this to yourselves??? I thought insanity was designed for overweight individuals???”

As you might imagine, the “insanity” to which she referred is the¬†Insanity Workout¬†exercise program by Beachbody and led by Shaun T. ¬†Nine days ago, I decided to take the 8 week challenge and have been reporting my progress to friends and family via Facebook. ¬†I am happy to say that I have completed each day thus far and intend to continue so doing.

Now, back to my sister’s comment.

You see, she is right.  I am not overweight and thus it would seem that I would have no just cause to take on such a workout program.  Right?

FIBROMYALGIA

FIBROMYALGIA (Photo credit: *SHESHELL*)

Wrong.

I decided to take on the Insanity Challenge, because I wanted to prove two points to myself:

  1. 1. I can achieve a high level of fitness as a person with fibromyalgia; and
  2. 2. I can take care of my body as I choose to without fearing input from others.

——

A world of secrets…

Back in 2008 when I was first diagnosed with fibromyalgia, my body had been changing rapidly.  As I wrote in my recent posts, I had gain a significant amount of weight in only a couple of years.  You see, before I started graduate school, I worked as a personal trainer and fitness instructor from 2002 to 2004. That period of my life was one in which I experienced a high boost to my body image.  I was strong and healthy.

My weight then was higher than what it is now, but it was never a concern to me.  My major concerns:  strength and endurance.  And if there is one thing that I have lamented greatly since having fibromyalgia was the loss of my physical strength and endurance.

With my weight gain came real health concerns, such as being warned about my blood pressure and having some other health issues being labeled as “due to excess weight.”

"If you had 5 minutes...,"  collage with magazine and cardstock by Diedré M. Blake, (2010)

“If you had 5 minutes…,” collage with magazine and cardstock by Diedr√© M. Blake, (2010)

It was frustrating to find myself in that state and feeling that I couldn’t do anything physically about it…like exercise in the way that I had in the past. ¬†I was too tired. ¬†I felt too much pain. ¬†There was a bigger issue though…

Work.  

As many of you know, I am an art therapist and counselor. ¬†I specialize in the treatment of eating disorders. ¬†This area of specialization developed from my second year internship and subsequent job. ¬† So, why would working within this area create a problem for me? ¬†Simply this…

How does a therapist embark upon a health improvement that would mean significant weight loss while reinforcing to her clients that their desire to lose weight was unhealthy?

For a long time, I did not have an answer.  I worked in a place where there were strict rules on how food could be discussed and what foods could be eaten.  Discussion of weight loss, weight loss programs, and diets was forbidden.  This is not to say that these rules were always followed.

The reality was that a majority of the staff was female, White and American; and the fact is that a majority of White American females struggle with body image and disordered eating. ¬† This is not to say that women of colour are immuned to such an experience. ¬†So, as the saying goes,¬†don’t get it twisted.¬†¬†¬† ¬†

—–

 

Being a therapist…

Also, there seems to be a very strange expectation, i.e. that all Black women are happy with being overweight.  I write this because of various experiences I had while trying to manage my weight issues.  The most memorable of these was an experience I had with an older White female nutritionist who worked at a local hospital.

I was given a referral to visit this nutritionist because both myself and my doctor believed that it would be good for me to have professional advice on how to safely and slowly lose my excess weight through diet, since exercise was proving difficult for me.  At that time I was about 50 pounds overweight.

I sat with the lady and stated my reasons for coming to see her.  From her lips came the following response:

“But you’re Black! ¬†Why would you want to lose weight? ¬†Aren’t all Black women a bit fatter that everyone else? ¬†Aren’t you people use to being like that?”

Now, some may believe that I am exaggerating…but I kid you not. ¬†Those were her ¬†exact words that are¬†engraved upon my heart and mind. ¬†I was in disbelief.

There I was seeking help to lose the weight that was causing me severe health problems…and there was that lady telling me that I didn’t need to lose the weight because of my skin colour. ¬†Huh?

——

So, I realized that I had to do it on my own.  I decided to take matters into my own hands as I wrote in my previous post.   The thing was that at work, although I had explained to some that I was planning to lose weight, there was apparently discomfort that I had made such a choice.

