Zumba Through Depression

Please forgive me for saying this, but as a former half marathoner, I always thought Zumba was for sissies.

It’s a workout, yes, but it surely doesn’t compare to the weekly miles, hill repeats and long runs necessary to prepare for a half marathon. Many of my Zumba friends testified to its effectiveness, but it wasn’t just effectiveness I was after.

I was after that runner’s high. Every runner knows the feeling. It’s when you’re one with the wind and despite how long you’ve been on a run, you feel no pain… only pure joy.

However, when my life came crashing down, I was unable to chase that high. Suffering from knee pain shortly after my last half marathon of 2013, I had learned a good friend of mine was murdered. On top of that, I had decided to separate from my husband. It was never my intention to divorce, it was my hope that he’d seek counseling while I worked through my grief. Unfortunately or fortunately, that did not happen. We divorced the following year.

Devastated, heartbroken and still grieving my friend’s death, I slipped into a deep depression. I cried for months, barely ate and withdrew from everyone and everything that brought me happiness. Because my behavior had begun to affect my job performance, I eventually sought a counselor who prescribed anti-depressants. And after a few months of “happy pills,” I started to feel like my old self.

But anyone who’s ever taken anti-depressants knows that the nausea, headaches and constant fatigue can be just as crippling as the depression itself. I fought through the side effects because it meant keeping my job and reconnecting with friends and family. Plus, it also motivated me to run again. So, for a few months, I was able to run comfortably until not just one knee, but both knees, started to bother me. Eventually, I was unable to run at all.

That’s when the weight started to pile on.

Weight gain was another side effect of the antidepressants, and in addition to my sedentary lifestyle, it was only inevitable. After reaching my heaviest weight ever, it finally motivated me to do something. I weaned myself off of the meds and recalling my love for spin, joined a gym. But the classes no longer excited me. Actually, nothing excited me. But I refused to slip back into that fog of depression and fought through it. Staring at the gym class schedule posted on a door one day, a woman walked past me and said, “You might as well stop staring at it and come on in.”

And it changed my life.

The first thing I noticed when walking in was the Zumba instructor’s joy. It was contagious. Also, she was dressed in a cute, hot pink outfit and was wearing full makeup. Who does that? Anyway, when the music started, I caught on to the moves quickly and found myself smiling. I used to love to dance. Staring in the mirror, my pot belly, love handles and saddlebags started to make me feel self-conscious. Eventually, though, I stopped staring at how I looked and danced away. Twenty minutes in, it took all of my strength not to fall to my knees and cry.

I felt euphoric. And it was better than any runner’s high. It took all of my strength not to run up to the instructor and give her a bear hug. Because of her energy and the music, my sexiness started to return with each beat… with every eight count. You can’t really fight it when you’re winding to songs such as ‘Shake Your Body’ or ‘I’m Too Sexy.’ This was the first step to getting me back. Oh, how I missed her.

Am I still suffering from depression? Yes, I am. I’m still in counseling and my doctor found another prescription drug with less side effects. I still have issues to work through and get over but this time, I won’t wallow my way through it. Instead, I’m going to Zumba through it.

(first appeared in Huffington Post 9/1/2016)

Healthy Boundaries for Mental Health Month

Recently, I made the decision to not return to corporate America. Not only for my mental sanity, but because I want to pour my time and energy into my writing. I’m not at the point where I can live off of book sales yet, I decided to drive for Lyft to supplement my income.

So far, everything has been going well. There were a couple of rude passengers but overall, most have been pleasant. So in anticipation of another friendly passenger, I pull up and confirm my arrival. When they entered the car, however, I knew this was going to be an unfavorable experience.

The woman and her partner entered my vehicle with an attitude. I have no idea why, but I gave them a friendly greeting and took off. They spent the entire time conversing with each other so I remained quiet as they chatted. After a few moments, my phone did an unexpected reset and I interrupted them for a moment to ask which exit to take; Lyft automatically starts the navigation so I barely caught a glimpse of the address. They both became incredibly rude and proceeded to insult me even after explaining that my phone shut off. But I remained polite, dropped them off then pulled over to give Lyft a thorough explanation for my rating.

