Rising From the Ashes…Or Something

So, it’s been a long ass time since I did this whole blogging thing. You know, for most of my life I used to walk around telling everyone who was interested (probably not that many people to be honest) that I was a writer. Hell, I still walk around with a pen in my pocket ’cause every writer ALWAYS HAS TO BE READY!

…and this is my first blog post in over two years. Yup, I’m a writer. So prolific.

Anyway, I’m here to say that I’m back! Back from where? I dunno. A lot has happened in the last two and a half years. Like A LOT. So here are the major highlights that I can think of off the top of my head:

  • Got married.
  • Holy snap I got married!!
  • New job. Cool job.
  • Did two TEDx talks (seriously, put my full name in YouTube or just google me, son!).
  • Won a big national mental health award in Canada (CAMH 150 Difference Maker–for being one of the top 150 difference makers in Canadian mental health).
  • Gained a bit of weight. Some good. Some bad.
  • Lost my athleticism and can’t dunk (see above point).
  • My kid’s mom passed so he lives with me and my wife now.
  • Been on TV a lot.
  • Got a little famous in Canadian mental health.
  • Wrote the foreword for a book, Brainstorm Revolution, which you can find here
  • Learned a little Spanish. Tal vez más que un poco español pero no sé. Puedes preguntarla a mi esposa. Ella es mexicana.
  • …and I haven’t updated my LinkedIn to reflect ANY of this. :p

So like, a lot has happened. Life is much different. I’m much different. But in many ways I’m still the same. Like, I’m still woefully insecure and struggle to see the ‘amazing’ things that others say they see in me. However, I’m trying my best to start believing in these things because like L’Oréal, I’m worth it.

On a more serious note, with the turn of the new year, I’ve naturally been reflecting on a lot. More specifically, I’m spending a lot of time reflecting on what I normally reflect on, something extremely important–myself. That and humility.

(That’s a joke y’all. I’m not a narcissist…I don’t think so anyway).

Upon all this reflection, what I’ve been finding is this–I walk around with lots and lots of internalized shame. This shame has been derived from my family history and generational trauma, internalized racism, societal disenfranchisement, marginalization, stigma from having a kid too young, growing up poor in the projects, being told I had to be perfect in order to be good enough (seriously, don’t do this to your kids), being ridiculed for the hobbies I chose and how I expressed my identity (wasn’t Black enough for some people…***checks skin colour***…whatever that means). Etc. Etc.

Anyway, point is, there’s a lot of shame. What has shame done to me? It’s made me hide things. It’s made me hide myself. I’ve been hiding myself from so many people, and the world really, for virtually my entire life. It suuuucks to want to get close to people, to crave closeness, but also to do everything necessary to avoid it because on some deep level you’re ashamed of who you are and what people might see if you invite them past the smoke and mirrors facade of a smile and virtuosity that you’ve created for yourselves. Sure, I think I’m mostly virtuous nowadays, but you wouldn’t know the ways in which I wasn’t virtuous since I hide a lot of my past (good thing I wasn’t tweeting back then, eh?). There’s lots you might not know, really significant stuff, because the shame I have associated with virtually every aspect of the life has motivated me to carefully curate an ideal image of myself for public consumption. And that’s not saying the stuff I hide is reprehensible–far from it actually. And that’s the point I think I’m trying to make, that I live with so much shame that I’m hiding parts of myself that are completely unnecessary to hide.

So, in 2019, I’m done with all that shit.

I’m going to work through this shame. I’m going to show you more of me. I’m going to be more vulnerable. And that’s because I want to be more close. To you. And you. And you too. Because I deserve it.

And so, 2019 isn’t going to be the year where I create a new me, but it will be the year that I show you a new me. The me that was always there. The me that I’m deciding to love better. Because dammit, I think I’m a pretty dope me, a me that is worth showing off and sharing with the world. So that’s what I’ma do this year. And it’s going to be hard. And it’s going to be scary. But, fudge it, I’m gonna do it.