Moreover, I did not discuss just how much weight I intended to lose, because that was no one else’s business except for me and my doctor. ¬†Looking back, perhaps it would have been better if I had simply stated a number, even though I did not have a number in mind.

The world in which I worked during that time became closed. ¬†I watched as people stared at me with curious and suspicious eyes. ¬†I listened as people made side comments about me. ¬†I answered as people kept asking me, “haven’t you lost enough now?” or “why are you still losing weight?”

And then there were the painful rumours regarding eating disorders and even my sexuality.  It was a truly discouraging time.  I often felt alone; and between having fibromyalgia and being the only Black clinician on staff as well as the only art therapist, I often felt misunderstood.

My studio space became a place of refuge during the last year of my weight loss.  I watched as people, who were once willing to speak with me or were friendly with me, stop interacting with me.  And, in all honesty, the decision to move to Italy came at the right time as who I had been no longer was.  The new person did not fit in with my old world.

So, why have I written about this or about anything else?

Because it was time. ¬†Especially as a counselor specializing in eating disorders. ¬†You see, even counselors are human. ūüėČ ¬†Even we struggle with our bodies, including food concerns, weight and body image.

It is a strange paradox about the world of psychology.  As a counselor you are expected to help others in overcoming their problems.  At the same time, however, it is seemingly frowned upon by peers if you have problems of your own.

This Cold Hard Floor: II, watercolour and ink painting by Diedré M. Blake, 2006

This Cold Hard Floor: II, watercolour and ink painting by Diedré M. Blake, 2006

There is a reason why…

research has looked into the suicidal tendencies of psychologists (counselors/therapists/social workers, etc.).

There is a reason why….

some of us feel that there is a need to be invincible. ¬†That there is a need to hide what hurts us, to hide our struggles, to hide our true selves. ¬†We walk about attempting to be the tabula rasa (blank slate) for everyone, including our peers…and it just doesn’t work.

There is a reason why…

many of us, who were once bright and shining candles, finally burnout.

There is always a reason why…

I write about this, as well as the previous blog post, to write the truth about a topic for which I held tremendous fear: my weight loss.

I write because I believe that it is the job a therapist to be human and to show his or her client that there is always a path to be found out of the difficulties of life, not just via book lessons but through setting the example by how we live our own lives and how we take care of ourselves.

Until Next Time,

D.

Hair, weight…Results are in (Part 3 of 3)

"True Mirror Image," photography by Dolores Juhas (2010). Copyright (c) Dolores Juhas. All Rights Reserved.

“True Mirror Image,” photography by Dolores Juhas (2010). Copyright (c) Dolores Juhas. All Rights Reserved.

So what happened after March 2009?

I decided enough was enough.  I was sick, tired, self-pitying, angry at the world and at myself, and just generally feeling that I was inadequate that my existence was quite pointless.

I wasn’t able to participate fully in either my personal or professional live. ¬†It was hard. ¬†When I looked in the mirror, the image smiling back at me was still sad. ¬†I decided then that neither Fibromyalgia nor my mind nor my surrounding was going to stop me from finding a way to live.

"Not the self-destruct button" found at http://www.connectedprincipals.com/archives/4100.  I had to include this image... It was just too funny not to do so.

“Not the self-destruct button” found at http://www.connectedprincipals.com/archives/4100. I had to include this image… It was just too funny not to do so.

I decided to do what I could do…take one step forward. ¬†I joined up with two other ladies to do a walk/run for 15 minutes for most mornings.

I decided to do Weight Watchers Online for three months to learn more about nutrition and to be inspired by others who were taking positive steps to make effective changes in their lives.

I decided to become vegetarian, slowly (and I mean very slowly) removing meat products from my life.

I decided to begin learning how to love myself as I was in¬†that moment, not lament who I had been. ¬†I wasn’t always successful, and sometimes I still struggle with that.

I acquired the following books:

I decided to become more natural with my medication, finding ways to decrease the amount of medications that I had to take.  It took consulting with my doctors and taking time to research, but it was worth it.

I temporarily joined a Fibromyalgia Support Group (though I did not always find it supportive, especially when it came to improving my physical health).

I began to speak out more about my needs and take steps at work to make sure that others understood the nature of my illness.

Waiting, photography by April Rivers (Fall, 2010)

Waiting, photography by April Rivers (Fall, 2010)

The Result?

