Don’t wander too far trying to find yourself. You might get lost in the thrill.
– Said by me at 22
Feet are funny things. At any given moment, they’re either moving or standing still. There’s no in between. Either is beneficial, but both can be detrimental in the event that the movement or the stillness isn’t happening at the right time. What I learned this summer, while sitting in my cube working a job that I absolutely hate, is that standing still to take time and figure things out is normal and human, but standing still out of fear of the unknown or unaccepted is crippling to your emotional and personal growth.
Ever since I was a little girl, I was conditioned to be twice as talented, twice as smart, and twice as tough, just so that I can be viewed as a worthy and equal contender to full limbed people. In my life experiences, I have very rarely been in a situation where I haven’t had to prove my humanity. Whether it’s a game of softball or intellectual competition, the public sees a person facing a physical challenge and automatically assumes that we are fragile, weak. And, I, was determined to dispel those thoughts about me before they could find solid footing in the minds of anyone I encountered.
When you’re living with any physical difference it feels like proving your full humanity is a full-time job with no days off and very little time to process in between such constant interactions. Since I was young, people have always told me how strong I was; how resilient I was. While I know that I am strong and resilient, for me, those things were actually grounded in my fear of accepting my own vulnerability. I was afraid and, to be clear, vulnerability isn’t what scared me. It’s the association of vulnerability with weakness. I was terrified to really let myself fall apart, to really feel, to ask for help. Even in my growth as an amputee, I am still afraid to be dependent on anybody or anything because I don’t want to be characterized as weak or lacking in any way. In fact, I’ve spent so much of my life trying to prove to the world that I’m strong, invincible even, that I had never truly learned how to allow time for myself to process my emotions honestly.
After taking time for myself, I realized real strength lies in three basic practices:
First: Acknowledging the pain of our experiences.
Second: Finding the trigger for that pain; the past action, memory (however vivid or distant), or recurring negative thought.
Third: Recognizing that any emotional distress you feel stems from you believing something about yourself that is rooted in misunderstanding and, consequently, is completely untrue.
Being strong is about being willing to search for the answers to your emotional struggles within yourself. Being resilient is allowing yourself to be engulfed in the dark depths of your pain so you can gather the true nitty-gritty details of your emotional discomfort, because you can only honestly solve your grievances if you know the true extent of the problems you’re facing.
In my time away, I’ve also learned that you can’t allow the people around you to make your reality for you. You’ll never be happy.
When I graduated from college this past May, I was determined to pursue I AMputee fulltime. But, as time passed I began to worry about the way the world would interpret what I was doing. I started to doubt my aspirations and my ideas. I was scared that by pursuing my project, I wasn’t going to be able to make money to support myself. Then I realized that these weren’t even my fears! These were the thoughts of people around me. I never cared about any of that stuff. I just wanted to write and to create something that inspired a conversation a movement for self acceptance for amputees and allies. But, by listening to everything except my own voice, I lost sight of that.
Most of the time, we count ourselves out not because of the extent of our capabilities, but because of insecurities that were carelessly planted in our lives by the closed minds of those that we encounter. Where I come from, people don’t pursue their dreams. Unless, of course, they’ve always dreamed of using Instagram to sell bundles of virgin hair weave or they’re pursuing music because it seems like just about EVERYONE from my community is selling hair, in the studio, or both. But when it comes to pursuing more significantly challenging projects, it seems like these dream chasers are harder to find than ever.
Last week, my mama told me that people don’t like their careers. She said when you graduate college, you get an office or teaching job that pays, then you can be stable and happy. It was the saddest thing I’ve ever been told. Don’t get me wrong, my mama always tells me pursue my dreams, and is one of my biggest supporters, but her motto has always been: “Don’t let your emotions drive your actions.” I love my Mama dearly and respect her experiences, but I don’t believe any of it. That doesn’t make any sense to me. If you don’t let your emotions drive you, how are you truly alive? Why are you truly alive? You work hard in school to get good grades, to go to a good school, only to work a job that you don’t even like? In making these decisions without consulting your inner spirit, you are sacrificing the opportunity to make yourself truly happy. Now, I’m not here to tell anyone to up and quit their jobs today, but instead my goal is to help you begin to live your life in the most fulfilling way possible.
So, ask yourself, “What are the things that drive me? What is that one thing that I’d love to do, but think is too crazy, too impossible to try?”
As long as your goals are grounded in good intentions, you should at least attempt them. Do it. Do it today. Do a little at a time if you have to, but start making steps today, because you have a right to be happy and fulfilled.
When I started writing this blog last year, I was inspired, but I needed to take time for myself. I needed to rebuild my spirit. During my time away from the blog, I went through counseling that saved my spirit, graduated from college, watched my mentor (and second mom) beat Cancer, moved to DC with my big sister, and tried to work a job that I knew wasn’t meant for me. I was stuck standing still. But, once my feet started hurting from stunted opportunities for growth, my heart aching to do the things that I love, and my stomach hungry for significant change, I knew that it was time. I realized I needed to take action. Now, I am back. And, I am ready.