How Do We Care for Ourselves? How Do We Care for One Another?

A photograph of a rainbow taken from an airplane over a city

Content Warning: Trauma; multiple possible mental health triggers related to teaching; disordered eating

It has been a long week.

I am tired.

Among a myriad of meetings and getting a semester off the ground in my new role as department chair, this week, I began analyzing a large data set of current and former P-12 US teachers. The question I started analyzing was:

Please explain (in as much detail as you feel comfortable) how teaching has impacted your physical/ mental well-being

There are 514 responses. Early thematic categories: stress/ stress related effects; anxiety; depression; exhaustion/ fatigue/ sleep disorders; PTSD/ trauma; burn out; disordered eating/ weight fluctuation/ digestive issues; addiction; bullying; self-harm/suicidality; blood pressure issues/ hypertension; migraines; respiratory issues; bladder/kidney issues. Most respondents indicated multiple concurrent issues.

The stress of the profession comes up a lot in the data. This stress comes from administration (mentioned often) and chaotic school environments, parents, high stakes testing, challenges balancing the overwhelming demands of teaching with life outside of teaching (including the struggle to prioritize one’s own family and one’s health & well-being), fear of (or actual trauma from) school shootings, high stakes assessments, targeted attacks from the media. Sometimes educators also reported stress from students themselves (although as a source of stress, students were mentioned often in the context of not being able to support/ address their needs).

There are multiple stories of young teachers who are told by health practitioners that it’s unusual for them to have x condition at their age and it’s likely stress-induced or related. Others tell stories of mental or physical health issues that disappear on weekends, over the summer, or post retirement. There are many participants who report taking medication for mental health related illnesses or self-medicating through food or alcohol.

I am only through coding 8 of 28 pages of data.

To pace myself, I can only go through 2 pages of responses a day.

It is a lot to hold.

And it is so relatable, in many ways.

I have always loved teaching.

I only know how to teach with my whole heart.

I constantly push(ed) myself to do everything I could to support my students, work with their families (when I taught middle school) and improve professionally.

My first year of teaching, I would go the entire day without eating or using a restroom, and then be ravenously hungry and pull into one of the fast food drive thrus on the way home, sometimes finishing an entire meal in less than 5 minutes, my first of the day, as I was driving home around 6pm.

I went back to teaching 6 weeks after my son was born. He was tiny in daycare and got really sick almost immediately. We had to rush him to the ER when I was worried he might have meningitis at 2 months old (he didn’t, but it was super scary for our family, as first time newborn parents). I had terrible insurance. I spent the rest of that year trying to pay off the bills from my (and his) hospitalization following his birth and then the subsequent ER visit.

I’ve been in my classroom, with students, under a desk, during a lockdown with an active shooter that was not a drill. (If you’ve read this blog for a long time, you know that I have close connections to multiple mass shootings so active shooter situations are extremely triggering for me) I’ve taken on much secondary trauma, when a popular student at our school died suddenly on our campus, when students have reported abuse (that I have subsequently had to report) to me, when my students have lost friends or family members to violence.

I have struggled with balance. I continue to struggle with a tendency to overwork because there is always more to do. This puts my family behind my work and myself last.

I have had periods of serious disordered eating which has landed me in the hospital, major mental health challenges, been verbally attacked (once while pregnant) by parents, challenged by administrators for advocating for more humanizing grief support for our students and my colleagues. I’ve had multiple oral surgeries due to night grinding because of stress; I had migraines for a period while teaching. I used to get laryngitis every week and get my voice back Sunday night, just to start all over again.

All of this (well, I haven’t seen night grinding yet, but sleep disturbances are there) is in the data. Over and over. And more. Different but the same.

I left one type of teaching (middle school) for another (teacher education). I never have really been able to imagine a time when I wouldn’t teach in some capacity. Even though all of it. Because I love students and I love education, and I believe in the transformative power of learning, particularly in, with and for community.

Then, last year, I took a sabbatical. And had a mid-life crisis. And began unpacking years and years and years of ignoring myself. I had almost forgotten the sound of my own voice. I had forgotten what brought me joy. I had become so much a product of productivity that I lost myself.