After almost two years of doing this work, I found myself a bit more than 70 pounds lighter.  My blood pressure which was unreasonably high was lower.  My body that I could barely move most days began to move more.  My mind was less foggy.  I began to wake up to many realities of which I was not aware.

And finally, I became aware of something that I knew to be psychologically true…but never imagine I would ever experience. ¬†I became aware of the fact that people were angry about my changes.

I had to deal with rumours about my weight loss, i.e. how I lost weight, for whom I lost weight.

Of course, when you go from a larger size to a smaller size, you need new clothes. ¬†I was fortunate to receive some vintage clothing from April’s grandmother, which were more fitted to my figure. ¬†Wearing these clothing turned into gossip that I was trying to attract men…even though these people knew that I was married and highly committed to my marriage.

"The Revenge of Pride," photography by Dolores Juhas (2010). Copyright (c) Dolores Juhas. All Rights Reserved.

“The Revenge of Pride,” photography by Dolores Juhas (2010). Copyright (c) Dolores Juhas. All Rights Reserved.

There was also a humorous side to all of this (actually, I found the rumours humorous too).  I discovered that suddenly people felt more comfortable giving me compliments.  I even had someone say that they were surprised by how good I was looking lately.

Suddenly, too, many people were ready to chime in on my general appearance:  how I should look, what I should wear, what my weight should be.

I guess you could say that losing the weight brought me both joy and distress. ¬†I was happy to be free from some of the physical difficulties posed by my weight gain…but I was equally distressed by the growing hostilities coming from various parts of my life. Still, I do not regret it.

190649497630187

And then…

I cut my hair and moved to Rome, which brought on a whole host of other issues, of which you can read about in earlier postings in my blog.

———

Until Next Time,

D.

P.S. Check out School Psychologist and Professor Nina Ellis-Hervey regarding mind and body well-being. Link to her website here.¬†Also visit her YouTube site “BeautifulBrownBabyDol“…You won’t regret it.

A Quick Note: Oh yeah…I am Black.

Self-portrait, August 2010, photography by Diedré M Blake

Self-portrait, August 2010, photography by Diedré M Blake

Preface:

Simply shocking…this article. ¬†I am taking a momentary pause from my hair issues to write about something that has really been on my mind lately: ¬†racism.

—-

From reading articles about racial profiling to even a Black woman being chased and threatened that she would be raped and lynched, I have had enough. ¬† Black women have been seemingly under blatant attack over the last few years…or better yet, centuries.

It seems that as Black women move up in society and make a place for ourselves, as we demand recognition for our work and our intelligence, as we endure hardships from inside and outside of our community, there are some who are trying their very best to stifle our voices and reduce us to those caricatures that plague mainstream media.

We are neither “hoes” nor are we “bitches” nor are we “mammies” nor are we “domineering,” nor are we “baby mammas,” nor are we “welfare queens,” nor are we any other form of degradation that many may want to lay at our doorsteps.

Indeed, consider us strong and proud women, who are unique in our self-expression and our external beauty; there is no shame in that.  I hope you will agree.

—-

Here we go…
I am beginning to understand just how much in the “dark” I have been over the years. ¬†Sometimes I think that being from the Caribbean prevents and has prevented me from really understanding the mental and social plight that many people who look like me experience on a daily basis.

Recently I said to my partner, Matteo, that I see myself as being an extremely privileged Black woman. You may wonder why.

The reason is this: I grew up in a predominantly Black society until adolescence. I was never overtly taught about racism. It was only later in my early twenties that I came to understand that there was indeed a form of internalized racism going on in Jamaica.

That is, from childhood we are subliminally taught that those who were considered to have “pretty skin,” or “pretty hair,” or “pretty eyes” were those who had a lighter complexion, less coarse hair (think hair types 3c and above), and to have lighter coloured eyes (not dark brown like mine).

I remember blatantly hearing people who were very dark-skinned being referred to as “duppies” (ghosts) amongst other terms. ¬†Now back to my privilege.

—-

You see, I am:

  1. a brown-skinned;
  2. highly educated;
  3. well-spoken (read: I do not have a discernible accent that “marks” me as Black, in other words I sound “White”…whatever that means)–I still remember my mother drumming into my head the fact that I was never to speak patois¬†and speak only “proper” English;
  4. well-travelled;
  5. thin/average-sized;
  6. cosmopolitan Black woman.

