My Pain Matters: On Affirming the Pain I Often Underestimated

I call 2016 my shit year.

Why? Because a ton of shit happened to me during 2016. I was testing the waters of “organizing” for the first time. I attempted to work with religious communities that expressed a desire to do anti-racist work. I also struggled to find support in school from my peers and my teachers.

I experienced a lot of pain within these and many other moments in 2016. I was gaslighted by people who claimed to care about the black freedom struggle. I attended tension filled demonstrations and have been in the presence of violence. I’ve had my creative and intellectual work unfairly judged by parties who couldn’t see my work rightly. 2016 was also the year that my university’s Peace Studies department used police presence to intimidate me into compliance when I rose concerns about racism and sexism in the program’s curriculum.

2016 left me burned and wasted.

You could even say that 2016 broke my spirit. In retrospect, 2017 went a whole lot better for me, even though the first year of Trump’s presidency brought with it so much maliciousness.

I don’t know if I have yet to fully recover from what 2016 did to my mind, my body, my spirit, but most days, I expect myself to be better by now. It’s been over a whole year, after all.

I tell myself that I shouldn’t be afraid of picking up my camera, taking new clients, doing new gigs… That my fear should be gone by now. I should be better. I shouldn’t still be carrying around a fear of running into ministers and activists who hurt me deeply. I shouldn’t be carrying around the fear of running into members of other organizations and coalitions that didn’t do their part to respect me and see my rightly. But, I do.

I don’t always know what to do about these fears. I try to power through them, but it doesn’t seem like enough on the days that I can’t.

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me, in the beginning of 2017 on a roadtrip.

As I work a few hours during the week, I get to enjoy roaming the isles of the library in solitude. I use this opportunity to catch up on podcasts that I’ve been wanting to listen to and I also get a chance to discover and listen to new ones as I quietly shelve books (and occasionally shed a few laughs here and there).

One of the more meaningful podcasts that I’ve been able to listen to this year has been AFFIRM, a podcast from the website Redefine Enough. Between listening to AFFIRM and taking a break from Twitter, I feel like I’ve been receiving the breath of air that I need… and will reluctantly say that I deserve.

I say reluctant, because I often forget a lot of what I say that I believe. Or, I forget to take seriously certain truths about mental health and caring for myself. I don’t always believe that the things that I whole-heartedly want for other people, I deserve as well. And so, it’s been so helpful for me to listen to the podcast and to listen to the host describe and name things that I forget or experiences I don’t always have words for.

One of the topics in the podcast that I found to be very affirming was the topic of “secondary trauma”. Essentially, secondary trauma isn’t trauma that you personally experienced, it’s trauma that you may have witnessed or trauma that you hear about. Trauma therapists and other healers often experience secondary trauma from listening to people’s stories and witnessing their pain.

I’m a person that typically listens with enthusiasm… but I’ve noticed my capacity to listen growing less and less. I have noticed within my body the desire to retreat into my own personal space. My capacity to hold others has shrunk. I often fear that this has meant that I have grown to be less big-hearted, less caring. I think to myself that I must be selfish now (which is the worst thing to be if you’ve grown up being told your worth is defined by how well or how much you care for others). However, the podcast reminded me that secondary trauma is still trauma. It makes sense for me to be tired after listening to others share their own pain. It makes sense for me to not always have the capacity to listen to others if I myself am in a dark place.

The podcast also affirmed a lot of my own experiences and struggles with mental health and anxiety. Within the last year, I’ve struggled to leave my house and have felt the kind of tiredness that lingers and overstays her welcome.

I believe now that my body has been shutting down… it’s been telling me that I need help, that I need to find healing and care. I couldn’t see the messages that my body was giving me: the lack of energy, the inability to leave home, the lack of excitement that I found sitting on my chest when I woke up in the mornings… I couldn’t understand the messages my body was giving me because I couldn’t find affirmation from myself or from many others that I was carrying a lot and that a lot was hurting me. In my mind, I downplayed everything. But, between Twitter drama, racism, sexism, biphobia, spiritual abuse, family trauma, rejection, life-changes, loss, flashbacks — all of it was affecting me. And most of it still affects me.