The irony of the core of my work being about humanizing education was that I had completely lost touch with my own humanity.

I see this in so many of the responses shared in this survey data. I feel it in my bones. I know it, viscerally.

I know it’s structural, that we have to work to change the systems that demand such labor. I know it. I am working towards it, in multiple ways, with multiple collaborators.

But, I also know (well, I’m learning…I have a ways to go) the power of boundaries, of saying no, and of refusing to put myself last.

So, how do we begin to care for ourselves? How do we begin to care for one another?

I’m not sure about the answer for others, but the answer for me is always found in community. I could not be learning about boundaries without a 7 year old who demands her mother, friends who throw shade at me until I stop taking on more things (and threaten to fly from their homes to mine to say no for me if I don’t say no for myself), office colleagues telling me to go home and stop sending e-mails after hours, and accountability partners who remind me that I am more than my work, that I am loved for who I am, and that I am better when I am really present rather than really productive. I am reminded when I take the time to connect with myself and with those who I really love, when I let go of that one last thing to do, when I breathe deeply, laugh loudly, brew a perfect cup of tea, then I can bring myself to fight for better, to bear witness, to advocate for others, just as I am standing for myself.

If you’re reading this, I hope you have community, and if you don’t, I hope you’ll make it a priority to create community with people who get it, with people who value you and have your back, with people who will call you on your stuff, and remind you that you’re more than (even) the (extremely valuable) work you do, and that you’ll distance yourself from those that drain your energy, as you can.

I know that individual choices don’t solve institutional problems. I know that there must also be real changes to working conditions for teachers, we, as a society, must respect and value the work teachers do, we must invest in schools, transform the ways we structure teacher time, trust, honor & value teacher expertise. We have to pay teachers better, we have to make teaching sustainable. Teachers deserve better. Students deserve better. Our society deserves better.

I know all of this, and that this will not happen (unfortunately) overnight.

But pockets of humanity remind us that there is another way.

There’s a lot more data to sort through, a lot more (formal, published) writing to do, a lot more work to do for my day job, a lot of things to manage for my family.

But tonight, my act of quiet resistance is sitting, in a quiet house, where everyone else is sleeping, with a cup of perfectly brewed jasmine dragon pearl tea while writing this blog, releasing for a moment all of it, breathing, being, and soon going to sleep myself.

We can begin a revolution of care…for ourselves, and one another. We must because what is now will never be sustainable.

Full & Empty

Picture of a gas tank meter at empty

I have been on a very long journey of accepting my humanity and giving myself grace when I make mistakes.

It is not easy.

In the past week, I’ve been careless with my words twice and (albeit unintentionally) hurt two people who I think the world of.

In both cases, I was too tired to choose the best words to convey my actual feelings, and ended up saying nearly the opposite of what I meant.

In both cases, the people I hurt were gracious and generous with me, giving me an opportunity to take responsibility, right the wrong as best I could, and forgiving me in love.

I consider myself lucky in this, that their call-ins were quick, allowing me to respond and express what I meant and how sorry I was.

I know impact and intent are not the same thing. I know that responsibility and restoration are possible.

I am grateful for grace.

I also am trying to (without self-flagellation) learn from these situations.

Here’s what I’ve learned today:

  1. I am doing too much. It makes me tired and rushed, and that leads to carelessness with words. Words are important. They can damage relationships and hurt people. So when I am tired and rushed, it is better, sometimes, to be silent, or to carefully reread when I am fresher, because my words deserve my time, as do the people I’m in community with.
  2. I still carry deep trauma of times I was not allowed to explain myself, when someone I cared about did not believe me when I apologized. Or of times that I said something hurtful and couldn’t repair the damage done. Because of this, making these types of mistakes will ALWAYS bring some level of remembrance. It is deep and hard, but my mistakes don’t have to define me, and they actually don’t to most people.
  3. I can grow and learn to forgive myself, particularly when I know I have done what I can to repair the situation. I can also do better and pause when I see this happening more than once in a short period of time.

I am learning that I have a responsibility to speak with care because people are listening. That is a lot but it is also a privilege, one that I must remember to use judiciously and with my full presence.

