Archive for February 17th, 2012

I want to go home! Life in Maine as a Black Girl

A reader recently asked me about writing more pieces about what life is like in Maine as a Black person. Totally makes sense, after all this is Black Girl in Maine. It’s also incredibly timely since today is one of those days where like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, I want to go home. Like can we pack it up and go now! When I get that feeling, I know I am overdue for a visit.

Next month will mark a decade in Maine, and while the first year or so was culture shock, things eventually settled down. To be honest Southern Maine where I reside has made huge gains in the past decade on the diversity front. When we first landed here back in 2002, I could go days without seeing another person of color and generally that meant going into Portland, Maine’s largest city. Yet the twin communities where I live and work have had a rapid browning, oh don’t get it twisted, it’s still pretty darn white. However to quote my six year old upon seeing that we now have a Black neighbor down the street “It’s good that we aren’t the only black people here now”. Yes, that is true. The community center I run, now has a diverse mix of kids, Black, White, Brown and Tan, all being kids and having fun together. It’s so diverse now that I actually have my daughter come in a few days a week so she can actually make friends with kids like her. She is loving it.

Yet it’s still lonely. This past year has been hard on me, as I have struggled with doing some heavy lifting in my marriage that has resulted in some of the highest highs and lowest lows, I realized that I need a real support system here and that’s where sadly I feel blackness is challenging in a state like Maine. Aside from 1-2 people I know in this state, there are still those awkward moments that arise when people don’t know what to say, when political correctness stands in the way. Most native born Mainers I know unless they have left the state and lived elsewhere tend to have very little experience interacting with real life Black people and at times it shows. As I have shared before, I don’t find much hardcore racism but I do find people who at times are pretty damn awkward.

Let me be clear, it’s not always about race, as a native Midwesterner I think some of it is actually regional differences. Truth be told, I find East Coast Blacks to also be different than what I knew back in the Midwest. For starters many East Coast Black folks have a different background than those of us from the Midwest, more Caribbean roots than those of us with direct Southern roots and it can make things awkward at times. I talked to a sista I know from Texas who spent some time living in Boston and she mentioned a similar experience. I’m a down home bigmouth, sure I am a college educated professional but at the same time when I am relaxing, well shit…I like to kick back, get loud and let my hair down. I have yet to find the Black folks in Maine or anywhere near me with a similar outlook. Difference is good, it’s all valid but sometimes I want to be able to let loose and be me. That’s why I know I need a visit home.  Thankfully I put out the bat signal today and it seems my crew back home is going to make that happen…I see a long weekend that will include many whiskey sours, deep dish pizza and closing down this place at least one night.

Another challenge to life in Maine I have noticed and yeah it’s silly and vain of me but this is my space and I write what I like, is that in Maine, I don’t exist as a woman. I never quite realized that until recently when the reality that the Spousal Unit and I may be no more started to look more and more possible. Of course my mind started in on what about dating? The man and I had a great laugh about how we had traded places, prior to life in Maine, he was the invisible man, but like a fine wine he has aged well and women notice him. I on the other hand have become invisible, I guess this shouldn’t have surprised me after all I have single Black women friends in Maine who have told me all about their dating woes or rather lack of dating lives. I had heard them over the years but until recently never noticed it nor thought about it, but in realizing I may be joining their ranks I decided to check out the landscape…oh my! For a cocoa brown sista with short natural hair, there is no love. Thankfully for the moment I don’t have to worry much about this, but I won’t lie it did shake me a little to think that basically my very essence as a woman, a sexual being is not even noticed in this state.

In the end, Maine is a nice place, I like it, I am not sure what our future together will bring but at the moment, I am looking forward to going home where friends and family will nourish my soul on every level.

What we don’t see…life with anxiety

It’s amazing how seemingly small things will trigger you and take you back to a place you haven’t been in a long time nor did you necessarily want to go. I had that experience this evening as someone on twitter made a seemingly innocuous comment that for a moment had me on edge but then I realized I have worked far too hard and long to let anyone steal my joy.