I rated the passenger 1 star, hit send and Lyft responded immediately with the following:

“if you rate a customer 3 stars or below, we will do our best to not pair you up again.”

And it got me thinking:

How many relationships do we endure with people who, if there was such a rating system, would deserve 3 stars or less?  Why do we put ourselves through it?

According to Psychology Today, humans are ingrained with the belief that that which is familiar is likely to be safer than the unfamiliar. We further reason that if something is familiar, we obviously survived exposure to it so our brain is ok with steering us towards it. Simply put, we are hardwired to feel that the “known devil is better than the unknown angel.”

As survivors, we do the same thing but to our detriment. Our rational selves know he’s not good for us, this family member is toxic or this situation is not safe but something inside of us instinctively gravitates towards that person or situation which reinforces the wounded aspect of ourselves. And we intentionally hurt ourselves. Psychologists call it wounded attachment.

Laymen call it crazy.

As survivors, while we may yearn for better and tell ourselves we’ll do better next time, it’s tough to break such a cycle; I’ve ridden that merry-go-round my entire life. But now I’m ready to hop off. No more will I put myself in dangerous situations or tolerate toxic relationships. Not only do I deserve better, but my children deserve better. Thankfully, my issues haven’t negatively impacted them, but they do know and understand everything I endured. They do better for themselves, but I want them to see their mom do better for herself.

Now, I rate everyone in my life on a 5-star scale and implement boundaries when necessary. Here’s my rating system:

5 STARS – This is my close-knit circle where we feel comfortable sharing dreams, secrets, and insecurities.

4 STARS – The people in this circle are not my confidants but they are trusted. We hang out and interact with each other on social media.

3 STARS – There hasn’t been much interaction so I’m unsure whether they can be trusted. Social media interaction is ok but they’re kept at arm’s length until I get to know them.

2 STARS – They’ve proven to be untrustworthy but because they’re attached in some way (i.e. family), little to no interaction is involved.

1 STAR – There’s absolutely no interaction.

Since utilizing this system, I’ve found consistent inner peace and the people pleasing desire has all but vanished.

As survivors, we endured so much in the past, we deserve as much 5-star treatment as we can get.



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Abuse Survivors and the Desire to Be Loved

Growing up abused as a child distorted the true definition of love. Instead of seeking the comfort and protection of a man, I looked instead for validation – someone who could fill this void in my heart. But because we associate pain with love, we inadvertently recreate the same environment we tried so hard from which to escape.

When you’re abused as a child, physically or sexually, you’re always subjected to emotional abuse. When it’s done by pedophiles, they call it grooming. According to the National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse, grooming includes:

Fulfilling a Need

Most child abuse victims are neglected or abused at home. The parents may work outside the home, leaving their small children home alone. Unfortunately, both situations applied to me. For years, it felt as if my mother didn’t love me and on top of that, she and my stepfather worked outside of the home. So as a second grader, I was responsible for getting me and my little sister inside the house and safe until an adult arrived. I don’t blame my parents in any way for this. They needed to work. But because I was neglected and alone for hours, I was prey.

Pedophiles also groom adults. They fulfill a parent’s need by offering to babysit or drive the child around. It’s very common for abusers to marry the intended victim’s parent just to gain access to the child.

Lowering Inhibitions

Some molesters groom their victims by buying them gifts and giving them money. If the family is in financial need, this could be devastating. Some children grow up believing it wasn’t abuse. They may insist they were dating the abuser. But all sexual touching between an adult and child is sexual abuse.

Like me, you may go through life living with a cocktail mix of the above resulting in severe depression and sexual problems, including promiscuity, as well as alcohol or drug abuse. Simply put, self-destruction is almost always present and is sometimes the only visible clue that abuse ever occurred.

A counseling session or two never really resolves anything because healing from abuse isn’t linear. We struggle daily with triggers and flashbacks and it can be challenging for the strongest survivor. If someone has yet to embrace counseling, it’s possible she can go through life without ever healing from the abuse or learning how to manage episodes or bouts of low self-esteem.

All of this factors into their perspective on love.

