Work, Worth & Wages: My Transition to Professional

At the beginning of 2015, I coined a word: “lexivism.” It’s a noun, which has several definitions, all of which hold the essential meaning of “lexical/literary activism.” If one advocates for literary arts, one is a lexivist. If one believes in the power of words, whether written or spoken, one is a lexivist. If one has a great love for reading, or books, or poetry, or if one uses these as means, forms or avenues for activism, one is a lexivist.

I coined this term as an offensive and defensive response to the negativity I was continuously met with from people who disapproved of my career aspirations: namely, my desire to write for a living. Aside what I believe are the effects of very unfortunate social conditioning that teaches people to devalue the arts as career options, many people’s problem with my aspiration was that this career wouldn’t make me money—or at least, not sufficient amounts of it.

As a young lexivist, my method of combating the negativity essentially amounted to writing regardless, and figuratively plugging my fingers into my ears and screaming, “Lalalalala…!” (Oh, also, lots and lots of tears.) What I didn’t do, however, was immediately start looking for ways to make money by writing, just to spite people. It’s not like I wasn’t constantly anxious about finances and how to grow into a self-sustaining adult. The truth of the matter is that, despite my theoretical labelling of myself as a lexivist, I firmly believed I, in particular, had no marketable talents or skills worth paying for. And yes, I am fully aware of how absurd this sounds, but insecurity is very difficult to shake.

Last year, a friend recommended me for a freelance writing gig, which I ended up carrying out to completion. Not only was this my first ever freelance gig, it was my first time earning money specifically and exclusively through the use use of my writing and editing skills, which I’ve already been practicing for several years without being paid for it.

Fixing my rates was a remarkably stressful experience. From having worked other jobs before, I knew what a low rate was and conceived that I shouldn’t accept less than my usual minimum. But every time I thought about increasing the rate, I would panic, thinking through the description of the task I had not yet started. All I could think about was how technically simple it was, and thus I told myself repeatedly that anybody could do it; I wasn’t special. Hadn’t we all (in this case, Anglophones) learnt English grammar in school? Wouldn’t I consider it totally ridiculous if I outsourced a task like this and received the kind of price rates I was thinking of asking for? Heck, I might never even consider outsourcing a task like this; I’d be able to do it my damn self!

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I convinced myself that my employers’ lines of thinking mirrored my own. The rate I set at the end was very low—right at my base, possibly even lower—but the rate had also been set based on how easily I thought the assignment would go and how long I thought it would take.

Surprise: it was way more intense and time-consuming than I assumed it would be. I exhausted myself thoroughly in trying to complete completing it, between academic and domestic life in an unfamiliar country. I realized what I’d done, essentially, was undersell myself.

  • Fact #1: Writing is hard.
  • Fact #2: The skill of good writing is one I possess to a reasonable degree.
  • Fact #3: The second fact in no way negates the first.
  • Fact #4: The skill of good writing is not one that every classroom-educated person automatically possesses. (Now that’s the real brain-borster.)

Number four, I found out the difficult way, in the midst of completing the assignment. As baffling, occasionally frustrating and often amusing as the experience was, I appreciate how enlightening my first freelance job was. This, more than anything, had finally helped me realize, through experience and not just through lexivist theory, that this lyrical skill that I had was indeed worth paying for. I saw properly, for the first time, how necessary professional writing/editing skills truly were, especially to professionals who are not necessarily proficient in it.

This assignment was the first to make me realize how much anti-lexivist rhetoric I had internalized, despite everything I’d been telling myself for approximately three years. Without this assignment, who knows how long I would have taken to finally dare to set foot in the professional world of writing, in recognition of it as a literary profession that I am capable of?

At the end of the day, though, that particular assignment was far more technical than creative. It’s all the work opportunities I’ve had since then that have really thrown me off-guard. The idea that I could be and have been and am being paid for my creative skills, to produce a creative work (albeit according to someone else’s guidelines) or simply to talk about creative work which I have previously put out or performed for free, has been blowing my mind, thoroughly. It feels like only over the past handful of months have I really started being a lexivist in practice instead of solely in theory—and all not even by my own efforts. Literally every single time I have earned money for a lexi-related thing, it has been by virtue of referral from others who clearly believe in my skills more than I do.

I really just want to take time to acknowledge this, and to be able to express my immense gratitude to everyone who supports me as actively as all my referrers so far have done. That’s bona fide lexivism, whether you know it or not. And, especially as a person who has difficulty recognizing my worth, putting myself out there, or promoting my work, heaven knows how much I need such help.

