SO. What does it really mean to unravel?
“Not everything that is lost is meant to be found again”–LKM.
This post is aimed at personally reflecting upon what it means to locate and re-ground oneself in the middle of chaotic life events. For me chaos is the feeling of ‘uprootedness’, uncertainty, and discombobulated thinking; ultimately, it is the loss of control. Couple that with my anxiety and BOOM there you have it folks, the perfect vessel for entropy: the steady decline of a system due to a lack of order. And baby do I
need cling onto routine like glue because it comforts me.
Almost three months ago I graduated from Bennington College, which is located in the scenic Green Mountain State of Vermont. What an unbelievably exciting time, right? And it is a notable accomplishment because “yay, you did it!”…until everyone starts to ask the dreaded question of “soooo, what comes next?” and you have zero clue as to how to answer that. As someone who loves being grounded in certainty and truth, swallowing the unknown was a hard endeavour to embark on. I remember watching my mother’s chest swell up big with pride, my aunts ululating loudly, as I walked up the ramp to get my diploma. That moment was so memorable- it made all of the sleepless nights and endless midnight breakdowns undoubtedly worth it.
However, the difficulty began when the good of it all started to become overshadowed by the deep uneasiness of feeling completely lost, somewhat purposeless, and jobless. I will tell you now, applying for jobs is the absolute worst, especially as a foreigner of colour. And it’s hard to keep reminding yourself that a lot of people go through this and that you are not alone in this struggle, especially when you’re staring directly into the eye of the storm from the inside. To contextualise myself: I am a Pisces (aka sensitive AF), an over-thinker, a perfectionist, the older sister of a Harvard student, the first grandchild, a harborer of emotions, and an avid overachiever who sometimes struggles with feeling enough. I set unrealistic expectations of myself and constantly push my body beyond its my limits by overexerting and overextending myself. After my time at college was done and the summer had finally set in, I suddenly found myself with ample free time but no tangible purpose. Or at least that’s how I felt then. I was no longer a student and part of my identity had shifted tremendously…so what was I now? All I know is that I seriously craved routine and yearned hard for something concrete to stand on.
One of the biggest life lessons I’ve been learning post-graduation is not all forms of unravelling (and there are different forms) are inherently negative phenomena. Although, more often than not, we coin them as such because un-knotting anything is always frustrating, and admitting that you are not okay to anyone is terrifying. I was coming undone at the seams and I neither knew how, nor did I possess the actual desire to talk about what was going on. So I didn’t and sealed my mouth shut. Instead the fear, guilt, and shame of it all sat side by side inside my gut while I pretended I was doing just fine. It took me a long while to realise this, but untangling your messes can be beautiful once you willingly give yourself up to the universe and start to trust the process of healing whole heartedly. Not every storm that arrives will come to disturb your peace.
I am a firm believer that you will end up right where you are supposed to be. The most important question then becomes, how do we continue to keep the faith alive when things around us are shaky? Everyone’s journey is unique and the worst thing you can ever do to yourself is to compare your progress to that of someone else. Be patient with yourself. The universe will deliver your gifts in due time and only when the time right and only when you are ready. What is yours will come, and what is not will not.
UNRAVELLING AND RE-INTEGRATION
“There is nothing stronger than a broken woman who has rebuilt herself.”– Hannah Gadsby (Nanette).
As I mentioned before, there are many ways in which we can perceive and understand what it means to breakdown. The first operational definition of unravelling is contingent on an unwillingness/inability to change. Here, the process of falling apart, unwinding, and losing the threads that tether you ‘together’ as a human being, is heavy with friction and ripe with antagonism because one does not want to let go of the familiar. Even if the familiar is maladaptive and unhealthy. In this definition there aren’t (m)any imagined positive outcomes as all you can smell is the jarring smoke of your own burning home. And so naturally you grasp onto anything that can put the flames out, including the gasoline soaked threads that initially started the fire to begin with.
