Healing my heart: A quest for love

Allowing the heart to open up and let in the love that is offered from the world and the people who occupy it is a constant practice. I am a person with a fortress of walls. I have dragons and moats and oubliettes. People often get eaten by the dragons, drown in the moats and tumble into the oubliettes. A precious few make it through to the caverns of my heart.

I crave love so, I run from it—there is a part of me, (some days large, some days small) which believes I am not lovable. This comes from being given up for adoption as a child, growing up in a family that did not reflect me, having white friends who did not value me, and a society which tells me I am wrong simply for existing. I am also pretty weird and empathetic, so finding a place where I fit in has always been difficult. I have always felt like an outcast in every social situation I found myself in.

Over the past few months I have had the honor of finding people who do not make me feel othered. They are Black and brown and queer and straight, and spiritual and nerdy and weird and rad and fierce and I love them dearly. The only problem is, I am now in a space where I want to delve deeper into relationships, but I find myself lacking some of the necessary tools to forge the bonds I am after. Fortunately, I don’t give up easily, I am slowly wading into the waters of connection.

Receiving love from others begins with receiving love from myself. There four basic things that I do every day to help me to love myself and teach myself that I am worthy and capable of incredible love and compassion.

  1. I stretch. Every day…well, almost. I released a lot of tension and trauma during the four days I spent at the Shambhala POC meditation retreat at Sky Lake in Rosendale, N.Y. Every day we did yoga and not only did it stretch my body, but it helped to clear away the stress, settle me back into my body, become reacquainted with my breath. So, in the morning I wake up, stretch and breathe.
  2. I drink a jar of water. Making sure I stay hydrated allows me to feel energized and kicks my system into gear. It makes my skin and hair smooth and moves toxins out of my body so that I don’t feel bogged down. That and I want this melanin to stay poppin’ long into the future.
  3. I interrupt negative thinking. I tell myself that I am doing “such a good job” and that “I am so proud of myself” because if I don’t clap for me, who else will? I am incredibly hard on myself. My inner voice is foolishly abusive and so interrupting the sessions of abuse is helpful in creating a new narrative. If I am able, I try to identify the voice who is speaking: Is it my mother, boss, a mean teacher, the racist down the street? Who is speaking to me in such a cruel way? I will also correct the narrative moving forward. Often when I am stressed, I say “Fuck” loudly and with gusto. When this happens, I like to check in and see if “fuck” is really my mood, or if maybe something else going on. Usually I swear in response to something which triggers my anxiety, at which point I like to talk to myself about it. “Fuckkkkkkkk!” “No, LaLa, you’re fine. You’re not running late. You’re making yourself food which is important because you need to eat and nourish yourself. You are doing such a good job. You are fine.” This may sound silly, but it is important to be kind to ourselves, to love on ourselves. I try to speak to myself as a stern but loving parent to a child, because in those moments, that is what I am. I am raising myself.
  4. The fourth thing I do is listen to music. Simple, easy way to raise my frequency, work out my emotions and belt out a few tunes in the process (sorry neighbors!) It is no secret that music is therapy. Combine the right notes with the right chords and some killer harmonies and take me away. I have playlists which work me through a range of emotions, starting out sad or angry and ending contemplative or joyful. Music has been in my life since I was a child learning to play to violin, and it has stuck with me as my go to for healing myself and my heart.

The surest way to letting others love me is for me to love myself. It’s taken me 28 years to believe that I am worthy of love, and that my body is worthy of being cared for. I have just begun to look in the mirror and appreciate that I am getting older. Honor that I am on this planet to stay. There is something scary about that, committing to being present. Since I am going to be here, I’m going to be here for love. I have a difficult time connecting, but I am changing that narrative, one day at a time. Using these for tools as a base, I am adding more and growing each day.


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Busy, the road to bad health

Busy, busy and more busy. That seems to be a constant theme in modern day life. Have you recently tried to plan a get together that involves more than two people? Forget about it. By the time everyone pulls out their calendars to look for a day when everyone is available, chances are you are at least a month out maybe two. Call someone up at the last minute to see if they want to grab a cup of coffee or a beer? Forget about it. Busy.

Lately I have found myself pondering the price we pay for being busy and based off a strange experiment I found myself in the middle of; I would say that this national anthem of busy is making for an unwell nation.

I no longer think it is just coincidence for many of us that the busier we get, the worse we feel. My own experience is that busy creates a slew of bad behaviors that because we are too busy to notice creates an absence of good health. Then we get caught up on the hamster wheel of poor health except again we don’t realize we are in poor health because we are too busy to actually know our bodies.

In the past year as I have moved my yogic lifestyle off the mat and into all areas of my life, I can no longer deny the correlations to how I feel and the choices that I make. Prior to choosing to be mindful of seemingly simple things like my diet and sleeping habits, I felt like shit most of the time. It turns out that when I go to bed by 11pm, and get a solid 7-8 hours of sleep, I don’t need the steady IV drip of coffee that was a staple for most of my adult life. Now, coffee past early afternoon is no longer tasty. You have to understand that I have been essentially freebasing coffee since I was a teenager. Up until a few years ago, putting away a pot or two of coffee plus a daily latte (or two or three) was my norm. The times when my coffee consumption was unintentionally cut were absolute disasters barring pregnancy when my body clearly was trying to send me a signal.