Now that I have, to some degree, conquered the hurdle of believing that my talents are indeed worth wages, there’s another huge obstacle course ahead of me; the summation of it all is “balance.” I have previously written on the unique, low-capacity configuration of my body and the consequent necessity of learning how to adequately care for myself as I go through daily life. To many, unfortunately, “fast” and “efficient” are synonymous in a non-negotiable way; but “slow” is currently the only style of work that honors my mind and body. I’m inclined to believe, also, that “slow” may be the style of work that adequately honors the work itself. I have no desire or intention to compromise on the creative and technical quality of work, or to dishonor the creative process an assignment demands, simply because I am being employed to create it. The tricky part, now, is figuring out how to honor my body and the work, and my employer(s). (Woefully idealist of me, as usual. I expect to get over it eventually, don’t worry. Life has a way of being uniquely rude to idealists.) As with many important things, I don’t expect it to be easy. But then I remind myself once again that I never have to navigate something difficult alone. God dey—always. ❤

-Akotowaa

Terror + Taking A Semester Off

At six years old, I wrote my first end-of-term examination of primary school, in Class 1. I emerged with the overall first position in my class. The same happened the term after that and the term after that. Then throughout Class 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, Form 1, and two out of three semesters of Form 2 (the term I wasn’t first, I was second) before I transferred schools. Altogether, I’d been overall first 23 times, which is wild to me whenever I think about it now. My intense experience of the effects of ranked success at a young age didn’t leave me unscarred.

When I was 10 years old, my father enrolled me in a graphic design course over the long vac. Four times each week, I was taking lessons on Photoshop, Illustrator, CorelDraw and more, and all my classmates were adults between their twenties and forties. During one class break, I was talking to one of them, a man probably in his thirties. He expressed how impressed he was with my intelligence and my ability to keep up with the course. During that conversation, I remember telling him my fears that all my “smartness” was a succession of flukes with an expiry date, and that one day my ability to succeed with barely any effort would just… stop. He said it wouldn’t. I didn’t believe him.

That was a smart move, because it happened a few years later.

Starting approximately from my first year in high school, my ability to succeed with minimal effort began trickling away. I’d always known theoretically that this would happen, but as it was happening, I couldn’t help but feel defective. No logic could explain the sudden intensity of my struggle to me. In the transition from one level of formal education to the next, I’d lost my superpowers.

I don’t think I’ve ever regained them or that I ever will.

So far, I have spent five semesters in tertiary/higher education institutions. Four out of five have been difficult and depressing. For three out of five, I have been some degree of suicidal. The most recent semester, which began in July 2018 and ended in November of the same year, and which I spent in Cape Town, South Africa, was psychologically the worst of them all.

When I express statements like this to my mother, she always wants to narrow the problem down to something specific, logical and straightforward enough to attack. Trying to make her sufficiently understand me is always difficult, but in this season, it seemed particularly impossible to give her anything close to what she wanted to hear.

The combined elements that made up my Cape Town semester suggested that it should have been my most enjoyable one yet. I had escaped America—the country that had been trying to suffocate me—and was back on my own continent. I was living with—or a handful of minutes away from—my best friend in the whole world. I mostly enjoyed the subject matter of my classes and admired my professors. I had a wonderful mid-semester break trip to another African country. I was financially secure. I should have been killin’ it.

Instead, I wanted to kill myself.

There was the stuff I was relatively used to: days of immobility, not being able to shower or get out of bed. Constant crying. Interspersed insomnia and hypersomnia. Normal. A lot of things were relatively new: the violent and spontaneous effects social media had on me and my consequent, too-frequent deactivation (software, databases and algorithms didn’t take kindly to my erraticism, I can tell you that); trying to cut myself open with blades; feeling a terrifyingly clear division between two internal personas like a schizophrenic Jekyll-Hyde experience. But I still think the most awful new thing was my sudden inability to write.

I wish I could explain how deep and jarring this was. Writing, for quite a while now, has kept me alive. No matter how low I’ve gone, I’ve always been able to write. It’s been my anchor in nearly every storm. Many times, I can’t even pray, and when I can, I do so in writing. Naturally, not being able to write scared the living daylights out of me. I couldn’t help but conclude that if the spirit of writing had left me, then my breath and sanity were certain to follow. If they wouldn’t do so on their own, I was invested in making it happen myself. I decided I never wanted to see a day of 2019; I had to make sure I died before January.

