Finding Your Inner Peace

TJV
Written by: Ree G.
August 11, 2019
Updated: August 29, 2019


Image: The Jamerican
Vegan
As women, it goes without saying that we get things done. We are able to hold a variety of positions, and maintain our lives, despite unequal pay and monthly periods or hot-flashes. The list of jobs and careers women have in 2019 are comparable to men. Needless to say, we also carry an extra special trait. Many of us are fortunate enough to become mothers, and raise young men and women that have unlimited potential. This is just one remarkable trait that we own, including keeping a smile on our faces at work while experiencing the worst cramps that feel like your insides got tossed in a shredder (where’s the lie?). How do we do this? We are goddesses, by right, and we are multi-faceted.

Somewhere along my plant-based journey, I realized very quickly that I needed to slow down and own my truth and my emotions. I had been so career driven, pushing to make my Jamaican family proud, that I was slowly losing myself and becoming someone else that I could hardly recognize. As a single black woman with no children of my own personally, the rhetoric is that we have to go to school, get a well-paying career and totally invest ourselves into that career. Last year, I experienced a major shift that changed this perspective and rattled the very foundation that I had built up, based on lies that other people told me- about what it meant to be a black woman.


***


I began experiencing racism at work in the corporate field before I had even gotten the job. I had gone
Image: Masters? Check!
through 5 interviews, which included a presentation and 3 exams to prove that I had a grasp of the English language. Please keep in mind that my Masters degree is in English, and I completed my Undergraduate degree in English as well. My Post-Baccalaureate degree is in English Education, and I am certified to teach grades 7-12. I’ve taught college/adult courses and I also worked summers during college for 4 years, teaching STEM for a program that operated in some of the most top notch universities throughout the U.S. I was in real estate for a number of years, working with city officials and celebrities, as my former boss is the father to a Class A, well televised celebrity. I've dabbled in educational conferences and presented my scholarly articles to known academic platforms. I've also had amazing mentors who've shaped the way I teach, who've been advocates for all students, especially students of other ethnicities. These mentors have done and continue to do imperative, profound work in the educational system from the top level, and they know their stuff. As guardians of equity and advocates for humanity, I have seen what the power of education can do, and it fueled my fire. Above all, my passion for the English language began at the tender age of 3. My mother feared I'd lose touch with my culture and family, and so she would have me write letters to my grandfather back home. My grandfather, a known government official in Jamaica, did not curtail or mince his responses for the sake of my age. In fact, my parents never talked "baby-talk" to me. They simply spoke "the Queen's English". My grandfather's words, however, was poetry in motion.



Image: One of many weekly flights.

Having been colonized by the British, many Jamaicans who were brought up under this regime learned to eradicate their traditional language in school, or code switch. In writing to my grandfather, I learned subtle nuances within the English language, and how powerful words could become, if wielded by the right writer who understood the magic of the pen. When my grandfather passed away, one of the most difficult parts to process was that I no longer had him to share this thing we had going. I lost the person whose timely responses were ripped from me, like a tree being removed down to the roots. There was a snapping, a gnashing, a bleeding from this place inside of me that I have yet to heal, though I attempt to find him the more and more I write. This disconnect, similar to the way avatars connected to their tree of life, is what I seek to mend so often. It is my connection to the past, my ancestors, and the mystery within my understanding of who I am, and my purpose in this lifetime. English was not something I struggled with, by far. In fact, writing is therapy for me, so it came as a complete shock when I was told that I did not do well enough on any of the exams to hold a position at this company. That was only the beginning. 