For more years than I care to share when it came to my diet, my only concerns were the numbers on the scale. I would alter my eating habits just enough to make the numbers on the scale went down along with the number on my clothing tags. If the number on the tags said 4 or 6, I was ecstatic and if it said 12 or 14, I was ready to stuff myself into a large Hefty bag and stay hidden until the numbers went down. Weight Watchers which isn’t a bad program helped me keep the numbers acceptable as long as I ate in a manner that was my incompatible to who I really am but as I have lamented before in this space, I often felt I needed something more.

Turns out when I stop being busy long enough that I can be mindful and present I recognize why I am eating and I am naturally mindful of the choices that I make. I don’t snack much if at all anymore and when I do, it generally stems from the fact that I am bored, anxious or suffering from PMS. If I choose to snack, I want to know why but when I am too busy, I can’t ask those questions and as result when I am busy, I often mindlessly overeat which creates a whole other set of issues. Sluggish and stuffed for starters.

Even being mindful of what media I consume seems to have an impact on my health. When I am too busy to settle down with a good book and instead choose to feast on the non-stop media buffet of bad news and social media, I now notice that it is harder to quiet my mind and that what I am consuming in those moments affects me deeply. News is good (a complete lack of awareness about the world around us isn’t the answer either) but a non-stop diet of upsetting and at times gut wrenching news and shallow surface connections in lieu of moments spent in the presence of loved ones is just bad for me.

I am a broken record these days and I know it; but allowing my mind to actually be quiet enough that I am alone with my true self feels like the miracle drug to me. Does it solve every problem, of course not? It does however allow me to see what is really an issue and what is just more of the mindless hum in the background creating unnecessary stress and strain.

I didn’t know how good mindful living was until the past couple of weeks when I consciously and intentionally chose to slide back in to my old safety blanket of bad habits. After the bombs started dropping in my professional and personal life, it felt like too much work to be mindful. It started out innocently enough, but it quickly snowballed and the end result is I feel bad. Real bad and yeah, I am busy.

My choice is clear; I cannot allow myself to get so busy that I stop being aware.  No matter how rough things are allowing myself to stop caring enough to take care of myself is simply not an option. In order to live fully and completely even in the midst of life’s storms, I need to be in good health and for me good health demands that I stop being too busy to make time for myself. Universe, I have received the message loud and clear, now let me go back a cup of ginger tea.

A tragedy of epic proportions and a crisis of mental health

As I was out enjoying a leisurely Saturday, I checked into social media land and came across the horrifying story about Jovan Belcher and his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins. Belcher a member of the Kansas City Chiefs shot and killed his girlfriend in front of her mother and a short time later drove to the Arrowhead Stadium where team officials attempted to calm him down when Belcher then pulled out his gun and took his own life in front of members of the Chief’s staff.

Prior to this incident, I had never heard of Jovan Belcher, which considering that I am not a sports fan is not surprising; but I do know that he was a young Black man, only a few years older than my own boy. As such when I hear these types of stories, I am momentarily speechless. From the news reports I have read this was a young couple in love with a brand new baby and at least on the surface there was no hint of problems.

I must admit that as details came across twitter about this incredibly sad and tragic story, I once again found myself thinking about the mental health crisis in the Black community. While the Black community is not one singular monolithic group, we do have a mental health crisis that I think is threatening the very fabric of our community. Outside of a handful of better educated pockets within the Black community, mental health issues are still downplayed or discounted. Too many times we use color euphemisms to describe mental health issues and too often believe all we need is more prayer or whatever when in some cases what is needed is medication and talk therapy. Even when a member of the Black community does go public about mental health issues; as Jesse Jackson Jr. did when it was revealed he was being treated for bipolar disorder, too many times such admissions are met with skepticism in the Black community.

Too many times treatable mental health disorders are not treated and instead people self-medicate, using food, alcohol, drugs or sex as the treatment of choice. I didn’t know Jovan Belcher but I can’t help wondering what  was going on his life that led him to take the life of his partner (which is another whole story, since in choosing to kill his partner, he turned her into a victim of domestic violence) and then his own life. I do know however that healthy people rarely resort to the level of violence that occurred on this sad morning. Some reports suggest that there was an argument between Belcher and Perkins before he took her life, argument or not, things should never escalate to this point where violence ensues.

It is well known that diabetes or sugar as some call it disproportionately affects the Black community, yet no one balks at going to the doctor and addressing their physical health if not with diet and exercise at least with medication. Yet too many of us are still hesitant to talk openly and honestly about our mental health.  The shame and stigma keep us from going public; it is the reason that 12 years ago when I found myself in therapy, I didn’t tell anyone but my husband and best friend. It’s the reason that when my dearest and oldest friend found herself in a locked mental institution, she didn’t tell me until after the fact. Yet these secrets are literally killing us because our kids don’t know that it is okay to need help, that we aren’t these uber strong caricatures that the media presents, we are humans.

As the mother of a young brown man, I am even more aware that the code of man (I just made that up) that exists with our young men creates a culture where our young men who are constantly dealing with societal stressors don’t feel they can be open and honest with one another. Men in general tend to be private but within the young Black man culture that seems to at times thrive on surface issues there is little time and energies dedicated to real talk, where one brother can call another brother when in crisis and get help rather than resorting to violence.

In the end words fail me, all I can think about is a young child who will never know her parents. Blessings on these families and may they find the courage to carry on.