My academic life during my Cape Town semester was difficult and challenging and brought me immense anxiety. I was late on a few papers, missed a lot of classes, spent inordinate amounts of time trying to just comprehend homework instructions, and had all but given up by exam time—but even I could tell that my reactions to my academic difficulties were disproportionate to the true intensity of the difficulties.

It was about school, but at the same time, it wasn’t. I just wanted to not be alive anymore. I wanted to quit everything. Including struggling so hard to succeed in an academic system I thought was BS anyway. Including trying to build a life of future stability for myself when I had already decided there was no point to my existence. But there were, in fact, real reasons why school seemed to be making me crazier than most of the other factors in my life.

Most of it goes back to my childhood and everything I have internalized about academic success, its role in my life and future, how it factors into my parents’ and other relatives’ pride in me, how deeply ingrained it is into my perception of my own self-worth. I was terrified—no, petrified—of failure, and I still am.

Above all, it is the mechanics of my upbringing that keeps doing me in. It often feels like there’s robotic programming within me that determines what I will do even if I don’t believe in what I’m doing, even if I don’t want to do it. It determines how I feel no matter how much my mental perception stands in opposition. I know that academic success doesn’t dictate my worth as a human being. But the mechanics of my programming render me unable to be any type of relaxed when I’m not executing, or at least attempting to execute, stellar performance. I can fix my mind, with as much determination as possible, that I’m not going to let some measly assignment stress me out—but mechanics make my whole body tense up when a deadline approaches, drive me to harm myself if need be, just to get the work done in the end. Mechanics have me constantly performing even when I want to let go, then constantly feeling wretched for performing because with all the counteracting evidence, how will I ever get people to believe that I’m not doing okay?

Add this all to my many other struggles. Anxiety, my relationship with suffering, my friendship struggles and heartbreaks, my relationship with my body, my refusal to take care of myself… I was tired, and the world/my life felt far too much for me. It was as if everything crescendoed into cacophony in my ear. I knew what I needed, if there was any hope of recovering my health or will to live, was for everything to stop so that I could work through things, a step at a time, without the anxiety-inducing threats of deadlines or mandated tasks. I was already dying, but school was accelerating the process several-fold. I knew, without having to be told, that if I simply powered on, attempted to “weather the storm,” or “hang in there,” and try to finish school uninterrupted, I would soon succeed in killing myself. Without a doubt. It was clear to me that my life was at stake—but would it be clear to anyone else? (The people responsible for paying my school fees, for instance.)

 

“How can I fail?”

I asked this question several times to myself and aloud, in the presence of my best friend. I just couldn’t fathom it. Me and failure? The two just didn’t go together. If I failed, my world would end. I felt like I would rather kill myself than fail—even if I believed that giving myself permission to fail was probably the only way I’d be able to make it through my Cape Town semester. I was burned out, but I had to make it out alive, to crawl out of the fire on my hands and knees. If I could just survive, giving up the worry that I had to be stellar, giving up the anxiety about how much money I’d be wasting if this semester ended up counting for nothing, giving up the notion that I was worth nothing if I couldn’t ace my damn semester abroad. I was so high-strung, I had to release pressure and relax—which meant not taking the “necessity” to succeed as seriously as I did. It meant giving myself permission to fail, if I just couldn’t do what was demanded of me without permanent damage to myself. But the thought of failure elicited a visceral and violent reaction from me. I might start heaving whenever I thought about it.

The day I texted my parents an essay explaining that I couldn’t take it anymore, I wanted to kill myself because I was already dying, and that I refused to go back to school the next semester, fear of failure was all I could think about. I kept wondering how my grandparents would react, if or how to explain to them what was happening to me. I thought about the consequences of possibly having my graduation date pushed back and what it would feel like to watch the people I’d started school with graduate and leave me. I thought about what it meant that I, and not them, was suffering to this extent, why I needed a resting/healing period and they could just carry on uninterrupted.

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But then I was (and am) also afraid of rest. I don’t even know how to do rest.

The fear of failure is pervasive. It influences your relationships with time and with productivity. I always feel like I should be doing something “productive”, no matter my state of health. I’m not yet good at respecting my tiredness. Rest makes me feel like I am wasting my life and failing at something, and so even doing nothing gives me anxiety. (Highly ironic, since, when my life feels overwhelming, nothing is all I want to do.) The idea of taking a semester off terrified me partly because it meant resting, which, to me, was synonymous with being on the straight path to failure.