Image: Home, after attending the Large
Infrastructure Systems Administrators
Conference.
I declined the position after being humiliated during my fifth and final interview. During my presentation to the entire department, I was mocked and belittled by an older white woman who felt that I could not articulate myself properly. I happen to pronounce particular words as the British do, due to the fact that the British English was the language spoken/written at home, aside from the primary language- Jamaican Patoi, a mixture of tribal African languages/dialect and English, with a tiny bit of French and Spanish. Most Jamaicans do this "language dance" unknowingly. I can't always stop and ask if I should use the word "advertisement" with the short or long "I" sound. Most Americans correct me anyway, which is exactly what this older woman did throughout my presentation- interrupting me after every few minutes to question what "this" or "that" meant. Not one person stopped her, or told her she was being inappropriate. I had never experienced that in my life.

Coming from NYC, where racism is present, yet diversity washes over it, every immigrant or person of another ethnicity carries a "you don't want this work" attitude with EVERYONE. It's one of the reasons New Yorkers are stereotyped as "mean", but some of it is just self-advocacy. We go hard, and many songs relate to that reality. If you can make in in New York City, you can make it anywhere. The concrete jungle where dreams are made of. This no-nonsense attitude shows up on the subway, whether standing on the E train by the packed door at Chambers Street, or waiting on the platform for the A at Broadway Junction during rush hour. It shows up in the Jamaican patty shop on 145th and St. Nich if someone tries to skip you, or while teaching a student that just tried to curse you out in front of the class, but forgot that you were the badass Guyanese man who was witty and knew 'yo mama' jokes (my 11th grade high school teacher). 



It definitely comes out on the road, when someone cuts you off on the 59th Street Bridge, and you're praying because you know you're going to find a way to "bad drive" them back, but you're holding your rosary and talking to Mary because you don't want to be that person who winds up on the news. Road rage escalates fairly quickly in NYC, and soon, the person who kneels for Friday prayer in a mosque may be the same person with a bat in their hand, giving you the finger. EVERY person from NYC has that little fire, whether they're wearing a hijab, turban, yarmulke or pum pum shorts, using chopsticks or knife and fork. People from Long Island are not exempt. In fact, one of my friends from Long Island had to be the Queen of road rage. She'd threaten to crash her car into "dumbass bitches" when pulling up beside them at a light, and ever-so-often, I'd wonder if she knew how badass she was. For a woman to be that fearless, I found her "take- no-mess" attitude electrifying, as opposed to unsafe. I admired her gusto and authenticity.

Image: Interview #? I lost count.

Needless to say, people Upstate did not bother me with most of their behaviors. For me, it was the act of letting everything go when things needed to be called out that was what constantly had me wondering if I had fallen into a different portal, and woke up in the Twilight Zone. It didn't dawn on me that by stepping out of NYC, I had entered a new place with completely different customary norms. According to the statistics, over 44% of Erie County citizens voted for the 45th President. Seeing "MAGA" hats and bumper car stickers is the norm up here in this large college town. There is a huge "All Lives Matter" and "Blue Lives Matter" ideology that many cannot grasp as offensive, and if you really want to start a huge forest fire, stand in your truth about Colin Kaepernick and watch wigs fly. I believe some of the most offensive bumper stickers I've ever seen have come out of Upstate and Western New York. In fact, I live in the same city that was infamous for the black baby doll hanging from a noose in one of Canisius College's elevators, making its way onto social media as a joke. It was common to hear of people hanging nooses from their porches in South Buffalo, in support of the Trump campaign.

Yep. That's where I decided to establish myself after college, in hopes that by working hard enough, I could help dismantle a few stereotypes. I was not entirely wrong. Eventually, I began finding like-minded women who were so strong and had voices so big, I felt like they brought NYC to WNY. These women became my inspiration, and I developed a deep appreciation for the lives they led. They were walking in their truth, and unapologetically real.

Ignoring the privileged behaviors that perpetuated further discomfort was what I could not overstand (I stand under no one). In fact, many of my former coworkers shook their heads or laughed at this old woman during my interviews. I ignored her and talked over her in order to complete my presentation. When it was over, she asked unrelated, obnoxious questions, to which I responded with, I'd say, clever clapbacks, but deep down, I knew that I did not want to live in a world where I'd spend each day questioning what parts of this woman mirrored issues I may have had. Far worse was the fact that there were lessons I needed to learn about myself that I did not want to venture into, for the sake of avoiding spiritual cleansing. After receiving my polite, yet frank “no thank you” email a few days later, my then-boss called me from his business trip in London, pleading with me to take the job. I took the position on my bosses word that he'd keep her away from me. Deep down I knew that she'd only get worse. 