Breathe In, Breathe Out

Breathing gif: Inhale, pause, exhale, pause

For the last 4 weeks, I have been holding my breath.

It’s not uncommon during this time of year when I am always looking for grief to come find me.

But this year, with my (fully-masked) son contracting COVID-19 from his Taekwondo practice just before the new year, the virus making its way unceremoniously through our family in more or less the most lengthy process possible (with nearly 7 days between each case manifesting), and a four-week rolling isolation period, it’s been hard to breathe. Literally and figuratively.

Today, my partner, who was the last person in our family to contract the virus, tested negative, ending our 4-week isolation and returning us to the world, still fully-masked, still cautious, but with a bit of relief for the next couple of months and with the reassurance that my son will turn 16 in that time, making him eligible for the adult dose of his booster (the 12-15 dose was approved the day AFTER he began showing symptoms).

In this time, I’ve been aware how important community care is. My community has not only asked how to help, they have just shown up, dropping off care packages, groceries, sending gift cards, checking in with notes and messages. And I’ve learned to ask and depend on others as well. When we were all isolated in the first two weeks, I ordered delivery, I asked for friends who offered to add our items to their grocery lists, I asked for grace when I just couldn’t do all the things, I soaked in the love of those sending good wishes. I rested because I couldn’t do anything else.

This is not normal for me.

While I believe in the deep and redemptive power of community care, I couldn’t choose it until I had to or until others chose it for me.

It is hard to unlearn the narrative of individual struggle, productivity, and exhaustion.

And while it was powerful and transformative, I also know there is still so much unlearning for me to do.

I haven’t been able to breathe, to reflect, to write, for four weeks. I continued to create to a degree and have been getting what needs to get done completed, but I am spent instead of energized. I felt constantly in a state of alarm because I have been in a state of disequilibrium. I am just beginning to come out of that today, with my partner’s negative test, with my children’s negative tests and being back to their lives.

I couldn’t see it when I was in it.

I couldn’t feel myself holding my breath.

Even when I was resting, I was not at rest.

But today, I am breathing deeply. My schedule does not feel so daunting although it is full. I am taking time this morning to write, to reflect, to be. I am taking a moment to feel all that I have been carrying for four weeks, and in cycles for 27 years, and even before that, at times, my whole life.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

I am constantly working towards a life that is more than survival. Today, I remember my body, my spirit, my heart.

Inhale.

Pause.

Exhale.

Pause.

When Grief Doesn’t Look Pretty

I don’t feel like looking for an image.

Honestly, I don’t feel like writing about grief. I said as much today.

But grief doesn’t always listen.

I like to wrap grief in pretty packages of productivity.

Today, right at this moment, grief feels heavy.

It feels like the weight of all the things I’ve been trying to pile on myself to do to avoid thinking about grief, like a pile of things that are always there to do, that have collapsed on me.

It feels like the labored breathing of my lungs from walking around the block and not knowing if that labor comes from anxiety or COVID residual effects or grief.

It feels like the weight of the tears that are constantly held at bay. And even when I give myself the grace and permission to cry, they don’t come because they’ve been held back for so long.

This extra weight carried from task to task.

I wonder why I wake up tired and I stay tired and I go to bed tired, but I don’t really wonder.

My body feels the weight, accumulated over nearly 27 years, exacerbated by absorbing further loss that comes through deeply loving.

I keep loving so grief will be inevitable.

I know there is grace if I ask, but I am tired of asking, tired of talking, tired of telling.

Tired from grieving.

(W)Resting

Woman's hand holding a mug that reads "I Can't Even"

Well, we are 12 days into 2022 and clearly this is a year of letting go of what should be and accepting what is.

I am tired.

I’m partly tired because I have COVID which I got from the member of my family who has religiously worn a KN95 mask outside of our house since the beginning of the pandemic who got it from TaeKwonDo and showed symptoms the day before he was eligible for a booster.

I am also tired because I can’t taste anything and food has always been a source of joy and now it’s become something to consume without feeling, for survival.