Even before I came back home, I knew that the concept of rest would be difficult for many family members and people back home to understand. I was perfectly right. “So, are you going to be taking classes at the University of Ghana?” “Are you going to find a job?” “Are you going to set up a business project?” “What are you going to be doing?” Every time I get asked any of these questions, I go into a slight panic. I want to scream, “I know how to keep myself busy, okay? Why can’t I just exist without all this wahala?” (How I’ve wished there was a way out of existence.)

Things have been relatively manageable at home over the Christmas + New Year break, because it’s a legitimate break. But when February comes and I’m still in Accra, dealing with the comments and questions might get harder. I feel the pressure of needing something more than “trying to stay alive” as a valid explanation for what I’m doing while off school. The pressure is murderous.

During the pre-decision, decision and now post-decision seasons, I’ve been wrestling with triggers about the value of my life. Are my life and health worth these attempts to preserve them? Shortly after I set my decision in stone, I was speaking to my favorite cousin, who said to me that he was happy it was just a break, that I hadn’t decided to quit school entirely—because he knew the value of a degree and how stressful my life would be without one. I have no doubts at all that he meant well (how could he not?) and was only trying to be helpful, but his “advice” felt so dreadfully violent to me that I began to cry when he gave it. Did he not fully understand that I was very ready to straight-up kill myself, or that trying to live this perfect, prescribed life would kill me? For me, his advice was just further “proof” that high performance and avoidance of failure were more important than my literal presence on this earth. I couldn’t be a Failure + Alive. My only options were to either be an Achiever + Alive, or just Dead (from trying to achieve).

Even after I’d declared my decision to my parents, I spent several days and weeks wondering if I was making the right one. And then, if I concluded that it was the right decision, I would be angry at myself for not being healthy enough to just go back to school and finish, like a normal person. In any case, my doubts about whether time off was necessary were cleared when my body tried to finish me in December. If I wanted to keep my life, powering on stolidly was not an option.

So, this is where I am now. In Accra, wrestling with rest. Watching my colleagues return to the groove of academic life. Trying to want to be alive. Knowing that my path is the correct one and yet still being uncomfortable with the fact of that. And writing, always writing, because this is how I know how to stay alive. The terror hasn’t gone away, but the acceptance will soon, I hope, be loud enough to drown it out.

-Akotowaa

Self-Care: The Thing I Wish Was A Myth (But It Really, Really Isn’t).

In January of 2018, I was experiencing heartache—but I can’t remember what for. I do remember being freshly back on campus after the Christmas break and crying so hard in my dorm room that my chest physically started to hurt. It was bizarre and alarming. Someone online told me they had experienced a similar sensation and had had to get their heart physically checked.

I remember thinking, if heartbreak were to leave the realm of the purely metaphorical, this is what it would feel like. In that moment, I felt in danger of dying alone in my room if my heart suddenly gave out—and I panicked. I had such limited communication with nearly everyone in my life. I often immersed myself in isolation. I had no roommate. Who would know if there was an emergency? Who would care? And who would help?

As whatever I was suffering heartache from refused to subside and the physical chest pains continued, I decided it was time for a physical check-up. I hadn’t had one in a while and I just wanted to make sure nothing else strange was happening with my body. The doctors told me that physically, I really was mostly fine.

Emotions—like heartbreak and sadness—aren’t the only things that manifest physically for me. My anxiety does as well—and I often get anxious about the most miniscule things. Like replying texts or waiting for people I’m supposed to be meeting. My body will tense up and it will feel like all my muscles are clenched. My heart rate will speed up, I may start sweating. But it’s essentially the muscles that suffer the brunt of the mess. My shoulders, arms, chest. Tense as tightened ropes. It exhausts my body in a tangible way, no matter how psychological my anxiety itself may be. It’s terrifying.

I thought no year could be worse for my mental health than 2016, but 2018 proved to me that I don’t have to die just to visit hell. I have never, never wanted to kill myself as much as I have between those twelve months, and I’ve never tried to hurt myself as deliberately as I have within this time either. It’s felt like pain after trauma after heartbreak after pain. Everything has been more complicated than it ever was before.

In the middle of the year, I started experiencing sensations in my head that I couldn’t explain. It often felt like my head had lost balance and that my nerves were malfunctioning so I couldn’t lie, sit or stand still; I couldn’t sleep; I couldn’t concentrate on any task. I don’t know what a stroke feels like, but I was convinced I was about to have one. I panicked every time my parents left me at home alone and my brother wasn’t around. If I had a medical emergency, who would help? And why couldn’t anything logically explain what was happening in my head?