This is where the chaos becomes entropic because you cling onto dangerous old habits; habits providing a disillusioned comfort that will not serve you in your journey towards growth, peace, and self improvement. And when you are re-using the exact same pieces of dusty yarn that made up the noose that sat around your neck then absolutely nothing can or will change. You absolutely cannot mourn a destructive self for mourning a destructive self is to imagine that that self contributed some sort of good. You cannot heal in this space and therefore you remain stagnant and in denial. And my stagnation came with unhappiness and a deep dissatisfaction– but I was too afraid to let go of the aged ghosts haunting me. You have to understand, no one truly loves to live in an empty home so I let the destruction settle in as it kept me company and because, well, old habits die hard. Plus, when trauma, insecurity, and self deprecation are integrated into the core of your identity, how do you possibly let them go?
However, this summer, upon closer inspection of my mental health (or lack of rather at that point), I had to come to terms with the fact that what I had been doing was not serving me AT ALL. I was actually pretty much stuck and miserable at some points. I was in the midst of a mini depressive episode and I needed to figure out how dig myself out of the abyss I had accidentally fallen into. That’s how badly I needed a sense of control and purpose in my life. I had to figure out how to re-route my brain and make new neurological connections that were conducive to more positive lines of thinking and being. And that’s how I finally happened upon another healthier perspective on what it really means to lose your shit.
The second definition of unravelling gives increased agency and requires that you to trace all of the strings ‘binding’ you together in order uncover which roots are toxic and which add value to your existence. This conception is very much contingent on the fact that there has to be a willingness to cut, let go, and shed the negativity in order for you to gather yourself up again. The truth is that I needed to fall apart because that seriously prompted me to start sifting through the tangles and pull out the working pieces that could be used in the re-building of a stronger, more rehabilitated version of me. I am working harder on weeding out old habits to allow for growth and for the opportunity for my skin to bloom. I am also learning that I have and always will be enough. My body has always been fertile ground for self love and self-actualisation.
It became necessary for me to untangle myself from my destructive habits because I was really struggling to find true happiness. For a long while I was putting my heart second in order to please everyone else, and as a consequence I began internalising other people’s behaviours–especially when they were not giving me exactly what it was that I needed. Let me tell you, self-sacrifice is never a good idea. You were not birthed sole for martyrdom. Additionally, self sacrifice and compromise are not interchangeable, compromise tends to be a more equitable exchange. With this second definition there comes enlightenment, a higher consciousness, and most importantly clarity. And more often than not where there is clarity, peace will follow suit. First things first though, I had to learn how to tackle my incessant lust for control and certainty because life is anything but a given. However, in order to do that I had to evaluate my anxious thoughts because control and anxiety are often inextricably tied together. Moreover, I had to fashion an anchor I could toss within myself as there is no way you can find grounding in the bodies of other humans. I had to make a home out of myself first and foremost.
“You can’t make homes out of human beings, someone should have already told you that”– Warsan Shire (For women who are ‘difficult’ to Love).
Listen. Introspection and hindsight are powerful gifts like no other. They allow for the intimate painting of a panoramic view of your entire life. And in doing so, you inherit the amazing ability to orient who you were, who you are, and who you have the potential to be in a three-dimensional manner; you discover foresight and ability to develop a greater vision beyond the now. Further, foresight allows you to draw out the functional tethers from the past for you to intertwine with your present self in order to be able to fully conceive a more invigorated and healthier future self. This is re-integration and re-intergration must be an orientational and expansive process. Lastly, for change to come about you have to hunger for it. No one can ever do the work for you. And sometimes work on yourself will feel impossible and like an uphill battle, but know there will always be a way if you continue to cultivate the will. Each of us hold a lot more power and courage than we think.
Survival mode is not true living.
Survival mode is simply the intermediate place between dysfunctional adaptations and well adjusted functioning. But that is quite different from being a survivor, right. We are all survivors in our own skins, some more than others because our battles and demons are different. It is important to take the time to commend yourself for your incredible bravery. Remember to give yourself the accolades that you deserve and the participation awards you require when you know you’ve tried your absolute best.