I’m tired because just as we’re nearing the end of family isolation, my 6 year old has a sore throat and is losing her voice.

I’m tired because I wanted to do a perfect model of an assignment for my teacher candidates and I just can’t. I can only do a good enough model and even that is hurting my brain.

I’m tired because it’s hard for me to let go of perfectionism and workaholism, even after a semester of sabbatical…or maybe particularly after a period of rest.

My grip is tight on what I want to happen, even when I know intellectually that I need to both show myself grace and get some rest.

I have a whole community around me, reminding me of what I need to do even if I don’t feel like I can.

But it’s still hard.

I know I’ve got to let some of the things go.

I need to heal.

I have to accept that there are so many things out of my control at this time and gripping on to things that make me feel like I have control over anything, while it’s worked for a very long time, is not always the right answer.

I need to breathe.

I need to rest.

But it’s still hard.

So very hard.

Transition

Photograph of a butterfly with blue wings on a green leaf

I am very bad with transitions.

When I can breathe and treat myself with grace and generosity, I can see that it is understandable that transitions and uncertainty are stressful for me.

I am a trauma survivor.

My experiences with multiple acute traumatic incidents over time and prolonged grief have led me to crave certainty, security and quick resolution.

But my empathetic, caring nature and my life circumstances have led me to multiple situations in which transitions are necessary, and are not necessarily bad, but are inherently stressful.

I’m stressed, Friends.

My sister arrives on Sunday and I am so grateful for her arrival. I am so grateful that she is safe, that she has a home to come to, and that we have the support of other family and an incredible community to welcome her.

But it’s stressful for a million and one reasons.

One of the main reasons is because this transition reminds me of past transitions when I felt I couldn’t or didn’t do enough; I didn’t make the right decisions; I failed the people I loved.

I don’t want to fail my sister.

I know my father and my sister’s mother are both deeply grateful and are trusting me to keep my sister safe.

But we live in such an unsafe society right now to be a young Asian American woman, and a new immigrant.

I know my sister is also deeply grateful and is looking forward to being with our family.

But we have lived such different and separate lives. I am old enough to be her mother, but I am not her mother. I worry about respecting her agency, but guiding her with the love and respect that she needs.

I have felt like a failure before, to my own children, whom I deeply love.

What if I fail my sister too?

Again, when I am generous with myself, I can recognize that I am not a failure, that I have made mistakes as a mother and I will likely make mistakes as an elder sister, because I am human and humans make mistakes. But I have never failed to take responsibility for my mistakes, and I have always come back to a baseline of deep respect for my children, just as I will do with my sister.

This is not an easy situation. It is not an easy transition.

It is certainly harder for my sister than for me. I recognize this and am only centering my own challenge with transitions so that I can be more prepared to welcome her in four short days.

My therapist will almost certainly remind me tomorrow that I am a different person with different resources than I was during previous transitions, and she will be right.

I am not going through this transition alone.

I am very bad at transitions alone, perhaps I will always be.

But, I have an incredible community that has been with us throughout this whole journey. I am so moved by my community’s love and commitment to me.

Honestly, I worry about failing you too.

But, I remind myself to breathe.

That part of being in community is trusting myself, and trusting your belief in me and trusting you that you can see the best in me when I am struggling with the weight of transition.

This transition is hard, Friends, but I am grateful to not have to do it alone.

Reckoning, Reclamation, Resistance, and Restoration

Photo of a semi-lit staircase against a dark background

CW: Eating disorder, Suicidality, Trauma (Skip to the Tl;dr if you don’t want to read that content)

Dear Friends,

This post is a hard one, but one I’ve been contemplating for a very long time. It’s a conversation I need to have with you all and there is no better time than today.

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

May is also Mental Health Awareness Month.

Mental health is something that is not openly talked about in Asian American families and communities. It was certainly not something that was talked about in my family growing up. In fact, problems at home or difficult emotions were always something that shouldn’t be talked about at all, but should be swallowed, held in and kept to ourselves, in our homes, a secret.

I have always cried too much.

I have always talked too much and talked too loudly.

I have always been the black sheep of my family.

I have always carried shame.