My mother took me to get a far-too-expensive series of thorough medical checkups. Aside slight anaemia, there was absolutely nothing wrong with me. This was becoming a pattern; me being convinced I was about to die, and then proof arising that there was “nothing wrong with me.”

On Monday, 24th December 2018, I had a long day where events seemed particularly designed to trigger my anxiety and irritation. I had maxed myself out during the weekend as well, attending way too many events and having my introvert self be constantly surrounded by people—almost always an anxiety-inducing phenomenon for me. Both at home (you know how Christmas time is with African families and how it is when your house is the host venue for festivities) and out of the house. So, on Monday, after several things that were supposed to go according to plan did not, I just broke.

It was chest pains again. Dull but deep. And persistent. That night, when the pains started, I thought I was going to die, again. I felt like I was suffocating, but nothing seemed to be evidently suffocating me. Slight movements seemed to trigger chest pangs. I went to bed in pain, in too awful of a mental state to even browse myself to sleep with my phone. The pain didn’t relent. I wondered if I’d wake up the next morning. If I did wake up, though, I expected that the pain would have faded.

I woke up the next morning and the pain was the same. Aside the chest aches, there was pain throughout my back, from my neck to my lower back. Then I developed a migraine which, despite frequent doses of painkillers, refused to completely vanish for about four days.

I was incapacitated, nearly bedridden, under a body-imposed house arrest for several days, and by the third day, it was already clear to me that my physical breakdown was a result of not having taken care of myself. Throughout the year, everything that had stressed me out, whether psychological or physical, I had essentially pushed aside after it happened, tried to ignore and forget my pain rather than heal it. I’d tried to proceed with my life as normally as I possibly could with the pain in the background.

At the end of the worst year of my life, my body was having no more nonsense. It was as if it was saying to me: You don’t even have to try committing suicide, sis, I’ll kill you on your mind’s behalf.

My mother, worried, got my uncle, who is a heart surgeon, to carry out a cardiac ultrasound on me just in case. Yup, you guessed it—nothing wrong with my damn heart. My uncle’s hypothesis was that the ache was from my muscles, not my organ. That wasn’t hard to believe at all. I knew my muscles stored stress. It wasn’t surprising that at least twelve months of stored stress was now trying to take me out.

 

I’ve been thinking about self-care lately. Until very recently, nearly every time I have read the term, it has been with a tone of disdain. I considered it that thing which those Instagrammers with pristine and minimalistic photo-grids are always on about. And the poets whose micro-poetry posts get thousands of likes. And the life coach-ish people whose professional skill sets I’m never quite certain about. An empty phrase that sounds nice but means nothing. I thought of “self-care” as a myth. I wish it was a myth. I know (now) that it is not.

Self-care, in my opinion, is not done justice by the definition of “taking care of yourself.” Unless the last word in there is italicized: taking care of yourself. That involves developing a deep understanding of yourself and acting accordingly, in the way that best keeps you, as an individual, healthy. You can’t get anywhere useful if you try caring for yourself without understanding yourself, and you’re doing yourself a disservice if you understand yourself and refuse to care for yourself accordingly. The latter is something I’m guiltier of than anyone else I know.

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I recently wrote about My Faith + My Body, the anger I feel towards my body for being “badly designed”; the flaws within which keep me from being able to function at others’ capacities, whether it’s because of my photosensitivity, easy fatigue, chronic migraine, or whatever. Even though I long ago acknowledged that this is how my body works, I kept berating myself for not being able to keep up with the world, with other people, and with my own life. When so many others around me are doing much more than me, so much more efficiently and tirelessly, it’s nearly impossible not to see myself as inferior because I’m designed differently.

In reaction to the sense of inferiority, I tend to deliberately ignore my design and attribute everything “wrong with me” to laziness and indiscipline. Then I put more on my plate than I can handle—even as the world has already handed me a very full one—and then I try to operate at a pace and capacity I was never meant to. How can I not crash, then, mentally and physically? I’m not a superhero and I can’t do everything. I can’t even do what the average person can do.

My body’s design isn’t the only thing I handle badly. I wrote in On Suffering about how I’ve punished myself for the state of my mental health. I’ve written in How Do You Want to Be Loved? about how I’ve allowed disasters in my personal relationships to pile up and affect me brutally. I’ve written in There Is No Prototype on how I’ve embarrassed myself through a refusal to acknowledge my own uniqueness. It is this same kind of refusal that has landed me in these quasi-medical emergencies throughout the year.