And now, Shame, I’m talking directly to you…sayonara. In 2019, you’re done.

Welcome to me.

Janey, At The Back of the Class — A Poem

DISCLAIMER: This poem is quite…dark…for lack of a better term. But, here it is.

Janey, At The Back Of The Class

And what of Janey

The ghost at the back of the class

She plays under the slide at recess

Alone

Tiny fingers picking the order out of her braids

Trying to reach deeper, hoping

To pick the slaughter out of her brain

Memories

Of an uncle’s love she never asked for

and tried to scream away

Uselessly

With nobody home

I hope you liked it. Actually, I hope you didn’t. I don’t even like it. Because the story is so common.

Too common.

Sometimes I’m Afraid People Won’t Like Me

Cool. Brave. Inspirational.

These are a few of the words I often hear being used by others to describe me. And I’m very grateful. Growing up desperately lonely, frequently yearning for social contact, it’s nice to know that people like me. This doesn’t mean, however, that I always believe it. The truth is that sometimes I’m afraid people won’t like me.

Which is ridiculous.

Okay, maybe it’s not. Maybe I’m unfairly judging myself. Maybe this feeling is something a lot of people feel but don’t express. Okay, so it’s not ridiculous that I feel this way. However, I’m sure people who know me personally, or those who I’ve worked with, would never guess that I sometimes am afraid I won’t be liked be others.

I’m pretty outgoing. I have a lot of friends. I work directly with people and I believe I’m well-liked by my coworkers. And I believe I’m well-liked by my clients. I’m also a public speaker with the ability to make crowds laugh, cry, and introspect–all in 30 minutes or less. I’ve gotten my share of standing ovations and I’ve literally experienced rooms shaking with applause. Sometimes when I go out with friends, I get loud and make the strangers around us laugh. So given all this, it would seem that I’m pretty good with people and that I’m a *gasp* likeable guy.

Yet sometimes I’m still afraid people won’t like me.

Where then is this all coming from? The place where all nagging insecurities are born, from the irrational bowels of naive and self-absorbed misunderstanding, a place called childhood!

Again, this would seem strange because, at least until I was about age 11 or 12, in a lot of ways I had a pretty normal childhood. Yeah, I was poor and food was sometimes scarce, but I was pretty happy as a kid. At least I think I was. No, I’m sure I was. I had a lot of friends at school. I was good at sports, made every team, and was always a starter. I was literally the smartest kid in my school and not in a pompous way, but in a whimsical, “yeah, I’m smart I guess *shrug*, can we talk about baseball now?” kind of way. Other people cared more about me being smart than I did. For them, being smart meant I was going to *drumroll*…change the world!…and for me, it meant that I could spend more time daydreaming and drawing in class. Teachers liked me as well and I was never bullied. So, I was in that rare position where I was well-liked by teachers and peers, despite being super smart and kind of nerdy (my school crush in grade 6–Scarlett–nick-named me ‘computer geek’ and then she asked me to dance at the end of the year party). So, then, where is this feeling that I won’t be liked by others coming from? Certainly not from what was happening at school–school was a pretty positive place for me. What’s that other place you spend a lot of time when you’re growing up? What’s it called again? Oh yeah, I think it’s called…

Home.

Now, my home life wasn’t bad. I was just alone a lot. And not by choice. My mother, having to feed three sons who shovelled food down like they had wheelbarrows for stomachs, was doing her best to improve our lives–or just to keep us well-clothed and fed. She did this by going to school full-time and working full-time. So when my mother was done with work, school, and cooking, well there are only 24 hours and the day, and for most of those hours, my brothers and I, we didn’t have the luxury of receiving meaningful attention from our mom. For me, that meant that my mother didn’t show up to any of my games, it meant that she left school performances immediately after my part was done, it meant that she didn’t have the time for long (or short) conversations about my day, that she didn’t have the time for me to analyze for her the drawing that I drew or the story that I wrote. She just didn’t really have the time to always engage in the social aspect of parenting.