Even my very English/Scottish name is not easily “marked” as being a “Black name”...again whatever that is suppose to mean–I will say that I have shocked many people over the years with my very non-White (perhaps afrocentric) appearance…and have been greeted with the ever-so-clear “Ms. Black” instead of “Ms. Blake” Freudian slip.

For the love of the universe, I grew up listening to heavy metal, classical music, reggae, alternative rock, and country. I suppose I could add some more to that, but you get my point. ūüėČ

The result of these characteristics is that I am a non-threatening entity to a potential dominant White majority. That is, I fit better into that world rather than in one that is dominated by people who look more like me–as I have often been accused by other Black people of being an “oreo,” i.e. Black on the outside, White on in the inside.

It is a sad thing to realize that because of all of these factors, I am shielded often from the prejudice that people who look like me face on a regular basis.

Even here in Italy, where racism is rampant, I was bluntly told that because I am perceivable “attractive,” then I would certainly not experience racism here.

What?? Let me state that again, I was told that Italians are only racist against Black people (or in my case, women), who they do not consider attractive. ¬†Really?? Okay…

This is not to say that I have not experience overt and covert racism as well as sexism. ¬†Indeed I have, both in my personal life and my professional life. ¬†I have been told things like “Oh, you aren’t ugly like other Black women;” “Oh, you are just like a man, intelligent.”

In high school in Florida, I had wanted to attend Berklee College of Music. ¬†The band director knew of my desire and had many times lauded me as an excellent musician…

I was, however, not given a letter of recommendation (even after multiple requests) , even though I had proven myself and was acknowledged as a multi-instrument composer and musician, who even led her own Baroque woodwind trio.

A more extreme example happened in college. ¬†I was directed not to file a complaint against a White student who assaulted me, because it would be difficult “for someone like me” to prove my case. ¬†Instead, I was moved to temporary housing.

While travelling as a student and even beyond, I was routinely stopped and search.  Perhaps it is because I had

  1. loc’s, (think marijuana), or
  2. a Jamaican passport at the time (think hard drugs/marijuana), or
  3. nowadays because I wear a head-wrap (think terrorist)–

although, I really should thank those airport personnel for the many head massages I have received as a result, and that one rather cute airport screener in London, who felt it was her personal duty to shove her hand down my pants. ¬†You know! ¬†ūüėČ

headonbwAugust2010I have been denied upward mobility in my career, by even being denied the possibility of my master’s thesis project being presented to and approved by an internal review board…

The result of this was a most necessary improvisation on my part and a scaled-down version of the project. ¬†It didn’t stop there.

Anyway, I could go on forever about the slights I have experienced…just like many other women of colour.

—-

You might be wondering why I am posting what could be perceived as a “rant.”

The reason is simple:

it is time for all people, regardless of socially-defined race and nationality, to wake up!

The colour of your skin, the organ that lies between your legs, the texture of your hair, the structure of your face, your height, your accent, your perceived physical endowments DO NOT dictate the state of your mind.

  • They do not dictate your capabilities.
  • They do not dictate your potential.
  • They do not dictate your intelligence.
  • They do not dictate whether or not you are a “good” or “bad” person.

Seriously, isn’t it about time that we stopped all of this tomfoolery? ¬†Why must we remain so divisive in our words and actions whether within or outside of our own “designated” groups?

And before anyone may think to dismiss this issue as simply another stereotype of the “angry Black woman syndrome,” or blow it away like a speck of dust thinking “this has nothing to do with me,” ¬†or try to cheer me on as a “strong Black woman” who is speaking the truth and trying to effectively “Stick it to the man;” ¬†think again.

I write this because I am afraid.

I am afraid of the news that I see coming from various countries on the treatment of women who look like me (yes, I care about men too, but I am a woman first).

I am afraid that with the growing belief that racism no longer exists, we are becoming too complacent and letting our awareness slip noticing the everyday occurrences of racial/ethnic/sexual/gender/physical biases that are happening right in front of our very eyes.

Until Next Time,

D.