My intuition was correct.

The company created a position for me as their IT Trainer, and within 6 months, I worked my way up to the highest title of Executive Corporate IT Trainer (which had never been done before), where I worked closely with the President of the company and many others from various tech companies, prestigious universities and medical centers, to efficiently train staff on software, cyber security updates, etc.- all while merging departments and developing specific training to ensure that a breach in data never occurred. A lot rested heavily on what I trained staff in, and there was a great deal of pressure to be perfect in everything I did. In IT, no one could make mistakes, because one breach could cost a company millions of dollars. For months I’d be gone from home, traveling up to 3 or 4 states per week. Still, I loved my job, but the racism, migro-aggression and constant barrage of white fragility began wearing me down. Many of my coworkers became jealous of the amount of work I produced in a short time, and one woman made my life hell everyday because she felt "threatened" by me. Every document I produced was heavily scrutinized and soon, the work space became hostile. I dealt with coworkers stealing my creative ideas (I’m talking straight off my printer when I stepped away from my desk), making absurd and inappropriate comments about slavery and black people, and even physically threatening me. Little did I know that the company was more of a revolving door for people of other ethnicities other than white.


"Wasn’t I a strong black woman? Wasn’t racism the norm in America? "


I decided to resign from my “illustrious” position after mulling over it all for months. I mean, here I was, finally working at the job of my dreams (more like nightmare), traveling weekly all over the country and using my creativity to enhance the way the staff learned. 


Image: Consistent work stress led to
uncontrollable breakouts  on my skin.
Why would anyone leave that? Wasn’t I a strong black woman? Wasn’t racism the norm in America? Wasn't I from one of the roughest hoods in NYC? Didn't my parents teach me about the strength of my ancestors like Nanny and Dutty Boukman, and that I was a descendant of great warriors? What was a little mental warfare? Why did this get under my skin so much, especially when I was known to always be cool as a cucumber-chill-the "bohemian hippie"? Why couldn’t I just put up and shut up like the other black people in the company who said they'd experienced the same things? 

Why did I want to stay?

This was a large part of the lesson I had to pass through. I had to find my voice from within, to say that enough was enough, and that I would not accept allowing myself to be mistreated because I loved myself enough. I deserved to give myself the gift of peace. I had to follow my heart, which pleaded with me to stop giving the company the greatest asset I had awarded them- my passion for education. If I did not show them how much I knew my worth, they'd only continue to leech me. I had to maintain my integrity. I had to put myself first, but first I had to overstand what that even looked like. The concept of women putting themselves first, especially black women, might seem daunting.

I also learned that some people have their own inner demons that have nothing to do with you. Seeing my former boss cry (a man standing at about 6'5" who fired people at will with no remorse at least once a month) was enough for me to know that he was strong in so many ways, but to stand against a system rooted in racism was beyond his strength in that moment. I left him to deal with this decision he made to stay silent about the known racial aggression I had been dealing with on the job, and while he was hurt by my experiences, he was not going to go against the grain, and it was not my job to show him that he should. It was my job to reveal or expose his own racial biases, in which he could not hide. It was my job to set the parameters and to reinforce the boundaries in place, even if it meant losing one of the greatest bosses I thought I'd ever had.

Before I left, the company had given all the work I created from scratch to the older white woman who'd berated me for months. I was so far from inner peace, I had become consumed with immense grief, and I entered the classroom with this grief, anger and passion, all balled up in my desire to teach. Soon, I found that the pain I experienced was the emotion I needed to acknowledge, to feel just as frustrated, invisible and voiceless as many of my students and the community I served.