I am slow with many things. I often berate myself for it even though I know—have even put the line in a poem once—that slow is not equal to stupid. Slow is an adjective, not a value judgment, and I wish I would start acting like I believe it, because I know that as of now, “SLOW” is the way my life demands to be lived.

Self-care through knowledge of self is important to me because it’s the only way I’ll recognize how to reject generic advice. I tend to ignore the way my specific body, mind and emotions work in favor of the lie that if I only work hard and/or train at XYZ pace recommended by the internet/some person who doesn’t know how my body/mind works, I’ll reach where someone else has reached. (When the actual fact is, if I follow the unspecialized advice I’m recommended, I might die.) No doubt a different person, when given the very same advice, may follow it and thrive. (Make no mistake, this makes me angry. I want to be able to thrive the “normal” way.) But trying to keep up with everyone and everything is what lands me in the kinds of medical conundrums described above.

I want and am slowly trying to commit to caring for myself in the specific ways my mind, body and emotions demand to be cared for. I recognize and fear that one of the hardest parts of my journey is going to struggling with other people not understanding my lifestyle choices or the motives behind them. If I listen to my body and stay at home when all my friends are going out, how would this affect my relationships with them? Will they never extend their invitations again? Will they begin to consider me the kind of friend they can only text but never hang out with in person? Will they harbor secret thoughts that I hate them? If I take three days to respond to texts, will they get anxious that they’ve said something wrong? Or get fed up and simply quit texting me? When I deactivate from all the platforms on which I’m usually reachable, will they think I intentionally tried to cut them off? If I stay at home for days on end, will my parents think I’m lazy? If I go half a week without seeing my grandparents, will I receive a lecture for being intentionally rude?

The list of questions that trap me in fear goes on. They’re also not purely hypothetical; nearly every single one of them has happened before. Such sentiments already have been expressed by the people in my life, and I wasn’t even trying to take care of myself at those times.

Being a human being with my specific design is difficult. But if I’m determined to keep myself alive, if I truly believe in Life Over Everything, there are storms I will have to brave. I’m not looking forward to it. I wish my self-care practice didn’t have to be as complicated as situations currently demand—but I simply can’t see a way around it. On a day-to-day basis, I’m constantly having to check in with myself, to intake or eliminate substances from my body, to regulate phone, screen and internet usage, monitor sleep and socialization, exercise, take time off from school, see therapists and doctors regularly, do all these self-care practices that I’ve usually neglected, just so I don’t die.

I haven’t yet reached the point where I am not resentful that I have to take much more pronounced self-care measures than most people I know (I just want to be normal, for God’s sake!), but I hope I get there soon. I hope I get there soon.

-Akotowaa

How Do You Want to Be Loved?

On Friday, the 21st of December 2018, I had one of the most violent nights I had experienced in what felt like several months. No, no armed robbers attacked my household. Neither did I get beaten or stabbed or even get into a verbal fight with anyone. All the violence occurred within my own mind; between me and myself. Between me and my God.

With conflicting efforts, I was trying to sleep and trying to pray. It was 3 a.m. and I wasn’t having much luck with either because my heart was troubled, and my mind was stressed. I don’t truthfully know what exactly brought on the attack I experienced. That day, I had hosted several friends in my house, including my best friend. But, lying alone in my bed at the end of the night, although I should have been filled with the pleasure that came from having spent the day with some of my favorite people in the world, I was plagued instead with a large, empty hole right at the core of my being. And then there was a yearning, which I struggled to interpret. It took a while of intense discomfort, tossing, turning and tears, but then I arrived at the root of the yearning: a desire to be loved.

Emptiness and a yearning for love: rather odd things to be feeling, especially after I’d spent several hours with friends whom I loved and who loved me. Where could it possibly be coming from—and why didn’t the love I already had feel like enough?

One easy answer was that there is a specific kind of way I want to be loved and I am not yet being loved in that way. I get bits and pieces of my Ideal Love from various friends, but none of them is my Ideal Lover. If my Ideal Lover exists among the people already in my life, they have not yet shown their real face.

The trouble with all this is, although I know well that there is a way I desire to be loved, I have never really taken the time out to examine and outline what that way is; what my personal, ideal loving relationship would look like. (The word “ideal” is used here more loosely than literally.)