The problem with single-parency is that it often turns that parent into a provider while leaving little time for nurturing. This a problem because after basic needs are met, what a child needs most of all is attention–and unfortunately my mother just didn’t have a lot of that to give me. And that’s not her fault. As a kid, though, you don’t really get how tired, how exhausted, life can make you. Instead, you just wonder, “why doesn’t my mom want to talk about my drawing?” or “why doesn’t my mom want to read any of my stories?” or “why doesn’t my mom come to any of my games?” As a child, your mother might say, “baby, I’d love to see your art but I’m really tired,” but then what you hear and what you feel is, “baby, I’d love to see your art but I’m too tired to care.” That’s how I felt. A lot. I get that she was busy and tired. But it still hurt. Because as a kid, you don’t understand, “busy” and “tired,” what you understand is, “mommy, you’re not there.”

And then there was my father. Well, to make a long story short, at the time of my childhood (even he would admit) he wasn’t a good dude. He, despite having much more free time than my mother, simply wasn’t there. By choice. His music career was more important. That’s where he spent all of his money and that’s where he spent all of his time. And forget child support money, what he needed to do was to give his child support with his time and his presence. But instead, I was given broken promises, phone calls to my pops that were never returned, late arrivals to the meet-ups he would schedule, or no arrival at all. I spent a lot of time crying because of my father. I’ve probably shed more tears because of my father than for all of the other events and people in my life combined. There were a lot of tears.

I felt unloved.

So, to recap quickly (as I gotta go to work at some point), with my mother, I felt like she didn’t care about me or my life outside of my grades, and I just didn’t feel like my father cared about me at all. When a kid feels like this for the large majority of his childhood, it’s easy to understand why he might feel like others won’t like him…

Because he never felt like his parents did.

And that my friends and anonymous readers is why I sometimes don’t return phone calls from people who teeter on that thin line between friend and acquaintance, or why I don’t ask potential friends who I’ve just met to hang out, or why I generally wait for others to introduce themselves first when I’m meeting people, or why it takes me such a long time to bring my walls down and open up to others, or why it seems like I don’t care or check-in enough, or why I don’t reach out to friends I haven’t heard from in awhile–it’s because I’m sometimes afraid people won’t care.

And I know that’s not true. I know that people do like me, and I know that people care. But sometimes the residue of childhood experiences aren’t easily washed away by the insight and maturity of adulthood. That’s why the fear is still there, that’s why I have to talk that fear back down when it tries to surge its way to the surface. That’s why I have to force myself through my social anxiety, to say hi to friends and strangers alike, to press send on that text, or to get on stage to talk to hundreds of strangers openly about my life.

Because sometimes I’m afraid people won’t like me.

Be a Kid Again! Live Your Life with Maple Syrup

About six months ago I drove home thinking, “what life is my direction going in, and am I happy?”

Well, after contemplation, yes I was indeed happy, but there was still room for improvement. As for my life’s direction, it felt like I was navigating with a broken compass. Then I thought to myself again, “what can I do better and what can I change?” Then my mind time-warped back to childhood and the moments when I was most carefree. And then I explored those memories of carefreeness (which is apparently a word, something I have concluded based on my Macbook’s absent attempt to autocorrect it) and what the most foundational element was to feeling so…free. And what I found was this:

As a kid, I just didn’t give a sh*t.

That’s not to say I was a rebel, unruly, or a problem child, it’s to say that when I was a child I had not yet developed the ability to self-judge, and I had not yet learned how to be afraid of failure and how to be afraid of success.

