There was a time in my life when I experienced constant anxiety. Obsessive thoughts, excessive worry, and uncontrollable heart palpitations. Fear of the future was constant. Daily. Over time, my anxiety faded. I couldn’t contribute its
Everything about my father was massive—callused, weathered hands from years of hard labor and broad shoulders squaring his 6’ 3” frame. He squeezed me as he shook me, and if he gripped any tighter I knew I’d snap in half. Trapped in my toy store sleeping bag, I went silent and still, my eyes forced wide open and staring straight at him. His face suddenly paled, the shaking stopped, and he placed me gently onto the floor. He walked out of the room, into the shadows of the hallway, outside.
Inside, I waged a silent war. If I got too angry, I’d be institutionalized; one doctor had threatened, twice, to send me to a psych ward during one of my ER visits. But, if I was too calm, no one would take me seriously. If I wanted help, I had to develop a new personality.
So I wrote a new character: I was an innocent bystander held captive by my body that was, in turn, possessed by a mysterious force. I had to separate myself from my symptoms and prove I was of sound mind.
But I couldn’t convince the doctors of my undiagnosable pain. Their diagnosis was consistent across the board: I was having a nervous breakdown.
Like many modern romances, my relationship with feminism began online. In the beginning, I followed outspoken women on Twitter, retweeting what I most related to. Then, I moved to Facebook, copying and pasting poignant snippets of shared articles into my captions. When a debate ensued on a friend’s status, I was quick to tap like on the comments I agreed with, occasionally offering my own, often uninformed, opinions. On Instagram, I carefully crafted posts with regurgitated rhetoric I didn’t fully understand, but I used all the right hashtags.
Suddenly I saw the problem everywhere: There were no women of color at the spiritual events I attended. None of the empowerment accounts I followed showcased their work and the female entrepreneurs they featured were strikingly homogeneous. Most of the mommy blogs I read were written by white, mostly blonde, ladies. What I realized after Charlottesville is that the racism I’d experienced paled in comparison to the experiences of other non-white folks. My hallpass, the one that had let me navigate conversations about race from the vantage point of the oppressed, not the oppressor, had suddenly expired.
I started holding back. I stopped listening. Beyoncé embodied blackness and I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to be a part of it. As her performance at Coachella neared, a platform that could be considered the whitest music festival ever, I was nervous. Beyoncé as headliner wasn’t just exciting, it was momentous. Her mother was uneasy at the thought of her daughter performing on such a historically white stage, too. What if all those white folks just didn’t get it?
I was twenty-five the night Cameron proposed, and within hours, the sheer velocity with which the world had rushed to weigh in on the event left me depleted. It felt as if the front doors of our carefully crafted inner lives had been flung open. News travels faster than I’d imagined, and friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers inserted themselves in our story to pore over every detail and offer unsolicited opinions. Some reached out to share well-wishes; others wondered why they’d had to learn about it through the grapevine.
I haven’t always been a combatant. I’m a cis, white chick, and I drank external validation Kool-Aid straight into my twenties. I was taught to desire desirability. I was groomed to be likeable. My life has primed me to find self-worth in acceptability.
By the time I’d scheduled a consultation with a fertility clinic, I’d been trying to get pregnant for over five years. Normally a generalized aura, my worry had morphed into a hot, sweaty, magnetic force field. It drew in all of my fears so I could study them up close: I worried about the expense and my age; the tests, the results; and the side effects of the hormones I would have to inject into my stomach and thighs. I worried it wouldn’t work and I’d never have a family.
I see the old me. Her hands tremble whenever she’s nervous, and just about everything makes her nervous. It feels like ghosts are slithering underneath her skin; they never give her body enough room to know what it feels like not to be anxious.
I thought moving back home would resolve my indecision. But as I continue to run, no matter where my feet land, I’m still here. For the first time in my life things aren’t happening in planned succession; the next thing doesn’t feel proximate. As a child I hurried into being a grown-up. Now I feel less like the adult I’ve always been and more like the child I never was.
I know what I really want to ask her, but I know she doesn’t have the answer. I want to say: I don’t think I’m supposed to be here. I’ve lived a healthy life. I’ve followed all the rules. Why am I being tested for Multiple Sclerosis?
They say practice makes perfect. I used to take that approach to my relationship with my dad, thinking that if I kept showing up, over and over again, eventually it would get better and that time would heal all things. It didn’t work. It bred more of the same. Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent.
My body tightened. I was exhausted. We’d wasted all his sperm over the past week. Why didn’t I wait for the stick to say I was ovulating? My mucus told me I was fertile four days ago. My body doesn’t work.
“Babe, we need to have sex,” I called from the bathroom.
I was so far removed from blackness that I couldn’t recognize it on myself and when I saw it on others, I really didn’t know what to make of it. My peers told me I wasn’t really black; I “didn’t count.” And the more they told me I didn’t “count” as black, the more I began to believe them.
A house of two alcoholics and not much social interaction had brought me here. What was normal in our home, the slurred words, was exposed to the outside world for the first time.
Two weeks later I experienced what I can only describe as a nervous collapse. My body shook uncontrollably; I was trembling and cold and terrified. I had no idea what was happening to me. I recalled waking up alone in an empty apartment as a two year old, crying uncontrollably and searching for my mother in the building’s hallways. Something was terribly wrong with me. I was sure I was dying.
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