***


As a vegan, I started feeling differently about life. Going plant-based changed my life completely, and it opened me to a new way of thinking and feeling. I started owning my empathic nature and accepting myself and my valid emotions. You see, as an empath, you tend to feel a lot throughout the day. If someone is having a bad day and they share it with you, you don’t just feel sorry for their situation. You imagine their walk and you begin to put yourself in their shoes, feeling their pain. Brene Brown has an amazing video on the difference between sympathy and empathy, which explains this concept. 



You talk to people, you may pray for them behind closed doors and you even check up on them if you feel compelled. Usually people are surprised you remembered or cared, but there are others who see this as a weakness and begin to suck your energy from you. If you tend to go the extra mile, you may financially support them or fill in the gaps for them where they need help. It can become overwhelming, especially when you feel alone. Being single doesn’t help either, as you may return to an empty apartment at the end of the day, left to manage your own thoughts and feelings alone.


 Being vegan clears your energy and you begin to feel even more. It can become quite unhealthy and many empaths (if they are not careful) can begin to suffer from depression or a lack of energy and motivation in their own personal lives. Due to the inability to shut this off, it can become detrimental.

Image: I'd like to add empathic
avid tree-hugger to my resumé.
There is an alarming statistical rate of women that leave the tech field. Many forums are dedicated to the stories women share, regarding the hostile work experiences they have encountered in IT (Information Technology). When I resigned, I went into teaching, which was  not any better as far as mental warfare. I had to develop a different kind of strength beyond the one I had from being a substitute teacher. Having your own students for a full year is entirely different than managing students for a day in a different location each day. I began questioning myself. How was I repeating this lesson again? Didn't I choose self-love already? 
Early in, I started learning about the layers of self-love, and how this, like women in general, is multi-faceted. It wasn't a cookie-cutter mission to self-awareness. I had to learn about shielding myself and staying prayed up on a consistent basis. It was also important to keep the classroom environment clear of negative energy, which included the language my students used. It was a fight, but by the end of the school year, I set boundaries so well that my swearers would apologize immediately if any cuss word was just about to slip. I went through fire daily, but everyday I was replenished with the strength I needed to keep pushing.

Still, it was in this space that I learned about what the face of darkness looked like. Within the school system, black educators may encounter various forms of politics that can also become stressful, especially when attempting to figure out how to navigate through the murky waters. Some educators become overwhelmed and discouraged by the workload and imbalance in work/personal life. Teacher pay across the country is also very low, and between keeping a job and keeping lives, many educators live in fear each day. As we see in the U.S., school shootings are common, and it isn’t abnormal to hear a student threaten to shoot up a school. Poor management in U.S. school systems from state legislature to the classroom, a lack of funding and a loose grasp on the severity of school disturbances and mental health issues make it difficult for many educators to feel safe. 

While many schools across the country focus on test scores, they lose sight of the social-emotional aspects of students in their growth process. A lack of funding or unequal distribution of funds (more money is invested in schools that are predominantly white or have better test scores) makes it difficult for urban schools to provide students with proper or adequate emotional and academic support systems. This makes teaching more difficult, as many teachers spend more time managing behaviors than teaching the lessons they plan. Adding to this, many educators seek alternative coping mechanisms such as alcohol to manage their pain and anxiety. It becomes a vicious cycle.

Image: Often times, an educator's desire to see changes in the
lives of their students have a direct impact on the way
they teach and live. It is important for educators
to notice when they are grasping vs. holding.


According to data gathered from a SAMSHA (Substance Abuse and Mental health Services Association) study, teachers are close to the top of the list within the professions that suffer from alcoholism. The editorial staff for www.alcohol.org state that “Educational services: Among teachers, school administrators, professors, tutors, substitute teachers, and others in the education field, 4.7 percent reported heavily abusing alcohol in the month before the survey.” I found that some educators would make references to drinking the pangs from the day away, or purchasing enough wine for the week to get through rough days. I found myself wanting to dabble, however, I’d never been an alcohol drinker, so I would turn down gatherings at the bars with my coworkers all the time. I wanted to spend time alone in nature, and that was where I’d find my solace.