There were days when flashbacks made it difficult for me to leave the house. I would feel the emotions of the flashbacks hit my body right before placing my hand on the door. I’d find myself winded from the pain of those memories and needing to recover from the flashback. Then I would be late for something. And then, I couldn’t tell anyone about why I was late, because we don’t talk about mental health in our society well. Not in activist spaces, not in church… many spaces still hold stigmas, discomfort or general cluelessness around mental health.

Listening to women of color affirm each other’s mental and emotional health is doing something to me. I don’t know if I can call it “healing” necessarily but it’s encouraging me enough to get out of bed and to feel like I can do something about my anxiety and depression. The women on the podcast are reminding me that I deserve rest and care. They are reminding me that my trauma and pain matter, that the world’s bigotry, interpersonal messiness and systematic injustices affect me because I am human. They are reminding me that my trauma and pain won’t just just go away overnight. Trauma doesn’t just magically disappear. Healing and care has to happen.

Thankfully, I am in a place where I am seeking therapeutic support. I’m also trying to take advantage of this slower time of my life by making sure that I fight for my care time. I want to enjoy this life. I want to be happy. I want to have meaningful relationships, and I want to be filled with purpose and love when I do my work.

I think I deserve that.


A few of my favorite personal affirmations:

Rest is as important as work. Rest makes magic that work can’t do.

What I went through is real. I am not weak for feeling pain from my past, no matter how far back. I matter, my pain matters, and I deserve to have my pain attended to and healed. I deserve to be cared for and loved.

I deserve to be celebrated and respected in my work.

I have enough faith for today. I am spiritual/religious/Christian enough even if others can’t see it because of their religious boxes. I don’t have to do more to prove it.

I deserve to be celebrated, loved and respected in a religious community.

I have a lot to offer and to give, even when I don’t always feel like it.

I deserve to protect myself. I don’t owe anyone my gifts or my vulnerability.

The promise of life abundant is for me, too.


Please check out AFFIRM podcast if you get a chance, especially if you are a woman of color. Also, AFFIRM should not take the place of real therapeutic help. I grew up being afraid of therapy and being taught that it was bad and meant something was “wrong” with me. If you are intimidated or scared of therapy, I’m always willing to talk to you. AFFIRM is great about addressing fears about mental health and reaching out to a therapist.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year: Advent is for the Killjoys

I have a tendency towards sadness, which is why I think I like Advent so much.

When I say “a tendency towards sadness”, I mean that not in the sense that I like or enjoy being sad, but rather… it feels honest to be sad in this world and I feel the need to pay attention to that. Christmas matters to me because of the sadness that precedes it.

Advent is the season for killjoys, an expectation for real joy.

I remember when I was doing Mission Year several years ago, feeling so much shame for my sadness. I felt like I was broken. I was suffering with deep depression, lingering feelings of childhood needs unmet, an enduring sense of loneliness that I could not shake off. I remember sensing that I have always felt this way. I have always felt sad– I just did not want to admit it to myself and I did not want others to see it. I wasn’t allowed by my family to talk about it. And, I do not live in a world that lets black girls express grief. And tiredness.

But, during Mission Year, I also I remember one of my teammates challenging me with this thought, when I expressed dismay and shame over my constant sadness, lamenting that I ought to never feel anything. I prayed for numbness. In response, he offered this: “If you never feel anything, if you decide to just be numb forever, you would be asking to not feel joy either. You can’t experience joy without experiencing grief.”

He said this to me, the first time that I ever heard this.

Since that time, I have been able to accept that this tendency towards sadness is okay and real.

Later, I have come to understand that this tendency towards sadness is not my fault. It is a remnant of my history on this earth; a reminder that a longing for justice has been worn into my brain and skin cells through my lived experience, this sense of sadness that doesn’t quite leave.

Advent is the season for killjoys, an expectation for real joy.