My Nappy Head…Re: Natural Hair Journey (Part 1 of 3)

This Cold Hard Floor: II, watercolour and ink painting by Diedré M. Blake, 2006

This Cold Hard Floor: II, watercolour and ink painting by Diedré M. Blake, 2006

25.10.13, 13:37–Boiling water.

Freshly done Kanekalon braids over my once-loc’ed short nappy hair. ¬†Hair type 4C, I am told. ¬†The nappiest of the nappy.

It’s a do-over: ¬†my hair, this post that I have written a million times over and over again in my mind.

Apparently, I am reembarking on a natural hair journey that I didn’t even know I had started almost twenty years ago. ¬†Back then, I only knew that I didn’t want chemicals being put my hair: ¬†no more Wave Nouveau, Jheri Curls, or relaxers.

At the age of 18, I knew that I needed to take a different path from those around me. ¬†I decided to grow my hair out to its natural state, and then to form loc’s. ¬†I suppose, now-a-days, one would say that I “transitioned” over the course of three years from processed to natural hair.

Okay, perhaps it didn’t take three years for the chemicals to come out. However, I did begin braiding my hair to waist-length in 1996. ¬†I finally stopped in mid-October 1999 when my natural hair had begun to loc’ (as I had wanted it to do) :). ¬†Thus, it was until mid-October 2013 that I wore my loc’s.

RomeIt may seem odd to some to say that loc’s have a life/history of their own…but really, they do. ¬†I understood this to be true in late November 2010.

At that time,¬†¬†I decided (or felt compelled) to cut my loc’s for the first time, from waist-length to chin-length. ¬†This was the day after Petie, my dog, died. ¬†I didn’t regret it…and still don’t. ¬†Why?

Because when you wear loc’s, you trap something very important within them: ¬†memories.

My grief, my understood existence up until that point, all of it was symbolized by my hair.  With his death, who I was then or thereafter became an enormous question mark.

I staring into a mirror then didn’t help me to make sense of what I saw. ¬†My grief was beyond recognizable thoughts or words.

All I could do then was cut and cut and cut and cut. ¬†With the fall of each loc’, I felt that I would find the strength to create a new path.

By the time I was finished, I recognized something that I had not realized before:  I was free of a heavy burden that had been weighing upon me, i.e. my hair.  Three pounds (3lbs) of hair had been removed from my head.  I felt lighter, freer, even if I still remained in the depths of grief.

Fast-forward some two and a half months, and I find myself far from Boston. ¬†I am now in Rome, beginning this blog, and trying to discover who I am to become. ¬†My short loc’s are now a source of discomfort and comfort for me as they remind me of all that I had lost prior to my arrival in the Eternal City: ¬†my marriage, my beloved Petie, my job, my sense of home, and even myself. ¬†Yet still, those short loc’s spoke to me of the hope of starting anew. ¬†And so I tried to do just that…

Masque, acrylic painting by Diedré M. Blake, 2000

Masque, acrylic painting by Diedré M. Blake, 2000

25.10.13, 13:44–Boiled Hair.

Strangely enough, even though I continued to cut my hair to cheek-length in the years following, I still wanted to continue presenting myself the way I always had before, i.e. when I had long loc’s. ¬†I still wanted to wear my high head wraps, and I did–it wasn’t the same.

Somewhere subconsciously, I understood (although I fought against it) that it would never be the same until my hair grew to its previous length. ¬†So, I stopped cutting my loc’s and decided to wait for them to grow. ¬†That was one year ago.

Rewind to about two weeks ago, at about 4:00 in the morning, on a Thursday, I sat in silence in my room.  A comb in one hand and a pair of scissors in the other.  One the bed: a bottle of conditioner and a bottle of water.

I had decided to take out my loc’s. ¬†I didn’t know if it could be done.

¬†Common knowledge is that if you want to “take out” your loc’s, you need to cut off your hair. ¬†I wasn’t interested in that.

I wanted to keep as much of my hair as I could–doing a serious, shaved-headed “big chop” was not in the cards for me, but neither was waiting for my loc’s to grow out and loosen either. ¬†Thus, I turned to YouTube–who knew it was this useful–and I searched for “undoing” and “taking out” loc’s. ¬†Lo and behold, I found some very useful information.

Part 2: ¬† Sexuality and Hair…