Image: Ree believes that "Black educators have
to find the strength within to tell their stories.
It is a great way to teach students how to
own their truth and find their voices."
I tell this story not only because I want to shine a light on some very real issues that our country is not addressing, but also because as Black women, many of us are expected to put up and shut up. I found that the best way to manage my stress was to surround myself with supportive, positive sisters, and to do the things I needed to do to heal myself, especially after a difficult day of work. I don’t plan to resign from teaching any time soon. I’m just digging my toes into the sand of education and finding that I can be of great service to my students and the community, but at the same time, I cannot lose myself in the process. The greatest thing that I have learned in teaching is that you must find one good thing each day to celebrate. It could be a student telling you how much they appreciate you being in their lives or a teacher giving you a pep talk after a rough class. That act of gratitude for the good in each day will keep you when you are faced with mountains. Also seeing your experience in the classroom as a mutually beneficial learning environment changes your perspective. If you teach your students the concept of paying it forward, they'll enhance your workday. Students need to know that you are a safe haven, but setting up appropriate boundaries also ensures that you do not give of yourself until you are completely depleted.


“Black women are expected to be there for everyone else, but when we are looking for someone to be there for us, often times we feel alone and isolated.”


I have found a small circle of women who are always there for me, without fail, to offer an encouraging word and to remind me to be kinder to myself. I’ve found that you cannot be intentional enough about who you allow in your corner or circle of trust. The energy you surround yourself with can either make or break you, and it’s important to ensure that the women in your circle truly care about you for who you are, and not what you can do for them. It’s more difficult to open up to people you cannot trust, and it becomes unhealthy when you have to question the friends in your life. Black women are expected to be there for everyone else, but when we are looking for someone to be there for us, often times we feel alone and isolated. Eliminating friendships you question or have doubts about will tremendously impact your day -to-day life, as it is essential to carry energies with you that uplift you and do not cause confusion in your spirit. How do you know when something is off? You'll feel it in your gut. Trust your gut.


Having a strong circle of trust can truly change the way you manage your stress. Below is a list of suggestions that have worked for me to get through the last few months of my life. Taking the time for yourself, even for 15 minutes a day, can help to set you on track for the next day and bring about more peace in your life.



  1. Commit to a plant-based diet for 7 days


Image: A glass of freshly juiced grapes,
lemons and a Fuji apple.
I cannot stress how a cleaner diet has changed the way I physically felt on the inside. Not only did a plant-based lifestyle allow me to drop 62 pounds in about a year (and maintain), but it also healed me from a multitude of illnesses, like asthma, bronchial breathing problems, ulcers, gastrointestinal issues, rheumatoid arthritis and tumors (benign), chronic migraines, etc (all of which I was on medication for by the age of 29). A plant-based lifestyle will leave you feeling lighter, healthier and cleaner from the inside, which will radiate on the outside as well. I also received mental focus and my heart feels lighter because my food is karma-free.


  1. Do a fun activity that makes you feel like a kid again
I found that tapping into my inner child and roller skating again really helped me to release my stress, while giving me an activity to do that was fun and physically engaging. I'd post videos on Instagram, welcoming fellow skaters to bask in the beauty of my cool Moxie's. 


Writing songs and creating music was also therapeutic and it helped me to exercise parts of my brain that I’d neglect during the strenuous work week. Singing also helps. The power of voice and vibration can alter your mood, so be sure to listen to music that makes you feel good.




  1. Connect with a sister and go walking together or work out in the gym together


I started walking with a friend who allowed me to share my daily crap with, and vice versa. I trust her, so I only recommend talking to woman you trust, but in walking, we were able to speak about areas of our life where we may have bottled it all up. The act of being in motion as we got out all the gunk always felt so good. We’d either walk at dawn when it was quiet and peaceful, or at night when there was a cool breeze. Sometimes we’d cry or get upset as we spoke, but releasing the emotion really helped to keep me sane. You can also go alone, but keeping active is crucial to creating a healthy environment from within.


