This time of year is supposed to be about casting out the old, and embracing the new in the form of resolutions to change something. So this blog post on the penultimate day of 2019 is about looking backwards in order to move forwards. As always it is shared as part of my story, but it may not hold anything of interest to anyone else. Read on if you wish…if not perhaps see you back here in 2020. I wish you all good things as you welcome a new year.
I started counselling a few weeks ago arranged by my workplace. They were surprised, as was I to an extent, that I asked for a black counsellor. It seemed to matter to me although I was not sure why. I am grateful though that they listened to and respected my request, searching for a black counsellor to add to their list of white, as other black employees who had sat in the seat before me had previously requested the same. It took some time to arrange as the administrative cogs were slow to turn, but as I sat in front of her at last I realised just how important it was that I sat talking to another black woman. As I spoke I realised that I did not have to interpret or explain the subtext of my experiences. She ‘got it’ without explanation: the complexity of trying to make sense of being a black woman in a white space. The exhaustion of navigating your way through life trying to fit in whilst constantly being reminded that you stand out – too often for the wrong reasons and with negative consequences.
My writing has been a catalyst to self-reflection and reflexivity and recently I have wondered often whether it was the starting point of my battle with depression this year. In my heart I know the writing is a good thing, enjoyable as a creative hobby however it is also a necessary exploration of what I have hidden from for many years. My black-self is troublesome because she requires bravery, she demands justice, she speaks truth which others find challenging. She has been pushed aside by me for years because I realised that acknowledging her meant losing an easy life, as well as some relationships. Some do not want to hear my truth, and as I discovered with some sadness and starkly over the last few weeks; they will make no effort to even acknowledge the existence of my truth. I was an easy companion over the years, amiable and agreeable. Speaking my truth has resulted in discomfort for some, and acknowledging my truth challenges their view of life and the ‘goodness’ of that. My words became the pokey stick at the bees nest…“take that stick away from her we’d rather not have the sweet tasting honey for fear we will be stung”. Laugh or smirk, change the subject, ignore, chastise, patronise, beat down – all reactions that I have faced this year. Perhaps the strength and conviction of a black woman is something to be feared? And yet our society has forced me to attribute myself with the label of black, or sometimes mixed race, or brown, or ‘other’. What much of society doesn’t want to acknowledge however is that alongside those labels comes a forced way of being that so often offers less choice in life, or at best a different choice than the ‘majority’.
In my last post I explained that I am down but not beaten. I have certainly never felt so low before as I have felt this autumn – my counsellor has described this point in my life as an existential crisis. I could see the validity of this explanation, as through my writing this year I have been made to consider who I really am and what I actually want at this point in my life at work and at a personal level. Together we have discussed these questions and what I am willing to compromise on, and what I will not let go of.
I can see how I have sought to please throughout my life – my mother’s take on surviving as a black woman. As a consequence of this strategy my direction has always been signposted by the desire to be good, to cause no harm, to be left feeling no guilt – even at the expense of my own happiness and wellbeing. I have learned to say ‘no’ more as I have aged, but constantly wrestled with the feeling of guilt and the sense of ‘but perhaps I should have…’ Through discussion with the counsellor I have realised how subconsciously these feelings often stem from a worry of what others would think of me – both at work and in my personal life. She has urged me to listen to my authentic self whilst acknowledging myself as a hybrid: made up of many parts, the result of many experiences, but a different person than those that have gone before.
And so as we move to a new decade I do not intend casting out the old, the attributes and habits both positive and negative are a significant part of who I am. Being reflexive has helped me see more of myself, warts and all. I like my softness to others highlighted by my large empathy button, although some see this and my relational pedagogy as an unnecessary weakness. I see it as a superpower, for me it is a moral compass steering my path towards my vision of social justice and to love and kindness. My voice though sometimes quiet is now more often muted in contemplation of the right response or action for me, rather than silenced by others who do not like my choices, looks or words. I now choose my own path knowing that I am worthy of kindness to myself as well as others. I can be my true self rather than a version of myself that I think others want from me. As I move forward to a new year I will take these new insights with me, alongside an understanding that whilst some may not wish to hear my words or brush them aside as misconceptions, I know that I speak my truth. No apologies to anyone – for this next decade I will endeavour just to be my authentic self.