A few weeks ago not only marked my son’s 20th birthday but it also marked 20 years since I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder. I have generalized anxiety disorder as my entrée with panic attacks as the appetizer, side dish, bread basket and dessert. For my starter drink and dessert coffee, I have agoraphobia. For years that meant avoiding air planes unless necessary and then only under the influence, car rides that involved bridges and highways and a host of other things that needed to be avoided. Needless to say it made life with me challenging, hell the poor Spousal Unit used to have to avoid all highway driving with me unless I was medicated in one form or fashion.

Up until 2007 when a panic attack caused me to collapse in the middle of a lecture while teaching, I thought I did a pretty good job of hiding my “quirks”. Yet nothing like being taken out on a stretcher in front of your students and colleagues to make you realize, change is necessary. I have done therapy and meds and frankly they didn’t fix my issues they sort of colored over them or maybe a better way to put it…know when you have to clean the house so you throw everything in the closets or stuff it in the rooms no one will look into? That’s what meds pretty much did. Ativan provides a great high but I don’t want to walk through life dependent on drugs if there is a better way.

My better way started some years ago with therapy but in recent years has included yoga and meditation which my old therapist suggested but at the time I gave the side eye to, but after that incident in 2007, I was ready to try them. I admit I was a skeptic but now I am a believer. It’s been years since I was dependent on drugs and I can do most things most adults are perceived as being able to do today as long as I am mindful of my limits. My limits include knowing when to say no, recently that meant when a recruiter contacted me about a position that would have given me a six figure income knowing that while such a position would have been a feather in my cap, it also would have been a huge trigger. The further I went in the exploratory stage for that position, it was clear that while my current position can be taxing at times it gives me the latitude I need to manage my anxiety. Had I been offered this other position and taken it, I basically would have been opening the door for anxiety to walk back in on a regular basis. In the end, no job is worth my mental health.

However there is one area in my journey with anxiety that I have not overcome and frankly I am starting to make peace with the fact that I may never overcome it and as a 39 year old woman, it’s embarrassing as fuck. I can’t drive. Oh, I can drive but getting behind the wheel is an act of torture on every level and being under the influence of both anxiety and panic whenever I get behind the wheel, I have had to face that fact. Unlike many tasks an accident in a car has the potential to shorten not only my life but someone else’s life and after much self-examination it’s not a chance I am willing to take.

Funny thing is we live in a world that makes assumptions, we assume everyone is just like us, on one level I want to say that makes sense but on another level it doesn’t. It blows my mind how often people will tell me oh, just drive! If I were visually impaired I am pretty sure you wouldn’t tell me to just drive, at least I hope not. We are not comfortable with differently abled people especially when we can’t see it (not that I think we are comfortable when we can see it, but when we can’t it blows our minds), pretty much we are steeped in ableism and I never realized just how shitty it is.

Maybe it’s my fault because for years I suffered in silence and the Spousal Unit has gone out of his way to assist me, hell the first job I got in Maine required I drive a lot and I didn’t even know how to drive when we moved here. So the man would drive me where I needed to go and then park so no one would know my shameful secret. Poor dude often had to stay up to 2-3 am working since his work day was spent driving and hiding.

I admit having a driving phobia on this level is hard in a state like Maine and I suspect it may be the one reason I do eventually go back to Chicago or some place with a kick ass public transportation system. Since the downside is currently I can only handle being behind the wheel in limited quantities which does impact my social life especially any social life sans the man. Thankfully my best pal in Maine knows my secret and has for years and is always gracious in doing the driving.

Not sure why I wrote this tonight other than to say maybe we need to stop thinking that everyone is like us instead accept that we all have different abilities and that is perfectly fine.

PS: I know a few readers may be concerned about me sharing something so personal, well with a 20 year history its known knowledge as far as my medical records. As far as future employers, I am at the point in life, that hiding me doesn’t work, I did that for years and I have seen it blow up in a rather messy fashion.