When you self-judge, you end up spending a lot of time focused on how you are being perceived by others, and internally, how you’re perceiving and judging yourself. What you’re not devoting time to when engaged in self-judgement is the moment. How much fun can you have if you’re not present and in the moment? How much can you enjoy your favourite song if you’re afraid to dance to it, sing to it, or bop your head to it, for fear of judgment? How hard will you smile and how deeply will you laugh if you’re afraid that someone else will think the source of your amusement does not warrant such mirth, thus creating embarrassment? Well, you might enjoy your music, and you might smile and laugh a bit, but the experience will be like eating pancakes without the syrup–nice, but nothing like enjoying some warm, delicious, fluffy pancakes, dripping in real maple syrup, bite by bite, as if every mouthful was ambrosia from the heavens delivered directly to your fork by food angels. Now, which pancakes would you rather eat? The second kind, of course! What I’m trying to say here is let go of self-judgment and stay in the moment. Be a kid. Live your life with maple syrup.

Now, what about the things I feared–failure and success? Let me break them down each in turn.

With my fear of failure, I was simply afraid of what people would think if I did not live up to my “potential” (I hate that word). See, the thing is, I was always told I had tons of that thing called “potential,” which is a good thing to have a lot of–to a point. When it starts not being good is when you’re obviously smart enough and talented enough to warrant the descriptor, but when you lack the resources, mentorship, and opportunity to make the most of your potential.

This was precisely my situation.

Yes, while it was great that I had a high IQ, it really didn’t mean very much when I was getting bad grades in grade 8 because I was too hungry or too depressed to focus on my studies. However, I didn’t have anybody around to explain to me that I might not be getting A’s anymore because when I went home at night I wasn’t thinking about the geography of Canada, I was thinking about the geography of my cupboards, how barren they were, and where I might find some food. I believed in the hype of my own “potential,” which meant that when I wasn’t living up to it, I believed it was because of me and not because of my circumstances. I started internalizing my failures. I started thinking that I wasn’t good enough and that those who had labelled me as having “potential” would be disappointed if I didn’t live up to it, regardless of the completely justifiable mitigating circumstances. I began fearing failure.

As for success, well, I had a lot of that growing up (they didn’t say I had “potential” for nothing!). Throughout elementary school, I was generally the best (or at least very very good) at whatever I tried–I made every sports team and was a top player, was in the advanced reading club, was asked to skip two grades (I didn’t), was good enough at drawing that other kids would pay me in candy to draw for them, I was popular, girls had crushes on me. Etcetera. The thing is when you’re good at stuff, even when you’re not trying to be good at stuff, you tend to get a lot of attention. This is really cool at first, but there are downsides. One, is other kids begin getting jealous, like Anisa did when she could not get better grades than me even though she worked hard and I…didn’t. Two, success and attention soon become…*screen blackens and lightning strikes*…expectations.

Let me tell you about expectations–they suck! Because now, when you don’t do well at something it’s not good enough, and even when you do do well at something, well it’s still not good enough. So, basically, being good can become a lose/lose situation once successes become potential and potential becomes expectations. Now, unless you’re superb every single time you do anything, you’re not good enough, and the spotlight is on you (there’s that attention again) so everybody notices and everybody starts talking about it. So, all this is to say that because of my successes as a young student, I garnered so much attention that everything I did became heavily scrutinized, even when it was good! So, I became afraid of success because I didn’t like the attention that came with it.

But, again, when I was a kid, I didn’t really give a sh*t.

When I was a kid, all I knew is that I liked success and I didn’t like failure–however, I was not afraid of either of them, and I accepted both success and failure when they happened. Success? Failure? Potential? And expectations? What were those? I was too busy lathering my pancakes in maple syrup to care.

So, when I got home after that drive on which I wondered, “what direction is my life is going in and am I happy?” I endeavoured to ignore the question, flipped the proverbial page over, and started doodling, because that’s what kids do. That’s what it means to be carefree.

With all this being said, I’m not stating that you shouldn’t care about whether or not you fail (or the direction of your life), but rather I’m endorsing the view that you should stop allowing the emotions you attribute to success and failure to become so strong that you begin to self-judge, that you being to fear failure and success, that you live in the past and the future, and thus stop living in the moment.

That’s eating your pancakes plain.

Don’t do that.

Be happier. Stop eating plain pancakes. Be a kid again.

Live your life with maple syrup!

=D