I have reason to believe that as fantastical as my yearning for ideal love sounds, it is likely within reach. A few years ago, I was hoping and praying for a person who fit the description of my invented title of “Someone Who Gets It.” This person would be someone who actually understood me when I spoke—not just someone who merely assumed they understood me but didn’t or couldn’t, even when they had the best intentions. I wanted a person who wouldn’t try to lecture me with counterpoints to what I’ve said; someone who’d have recognized the fallacies I’d have seen in those counterpoints, before the words left their tongue. I wanted someone who would interpret my expressed thoughts and statements within the crucial context of my outlook on the world—hopefully by virtue of sharing that outlook themselves. I wanted someone to whom I wouldn’t have to explain, for an hour, what I felt should have taken three minutes. I felt like such a misunderstood oddity that the idea of finding Someone Who Gets It was almost purely fantastical, even for me.

But I found that person, in my current best friend. Miracles do happen, and I serve a God who answers prayers. If Someone Who Gets It exists, though, even for a self-perceived rare creature like me, why shouldn’t there be an Ideal Lover out there as well? Unable to find a legitimate answer to such a question, I concluded that there was none. Therefore, if I really wanted Ideal Love/an Ideal Lover, all I had to do was pray for one and believe I’d get one and wait for one to arrive. It seemed a simple enough path to me—but only in theory.

I started praying that night. In the hour of 3 am., as I said. I probably hadn’t even reached even thirty seconds into the prayer when my mind, body and spirit, suddenly and in tandem, cut the prayer off. I think I sat up in bed. I know I started sobbing.

Akotowaa, what the hell do you think you are doing, praying for love?

How dare I be so audacious?

The enemy within began its barrage: I did not deserve love. I was not worthy of it. Not only was it effrontery to think I could come to God with such a topic on my heart but it also made no sense! I was not the kind of person who should be loved, much less in her own, ideal way. All the love I was living on already was borrowed, undeserved benevolence from the people I called friends—probably wasn’t even love anyway, just some kindness borne from pity.

howdoyouwanttobeloved1

Truth lives within us, I believe—and it lets us know when we are lying to ourselves. Lies, in reaction, try their best to be louder than the voice of Truth. Alas, far too often, the lies succeed, as mine did that night.

I felt like a dirty, damaged, pathetic thing, and only later, in trying to process it, would I realize what a relatively new phenomenon this was, within me. I hadn’t, until recently, felt so dreadfully undeserving of love. In the moment, however—which lasted quite a while and was interluded by another, separate but somewhat related, even more violent breakdown—I thought it sufficed to conclude my prayer with asking God/Jesus to please, please make His love be and feel sufficient for me and make me thus in no need of human love to complement it.

I don’t know if there’s any such thing as a “wrong” prayer, but I do know that mine was a cop-out. And that it was founded on very, very toxic grounds.

As I said before, this development was recent. It’s something the experiences of 2018 did to me: the various relationship struggles I had that year in particular have made me often feel unloved, insignificant to the people I love, unworthy of love, a terrible friend, and unworthy even of friendship. All of this went essentially unprocessed and likely had as much of a hand in the deepening of my yearning for Ideal Love as my inability to pray, the effects culminating at the end of the year, in the third week of December.

My relationships with others have taken several lethal shots in 2018—and sometimes, I have been the shooter. These are a few.

Very early in the year, my sense of ostracism from the only community I felt comfortable with on my American college’s campus heightened. I once expressed this sentiment to a friend who also belonged to this community, and I can’t remember her knowing what to offer me in response. The feeling hadn’t simply emerged from nowhere, but from concrete incidents where I found myself being left out of the loop, excluded from invitation, or something of the sort. It’s been a recurring phenomenon in my life, for the past six or so years; a group of people and I all start out on the same level of being near-strangers, and then the others’ relationships between themselves deepen, whereas my relationships with them stay superficial or dissipate altogether. It made college life a bit uncomfortable, to say the least. But like I say sometimes: My loneliness isn’t anyone’s fault; they can’t help not being the right people. Still, the fact that so few people are the “right people” for me often makes me feel as though there is something inherently wrong with me. Because, although I’m not entirely incapable of making friends, I can’t ever seem to make and keep friends the same way or as easily as others do.

