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.

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.

I Can’t Get Into Graduate School

I can’t get into graduate school.

Well, it’s not that I can’t get into graduate school, it’s that I didn’t get into graduate school. Again. For the third year in a row. And I gotta be honest, it kinda sucks. But that’s life.

Here’s what happened this year.

I applied for a Masters in Social Work this fall, choosing the University of Toronto (UofT) as my only option because it’s the only school in Southern Ontario that offers what I am interested in learning. UofT’s Masters of Social Work program offers a mental health specialization in which there is a focus on learning to practice counselling and therapy, which fits exactly into what I want to do.

So, I decided to submit an application.

I worked hard on it. I got great references. I put together what I thought was a great application. And I submitted with confidence–while my grades aren’t the best, I have a lot of practical experience, even more lived-experience, and a demonstrated passion towards mental health, community work, and helping people become better people.

Then I waited.

And for months, I fielded the question of, “did you hear back from UofT yet?” from friends, coworkers, mentors, mentees, supervisors, colleagues, and of course, family members. And for months I didn’t have an answer to that question. Now I do.

I didn’t get in.

The good news is that I wasn’t outright rejected either. I, instead, was wait-listed, and notified that I applied during a year in which there were a lot of great applications, but that I was not one of the 140 people selected into the program. That’s like when a girl tells you that while she thinks you’re a great guy, she doesn’t like you in that way. UofT apparently doesn’t like me in that way. Which leaves me going through a gamut of emotions as I’m slightly crushed (though I’m not as crushed as I was when I was in grade 12 when I asked out Renatta after lunch in the library and she turned me down…and my knees buckled…and I was devastated…and the librarian who was eyewitness to my heart shattering spoke sympathetic and consoling words to me…and my friends Emran and Matthew made fun of me for a week afterward…and I skipped class to play the angriest game of basketball I ever played in my life, as angry as Motaw in the movie Above The Rim), but not that crushed. However, I am going through the motions. This is what I’m feeling right now.

Discouraged.

Disappointed.

And Anger. Mostly anger.

While that may sound unhealthy, to be as angry as I am right now (on a scale of 1-10 I’d put myself at an 8, maybe even a 9), I don’t see it that way. I’ve never been one to turn my anger inwardly, torturing myself, allowing my anger to become insidious, eroding my well-being from the inside out. I’ve also never been the type to externalize my anger, taking it out on other people with harsh words, irritability, or violence. Instead, I’ve always been the type to turn anger into motivation. I’ve faced a tremendous amount of disappointment in my life. I’ve probably dealt with fifty disappointments for every success I’ve ever experienced. So, I’m fairly used to disappointment, and that’s why I know how to handle the anger that comes with it.

Yes, with this most recent disappointment there are tiny voices in my head that whisper, “maybe you’re not good enough,” but I know that those voices are wrong. I know that I am good enough, even if I haven’t succeeded yet, even if I’m not good enough yet. So, I will keep trying, I will keep thinking, and I will keep strategizing because I know I can get into graduate school, I know that I am good enough.

That’s why this rejection, this disappointment isn’t a failure. No, instead it’s something else, something that I will use to drive me forward with more passion, determination, and intelligence than I had before. This rejection is not a failure.

It’s motivation.

…I Have A Secret…

Secrets. We all have them. They come in many forms.

Loving someone but never telling that person.

Children aborted in youth that remain unspoken about.

Sleeping with someone other than one’s romantic partner.

Adopted children who don’t know they are adopted.

Dropping out of school but not telling one’s parents.

These are just a few examples. There are many more. In fact, there are probably as many kinds of secrets as there are thoughts and actions. Secrets appear to be a part of the human condition, a frenzied detail written into the tapestry of the human experience. But why do we have secrets? Here’s my answer:

Fear.

Secrets are born in that fragile part of the self that does not want to be judged, ridiculed, punished, rejected, or humiliated. All of these things have the potential to not only hurt, but to also carve deep wounds into the narrative of one’s life, resulting in physical and/or psychological pain. And as humans, we try our best to avoid pain. We try our best to prevent it, and if pain is present then we’re compelled to run from it. Pain sucks, therefore we try to avoid it. And it is this desire to avoid pain that causes fear. Secrets live in the space between Fear and Pain. So, why am I mentioning any of this? Why have I spent over 200 words thus far talking about secrets?

Because I have a secret, a BIG secret that I’ve kept from some of the people closest to me.

I’m not particularly proud of this. I don’t like secrets. I don’t like keeping them. I don’t like having them kept from me. That’s why keeping this secret has been so difficult. That’s why keeping this secret has been the source of so much shame. And it’s not the secret itself that has been a source of shame, but the keeping of it.  It’s strange that sometimes we keep secrets because we’re afraid of feeling shame, yet the keeping of the secret eventually feels more shameful than the discovery of said secret would. That’s the position I find myself in, keeping a secret I wish I had never allowed to become a secret in the first place.

It becomes more and more difficult to disclose a secret the longer the secret has been kept, which just results in keeping the secret longer. Then a vicious cycle is created resulting in the secret becoming buried deeper and deeper between you and the person (or people) you’re keeping the secret from. So, now when you dig up the secret to reveal it, there is a larger chasm between you and the person (or people) you have finally told your secret to than there would have been had you just revealed the secret earlier on to begin with. And we know all of this, yet we still keep secrets. I know all of this, yet I still keep secrets. I guess that’s the power of fear. And do you want to know the truth?

I’m really scared.

With this secret that I have, I’m deathly afraid that revealing it will result in rejection. However, I know deep down that I won’t be rejected. But in the past, revealing this secret has led to negative judgment and rejection–a lot of it, from friends and family–and it has been profoundly painful. This is where the difficulty of disclosure arises. And I’m afraid of feeling that pain and rejection again.

Secrets live in the space between Fear and Pain. And then secrets become a prison.

I feel like I’m in the prison of my secret. And that feeling sucks. So everyday I think about how I will reveal my secret to those who deserve to know–those who I want to know–while minimizing the possibility of rejection. But I still haven’t found the perfect strategy yet and I probably never will. So, the secret becomes buried deeper and deeper, and the bars of my prison become thicker and harder. And so the secret just becomes more difficult to reveal, more difficult to escape from. However, I am very determined to escape, to let go of my fear of rejection, to reveal my secret–and I will, very soon. I’m tired of living in the space between fear and pain, tired of being shamed, tired of living in the prison of my secrets.

I want to be free.