Oh 2020. I wish I could say you’ve been on fire and that all my #blackgirlmagic is making the unfathomable happen, but January of this new year was pretty sobering, painful, in fact. Though I trust it actually will be quite wonderful eventually, it feels inauthentic to pretend that the journey toward reaching goals and living into the vision I have for myself and my life will be easy or merely ascendant, with no grit, no challenging lessons, no suffering. Rather, 2020 is coming in as real as it wants to be, reminding me that breaking and mending, sorrow and heartache are equally a part of the wholehearted tale of love and triumph, though we mostly tend to edit them out.

Me, standing in the “Door of No Return” at Elmina Castle on Cape Coast, Ghana,  January 1, 2020

2020 began for me on Cape Coast in Ghana for the Year of Return, and the irony of ringing in the New Year with a celebration on the shores of the birthplace of the Transatlantic Slave Trade was not lost on me. I walked in the footsteps along the path to the Ancestral River at Assin Manso, the final bathing place of African captives whose fates were stolen and forced to begin the harrowing journey into a “peculiar kind of institution”. As the water flowed over my feet, I pictured being under the refreshingly cool bamboo canopy under drastically different circumstances. Later, when I stood inside the slave dungeons at Elmina Castle, on top of petrified menses, vomit, and feces, and I slipped in and out of a kind of dream-like consciousness. I could only be present for mere seconds at a time to the shadow, the relentless inhumanity of history. Overcome by the facts of my DNA, that my existence signifies an inner ferociousness of spirit possessed by my ancestors, I kept wondering, over and over again, does this same fierceness exist in me? Do I have this same unremitting resiliency in my bones, lying dormant, waiting to be summoned when necessary? What I do know for sure: if I can spend the next year abiding in the truth of their resiliency, faithfulness, strength and love, and leave this world better than the way I found it, I will have lived an extraordinary and noteworthy existence.

All that to say: my 2020 personal intentions and visions were born out of that unforgettable trip. Yet, today I confess that 2020 has already been a doozy, giving me plenty of heartache and challenge to test my resilient mettle against. Among the challenges: a student died suicide the day before my birthday at the school where I teach as a health educator. I started working with a private client whose close friend had also died by suicide just weeks prior. And then my nephew had a seizure and was hospitalized for a week, the circumstance of which, to my surprise, brought up old fractures within my own family. To top it off, I discovered that in spite of our best efforts, some relationships and commitments that I have poured googobs of time and energy into, simply are not worth me hemorrhaging my most precious emotional, mental and spiritual resources for. And that one really, really left my heart aching.

I had to take a pause, and ask in earnest: what the hell is going on in the world right now? What is going on with me? There was a particular afternoon in my office at work when a sudden feeling of heat in my chest seized me. I could literally feel the gigantic landslide of sorrow and anguish just minutes away from making itself quite visible and as messy as can be in my professional place of work. This fiery tension in my heart, the felt experience of my own heart breaking, prompted me to fire off a series of texts to every friend I know in NY with a therapist, and also a few to folks I knew had healers on speed dial that might live somewhere outside of New York. To my chagrin, it took days to see someone in person. I am grateful that the anxiety and sorrow that finally overflowed was not life-threatening in any way. Rather, it was  eye-opening to confront the reality that so many people who desire health in a moment of emotional overwhelm (or who might suffer from mental illness) face when seeking help: it is damn hard to find a good mental health professional when you need one most.

Altogether, I spoke with a few people, but mostly all I did was slow down. I cleared my schedule. I gave myself permission to do little to nothing when I got home. I went to bed at 8pm and no later than 9pm for a full two weeks and counting. I gave myself permission to not be caught up in the frantic pace of people on the NY city subways and buses during my morning and evening commute to school. In the midst of experiencing a heavier heart, simple and quiet activities have brought me comfort and have helped me feel whole again: cooking nourishing meals, writing, perusing dozens of magazines for images that inspire, cleaning my apartment, hanging new pictures on my walls, soaking in almond milk, lavender, honey and rose petal baths, getting on buses that obscure my view of my environment a little less, editing dark and villain-filled media from my streaming accounts, going to bed at 9pm, and falling asleep before my current favorite 30-minute evening meditation recording ends.

January cracked my heart open, but fortunately, it’s hasn’t actually been impaired. My sorrow, my suffering, all the undesired thoughts and fears that arose had a very important role to play at this moment in my life. Swimming in  weeks of unpleasantness alerted me to the emotional and spiritual needs that I have that I have been ignoring. Practicing self-care through simple, mindful moments daily has reacquainted me with a softer, more attuned version of myself. Heartbreak is breaking me open into a fuller, freer, more self-aware, and more resilient me, rather than a shattered, incomplete and fragmented version of myself. Heartbreak is something most of us aim to avoid, but the process of mending a heart back together again is one sure way to become truly whole and to get free.

Let the new year officially begin. Ase.