Because psychologists describe love simply as havingstrong desire for an emotional union with another person, there’s no internal mechanism to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy love. That’s because our desire arises from loneliness and our need to feel accepted and cherished. So you can fall in love with an abuser just as easily as you could for someone who treats you right.

So given the challenges most victims face, how can we recognize healthy love? And even more important, can we embrace it without destroying the relationship?

Relationship experts list several characteristics to having a healthy relationship. Here are a few:

Healthy LoveFights Fair

This doesn’t mean you’ll never fight or he’ll never hurt your feelings. But the difference with healthy love is that he won’t attack you personally and he’ll never hit you. When you do fight or when he does hurt you, he’ll be apologetic and work to make amends. Unhealthy love looks at fights as an opportunity to attack, blame, coerce and reject you.

Healthy Love Is There Through the Hard Times

It’s so easy to love someone when things are going well. But when an obstacle strikes, that’s when relationships are truly tested. Healthy love works to resolve challenges together,doesn’t blame the other or disappear when the going gets tough. Unhealthy love seeks to have their partner fix the issue and rescue them.

There Is a Healthy Give and Take

A healthy love is evident when both partners desire to help the other without requiring anything in return. Sacrifices may have to be made but it will never be one-sided.Mutual trust is established and there’s never a doubt that your partner will have your back. Unhealthy love is selfish and incredibly one-sided. If you find yourself in such a relationship, you may feel drained and used and may go with having your needs unmet.

Healthy Love Doesn’t Try to Change You

When you’re in a healthy relationship, your partner has no desire to change you; he accepts your flaws. He may drive you to make improvements in some areas of your life, but overall, he’s looking to discover your interests, dreams and goals. In an unhealthy relationship, he wants you to become his image of an ideal partner. It may be your hair, clothing, hobbies, etc. and he’ll rarely support any interests of your own.

For a survivor to embrace healthy love without destroying it, she’ll have to first learn how to love herself first. But what’s ironic is that abuse victims search for love from others before they ever learn to love themselves..

Triggers

A pedophile died on Sunday (or was it Monday?). And I posted how happy I was and that I was praying for the boys he sexually abused. But as I scrolled through Twitter and my Facebook timeline, I was shocked at the number of people who were paying him respect. They were saying no matter what he did, he was still a father and a husband and an anointed bishop.

It brought me to tears.

I won’t tarnish my blog by mentioning that pedophile’s name, but I couldn’t understand how so many people could gloss over what he did to those boys. I couldn’t stop crying. I avoided social media because reading those posts infuriated me. And I kept imagining those poor little boys being abused. Even writing this brings me to tears.

Then a Facebook friend tagged me in the following:

“My dear survivors: when an abuser dies, it often does not bring about the “relief” non-survivors insist you should feel. Instead, it often brings anger at confrontations that never occurred, sadness at admissions of shame/guilt never given, and frustration as the world chooses to focus only on the “good” of the deceased abuser because “one must not speak ill of the dead”. So, on this day as on every day when an abuser dies, we send love/comfort/support to all survivors.”

So how do I deal with triggers? I retreat and catch up on movies and tv shows. Also, I don’t take phone calls…not even from my daughter and as mentioned above, avoid social media. No one can help nor understand what I’m going through. And it’s not fair to put this weight on anyone.

For years, I used to drink it away but most recently, decided to cut back.

But the most effective coping mechanism I’ve used…avoidance. It seems to work best. Psychologists call it maladaptive. I call it necessary.

How My Issues Are Blocking My Blessings

I got some really good news the other day. A popular online magazine has asked me to be a contributor. At first, I was honored. My blog isn’t even on the radar but the editor-in-chief loved my articles. I’ll have the opportunity to speak on healing from abuse and divorce. So the opportunity to reach and help more women instantly appealed to me.

Then, it struck me:more people will know my story: that I’d been sexually abused since the age of five and worked as a stripper for five years. The thought frightened me and I considered declining the offer. I know it sounds strange; I do want to help women. But I wanted to do so while flying under the radar. I didn’t want my family and friends to know and I was afraid of outside criticism. It’s so much easier to share my story with survivors. I’ve seen how cruel some folk can be. I didn’t want to be the recipient of such cruelty.