I swallowed a lot, for a long time.

Until I couldn’t swallow anything else.

For a long time, I have been fairly open about my struggles with mental health since beginning an academic career in 2012. Mostly, I have been open about my complicated grief process, spanning from the sudden death of my mother in car accident in the spring of my junior year. Grief is a somewhat acceptable form of struggle. I’ve approached my grief and healing with growing honesty and vulnerability in the past few years, particularly over the past year.

But there are some things about me that I haven’t written about because they have felt like too much: too much pain, too much vulnerability, too much shame.

However, shame festers in the silence. And I am not ashamed of where I have come from and who I am today.

Today, I am ready to tell the story of my darkest times, to reckon with these times publicly because in the light, there is healing.

I want to tell this story not just for my healing, but perhaps also because those I love may benefit in knowing that there is a beyond one’s darkest time, because I have come so far from a time that was not so long ago.

And also because I want people to know that you know someone who has struggled with suicidality.

Because you know me.

But, first, a deep breath.

A moment to remember that you are my friends.

A moment to remember that I am not ashamed.

I have never been a good boundary setter. As a teenager, my mother set boundaries for me until she died and when she died, I had no practice in setting boundaries for myself. Wanting to be a people pleaser, I threw myself into working as hard as I could to make other people happy. I was eager, and talented. Working hard made people like me. People were drawn to me because not only would I do things well, but I would listen to them deeply. I could see people in ways they needed to be seen; I could hear their truths and accept them for what they were. I gave and gave, and felt like in return, I gained validation, a sense of why I should stay alive after my mother died.

I needed validation and approval to stay alive, and in fact, the first time I thought about killing myself, I stood by the window of the house where I was living with a rusty razor blade in my hand thinking about how much relief I would feel if I could just die. Because I had been a disappointment. Because people I loved and respected told me that I was a disappointment. And because I thought I was a burden to everyone, that no one understood me and that I was completely alone.

What kept me alive was not wanting my brother to suffer the loss of his entire family in less than a year, and a chance to honor my mother in my valedictorian speech.

I began to work harder to gain people’s approval, to shut off all the bad, selfish things that I might want and stay focused on doing “the right thing” for others, so that people would love me.

Ten years later, shortly after my son was born and my daughters’ adoptions were finalized, I began to get very sick. I lost a lot of weight when breastfeeding my son. I wasn’t sleeping well. This went on for years, and even when my son stopped breastfeeding, I kept losing weight. One of my daughters had a very serious mental health crisis. Because I didn’t understand mental health well, I thought that, in addition to weekly mental health sessions, what my daughter needed most was someone to listen to her. Perhaps this was partly true. But, I became my daughter’s only lifeline. She left therapy when she turned 18. If I was not on the phone with her,  she began to spend money to fill the time and emptiness she was feeling. I never told her no. I just kept paying off her credit card bills. I wanted her to be happy, and healthy, and to have someone who deeply cared about her, all the things I needed when I lost my mother at her age. I was naive and well-intentioned, but ill-equipped to support her.

My weight kept dropping. We began to slip into debt. I kept working. I took on more work, in fact, to keep up with my daughter’s spending. I stopped being able to process most foods. I didn’t feel hungry.

I started wanting to die again.

Not to kill myself actively this time, but to die.

I felt it would be better for everyone.

I couldn’t be the mother my son needed.

I couldn’t be the mother my daughters needed.

I couldn’t even conceive of being the wife my husband needed.

I couldn’t work enough to pay our bills.

I had been rejected from multiple academic job searches that I was well-qualified for, without even a phone interview.

I was working 5 part-time jobs at one point, which I finally realized couldn’t continue, so I went back to teaching full-time and was working in an adjunct faculty role at UC Santa Cruz. One night, driving home along Highway 17 in the Santa Cruz mountains, in the dark, I fantasized about just letting my car go over the side of the road, into the mountain or off a mountain into a ravine.

I thought this would be the very best thing for everyone. It would look like an accident. Everyone would assume that I had just fallen asleep at the wheel.

My family could live off of my life insurance money as I had for several years after my mom died.

No one would know that I just couldn’t go on.