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photo credit: rachelvirginiahester

A year prior, in my first year of college, I remember having my depression explained away. Someone in the college ministry told me that maybe there was something wrong about my brain and that I needed anti-depressants and that there was nothing wrong with me. It could just be how my brain worked, she assured me, and that I am okay, and that she cares about me. She knows that we don’t talk often but she hopes that this message doesn’t bother me.

I did not know what to make of this new idea, that some brains are just sadder than others. I could not imagine at the time that maybe, while there could have been truth in that statement, maybe there was more than just this simple explanation. She was not the only one who told me this. I remember always hearing about depression this way from my college-mates that did affirm the use of anti-depressants.

I didn’t want my sadness to be dismissed. So, I became afraid of anti-depressants*, because I had concluded that if my sadness came from no where, that sadness was something inherent in me, about the way that I was born. I did not want my sadness to be dismissed, to be contextualized, because I had been through a lot.

And this world is dark.

I did not want to believe my sadness came from no where.

I think about the Christmas story, the one that many Christians will be thinking about for the next month, and I think about the gift of frankincense and myrrh that the wise men gifted Jesus. I remember being told that these two items were given to him intentionally, because these were medicines used to cope with pain. (I don’t know what to do about the gold, so I won’t comment on that). But, I think about the life that Jesus would have, one where he would be spat upon, threatened and mocked by authorities and others in his society and I know that any sadness Jesus felt during his ministry did not come from no where. The kings must have known about what kind of life Jesus would live. One where he would be acquainted with sadness and grief.

As I’ve become more honest with my own experience in the world, I know that I can now attribute this pain to much of what is happening in the world around me, whether it is that which directly affects me or something felt by communities worlds away.

Advent is powerful for me, because I can live into the mystery of this season and the complexity of my emotions as I interface with a hostile society in a precarious global climate. Advent encourages me not to put complex emotions away, because Advent reminds me that it is okay to have hope that is grounded in reality. During Advent, I can resist the compulsion towards happiness without giving into sadness. It is a season where I feel more comfortable not shaming myself for refusing to feign contentment in a dark world.

Advent is the season for killjoys, an expectation for real joy. A time that I think about The One Well Acquainted with Grief, the One that Befriended me. The One who Hopes for Joy After Grief.

Advent begins this Sunday.

*For clarity, this is not to be taken as a statement about anti-depressants, rather was what I was told to believe about them at the time. If you are considering anti-depressants, please talk to a professional who can be sensitive to your needs.

#BlackGirlPsalms: Psalm 55 — Who Is My Friend?

If an enemy were insulting me,
    I could endure it;
if a foe were rising against me,
    I could hide.
13 But it is you, a man like myself,
    my companion, my close friend,
14 with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship
    at the house of God,
as we walked about
    among the worshipers.

15 Let death take my enemies by surprise;
    let them go down alive to the realm of the dead,
    for evil finds lodging among them.

16 As for me, I call to God,
    and the Lord saves me.
17 Evening, morning and noon
    I cry out in distress,
    and he hears my voice.
18 He rescues me unharmed
    from the battle waged against me,
    even though many oppose me.
19 God, who is enthroned from of old,
    who does not change—
he will hear them and humble them,
    because they have no fear of God.

20 My companion attacks his friends;
    he violates his covenant.
21 His talk is smooth as butter,
    yet war is in his heart;
his words are more soothing than oil,
    yet they are drawn swords.

22 Cast your cares on the Lord
    and he will sustain you;
he will never let
    the righteous be shaken.
23 But you, God, will bring down the wicked
    into the pit of decay;
the bloodthirsty and deceitful
    will not live out half their days.

But as for me, I trust in you.


Who can I call “friend” when friends begin to feel like enemies?

If the neo-Nazis out in the streets were to insult me, I could endure it, for I already know that the unabashed white supremacists who have shown their faces in Charlottesville, in Durham, and in the Bay Area despise me and my people whom have darker skin.

If a man were threatening to strike me with his hands or with dehumanizing words because of his fear of me and my love of self, I could hide because I have endured this violence before and have come to expect it. I am used to men’s misdirected and uncontrolled anger, whether in my family or in public spaces, like the streets, at university or in my inbox.