My goal was to pursue it part-time, not allowing it touch and affect the other areas of my life. But that’s not how it works. When God gives you an assignment, he also opens doors and opportunities you would never imagine, increasing your stage, growing your audience. But I wasn’t stepping through those doors. As a matter of fact, I was closing and even bolting some of them shut. I was essentially saying, “Thanks but no thanks, G. I’m just gonna settle right here in mediocrity.”

As the challenges and drama of 2016 kept coming, it landed me in a situation I’d never experienced before. And I knew I didn’t want to remain there. While I was in it, I couldn’t understand why God saw fit to put me through it. I was doing what He called me to do. But obviously, that wasn’t enough. He wanted me to go deeper…and to do so unafraid. He knew taking everything away from me would stir the fight inside of me. And it worked. Now, I don’t care at all about other’s opinions and I’m unafraid.

 

2017 is going to be great.

Peace Out, 2016

I have to credit my friend, Shavonne, for the image. As soon as I noticed 2016 was omitted, I couldn’t stop laughing. So no, it isn’t a typo. That’s exactly how many others and I feel about this year. We want to forget it ever happened…wipe it from history like the Patriots did with Aaron Hernandez. However, I’m taking all of the lessons into 2017 because I don’t want a repeat of the drama and bull that occurred.

First, the celebrity deaths were heartbreaking: Mohammed Ali, Prince, Nancy Reagan, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Florence Henderson, David Bowie and now George Michael! We lost not just their talent, but their selfless spirit and influence will be missed as well. Throughout their lives, these celebrities used their time, talent and treasure to support a myriad of causes and charities. Florence Henderson donated to five charities and supported six causes. Alan Thicke supported 11 charities and 16 causes alone. And Prince, nicknamed the Silent Angel, gave generously and regularly. He donated $1 million to Harlem Children’s Zone and supported YesWeCode, an organization whose mission is to train disadvantaged young adults for careers in technology. I hope the younger celebrities will pick up the torch.

My son lost his football coach to a horrible car accident Easter evening. This man was a role model and mentor to hundreds of boys in Charlotte. He was devoted to his wife and kids and his team. I served as his team mom and was so impressed with him, I also worked marketing for his Liberty Tax franchise. If there was any loss that pained me more, it was his. I couldn’t understand why such a wonderful man was taken so soon.

Then, I discovered my friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. For years, we were always too busy to see each other so when I learned of her diagnosis, I was inconsolable. She has a husband who adores her and four children to fight for. I believed with all my heart she’s going to beat this.

And now, the drama…I’m not going into everything little detail, but this year has been a rough one for me. I was laid off from a promising job. Well, I guess it wasn’t too promising if the sales staff were unable to close deals…I had some side hustles going on that made up for the income, but on the last day of July, I was in a car accident. I didn’t just suffer a back injury, I had a concussion too. This meant I was couldn’t just write; I had to “rest my brain”. I couldn’t watch tv, surf the internet, etc. The accident also put in motion a series of events that prompted me to relocate from North Carolina to Pennsylvania. I sincerely believed that the move would bring me peace, allow me to build relationships and eventually find a job.

Not even close.

For months, I was distraught. I believed the move was a mistake because it didn’t bring forth what I believed it would. But I was thinking about it all wrong. The move showed me who my real friends are. And it caused me to sever toxic and draining relationships. This wasn’t easy for me to do. I value friendships and family so if I consider you either, I’m there for you, no questions asked. However, I realized that my loyalty and devotion were to the person they allowed me to see, the mask, the facade. I met the real person up close and personal and wanted nothing to do with them. If I had known who they truly were, I would have never allowed them in my circle.

But then I got to thinking: maybe I did know. There were signs all along: the incessant lying, competitive, jealous nature and their inability to be real. I have other friends, new and old, where the relationship is easy, supportive, fluid. We leave each others’ presence feeling encouraged and better about ourselves. I didn’t have to second guess their motives or search for hidden digs in their comments.

Great friends are God’s way of apologizing for your family.