But I thought of my toddler and my daughters, and I fought to get myself home.

I didn’t want to die. I just didn’t think I could go on living.

I thought it would get better through working like it had last time, by trying harder, by doing better, but nothing changed.

I finished that semester and was getting ready to start another, where I would share a TA role back at UC Berkeley, closer to my home, while also teaching full-time at my middle school. I had been breaking down crying in front of students when I would talk to my daughter during my prep period, and she would be upset in a way that couldn’t be resolved before I had to go back to teaching.

I was a mess.

On MLK Jr. weekend of 2011, I hit my breaking point. I didn’t want to die or be dead at that moment, but I started feeling like I was going to die. I began sobbing to my husband that I was going to die. I didn’t know why, but I felt like I was going to die. For months, I had been going to specialists and they couldn’t find anything wrong with me, but I was not well. I felt like one day I would just not wake up.

No one believed me. I seemed to be fine.

So, finally, desperate for someone to recognize that I was, indeed, dying, I called for professional help.

I called the number on the back of my insurance card for behavioral health services.

I told them that I didn’t know what was wrong but I felt like I was going to die.

After talking with me for about 15 minutes, and asking me several questions, the triage nurse asked me if I could safely get myself to an emergency room. My husband drove me there and dropped me off.

I told them I needed a psych eval.

I waited patiently in the waiting room.

Eventually, my name was called.

An intake nurse weighed me and took my vital signs.

I was 84 pounds. And my blood pressure was extremely low.

A doctor asked me what was going on. I began to tell them all the things.

Once I started telling my story, I couldn’t stop crying.

The doctor looked at me kindly and told me that they were going to recommend me for inpatient treatment for an eating disorder.

I was confused. How could I have an eating disorder? I wasn’t trying not to eat. I just couldn’t eat.

But I knew I needed to be in the hospital. I needed care.

I was hospitalized inpatient for 10 days and when through 6 weeks of subsequent extended outpatient eating disorder treatment.

In the midst of this, my daughter felt abandoned, I lost one part-time job and had parents complaining to the district at my full-time job that I could not possibly be “that sick” if I was posting on social media.

I felt like everything I had worked so hard for was disappearing. I was disappointing everyone.

On the outside, everything I feared might happen was happening.

But as I started eating again, I stopped wanting to disappear.

Somehow, on the inside, I began feeling more alive.

The program literally saved my life.

Seeking mental health care saved my life.

Hospitalization saved my life.

It helped me to learn to set boundaries, to prioritize what I needed to survive, to recognize yellow and red flags, and to seek out community. I am lucky because I had medical insurance and access to help. Without it, I would not likely be where I am today. I might not be alive.

Mental health treatment did not fix all my problems. It certainly did not change the external stressors that I was facing. But it kept me alive, and it started a process of recovery.

Friends, why does my story matter?

Many of you did not know me at that time, and even if you did, you may not have known what was going on. I hid things well. I still do.

Most of you who know me now would not ever guess how close I was to dying just a decade ago. Or a decade before that.

Mental health is so stigmatized. I didn’t know how to reach out before I reached my breaking point. I only reached out in a state of complete desperation. I had been dying in front of people’s eyes and I couldn’t ask for help.

This year has been so hard for so many of us, including me. It has pushed me to my limits. But, it has also shown me how much I have grown. I am still not the best at boundary setting. I still struggle with overworking and not prioritizing myself. But I am alive, I am in therapy, and I am at a healthy weight. I have a community that sees me and checks in with me regularly. I have friends who will stage a full intervention when they see me going down the path to illness again.

Maybe you also feel pushed to your limits.

Maybe you don’t and have the strength to support someone.

Maybe you’re still reading because you’re interested in my business…

I’m not sure, but I’m wrapping soon.

This letter to you has become long, so here’s the Tl;dr:

Your life matters.

Your mental health matters.

Seeking mental health care saves lives.

It is SO SO HARD, but you can do it. And if you don’t feel like you can do it alone, find someone who will help you do it.

There is life after a crisis.

Check on your strongest friends, the ones who do all the things.