“Everyone’s survival looks a little bit like death sometimes…”– Andrea Gibson
From my personal experience, things tend to fall apart because some parts in you are worn down, tired, and simply no longer sitting well within your soul. I have always been an optimistic and giving person, but ironically for other people. And at times this giving is to my own detriment. I had to finally sit down and ask myself why it is that I thought I was undeserving of my own patience and kindness. The answer is tied to my own misconstrued ideas surrounding self worth and self love. It was at that point that I knew it was imperative I take the time to fall deeply and madly in love with myself and my journey. And in order to do that I had to first forgive myself for the sharpness of my tongue when talking to myself. There is no greater tragedy than the ways in which we beat ourselves navy blue and black with the consonants of our own names.
I come from a country that does not talk about mental health or mental illness for the most part. I would even argue at all. If we do talk about it, the conversations are considerably shallow, stiff, misguided, and contain attempts to scapegoat. As such, in Botswana, we continually entrap ourselves in cultural cycles of trauma, silencing, and extreme denial. And I am a product of my country. But even though I grew up there, I absolutely refuse to partake in or perpetuate that kind of unhealthy system of living. We, as a society, need to do better by one another because some of our children are sitting knee-deep in a shame and guilt they really should not be. Shame rots your insides and guilt gnaws away at hope. It is pivotal that we start the conversations surrounding depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, autism, eating disorders, etc. Know that when some of the people around you say that it hurts to breathe, what they really mean is their veins are caving in and they are coming undone at the throat. Let us begin to cultivate spaces that truly encourage positive help seeking attitudes and more empathetic responsiveness.
Now that it’s almost the end of the summer and I am in a much better place; I am opening my doors to internal peace and this blog is a documentation of my attempts at self-preservation. The panic in my chest has almost subsided for the most part and my brain does not feel as clogged as it did before. However, I also know that the work of self improvement is a continuous process and we are not done yet. Part of the reason my spirits have been lifted is because I have new job (ayyy!!!) that I am super excited about. And that has anchored me tremendously. Not to say the job is the only thing that has grounded me, but I would be remiss not to consider it as a contributing factor. The job was the epiphany I was praying for. Additionally, it was the long overdue wake up call I needed. It is also extremely important for me to the thank my support system (friends, professors, staff, and family) for their unconditional and continuous love and belief in me. Friends, rarely do we walk these journeys alone. Never forget that.
And honestly it is nice to know where I will be for the next year but what’s even more valuable to me really is the fact that I have now made it a goal for myself to improve in all facets; mentally, socially, physically, and emotionally. I am holding myself accountable for my journey towards freedom and happiness. Another reason why I have inhabited a better mental space is that I truly value myself (yes, that’s right) enough to understand that there is still work to be done, but nonetheless I am extremely proud to say I am currently under construction in the best way possible. I am finally breaking bread with my body and waving a white flag. There are a lot of struggles that come with walking into adulthood and I have made it a point to write about them because I know that I am not alone in my thinking and these are stories worth telling. And because this is worth repeating I shall say it again, we are never truly alone in our messes but know that trauma will work overtime to convince otherwise. Also, I just started a sober period and I will make a separate blog post about that! P.S you do NOT have to have problems with addiction to explore sobriety. I just wanted to start off my blank canvas clean and with a different kind of clarity. Until next time familia!
Part of the ways that I have been cultivating peace:
- Less screen time. I wait at least an hour after waking up every single day before I bombard my poor body and mind with social media notifications (and the lack of).
- I started writing down all that I am grateful for. This has shifted my focus away from what I do not yet own and the self I have not yet become. I am simply present in the present. My bestie taught me this nifty little trick and boy does it make a difference!
- I swapped out coffee for tea and water because too much caffeine makes me really anxious. Recognise your triggers and learn how to work around them.
- Make sure to do something that makes me happy every single day, however small it may seem. This is part of self-care. Be kind to yourself. Speak to yourself in softer tones. You deserve that.
- In the mornings, I take time to stretch, take deep breaths and really listen to my body’s needs/wants. We are re-building our relationship.
- I really like to read children’s books (and grown up books too!). There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a little silly sometimes 🙂
Love, strength, and light,