At the end of the year’s first quarter, a fracture appeared between myself and a friend so close that I’d thought of her, for years, as a sister. For the rest of the year, from April to December, I was broken and traumatized by it. No heartbreak aches like that of a lifelong friendship you thought would last forever abruptly coming to what looks like an unavoidable end. I shed so many tears for the girl that was one of my oldest friends and acquaintances from infancy. It hurt to the point where, otherwise unprovoked but for the memory, I would just be minding my own business and burst into tears. Always wondering if she knew what I was going through, whether she was going through similar, whether she cared at all. When all my attempts at reaching out wouldn’t persuade her to break her silence, when all my texts remained despondently unanswered. Seventeen years of acquaintance/friendship/best-friendship/sisterhood doesn’t cut without leaving deadly scars. Everything was made worse by my belief that the thing I suspected drove us apart was so trivial to me—and worse than that, I had caused it by bringing the matter up.

Then there was this season that I have already written about, in two blog posts (Underground: A Memoir from May 2018, and Prayers God Chooses Not to Hear), when I fell into stupid deep depressions and was callously abandoned by the man who was my anchor and almost sole comfort. How is one supposed to feel when the person she loves most in the world and whose companionship sustains her when all else fails is shown that she couldn’t be less important to him? Like the threat of each losing their place in the other’s lives is not nearly enough to move him to reveal his presence or act as a friend? This, more than anything else that happened the entire year, was probably where the deepest relationship trauma came from. If I, in my deepest darkness, favored no-one, I favored him. He, in darkness or even dim light, favored no-one—not even me. It was impossible to digest. If my best friend didn’t love me, how could I ever be anything other than unworthy of receiving love?

And then there was the shot I fired. It’s so morbidly interesting, how life works. As I was mourning the death of a friendship between myself and someone I thought I would be friends with forever, I summoned death upon the relationship between myself and a person who’d always thought he and I would be friends forever. I had been nurturing unaddressed anger towards him for the longest time. I’d felt abandoned, under-prioritized, constantly placed in the backseat of the life of this person who’d sworn he was dedicated to helping me and my career. Of course, he’d been going through terrible issues of his own, but when he pulled the trigger of a gun I had always refused to accept would one day fire, my anger only blossomed. I knew the power of words, and yet I used them as a weapon against him—weaving truth with the poisonous lies of my unaddressed wrath and damaging his reputation even further than it had already been damaged. The wrong words, said to even one person, can be all it takes to make a person want to kill himself. I realized what I had done, and I could not forgive myself. I have not forgiven myself.

I won’t pretend these were the only factors that contributed to my breakdown in the midst of prayer, but they were some of the most potent factors in this matter. I hadn’t worked properly through any of these heartaches and traumas and, furthermore, I had no idea how to. It seemed that the effects had all culminated in that night, to convince me that I was a terrible person, incapable and unworthy of basic friendship, much less love. With this belief of myself in my heart, there was no way I could pray for what I wanted.

With God, it was “different.” In theory, I understood and appreciated the concept of His grace. He loved humans who were undeserving. There was nothing I had done or could do to deserve the love He had given or could give. So, I was “allowed” to pray that His love would satisfy me. But humans are not God. I didn’t deserve and ought not to ask for Ideal Love, because it would be coming from a human being—and that was what halted me in my prayer.

The devil is a liar.

While we are on earth, God knows how to give gifts to our physically embodied, living selves—and sometimes, He does that through other human beings. The people He brings into our lives and people He removes from them. I am convinced that no matter how horrible and treacherous I think I am, the God that not only invented love but is Love, the God who saw one human being and declared its isolation was not a good thing, would probably have dissented with me halting and altering my prayer.

I believe human beings, too, are agents of grace. It’s why we also have powers to forgive, reward and favor each other. I won’t lie and say I believe I deserve the kind of love I want. But by all means, I have a right to request for, receive and enjoy it—through grace. If humans are agents of grace, refusing to be loved is as ridiculous to me as refusing to be saved. When a gift with my name on it already lies at my doorstep, what do I really gain from refusing to pick it up?

It’s funny how the process of praying—to a God that already knows our desires better than we do—is often more for our own benefit than anyone else’s. He already knows the conditions of our hearts; but until we open our own mouths to pray, do we?

I know the way I see myself is and has been very toxic. So, I’m going to try, with divine assistance, to rid myself of the poison. And one way I’m going to do that is to intentionally sit down and put on paper, with ink, the nature of my desire for Ideal Love, to be shared between myself and my God—no matter how terrified or wretched I feel while writing it.

How do you want to be loved?

A question I have been running away from. A question I am about to answer intentionally.

-Akotowaa