Fifteen Ways I Look at Me

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Today, I struggled to get out of bed. I woke up this morning, my stomach aching, trying desperately to make it to my 9:30am class, an anthropology class titled “Religion and Politics in the Muslim World.” But after spending forty-five minutes in the bathroom, I decided to drop the class right there and then, and I went back to bed. I finally got up around 3:30pm, with some occasional times where I had to force myself to get up because I felt so sick that I had to run to the bathroom next door.

I do a lot each day, so it was incredibly difficult to feel myself lose control of my day, not getting to go to classes that mattered to me and not getting to see the friends I had planned to see for lunch. I do so much, that I often run myself into the ground with exhaustion, which is why the first few days I spent at Stanford at the beginning of September were just me napping, reading, writing, and watching Netflix—a much earned break after a summer of travel.

I felt so sick today, and to a lesser extent earlier this week, not because there’s a bug going around… although that’s happening too; college campuses are notorious for being a breeding ground for illness. It’s because, for the first time in a while, I changed the dosage of my antidepressants. Starting this weekend, I took the first step towards getting off of them. Any time I change my medications, I always feel sick to my stomach, apparently a result of the many serotonin receptors in my stomach that, for some reason, are just extremely sensitive to change. (Even just travel put a frustrating stress on my sensitive digestive system.)

I don’t know whether this is something to celebrate. When I first went on antidepressants, I chose to shout my depression and anxiety. I was tired of the stigma against mental health issues that leads to so many people not seeking treatment, whether that’s therapy, wellness programs, or medical treatment. Depression and anxiety are, after all, both biological and social in nature, and as social beings, we can’t get help for them alone.

It’s now been about nine months since I first went on antidepressants, something I was initially resistant to until close friends of mine saw that I hadn’t eaten for days or showed up to classes for almost a week, despite meals and class being some of my favorite things (as nerdy as that sounds). It was because I had kind, loving people who were willing to intervene in my life that I found the courage to find a psychiatrist, start therapy, get on antidepressants, and return to being the person I always knew I was. Almost immediately, I felt a huge shift in my mindset and mood. They weren’t “happy pills,” but they helped me feel more resilient, have more energy, and overall feel like a more functional person.

Today felt like backsliding. It reminded me so much of the many days that I hadn’t gotten out of bed, when I’d block out the sunrise with my sheets and lay there until the sun would set again. But progress isn’t linear, even though, as I was reminded by my psychiatrist this weekend, I’ve made tremendous progress since first getting on antidepressants. And of course, the physical symptoms of depression, anxiety, and the SSRIs meant to treat them, are incredibly real and tangible—how could I really blame myself for not wanting to get out of bed when I was in so much pain due to the change in medication dosage? (And honestly, who knows, I may even have gotten that bug that’s going around on top of everything.)

Eventually, my stomach stopped hurting, and this afternoon, I finally got on with my day. I help TA a queer poetry workshop on Thursdays, and today I was reminded how nourishing the arts are for me. A year ago, I wouldn’t have defined myself as someone who thrives on creativity and art. But today, I’m a creative writing minor who spends so much of my time experimenting with my writing—both privately in my anthropology classes and publicly on this blog—and sharing my stories and the stories of others and engaging with works of poetry and prose.

Today, as part of the workshop, we looked at a poem called “13 Ways to Look at a Black Girl” by Morgan Parker, a response to Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways to Look at a Black Bird,” a beautiful, celebrated poem. But Stevens showed his true colors at a meeting of the National Book Award committee. A few drinks in, he and others were looking at photos of the previous committee judges. Upon seeing Gwendolyn Brooks, the first black woman to win a Pulitzer, he asked, “Who’s the coon?” Upon seeing everyone’s shock at his comment, he doubled down. “I know you don’t like to hear people call a lady a coon, but who is it?” Morgan Parker then wrote “13 Ways to Look at a Black Girl,” a poem I can’t find on the internet, but you can find it in her book There are More Beautiful Things than Beyoncé (which I highly recommend).

The poem was angry and frustrated, an exploration of what society, including Wallace Stevens, views black women as good for—for sex, as just a friend, and most hauntingly, “dead.” But at the same time, it celebrated famous black women, from Toni Morrison to Michelle Obama to bell hooks, juxtaposing the racism black women experience with these lauded, celebrated figures. As a way to engage with this text, we wrote poems that were celebrations of ourselves.

This is the draft of the poem I wrote today, and I thought I’d share it here:

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Fifteen Ways I Look at Me

I.
You were the first one
To make me hate myself.

II.
I was the first to apologize.
But I didn’t apologize for me.
I apologized on behalf of you.

III.
I escaped you by going on a train to the north.
I blanketed myself in City Lights
And began my life On the Road.

IV.
I searched myself in the clouds.
I, a wandering spirit

V.
I woke up one day in Texas
After crying myself to sleep
I realized how much of me there is to love.

VI.
In front of a canal in Venice
I chose to forgive you
To speak my peace
And to show you, the world, and myself
That I am love.

VII.
I learned I am capable
Of connecting to others’ hearts
No matter who they are

VIII.
I covered myself in the mud of the Dead Sea
Let the salt cleanse me
I emerged free of scars.

IX.
Once, I thought of you.
But I realized how loved I was by others
And I stopped longing for your approval.

X.
I sat on the balcony we used to sit on
And released the ghosts of our past
And I realized how much I had grown since you.

XI.
I am kind.
I am loving.
I am patient.
I am forgiving.

XII.
I am open.
I am caring.
I am inclusive.
I am forgiving.

XIII.
I give to everyone
Who is willing to receive me.
I am forgiving.

XIV.
I don’t let anyone
Stop me from loving the world and myself.
I am forgiving.

XV.
For the first time,
I love myself unapologetically.
I am forgiving.