As survivors, we were groomed to have low self esteem and confidence. That’s why it’s especially important that we guard our heart and mind and surround ourselves with positive people who love and support us. We’re under no obligation to allow anyone in our lives who isn’t supportive. I knew this. Hell, I tell my children this. But I got caught up on loyalty instead of doing what’s best for me. That stops in 2016.

Severing relationships may not be so easy for many of us because we were victimized by family or we may feel loyal to family members who refuse to support us. And it hurts. Believe me, I know. We want their approval and support but sometimes, we’re just not going to get it. It may take some time for them to come around or they may never come around. You can’t force it. What you can do is find real friends, sever those toxic relationships and walk into 2017 with me:

Deafening Silence

Recently, I’ve been thinking that I should have had a career as a sex crime prosecutor. What survivor doesn’t want to stand up to perpetrators and see them locked behind bars? Not knowing too much about life as an attorney, I envisioned it being glamorous and rewarding, similar to the tv shows. After reading a recent Washington Post article, however, I quickly changed my mind. I don’t have and probably will never have the strength to do what they do. And I’m perfectly ok with it.

The article is titled, I watch child pornography to prosecute sex crimes. The kids’ silence is deafening, and it instantly captured me. And then it hit me: these lawyers watch countless hours of child porn to make their case. Wow. The author, Sarah Chang, writes she was advised by another attorney to watch those videos on mute because the young victims’ silence is deafening.

“But all I heard was silence. The 5-year-old girl said nothing — not even a sob. Disturbed, I continued to watch each video with the sound on. I tried to beat back the silence by turning the volume up as high as it could go. The quiet was too deafening, too defeating to accept. Surely, these children must make a sound?”

Then I remembered. I was silent too. I didn’t scream, moan or utter a word until I was out of there. I used to lay still and flat and zone out — I can’t remember exactly where I would go or what I’d think about, but I was always able to mentally disconnect from the physical violation.

And when it was over, I never spoke about it. I somehow managed to forget it ever happened. It was strange. I think I believed the lies I told to keep others from finding out. As a result, I pushed down all of the guilt, shame and anger and never looked to express it outwardly.

“Psychiatrists say the silence conveys their sense of helplessness, which also manifests in their reluctance to report the incidents and their tendency to accommodate their abusers.”

But as every survivor knows, the emotions eventually boil over. You begin to take it out on yourself, then those around you. As you struggle to keep silent due to the guilt or fear, most of us eventually reach a point where we’re ready to explode. We want to tell someone or even everyone, how we were violated. I know it took me decades to tell my truth and I’m always amazed by a child’s courage when they come forward.

“We think silence can’t indicate that something hurts. Without an expression of pain, we assume there’s no injury…we refuse to hear silence as anything but a vacuum of feeling, a void in experience…but in reality, a voiceless cry is often the most powerful one…it makes audible the psychological hold an abuser has over a child. Silence can be the most devastating evidence of sexual abuse; it can be the sound of pain itself.”

Deafening is defined as being “so loud as to make it impossible to hear anything else.” So I thank you, Sarah Chang, for helping victims find their voice and stand in their truth so loud, making it impossible to hear anything else.

Is It Too Late To Change?

Quite possibly one of the most interesting creatures on Earth, the chameleon can change color in as little as 20 seconds. The chromatophores, special cells which lie underneath their skin, change colors when they get a message from the brain to either enlarge or shrink. When the cells do, their colors mix like paint, enabling them to blend in with their surroundings.

chameleon

I’m pretty sure you know folk like that. As opposed to changing colors though, they represent themselves differently according to their surroundings. They may play the sweet, innocent Christian in front of family but get high with their friends. Or they may be the most professional employee in front of their boss but sneak off for long lunches and do little work the moment the boss leaves.

And yet, they yearn for more.

They want a husband, a better job, a bigger home but they haven’t made the changes necessary in order to receive it. There are some folk who can half-ass through life and still achieve success; but typically, it takes a real come to Jesus moment to admit your shortcomings and commit to improving your character.

While it is possible to achieve the success you’re looking for without changing, it’s also possible that it could be lost just as easily as it was gained. There were thousands of folk who dreamed of home ownership but foreclosed because they never learned to properly manage their money. There are couples who marry yet suffer through divorce because they never learned to compromise.