We don’t see the things we aren’t looking for.

I love you, Friends. And I love myself, and where I’ve come in this journey. I am not afraid or ashamed of my mental health struggles. I am proud of my willingness to heal, of my humanity and my better health, of seeking help in community. There is hope in community.

I see you because I see myself in you.

I am holding space for you to get what you need to live and to embrace your full humanity.

Take care,

Betina

#31DaysIBPOC Blog Badge

This blog post is part of the #31DaysIBPOC Blog Series, a month-long movement to feature the voices of indigenous and teachers of color as writers and scholars. Please CLICK HERE to read yesterday’s blog post by Chanea Bond (and be sure to check out the link at the end of each post to catch up on the rest of the blog series). 

Broken

Photograph of a blue plate broken into many pieces on the a gray cement floor

Today, there were beautiful people and beautiful moments and joy and community in those beautiful people and beautiful moments. For that I am grateful. Community, beauty, joy, moments are keeping me alive.

But today, I realized that I am completely broken.

I have been cracking for awhile, hairline fractures belying the tensions of this time that have been causing me pain and making me sick.

But today, I broke.

It could have happened any day, really. But, it was more likely on a Monday, a day filled with all the meetings and e-mails that were held back from over the weekend, a day where I was misunderstood from above, below, and to the side, a day when there was too much to do and never enough time.

I cannot keep trying to explain myself.

I cannot keep triple booking myself and working harder than anyone and everyone I know.

I cannot keep brushing myself aside. I cannot keep putting my family, my health, my well-being, behind my productivity.

I know my productivity is not my worth.

But ironically, the more I feel the tensions pulling me apart, the harder I work.

It has been the only way to prove my worth.

I have been breaking.

But today, I broke.

Today, I felt like crying the entire day. There was no shaking it once I got into the rhythm of work. There was no smiling and laughing it away.

Today, I felt the weight of all I am carrying the entire day. There was no relief even in the offers of support.

Today, I broke.

But there is hope for the broken.

Even today, there was hope, if I could bring myself to listen. There was support. There were the reminders that I could let go and people would be there to catch me. There were reminders that people appreciate who I am, the work that I do, and the heart that I do it with, but more importantly that they appreciate my life, my existence and my well-being above all that I produce.

But, if I am to embrace hope, I have to choose it.

I have to choose a future.

I have to choose a hard stop.

I have to choose myself.

I cannot gather myself, the pieces of myself, if I cannot recognize the truth of my brokenness.

I cannot heal, cannot pour the gold into the cracks to reassemble myself, if I keep going this way.

Today, I realized that I am completely broken.

It is hard to see myself in pieces.

I hate it.

But I will keep breaking into smaller and smaller pieces until I crumble to dust or become unrecognizable.

If I am to embrace hope, I have to choose it.

I have to choose a future.

I have to choose a hard stop.

I have to choose myself.

Silence, Stories, Stress and Solitude

Photograph of a person holding their finger to their lips

“Leave the pity and the blame
For the ones who do not speak
You write the words to get respect and compassion
And for posterity
You write the words and make believe
There is truth in the space between”

Tracy Chapman, Telling Stories

There are many spaces in between what I can and can’t say about all that is currently happening in my life and around me.

For the safety of those I love, I choose silence at this time.

But silence is exhausting when healing is found in writing and community.

What I can say is that I am a doer, a thinker, a humanitarian, and a person of faith.

Everything around me is challenging all of those identities.

The stress of things I can’t control are taking a toll on my body, making me pause.

This stress is taking a toll on my sleep, making it hard to think.

All that is going on is showing me the darkest sides of systems, structures, societies and power, making it hard to hold tightly to the humanity of those embedded in these institutions and those that thirst for power without the consideration of others.

But also, this time is reminding me about the beauty of humanity in so many ways, and the very, very tender humanity of individuals who have caused me much pain in the past. I am holding it all. But it is hard.

That which is causing my stress is making my faith all the more challenging and simultaneously all the more important.

I am so grateful to those reaching out. If I don’t respond, please know that your love is seen and felt and acknowledged in the best way I have the strength to do in any given moment. Because of the situation, I cannot safely post my truth publicly at this time, and responding individually and privately can be overwhelming.