  1. Read forums or follow positive plant-based websites or pages


I started following Plant Powered Sisters before I officially (seriously) committed to my vegan journey well over 2 years ago.  Reading about other women and their experiences connected me to a network of women that empowered me and helped me to see that I was not alone in my walk. It felt good to see others in their walk, and how they got over. Each woman is so unique, yet her story gives a voice to Black women who are marginalized across the globe. I recommend finding pages that make you feel better when you scroll through them. If it doesn’t enhance the way you feel, you might want to think about unfollowing certain pages, or setting up your page so that you mute a page without unfollowing them if you want to continue to support them.


  1. Seek counseling, meditate or commit to praying and fasting if you believe in a higher power



Image: Practicing Kemetic
yoga in nature.
While many in the Black community do not believe in therapy, I recommend finding a therapist you can trust. It can be difficult having to explain yourself or your experiences to a therapist who is not black, which may add further trauma to your life. Finding a trusted Black therapist or counselor that can work with you through your trauma helps to alleviate the pain or stress you might be feeling. You can call your insurance company to find out if they cover therapy sessions and receive a list of therapists or counselors in your area. 

I have found that meditation each day sets me on track and keeps me balanced. Aligning my chakras in the morning or right before bed changes my perspective and helps me to manage my stressful environments. I also practice fasting, praying and setting an alarm to alert me to start winding down 1 hour before bedtime. Daily affirmations and mantras are key to keeping my perspective clear of negativity. Get some crystals, light a candle or sage and incense and turn your living space into a safe haven of peace.


  1. Plan to treat yourself to one thing at the end of the week


Image: Cooking is what
I look forward to!
This could be anything, from your favorite tea flavored drink at a coffee shop to a new blouse.If you are working on investing in your business, you could go and price items and purchase one item per pay cycle to get you closer to your dreams. If you’re always budgeting like me, plan to get out in nature. Just 1 hour resting on a blanket in the middle of a field in a park is enough to recharge me on the weekends. I also love going to wild parks where deer roam freely, and that is a treat for me. If you’re a parent, find a sitter and get some alone time to check out a new vegan restaurant. Your treat could be a movie or even a night in, binge-watching your favorite show on Netflix or Hulu. Either way, this concept gives you something to look forward to, and helps you to remind yourself that when you get through the week, you’ll have a much better time doing what you love.


  1. Get away


Image: At the Erie County
State Fair,
on a zero gravity ride!
Not all of us can afford this option, but if you have the extra funds, book a trip or take a drive and get away. Changing your scenery can have a great, positive impact on your mental health. NYC’s annual Afro Punk festival at the end of August might be something you’d like to attend if you love music and meeting people. There are also tons of great vegan food festivals that can connect you to other vegans from all over the world. Find an event and get away to change your perspective, or if you’re a parent, plan a family trip that has child care included to give you some alone time.


Life gets hectic and chaotic. We may not always be prepared for what may be ahead, but with a plan in place, you can overcome difficulties and become stronger in the process. It also helps when you know that you have great people in your corner, sending you positive vibes, thoughts, love and energy on your journey. If somehow you read this and feel that your life is overwhelming, it may time to sit down with yourself and write your plans out for the year ahead and the next 5 years. Maybe you might want to rethink your profession or begin searching for work that edifies your soul. In a world where mental health is increasingly being brushed aside, it is important to protect yourself. Be that lover that you need to yourself and above all else, trust that the Universe has your back, and that it bears you no harm. 


One love.

Dedicated to Afiyah, for your unconditional friendship, and our walks that kept me sane. 
And to Brad, because your beautiful musical soul will never be forgotten, though your light will always be missed. RIP my dear friend.

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