But it is you, someone who is supposed to be like me — someone who professes to be on my side– who is starting to appear to me like an enemy.  You seem to prefer your own comfort than to make sure I can live free from fear of state sanctioned violence. How can I call you a friend? How am I supposed to take seriously the claims you make that you love me?

You who claim to be my friend. You who I had used to go to church with: Remember when I used to go to church with you? And we would eat lunch or dinner after service? And you told me that you believed in my leadership, that I am powerful? That I reflect the image of God?

In the fellowship hall, you would say that you were happy to see me, we would laugh together among our peers who also profess to love God, too.

But now in your silence you go about carefree with your white life, your white problems and your carefree dates at the local brewery. You tell me that there are better ways to fight white supremacists than what I have asked the ministers to offer to our parish. You tell me there are better ways, because you do not trust what those who are ACTUALLY affected by white supremacist violence are telling you to do. You continue to choose “studying” James Cone, Michelle Alexander, mujerista theology and womanist theology in your white small groups because you’d rather tell me “not yet” and that there is a purpose for your studying. You’d rather keep “studying” forever than to eventually change policies that hurt the people of color that you call Sibling in Christ. As if “studying” keeps you from taking concrete actions. You continue to start your own organizations with your blind-spots than to take the leadership of immigrants, Black Lives Matter organizers, and trans women who are fighting for their lives and know about their own needs better than you do. You believe that you know better. You refuse to acknowledge that your “knowing” better than the least of these is what got us to this dangerous political climate.

I see evil living in your home, in your homogeneous, fake-progressive places of worship– this evil of complacency. I see you enabling white supremacy and patriarchy, because you are too afraid to confront the injustice and patterns of dominance in your sphere of influence. You think that the problem of white supremacy is only the problem of of Neo-Nazis in Charlottesville and Skinheads in Berkeley. You think the only misogynist to worry about is Trump. You excuse the misogynistic “jokes” from your pastor and friends. You cannot see the ways that you hurt me and my peers on the margins of society and neither do you care enough to see.

You shut yourself out from a healthy communion with me and those who suffer from state and policy violence, and it makes me wonder if you want to shut yourself out from the Kin-dom of God? Are you choosing to live in the realm of the dead? Or are you willing to sell yourself to the devil for the fleeting and empty promises that whiteness and patriarchy offers? Don’t you know that your silence and inaction in the face of injustice is killing your soul?

God! I cannot depend on those who say with their lips that they love me! So, I must call upon God for who else is there to turn to? Every single day, I feel afraid. I have too much anxiety to leave my home. Too much anxiety to face the world and to do my daily tasks. Sometimes too anxious and too depressed to eat, because the world around me despises and fears my existence. But I praise God, because God has brought me this far despite the violence of the white and patriarchal Church.

God saves me because the ways of  dominance and the promises of Empire never will.

There are too many who say that they love God, but they unknowingly hate the marginalized. They hate those who are crushed by the weight of Empire. They do trust the instruction and wisdom of the poor, the trans person, the black woman, and all those who are hated by society, because they do not fear God. They continue to elevate and center the powerful of this earth instead.

My fellow Christians attack me and those on the margins whom they claim to love and wish to protect. They silence us, because the truth of our lives and our pain sound too harsh to them. They use words that are smooth like butter, writing declarations of their condemnation of white supremacy for their organizational and church websites. But their words feel like swords — they inflict wounds on me when their smooth words are followed by no commitment to me and those others among me who are suffering.

God will show them how wicked all of this posturing, apathy and inaction is. God will show that there are consequences to their lack of humanity towards the marginalized of this world. Those who turn their backs on the undocumented immigrant, the trans person, the black woman — they have blood on their hands and cannot be called friends. They are thirsty for blood, though their smooth words would say otherwise. In this way, they prove that they are deceitful and cannot be trusted.

I trust that God will take care of this wickedness. And I trust that God will help me through another day, for God is my friend when the Church is not.