When you decide to take a long, hard look in the mirror and admit your shortcomings to yourself, it’s gut wrenching. The wall of lies you built around your heart and ego come crashing down and at first you’ll feel vulnerable, naked. But once you realize that the wall was a false sense of protection, you’ll welcome the change. You’ll want to do better, be better. And ultimately, you’ll attract better friends and opportunities.

 

Yeah, I’m Bitter

Today would have been my 14th wedding anniversary. I went out with a friend last week and he asked me if I was still bitter. My initial response was hell no. Ain’t no way I want my ex husband back. When I write about what I experienced during my marriage, it always brings me to tears. One reason is because I can’t believed I tolerated the abuse for so long. And the other reason is because it’s heartbreaking. As I recall one event after the other, it’s obvious that man never loved me. And for those reasons, I guess you can say I’m bitter.

My ex husband is a narcissist. And from what I’ve learned about narcissism, they don’t have the capacity for love, empathy, remorse, etc. But, they’re adept at manipulating situations to get you to feel for them and move heaven and earth to make them happy. And I did just that for more than 12 years. I sacrificed my career, well-being and even my health to ensure he got everything he wanted. He had a low-paying job, a prepaid phone, no car and no degree when I married him. By the time we divorced, he was making 3x more than when we first met and upon completing his bachelor’s, he eventually landed his dream job. Me? I became a stay-at-home mother after my layoff because it was most logical. I couldn’t travel for business because he was unable to take off work due to month end closings. Someone had to watch the children. And as most women know, that someone tends to be the wife. I’m not saying it was a poor decision; I loved staying at home. I just hate that today he’s thriving due to the sacrifices I made while I’m essentially starting over.

I’m usually more mature than this — work with me tonight. I’m feeling a little sorry for myself. I’ll be much better in the morning.

I spent the entire marriage proving my love for him, pouring into him without any reciprocity on his part. So yeah, I’m bitter. But I’m not the type of chick who holds grudges and takes it out on the next man. No. I’m the type of woman who sits back and watches. I’m never going to make that mistake again. If I see an inkling of manipulation, narcissism, anger issues and emotional immaturity, I’m out. No questions asked. I don’t do projects. Anymore.

Closed For Self-Care

The brazen and senseless murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile have taken an emotional toll on me. I just recently accepted that I suffer from CPTSD, depression and anxiety as a result of child sexual abuse and emotional abuse. I tried my best to avoid watching the deaths of Alton and Philando, but it was practically unavoidable. I’ve been crying ever since. Given that I’m already new to self-care, these recent events have forced me to be even more vigilant.

As a black woman and mother of a black boy, I can’t really turn a blind’s eye to any of this. It’s imperative that I watch the news; if there’s another shooting or a KKK rally, I need to know where not to be. It’s also necessary to keep watch on the viewpoints of white and black America alike. The impulsive explosions of anger toward people of a different color and officers in blue via social media and during demonstrations are further indications that America’s rage is boiling over. And just like hot water spewing out the sides of a pot, if you’re nearby, you’re bound to get burned.

So how do you self care AND stay aware?

HuffPost Black Voices offers tips if you’re on social media:

  1. Turn off video auto play.
  2. Follow accounts that inform AND nurture
  3. Ignore trolls.
  4. Log off.

When you decide to step away from the computer or cell phone, do something you enjoy. Last night, I took a walk and listened to blues music. It cleared my heart and mind and allowed me to focus on life. Doing so helped me realize that a part of me was feeling guilty. I was watching Lavish watch her boyfriend die as I sat at home safe. It didn’t seem right for me to binge on Game of Thrones or market my book or pull up silly YouTube videos.

While those feelings are valid, there really wasn’t much I could have done in either situation. I don’t know the victims and don’t live in Baton Rouge or Minneapolis. Although I will be demonstrating and attending community meetings, maintaining feelings of anxiety and sadness doesn’t help anyone and it actually causes more harm than good. So, in the interest of myself and my kids, I’ll periodically be closed for self-care.