I am so grateful to all those asking how they can help. The situation is incredibly complicated and materially, we are making it at this time. I have my reasons for holding back on asking for particular forms of support so I ask for your trust. I’m also so very bad at knowing what I need personally so thank you for those who are just taking things from me.

For those that are praying for me, sending good thoughts, encouraging me to rest, it may not seem like you are doing so much, but you are holding me up.

I am grateful to be seen and held in this time, by those closest to me. I am so grateful for your love.

I hope there will be more to be hopeful about soon.

But until then, thank you for loving me still, in the midst of my exhaustion. When I cannot say more. Until I can speak.

I am writing the words to make believe that there is truth in the space between, where I am residing tonight.

 

The Chasm

Photo of two sides of a mountain pass

It’s been a day, Friends.

Today, Derek Chauvin was convicted on all charges related to the murder of George Floyd. While this is a clear legal victory, as many (including me) have noted, it is not justice.

We don’t live in a just society when the killing of unarmed Black men and women happen on a regular basis at the hands of police.

We don’t live in a just society when people are being shot while they are going to work, at home, at school, at their places of worship, almost daily.

We don’t live in a just society when we begin to assassinate the character of the victims almost immediately after they die because we value our rights more than humanity.

So, it’s heavy even though there was a legal victory today.

Today, I also felt like I failed my child.

My 15 year old brought home an assignment on upstander memoir. I wasn’t happy with the reading list provided, so I offered an alternative title, The Song Poet by Kao Kalia Yang as an alternative. That alternative was rejected despite my son’s attempt via e-mail to explain how the book fit the prompt.

My child has read one book, in 10 years of schooling that had an Asian protagonist (in 5th grade, Linda Sue Park’s A Single Shardbut in his 3 of years of secondary schooling at his middle-high school, he has read only novels written by white authors, and only one by a woman.

Anyone who knows me in real life knows that #RepresentationMatters could pretty much be my middle name so really, this is not acceptable.

I was done today after my son received the e-mail that he could not, in fact, do his project on this alternative title, for the reason that the book had not been read by the teacher. The other books on the list, while not only by white men, had problematic portrayals of Muslim culture that I felt reified Muslim fundamentalism in ways that were troubling.

I wrote a direct and clear e-mail to the teacher about the importance of representation and my concern about the curriculum and his denial of my child’s alternative text (after I google searched for his email address and realized he was on Twitter and had most recently retweeted a tweet that blamed critical race theory and remote learning for making American students stupid among other incredibly problematic tweets).

He was nice about it, let me know that there were some diverse text that had gotten cut out because of the pandemic, and then let me know that, for him, teaching thematically around our “common humanity” and asking students to put “themselves in another’s shoes” was more essential than identity, although identity should always be considered.

It was a very diplomatic answer.

He also canceled the assignment, basically taking away the opportunity for extra credit from all students because two parents raised concerns.

I’m so tired.

I wonder how many times kids of color have to put themselves in another’s shoes without ever seeing themselves represented in texts?

I wonder about whether our common humanity when always filtered through one worldview is really common or is simply reproducing the dominant culture.

I wonder about how my child is in a room with a teacher who believes that antiracism is indoctrination, but that conversely seeing the world only through a white canonical lens is building empathy.

I am so tired.

And I feel like, in so many ways, even though this is my life work, if I am failing my own child, am I really making a difference?

I offered proactive alternative solutions — facilitating a book club with representative texts, integrating more diverse book sets into the curriculum, advocating for more diverse texts in the classroom.

I can take next steps — leave the school, write the school board, use my platform to launch a protest, keep working with new generations of teachers to ensure that they do better.

But I am SO TIRED.

I am tired of trying to justify to people that young people need their identities affirmed. I am tired of fighting and finding views that I wish I could unsee.

And my exhaustion is on top of so many things that I am not at liberty to say about my life right now because I worry about endangering people I love when I speak out.

The physical stress and strain of today on top of so many days is too much.

That’s it. That’s the post.

I’m just so freaking tired.